Easter Vigil, Year C, 2016

Fire and water.

Only these two elemental symbols can capture the mystery of the Easter Vigil.

We start with fire, burning a hole in the darkness created by Christ’s death.

From the stars of creation, to the burning bush, to the pillar of fire and smoke that led the Israelites in the wilderness; throughout history God has used fire to point to himself. Fire has a numinous, dangerous quality. It illuminates, but it can destroy. It can warm, or consume. Fire points at God’s power and his mystery.

We defiantly light a new fire on Holy Saturday though Christ lies dead in the tomb. That fire is a symbol of Christ’s eternal light. It hovers on top of the Paschal candle. The candle reminds us that nothing can extinguish Christ’s light, not even death.

Water is a thread through many of our readings tonight. Water covered the Earth at the beginning of Creation. Life was born out of that water. Water contained the potential for everything that is now our world. God used that same life giving water to demolish the human race during the time of Noah. God made a new start with us, and water was what he used to cleanse his canvas. He saved the Israelites from the Egyptians by parting water and then provided thirsty Israelites water from a rock in answer to their unbelief. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans that through water we are baptized in Christ’s death. Water drowns and cleans us so we can stand before God, ready to participate in Christ’s life.

We will sprinkle Liam delicately tonight, but in the first baptisms, he would have been plunged into a river and then brought out gasping for air. The death of his old life would have been clearer than with our polite ritual. But God is doing the same work in Liam tonight as he has done for all of us baptized. He is putting to death what was old in Liam, and awakening new life in him. Liam will receive a Christ candle, a reminder that Christ’s fire now burns in his heart. A reminder that Liam no longer needs to fear death, no longer needs to fear anything, because the power of God resides within him.

The powers of death and darkness have no hold over us. They have been defeated by Christ’s resurrection. There is nothing that can now separate us from God. His fire is eternally kindled in our hearts.

My final words are taken from John Chrysostom’s famous Easter Vigil sermon:

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

 

Easter Vigil, Year C, 2013

God has a problem.

God made this amazing creation.    He made suns, moons, planets—galaxies full of whirling dust and light.  And in one of those galaxies he made this remarkable planet, this lush place full of water and rich soil and plants that nourish and shade.  He made animals of every color and station, invisible amoebas and awe inspiring whales.  And then he made people.

People are God’s problem.  God made people to love them.  And he does love them.  God loves people so much he allows them to be free in a way animals and plants are not.  But the trouble is, in that freedom, people turn out to be a real mix of wonderful and terrible.  We discover fire. We create art.  We create ideas.  We are the architect of St. Peter’s bacilica and the Declaration of Independence.  We learn to clothe ourselves and provide for our families and love our children the best we can.  But we also lie, cheat, steal.  We find old girlfriends on Facebook and betray our families.  We hoard money instead of caring for the poor.  We invent and use guns that can murder two dozen children in five minutes.  We too often turn our back on God, and our neighbor.  God wants to be in relationship with us, but we reject him.

So God tries everything.  He tries wiping us off the face of the earth with a giant flood and starting over again with Noah’s family.  But people are still wonderful and terrible.  So, God tries choosing one family, Abraham’s family, and makes a covenant with them.  But even that special family is still wonderful and terrible.  So, God sends a list of rules to Moses so we’ll at least know when we are being terrible.  But after we finish oohing and ahhing over the shiny tablets Moses brings down from the mountain, we just go back to being rude to our parents, coveting our neighbor’s cattle, and murdering those who become inconvenient to us.  God tries Judges to rule us.  No dice.  He tries kings.  The kings end up totally abusing their power and taking advantage of God’s people.  So God tries sending prophets.  These prophets really let us have it.  They yell at us to start worshiping God properly and treating other people with care and respect.   They don’t hold back one bit.  Some of us listen to them, but mostly we just feel kind of bad for the prophets since they smell funny and don’t have a lot of friends.  We continue to be wonderful and terrible.

Now, if we were out for a drink with God and heard him tell this story, we might pat God’s hand and say, “Oh my GOODNESS, break up with them already! They are never going to change.  Go get some therapy and find a hobby or something.  They are just not that into you!”

Thankfully, God is not interested in our advice. God is relentless and creative.  God made us and loves us and is going to be in relationship with us even if we are congenitally unable to be faithful to how God wants us to live.

God sends us his Son.  The God of the Universe, who made all those stars and suns and moons willingly takes on muscle and bone and flesh.  He becomes one of us, except he is able to live in a way God intended.  He lives a life of generosity, selflessness, creativity, and love.  He sees people for who they are and speaks to them honestly.  He heals the broken and brings life to the dead.  People start to see that obedience to God isn’t about following a bunch of rules, it is about relationship.  In fact, Jesus flouts some of the rules that clergy created. He always puts people ahead of rules.

This rule breaking freaks out the powers that be.  They can’t stand losing their power.  They can’t stand the idea that God’s authority could rest with someone other than themselves.  And so, Jesus dies.

This might be the end of the story.  This would make sense.  In a world filled with the abuse of children and corruption of governments and hopeless poverty, a dead God seems like the only explanation.

But we know, of course, that Jesus’ death is not the end of the story.  Because God is relentless.  Because God loves us. Because God won’t give up on us, even when we murder him.

God defies the very rules of the Universe that he created and breathes life back into Jesus’ body.  In so doing, he changes everything about our lives, too.  No longer are people sentenced to alienation and death for their terribleness.  Now, humans are judged through the lens of Jesus.  God can relate to us, because Jesus stands between and intercedes for us.  God can be in relationship with us, even if we aren’t perfect.  And we still aren’t.  We are still wonderful and terrible.  But we are forgiven.

We are forgiven not because of anything we’ve done.  We are forgiven because our God would not stop until we could be together. Our God loves us more than is reasonable, more than we can comprehend.

This forgiveness is not just a blank check.  As God forgives us, he draws us closer to himself and starts to form us into the people he intended us to be.  The more we realize our brokenness, and ask for forgiveness, and get forgiven, and get drawn closer to God, the more we live lives of honesty and grace and love.  We realize the greed and lust and corruption are all about fear—fear of not having enough, fear of not being good enough, fear of not being loved.

When we start to believe God’s love for us, we experience our own resurrection.  Finally, all those fears that have ruled our hearts are put to death, and hope and joy are borne from their ashes.

We rise from those ashes and say, Alleluia, Christ is Risen!