In Middle-Earth, some trees do make noise when no one else is around. J.R.R. Tolkien introduces us to these mysterious, yet delightfully peculiar in The Lord of the Rings. The Ents, as they are named, are ancient, tree-like creatures who dwell in Fanghorn Forest. And, as we’re told in the book, their language is beautiful, “but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to." That’s exactly what the Easter Vigil does. It is an ancient service done in good Ent-ish fashion. As the world spins in haste and busy-ness, the Easter Vigil beckons us not to be too hasty. So we learn from Ents how to celebrate the Easter Vigil of our Lord, as we groan with creation at the eager joy of the Resurrection. After all, any good story worth telling takes a long time to say, and to listen to.
On this night of nights, God tells the story of His people’s salvation from Creation to the flood, from Israel’s Red Sea rescue to the resurrected valley of dry bones, from Job confessing his Redeemer to the women running to the tomb and finding out their Redeemer was not there. He is risen. The seal of the grave is cracked open like the Stone Table.
It begins in the cool of the Garden, where Eden's light is covered in shadow by the wicked serpent. Disobedience overcomes perfection. And Adam is overcome by a serpent and a tree. But in that first darkness there is light. A child is promised. One will be born of woman in order to crush the head of this wicked "wizard." Hoom, ho, ha.
The story continues, the Light grows stronger, from the moistened flood plains of Noah, to the dry ground where Israel trod, from death to life, through a watery portal, the Lord works His victory for His people. With the strength of His right arm, Yahweh leads the charge. Hm, hum, roomy toom tum.
The Shadow of Death appears to have a foothold. Hell's wizard appears to conjure up new tricks at every turn: wicked people, dry bones, faithless prophets, traitors and murderers in wave after wave. It seems that even God's servants, like Job, are not safe from battle scars. But the story continues. Hmm, hoo, roomy toom tum.
The people of Nineveh are saved. The dry bones are raised. Job is clothed in crucified and resurrected flesh, his own flesh, yet redeemed! Of course, this account is all too hasty. But that is why Easter Vigil is, by far, my favorite service of the church year. The church takes time to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest God’s great history of salvation.
Like the Ents, the church gathers for the Easter Vigil; it is the great Ent moot of the New Testament where we receive the past, present, and future salvation prepared for us by creation's great Author and Paschal Lamb. So it, is - hum, hoom, ho - to the Easter Vigil we go. Christ leads his bride to the great Easter Entmoot. To dance on the devil's grave and rejoice. We eat, drink and are merry, for tomorrow we live! Night lies over Isengard and the dawn of Christ lies over the entire world. The age of Adam is over. The age of Christ has now begun. Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia! The Lamb who was slain yet lives. And yet, there’s one important difference. The stories told at the Easter Vigil service are true. We know the ending. Like the song of the Ents, we are brought from sadness to joy, from sorrow to redemption.
On this night of nights, the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. The saints are streaming out of their graves into the Holy City; New Jerusalem. The gates of Paradise are unlocked. Noah's ark has survived the flood and takes us up to Ararat. Pharaoh and his host have been drowned in the Red Sea. The Passover Lamb has been slain, raised from the dead, and eaten by the conquering army. Even now, we are led through on dry land, Jordan is backed up like a heap and Canaan is in our grasp. New Jerusalem is on the horizon.
On this night of nights, Christ arises victorious and sends the devil’s hordes running with no darkness to find cover; death’s dark shadow is gone. And not even the gates of hell can prevail against our Lord, who accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life might also rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome.
"To land of gloom with tramps of doom, with roll of drum, we come, we come; To Isengard with doom we come!"