Climate Justice: Easter Vigil and Easter Day

Easter Vigil sermon

Easter Day sermon


Carrying the Light of Christ into Creation

April 4, 2015

The Easter Vigil has always been one of my favorite worship services of the church year, for, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “on this most holy night” we are reminded of when “Jesus passed over from death to life.” We gather outside the church in the darkness, on the lawn in front of a fire pit, awaiting the lighting of the paschal fire. There the first flames take hold of the kindling, sizzling and blowing, as the darkness of the Lenten season begins to lighten. The Paschal Candle is lit. Processing behind the cantor and the new light of Easter, we slowly go into the church, reminded at three separate stops that we are following “the Light of Christ.”

As we enter the darkened sanctuary, our own small candles are lit to guide us to well-worn pews, pews where for generations the story of the empty tomb and the promise of Resurrection has been spoken. Yes, the beauty of the service moves me as we tell again the story of our creation, our liberation from evil and our redemption through Jesus Christ.

Our Resurrection faith tells us that the light of God shines in the darkness and that the darkness shall not overcome it. The stories of the Easter Vigil remind us that God is always with us. The covenant after the flood secures God’s commitment to humankind and to all creation, even if humanity drifts away from God’s love. The parting of the seas gives us confidence that God will be with us even if we are frightened and running for our lives. For too many years, I imagined that this retelling of our faith journey was a story only about us, the people of God.

But what if this is also a story about all God’s beloved creation, a story about all the creatures that were created and that have evolved over eons? What if the faith journey of the Easter Vigil is not only about the salvation of humankind, but also about the salvation of God’s entire created order?

I began to imagine. Instead of taking the Paschal Candle into the darkened, closed sanctuary, what if the procession continued to the seashore to proclaim“the Light of Christ” at the side of the ocean, where rising waters caused by climate change threaten the lives, homes and livelihoods of millions upon millions of people today and in the future? In the light of the Paschal Candle, we would also see the beauty of the crashing waves, and the glory of dolphins and whales leaping in the waters offshore.

What if we carried the Light of Christ to a barren hillside where many generations of trees once grew? In the light of the Paschal Candle, we would also see a healthy, intact forest, and the many creatures – owls and deer, insects, mice and fungi, foxes and bear – that shelter among its trees.

What if the Light of Christ led us to the top of a mountain and we could see the destruction of the very foundation of God’s earth through the leveling of mountains for coal? In the light of the Paschal Candle, we would look up and be awestruck by the stars that twinkle at night, the moon that crescents in the night sky and the vastness of space.

What if we brought the Light of Christ into fields and meadows, into wetlands and bogs, and perceived the rapid loss of species at a rate previously unknown in human history? In the light of the Paschal Candle, we would also savor the grassy meadows, watch wildflowers gently blowing in the breeze and spot birds in formation flying low over the plains.

As we read during this Easter Vigil in Psalm 98, “All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” This song of hope proclaims:

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing. … Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, the lands and those who dwell therein. Let the rivers clap their hands, and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord.”

These words remind us of what ancient people always knew – that God’s love and care is for all creation. The light of God has always been shining everywhere, though human beings have often failed or forgotten to see it.

Our invitation this Easter Vigil is to bring the Light of Christ to “all the ends of the earth” and to remember that God’s promise of redemption and salvation is intended not just for humans, but also for the whole creation. In the light of the Paschal Candle, we are filled with gratitude and wonder. We see the preciousness of this living planet. We give thanks for its beauty and its intricate complexity.

At the same time, through the Light of Christ, we dare to face the fact that human activity has assaulted and wounded God’s creation. We recognize our shared culpability in diminishing that which God entrusted to our care. We acknowledge our longing to pass on to future generations a habitable and vibrant world.

However, the journey of our Easter Vigil does not end with the pronouncement of the Good News of the resurrected Christ and the hope of salvation for all. Rather, after proclaiming that “the Lord is Risen indeed,” we are invited to take our place among the communion of saints, to reaffirm our commitment to God, and to renounce the forces of evil that tempt us. Our Baptismal Covenant stands as a testament of our willingness to go forth as the Light of Christ into a world in need.

Last year, following a year of diocesan-wide conversation, study and theological reflection, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut adopted a resolution that recommends an additional question of commitment in the Baptismal Covenant: “Will you cherish the wondrous works of God and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation?” This sixth question shows us a way to be the Light of Christ for the natural world, as we celebrate the magnificence of the earth and as we go forth with faithful action. A resolution has been submitted to General Convention 2015 to consider trial use of this additional question.

As Christians who are asked to love and care for all that God loves, we are invited to thoughtfully and frankly consider how our own actions contribute to the decline of the earth. When we affirm in the Baptismal Covenant our promise to “persevere in resisting evil,” we know that evil includes destroying God’s creation. We commit to turning our lives around and to seeking a better path of living more gently on the earth.

Easter is a season of rejoicing. Rather than continuing to sit in the darkness of the tomb, filled with despair and paralyzed by fear and hopelessness at the news of climate change and the loss of biodiversity, we are invited to shine forth as beacons of possibility and hope for all that God has created.

In one of the Easter Vigil prayers, we say, “O, God, you have created all things by the power of your Word, and you renew the earth by your Spirit” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 290). God longs unceasingly to renew and restore God’s whole creation, and invites us to join in that mission.

May we go forth filled with the power of God’s Word, illumined by the Light of Christ, and joyful in the promise that God’s Spirit will renew the earth.

— The Rev. Stephanie M. Johnson is the assistant rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fairfield, Conn., and convenor of the New England Regional Environmental Ministries network.



Finding Resurrection in Haiti

By the Rev. Andrew K. Barnett

April 5, 2015

Focus Scripture: John 20:1-18

This Easter reflection comes from Haiti’s north coast, where people are desperately poor. Here, one seeks resurrection in the midst of an evil and often complicated history, replete with slavery, racism, revolution, isolation, quiet apathy, incredible generosity, and poverty.

“Haitians know Jesus on a first-name basis,” said our group leader this week, and she is right. I recently joined a three-hour choir rehearsal where over 40 singers braved the dangerous dark and mud to praise Jesus from the back of a leaky church. Young and old, they swayed to the soulful sounds, grooving to the prayer, blessing the neighborhood with their belief that, despite all evidence to the contrary, God is alive. Jesus lives, so it was time to sing it, literally, from the roof. Outside, old motorbikes belched smog and eroded the last of the country’s topsoil, but still the singers sang. Death doesn’t get the last word around here. Jesus is alive and well, and so is his movement, called, “Us.” The choir’s throaty song called us together and then sent us out. And, by God, do we have work to do.

Words fall short when I try to capture the profundity of this experience in Haiti. One priest often serves four or more churches and schools, and people come to worship and study from miles around. Our Episcopal schools provide solid education for thousands of students in communities that lack adequate roads, sewers, trash collection, topsoil, water and food. If anyone questions the connection between the environment and social justice, Haiti makes the connection crystal clear. Mountains are denuded for charcoal, while smog and indoor smoke clog lungs, young and old. Erosion carves deep gullies into the barren hillside, creating ruts so deep you could stand in there and hide. The rivers dump topsoil, sewage and trash onto coral reefs, robbing farmers and fishers of a reliable income. Water is unsafe to drink, leading to cholera and other preventable illnesses among the country’s poorest citizens.

Yet the Haitian culture is beautiful. Kids stare adversity in the face and walk to school, sometimes three hours each way. Parents build solar lamps so that young learners can study at night. Villagers plant thousands of trees as the rainy season approaches. In our partner schools, no family is turned away, which means that up to half of the students attend for free in any given year. Of course, the schools have to make up that money, but they find partners to help them, because they refuse to give up on Haiti’s future. O Death, where is thy sting?

Driving through Haiti’s beautiful and troubled countryside, I pondered the Easter mystery – that radical notion that all is forgiven through God’s grace, and that Jesus Christ strolled out of the tomb.

I wonder if Easter has to do with grace, at least partly.

In her book “Traveling Mercies,”  Anne Lamott writes:

“I do not at all understand the mystery of Grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. It can be received gladly or begrudgingly, in big gulps or in tiny tastes, like a deer at the salt. I gobbled it, licked it, held it down between my little hooves” (p. 143).

Or as Lamott notes, Eugene O’Neil put it another way: “Man is broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue” (p. 112).

My time in Haiti was truly a blessing in the sense that grace picked me up where I was and dropped me off at a new place, one that chooses “us” over “me,” generosity over hoarding, forests over deserts, love over greed, resurrection over crucifixion, life over death.

Here in Haiti, we all seek resurrection in the squalor, feeling uncomfortable, perhaps with the grime, and distracted by the hunger. But then one recalls the joyous meal we shared with teachers, priests and helpers, over potatoes and fried goat (delicious). Haitian people laugh a lot. They smile when they’re on the phone. They’re not addicted to their screens, and the word “neighbor” is still a verb. So I suspect that Easter is also about love. As in, the kind of love I felt when a kindergarten boy shared his Legos with me at a school that welcomes every kid.

I wonder what God would say if he or she were preaching Easter Sunday in Port-de-Paix. I don’t know what I would say, but for the rest of my life, I will imagine this amazing congregation listening to my sermons, and that is a gift. They are teaching me to see the world through a very different lens. One that knows Jesus on a first-name basis, and sings the promises of God when the old diesels are smogging up the outside air. One that posts beautiful prayers on Facebook, and goes to church as if it were a feast. One that educates every single kid, even when it means going into debt. One that builds healthy farms and solar water-pumps and encourages the neighbors to invest in the community by teaching at that incredible school that doesn’t have enough walls or doors. One that offers lunch to anyone who’s hungry. The friends we made in Haiti are living witnesses to the resurrection. They show the power of God’s love in all that they do.

Blessings to you and those you love this Easter. May the risen Christ keep us ever mindful of the needs of others, and help us to help them.


— The Rev. Andrew K. Barnett serves as Bishop’s Chair for Environmental Studies and Food Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, and pianist with Theodicy Jazz Collective.


  1. Ellyn Owen says:

    What a wonderful idea to add a 6th question in the service for baptism. We must be intentional in educating everyone about caring for all of God’s gifts to us—especially the diverse earth that sustains us. I pray that the convention adopts this idea.
    Ellyn Owen
    Environmental Stewardship Team
    Trinity Episcopal Church
    Lawrence, Kansas

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