The Great Vigil of Easter Saturday April 20, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell


Saturday, April 20, 2019


The Story of Creation:  Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea:  Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

A New Heart and a New Spirit:  Ezekiel 36:24-28

The Gathering of God’s People:  Zephaniah 3:14-20

Romans 6:3-11: Luke 24:1-12


Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

The Rev. Janet Campbell



This is the night,

dear sisters, brothers, friends . . .


This is the night

we’ve been waiting for

and a sumptuous night it is!


Night of fire and light,

night of story and laughter and song,

night of water splashing

into a dry and yearning font . . .

soon and very soon . . .

that we may be renewed and refreshed

in our baptismal vocation,

night of the banquet of banquets,

soon and very soon . . .

that our hunger and thirst

may be satisfied

in the bounteous Easter feast . . .



This is the night

of amazement,

of wonder,

of rejoicing . . .


night of resurrection

night of God’s new Creation . . .


and night of bees . . .


yes, bees.


Buzzzzz . . . . . bees.


The bees of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.



A member of our community

sent me a link yesterday

to a CNN news story about

those bees.


Who knew that since 2013

the cathedral was host to three beehives . . .

on a roof over the sacristy,

just beneath the rose window.


Each hive home to thousands of bees . . .

the story said 60,000,

but I thought

how could that beeeee  . . .




in the terrible fire

that raged through the cathedral

last week,

the hives were not even touched . . .

because, it is thought, they are located

about 90 feet below the main roof

where the fire spread.        (


As the fire cooled,

bees were seen buzzing

in and out of the hives,

to the great joy of their beekeeper.


CNN’s Facebook posting

of the story of this miniature miracle,


amid such awful destruction,

elicited a great many comments.


The usual social media content:


the snarky,

the sensible,

the angry,

the naive,

the caring,

the personal agenda-ist,

the name-calling,

the political,

the conspiricy-theorist,

the thankful,

the mean-spirited,

the inane:

“Who care[s] about the bees. What [about]

the kids not having food or clothes? People

not having clean drinking water?”


“So glad they survived. Bees are an essential

part of Earth’s ecosystem.”


“Can we focus on the bees

that are not surviving the pesticides?

Who cares about 3 hives?”


“Just as the cathedral is an integral part of

many lives, bees are an integral part of all our lives.”


“Again . . . what about the starving children?”


“If this doesn’t prove that bees exist, I don’t know what does!!!”


“No bees, no food.”


“Inventing news to raise money like NASA.”


“A close-up shows that each bee looks like Jesus.”


on and on,


and hundreds of posts . . .


the inharmonious buzzing

of the contentious

human hive.



Could we not simply

rejoice together

in one small bit

of good news?

I was about ready

to rescue myself from it

when, as I scrolled down,

I saw the lead-in to a posting

by someone named

Lisa Gnas:   (Nass)


the words,


“But now we know the praises of this pillar . . .”

“the praises of this pillar . . .”


“this pillar . . .”


She could be speaking

of only one thing . . .


the Paschal Candle . . .


I clicked on “read more . . .”


“But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees

to build a torch so precious.”

(Lisa Gnas, CNN FaceBook page)

Words from a version of the Exsultet,

the ancient song of praise

that Christians

are proclaiming tonight

at Easter Vigils

all around the rolling world . . .


Someone I didn’t know,

someone named Lisa Gnas,

somewhere out there,

who knows where . . .


was singing into the midst of

that cacophony of mindlessness

our great song

of Paschal joy,


praising God,

and Christ,

and the great candle,

the light of Christ,

symbol of resurrection,


fashioned and fueled

from the generous

gift of the bees.


This was what the survival

of Notre Dame’s bees

had called to her mind . . .




She was speaking our language.

At some early point

in our history,

the bees vanished from

the exsultet texts

who knows why . . .


but in recent years

they have buzzed back

into many versions . . .



We surely must hope

that they do not,

at this point in our history,

vanish from the earth,

eradicated by pollution and

chemicals . . .


for if they vanish,

flowers and fruits and crops

will wither and die,

beauty and food lost

without the cross-pollination

that occurs as bees forage

for nectar.



we realize that our own survival

is linked with theirs.




or perhaps not so coincidentally,

the bees have returned to our own Exsultet

in the version of the text

we sang tonight:


“We sing the glories of this pillar of fire,

the brightness of which is undiminished

even when its light is divided and borrowed,

for it is fed by the melting wax

which you servants, the bees,

have made for the substance of this candle.”


The adornment

of our own great pillar,

born in the imagination of the artist

weeks before

the Notre Dame fire,


celebrates the return

of the bees . . .

and all that they signify

for the well-being of

God’s creation:



As the statement of the artist

tells us,


“The hive shows us

how to live and labor in harmony.

As [the bees] gather from flower and field

to give flavor, scent, and color

to the honey,

it is done without injury to the flower.

The wonderful bees also teach us

the sacred care of creation.”


The hive of the bees

is a small, living, holy icon

of the creation God

brought into being

at the beginning of time . . .


a beautiful and bountiful garden,

a peaceable kingdom,


all would live and work

for the common good,

all would share with each other

the community’s bounty,

for there was enough for everyone,

all would love and care for one other . . .


and no harm would be done

to anyone or any creature or any thing

in the sustaining of

the community’s life.



And we know

what happened to that idea.


We heard it in stories tonight.


God’s love,

our rejection of that love;

God’s ways,

our choice of our own ways.


But the hive lived on,

that small and holy icon

of a promised kingdom

God would bring into being,


a Kingdom announced

by Jesus,

inaugurated by his coming,

manifest in his life

of compassion and service.



Two thousand years ago,

before there were Paschal Candles

and liturgies

and even Christians. . .


although there were a few

grieving and dejected followers

of a crucified

and buried Jew

known as Jesus of Nazareth . . .



there were bees

buzzily going about

their gathering and pollinating,

their wax and honey making . . .

tending to God’s creation.


On a night such as this,

a stone rolled away from

the mouth of a tomb

and in the early morning

the body of Jesus

was discovered . . .


to be not there.


Only the grave cloths,

its swaddling bands,

were there.


The body was not.


And so began

what we now proclaim

tonight . . .

we and the bees . . .







Perplexed, incredulous,


those first disciples,

in encounters with their

risen lord,

came to believe

that a new creation

had dawned upon them

and within them.


Jesus was risen,

and with him they arose.


And they began to proclaim

a new way of life,

risen life in Christ,

to the world.



And here’s the miraculous thing,

the thing that brought us here tonight,

the thing that beings us here

every Sunday . . .



rising not just

two thousand years ago,

as if resurrection

were a once and finished event . . .



But Christ

rising now,

an ongoing happening,

made new in us and for us

and for the world

each year as we celebrate

the Paschal feast,

sustained in us and for us

and for the world

Sunday by Sunday.


Resurrection made new in us

for the Eastering of the world . . .


looking and working

toward the time

when no one is thirsty or hungry,

no one neglected or ignored,

no one without a bed in a home,

no one hurting or grieving alone,


when the earth’s

waters, fields, forests, and air

will be restored, clean as Eden,

and the bees in their hives

are still making honey.


May this great Easter candle

and the bees who provided its waxy substance

and make it their home

be our sign and reminder

of why bees and we

are in this world.


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