Tonight we gather to celebrate an ancient rite. It is a rite that has at its center the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection and the first Eucharist of Easter… but it is tethered to human customs and understanding that go back long before the days of Jesus- (about one and a half million years ago, to be specific) and as far forward to our modern practices of home and hearth, and to rustic and deeply satisfying gatherings in our backyards or in the woods while camping: we have both a primal and a contemporary fascination with fire, and light… and that our service celebrating Jesus’ resurrection and our redemption begins tonight around a fire, is no surprise. (That’s what makes this Easter vigil so special…)
The “discovery” of fire was a game changer for civilization.
Until recently the oldest evidence of controlled flame was thought to be found at Israel’s Qesem Cave, dating back about 400,000 years ago, associating the earliest control of fire with Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. More recently, though, archaeologists have unearthed traces of campfires that flickered more than 1 million years ago- and maybe even up to 1.5 million years ago. Consisting of charred animal bones and ashed plant remains, the evidence of these early fires was discovered i South Africa’s Wonderwerk Cave.
The building and control of fire changed the course of human evolution, allowing our ancestors to stay warm, cook food, ward off predators and venture into harsh climates. It also had important social and behavioral implications, encouraging groups of people to gather together and stay up late. But more than the first “nightlight,” the early use of fire signaled humankind’s developing power over the elements and creation. No longer forced to eat raw food, or to retire with the sun, the control of fire advanced civilization and gave agency over a great number of daily functions, increasing the capacity of the human experience substantially.
So- why the anthropology lesson? Can’t we get back to Jesus?
Yes, but hold on, now.
The power of fire:
Who hasn’t sat around a campfire and been mesmerized by its glow, filled from the outside in and the inside out with the warmth and the hospitality of its light?
Who hasn’t found that in the houses where they’ve lived, that the kitchen is the center of the home- the place where our food is cooked, and we gather to linger over conversations?
And who, lucky enough to have a fireplace in their home, hasn’t experienced the lowering of their blood pressure and a sense of well-being when, on a harsh weather day, a cozy fire has been lit? Can’t you just see the cat stretched out on the hearth, the steaming mug of tea or snifter of brandy nearby?
There is a reason that we are drawn to fire, soothed by it, and- as long as it is controlled- it is useful to us.
But tonight’s fire is a signal that there is a much greater and more powerful flame… and that we, with our Bic lighters, gas grills and tiki torches are puny in its sight:
(sing) The Light of Christ (thanks be to God)
The Light of Christ (thanks be to God)
The Light of Christ (thanks be to God!)
With Christ’s light, we are saved.
By Christ’s light, we are redeemed.
From John’s gospel: “He was in the beginning with God… What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 2,4-5)
To be in the pool of light that is Christ is to be in the presence of a light and a power that extends back before Jesus’ earthly days, back before the gathering of Neanderthals in caves… To be in the pool of light that Jesus casts off is to be in the presence of a power that is before time, that knows no time, that was before anything other than God. Light eternal. Lux eterna.
Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Preachers have spilled countless gallons of ink and tied themselves in theological knots enviable by the most nimble yogi, trying to explain and cipher the mystery of Jesus raised. Dead on Friday, and alive again on Sunday.
If we but consider the root of Jesus, the Christ- Logos, the Word, the Light– present with God in the beginning before time even began, it makes the rolling of a stone and the shedding of shrouds seem like child’s play in comparison.
Jesus is raised. Restored. God’s done something new- again. And it happened from the shadows of a dank, dark tomb into the blinding light of Easter. Matthew’s gospel tells us: “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.”
From darkness to light.
Tonight you experienced it, as the flame of Christ’s light was shared, from candle to candle, and it grew to illumine this space.
I pray that just as you saw the light grow in this room, that you might feel it grow in your hearts, as well.
It is the light of hope, the light of joy, the light of eternal life.
I bid you to recall this the next time that you light the firepit on the back deck, or flick on the hallway light as you make your way down the stairs in the dark before dawn.
The agency that we have to create light is but a flicker of the real power that rules this world, and that promises us glory after shining glory into all eternity, thanks be to God.
“Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, bright with a glorious splendor, for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King!”
And let God’s people, filled with Christ’s light say, Amen!
 www. https://www.history.com/news/human-ancestors-tamed-fire-earlier-than-thought