“And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also” (Gen. 1:16).
Recently, with fewer places to go, and time at home, I’ve become a more intentional observer of the heavens; what you might call a “casual astronomer.” At night, in winter, the Belt of Orion introduces you to the nearby stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel; Mars, with its red glint, is easy to pick out; the twins Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini are prominent, as are the brilliant stars Capella, Sirius, and Procyon. There’s also the Big Dipper, that easy-to-identify friend from childhood, otherwise known as Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Fixing the eye on the little cluster of the Pleiades (a system that’s pretty dim in the Nashville sky, but still visible), and seeing Arcturus rise as the evening wears on, is pretty cool. Check it out as you head home tonight.
Of course, the reason we’re all here on this particular night involves, not the stars, but the two great lights referred to in our reading from Genesis: the moon and the sun. Jesus’ crucifixion and death took place at the time of the Passover festival, and the church’s celebration of Easter is therefore determined by the relationship of the earth to the sun, and the position of the moon in earth’s orbit: the spring equinox. The two great lights that rule the day and that rule the night, you might say, have conspired together to bring us here tonight, to these particular coordinates in time and space.
Genesis contains a story of creation, driven by the conviction that creation is theologically significant: that is, that creation tells us something about God. When we look up into the heavens, we see, not just the “vast expanse of interstellar space” but the glory of God, in sun and moon and stars of the sky. When we look out at the world around us, we’re invited to see divine intentionality, in shaping a world of a particular sort; in fact, shaping a whole cosmos of a particular sort, which human beings are still learning about and exploring.
The prophet Amos, a bit of a stargazer himself, offers this: “Seek God who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night” (Amos 5:8). The verse reminds us that the stars above and the physical world as a whole is “creation”: a “creation” that presumes a Creator. When we peer into the heavens, and the world around us, they give us a glimpse, though not a complete view, of the nature and purpose of God.
Christians have long seen consonance and correspondence between the creation of the world, a story told in our reading tonight, and its recreation and redemption through Jesus Christ. God, who made the world, and continues to sustain it, also re-makes and re-creates it through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The resurrection that we celebrate tonight is continuous with God’s creative work. When God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, at these particular coordinates in time and space, he was working through the same mighty power that we see in creation itself.
Why wonder at the miracle of the resurrection, when we take as a given the fact of ourselves and our world? They too have a miraculous quality, though we take them for granted. Let me put it positively: we ought to wonder at, to marvel at, the power and wisdom of God in creating ourselves and the cosmos we inhabit; and even more to wonder and marvel at the power and mercy of God in raising Jesus Christ from the dead. Creation calls out for recreation, for larger, everlasting life. “All creation is instinct with renewal” (Concerning the Resurrection of the Body, 12), the African theologian Tertullian wrote in the second century: in other words, as we look around us, at the signs of God’s glory, we can see the hints of resurrection.
Through our celebration tonight, we ourselves are brought into correspondence with the life of Christ, through baptism and the laying on of hands in confirmation, and through the Holy Eucharist. We have been made by God, but we must be remade after the likeness of Christ. Jesus has overcome death and the grave, and the life he now lives becomes new life in us as we share his Body and Blood. We are given a new identity in baptism, which we reclaim each time we come to the altar.
The holy mysteries that we celebrate tonight bring into our midst the same creative power that we see displayed around us in creation, and the re-creative power of Christ. St. Paul wrote in the First Letter to the Corinthians that “there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.” “So it is,” he writes, “with the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:41-42). Through Jesus’ resurrection, God has clothed us with glory, and made us shine. Look around you this evening, at the heavens above and the earth below, and believe that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.