St Mark’s Episcopal Church Easter Vigil 2017

St Mark’s Episcopal Church Easter Vigil 2017

In the Name of God, our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Comforter. Amen

We are told in the Gospel reading for tonight that in the dark of the early morning, women came to Jesus’ tomb, expecting to find the tomb shut by a large stone. But instead they found the tomb open, the stone rolled away, and when they ask for Jesus, they are told “He is not here. He is risen.”

Our understanding of time and the meaning of sacramental worship allows us to claim that as we gather here tonight, we are also with those women in that night, so we too go with them to the tomb, expecting to find it shut, and so to us as well the same message comes, that the tomb is empty, the stone is rolled back, and we too hear this night, “he is not here. He is risen.”

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled to God.

We gather, this night, this blessed night, the night of nights, the Passover of the Lord, the night when God wraps the world and time in the eternal power of his love for us. We are participating in the central service of the Christian Year — we are in the still point of a circling world, the night when the eternal intersects the temporal, when past and future are collapsed into the present, when the bonds of death are broken, and the limits we believe we live within are taken away, and we are free.

This is a night of the unexpected, a night of surprise, when the tomb is empty, when the future that seemed closed and dark suddenly opens up into light and joy and celebration, for this night we are witnesses to God’s mighty acts for our salvation.

For this is the night on which we enter once more into God’s great act of our redemption, in which God fulfills his promises to us. This is the night when we all — like Prodigal Sons and Daughters — are welcomed home, when the Good Samaritan binds up our wounds, when the Master returns to his house and turns out to be a Master who comes not to be served but to serve us.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled to God.

This is the night when God sets us free. Sets us free from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, sets us free to be even more fully the community that is his Risen Body on Earth. God makes it possible for us to come here week by week, and sometimes day by day, to share in the bread and wine at a table where Jesus is the host, and we learn through this that he is a generous and gracious host, that God is a God of abundance, a God of compassion, a God of mercy.

This is the night when God overcomes everything that separates us from him, proving that nothing that is or can be – not our mortality, not our fear of intimacy with God, not our anxiety about ourselves and our futures, or our capacity to inflict pain and suffering on ourselves and others, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled to God.

But we, like Jesus’ early followers, want to know more – want to know, since he is not here, among the dead, in the tomb, then where is he? Where are we to find him?

And the first answer of course is, right here, in this place, at this time, here, among us, in what we do here tonight, for he is the Host at our feast this night, the host at this table at which we gather. For this is the night when God renews his call to us to be his people, when he welcomes us to his table, when he reminds us that we have been made, by water and the Holy Spirit a new people in Christ, made his Risen Body here on earth, a people who live by hope instead of fear, by faith instead of despair, by love instead of hate.

It is into this new life that Samantha comes to be baptized tonight, for in Paul’s epistle to the Romans we are reminded that all of us, when we are baptized, are baptized into Christ Jesus, into his life, into his death, and into his resurrection. Therefore, as Paul says, when we are baptized we are buried with him into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

But part of the mystery of our life in Christ, is of course, that in coming to us to be baptized, Samantha brings God to us, with her. We proclaim that our God is to be found in the stranger, for we too were strangers once, and we were welcomed, and so we welcome her into this holy fellowship. So while we may be able to help Samantha find out more about her new life in Christ that begins this night, she has much to teach us as well. For knowledge about our new life in Christ is not a lecture, but a conversation.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled to God.

And the second place we find our Risen Lord is in the depths of our own fears about ourselves and those we love, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, a place we all are more aware of in these uncertain times than perhaps we often are. The Jesus whose resurrection we proclaim this night has been there before us, and thus occupies that place as well. In the words of the Psalmist, yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, even here, even now, you are the Host at the table, for you prepare a feast of abundance for us even here, even now.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled to God.

And the third place we find our Lord is in the new life to which he calls us. For if God this night frees us from our bondage to fear and to despair and to death, if God this night welcomes us, bids us be guests at his table, guests at the wedding feast of heaven and earth, then God calls us to live like people who have been freed from our bondage to fear and death.

Indeed, God is a God who is at work in the world reconciling the world to himself. And if he is that kind of God, and our being set free from the bondage of sin and death, from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, is part of God’s reconciling work, then also part of that work is God’s call to us to participate in that reconciling work.

And so much of what we are called to do as God’s people flies in the face of good common sense. Love your enemies; forgive them 70 times 7 times, we are told, when it seems far more prudent to put as much distance between us and our enemies as we can.

Be not afraid, we are told, when there seems so much to be afraid of in our world, so much uncertainly, so much risk, so much danger. We live in a world in which senseless accidents can kill people we know and love, can take them from us in the midst of happiness, in the midst of a life well lived. It seems that life is a cautionary tale, reaffirming our anxieties about our security and the security of those we love.

Regard the stranger among us as one of us, we are told, for we were strangers once ourselves in the land of Egypt. But strangers are different from us, so it seems much more prudent to ignore the stranger, to send him home, to pass by on the other side of the road, to surround ourselves with walls and gates and only let the stranger in when we need the crops picked or the fields plowed or the house cleaned.

Let justice run down like waters, we are told, and righteousness like a mighty stream. When justice sounds like my giving something up so someone else can have some, and righteousness, well righteousness sounds a lot like wild and crazy things, like letting the generosity and abundance we experience here in this community guide our behavior with our family and our friends and our co-workers in our jobs and careers. Not to mention in our communities both locally and around the world.

Our world is a world that is organized around winning and losing, around getting mine and forgetting yours. But this night God calls us out of that world into a new world, a world that operates according to different principles, a world of abundance, not scarcity, a world in which we are invited to see the world as God sees it – with compassion for the stranger and the widow and the orphan and the prisoner, a world in which we love our neighbors as ourselves, in which we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. A world in which even death is not the end of the story.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled to God.

For this is the night that God calls us out, calls us out of our lives as strangers and outsiders and slaves, calls us into freedom, the freedom of new life in him. In which God calls us to friendship, into fellowship, with him. For the work we do as part of God’s reconciling work in the world we do not do to earn God’s favor, to earn God’s gifts to us. If we could save the world on our own, we would not need God to do it.

Nor do we participate in God’s reconciling work because God orders us to, as though we were still slaves, in bondage to a stern and demanding task master.

Indeed, it is the unconditional love of God that we celebrate and affirm this night that is the basis for forgiveness and for our generous confidence in God’s saving work in the world.

And so we join in God’s reconciling work because we learn from him that where there is suffering and pain, where there is scarcity and hunger, where there is homelessness, where there is bondage, where there is fear and loathing and rage and envy and jealousy, where there are people estranged from one another, there is our Lord already, inviting us to join him in his work of comfort and assurance and reconciliation and healing.

That is the fourth place we find our Risen Lord, in the world around us.

And we as God’s people, people called by a generous and loving God into friendship with him, want to be there because we want to be with him, and that is where we most easily and readily find him.

I am reminded of a song from my past. I knew a songwriter in seminary who never graduated, but went on to other things. If you have any New England connections, you may have heard of him, Bob Frankie, because as he said once, he never became a national figure in the music business, but he became a local figure in an awful lot of places.

Before leaving seminary, Bob left behind a song. Its called “The Telephone Pole Song,” but its not about the Wichita Lineman, its really about Jesus, and about Jesus’ call to us.

In the song, Bob says to Jesus,

You came and you asked me to be your friend.

I didn’t know what you meant just then.

But now you come around and you ask me once again.

And I think it very strange that I could make such a change.

But you say that I can, so I will.

Oh your cross it is so heavy and your cross it is so high,

with its bottom in the ocean and its crossbar in the sky.

I don’t think I can stay up there, but I know I’m gonna try.

If you come when I call, if you help me when I fall,

if you help me get back up there, then I will.

Beloved, our Lord comes this night to serve us, to set us free, to call us to new and abundant life, to renew us and strengthen us in the work he calls us to do.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled to God.