I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. + Amen.
A new routine has developed in our household since sheltering in place. Every evening we watch a movie. But, we aren’t watching new movies or movies we haven’t seen. During this time of fear and uncertainty, we are watching movies that allow us to be nostalgic…movies that make us think and remember happier times.
This past week, we watched one of my favorite movies, the 1980’s classic, The Never-ending Story. It is a classic film full of fantasy, imaginative characters, and an awesome theme song that will instantly bring a smile to your face. I hadn’t seen the movie in a long time, and I had forgotten a lot of the story. But even if I had known the story well, like so many of things, viewing this film through the lens of this time of pandemic gave the story brand new meaning.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is about a young boy named Sebastian who lived a difficult life. His mother had recently died, he was relentlessly bullied by kids at school, and his only solace and comfort came from escaping reality by immersing himself in storybooks. One day, while being chased by a group a bullies, he found himself in a book store where he found an impressive looking book called The Neverending Story. Even though he was warned by the store owner that this book is no regular book, Sebastian took it and found a private place to read.
The story was about a magical world that was beautiful and full of wonderful creatures. But this world was being threatened. There was a great darkness that was consuming the land. This darkness was called the “Nothing.” The Nothing was destroying the world, one region at a time. The further Sebastian read into the story, the more he realizes that he was actually becoming part of the story. What he does and what he says is impacting what happens to the characters. Near the end of the film, Sebastian realizes that when he actively participates in the story, when he finally believes that the darkness can be overcome, that is when everything changed. This realization didn’t happen immediately. Many in the story perished and it wasn’t until the Nothing had covered almost everything in darkness, everything except Sebastian and the young empress, that Sebastian comes to the realization of his ability, and his responsibility to continue the story. To bring new life.
Even in year’s when there isn’t a pandemic, but especially this year, Lent is a season that reveals the short-comings of our humanity—a season that highlights the wickedness and evil and suffering that exists in the world—and highlights the need to turn toward God. Knowing how difficult life can be can feel like an all-consuming great darkness, and this darkness is compounded when we remember Jesus’ death and crucifixion. The sky turned black and there was darkness. And now, we find ourselves surrounded in darkness on this night. But this isn’t the end of the story.
On this night that begins in darkness, we have heard stories of God’s goodness, God’s love for us, and God’s saving acts in history. But before that, we heard the Exsultet, the song that has been sung on this night since early Christianity. This song is no regular song. It is a prayer of remembrance, but not just any remembrance. It is the idea of remembrance borrowed by our Jewish siblings who believe that when something is remembered, it is being made present again.
This means that the stories we’ve heard this night aren’t just accounts of historical events—aren’t just stories we hear meant to teach us something. On this night, when hear these stories, we become part of the story. We become part of the story where we can experience God’s salvation over and over and over and over again. Remembering…experiencing that God has been with us in the past, God is with us now, and God will always be with us in the future.
It feels like the Nothing has almost taken over everything. But on the this night, on this most holiest of nights, when death and darkness turn to new life and light…when Jesus triumphs over death and lives, this is the night that we remember that hope is not lost…that death is vanquished, that Christian hope is stronger than death, and that on this night the story will continue. Amen.