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Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea]
Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]
Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]

Did you know that it takes 10 compliments to undo one criticism?

Research on how our brains and nervous systems are wired reveals that human beings have a negativity bias — we pay much more attention to bad things, and easily overlook the good. Evolutionarily, this make sense; a long time ago, humans needed those instincts for survival. The ability to quickly assess danger meant the difference between life and death. And even though most of us don’t encounter lions and tigers and bears while going about our daily business anymore, the bad stuff coming at us and around us – news of war abroad, crime in our city, strained relationships with family, or coworkers, or friends – feels so much bigger and more consequential than anything good.

And if we’re not careful, we can forget that there’s a difference between this being part of the truth and this being the only truth we see.

When I was a teenager, there was a particular kind of optical illusion that became really popular – poster prints you’d hang on your wall, part of a bygone era before we all walked around with screens in our pockets. They looked like computerized Jackson Pollock paintings, but if you looked really closely, and blurred your vision just right, if you got lucky, an image would begin to emerge. Your eyes would see a three-dimensional image hidden in the two-dimensional image in front of you. And once you saw it, you couldn’t un-see it, or at least, you could much more easily focus your eyes to make the three-dimensional image appear. But the thing about these images was that it was really hard to see the three-dimensional image. You had to trick your eyes into seeing something that was obscured by the more obvious splatters of color in front of you. Some people would only ever be able to see the two-dimensional image. They’d stand in front of the image, squinting and straining, trying to see the number or the unicorn or the boat or whatever you were supposed to be able to discern in 3D, squeezing every ounce of concentration like when you’re all alone after seeing Star Wars for the first time and secretly try to use the Force to bring a pen into your hand, only to step away in frustration and throw their hands up in the air, “I don’t see it!” The brain has a bias, and you had to work hard to override that bias to see something much richer and more deeply embedded.

The holy days that we walk this week, leading up to this Easter moment, take us through a lot of suffering and death. You have to work spiritually hard to stick with it and get to the good news. There’s a whole week of trial and tribulation that lead up to this day of glory. And there’s a good reason we begin the Easter Vigil, the first proclamation of resurrection, in the dark. There’s a reason we begin by lighting a fire in the dark, with prayers and chants that remind us that “This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.” There’s a reason we tell and retell the story of God’s saving work throughout history, and why we renew our baptismal vows, as part of the ritual of eventually proclaiming the joy of resurrection, all in the dark.

Because the darkness of the tomb, the darkness of hell, is where the Easter story begins. We tell the story of God’s saving work in the dark because we acknowledge that in many ways, this is our earthly reality. We can easily be given over to our negativity bias, to seeing the world in the darkness of two dimensions, and we can forget that what’s in front of us is not the whole picture. We can easily think that the truth of what’s bad is the only truth there is.

So if we don’t tell these stories over and over again – if we don’t renew our commitment to our faith – if we don’t rekindle the fire of God’s saving love in our midst – we only see in part, and not in whole. We so deeply long for resurrection, for good news, for the victory of life over death. And this is why we need this ritual. This is the night we proclaim resurrection out of darkness. Ringing these bells, proclaiming these alleluias, is not wishful thinking, or blind optimism. We proclaim alleluia even at the grave. There is such a thin place between death and life in our tradition. And we enter that thin place by telling these stories, lighting this fire, re-entering the waters of baptism. Reminding ourselves of what we need to know and remember to stay grounded in God, able to see the world in 3 dimensions, strengthened to see past our bias and to know that as much as it is true that things and people can be truly evil and awful, it is also true that Jesus shows us the way that leads to victory over evil and death. Not that we sit back and wait for God to do it for us — no, this is the night we are invited into the resurrection of Jesus. It’s not substitution, it’s participation. God doesn’t see the world in 3D for us – we now put on the eyes, and ears, and heart, of Christ, and we are invited into that very same life.

In the words of St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus (403 A.D.):

“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but I will enthrone you in Heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am Life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”*

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!


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