Preached at the Great Vigil of Easter, April 16, 2022 at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross, Poplar Bluff, MO
Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]; Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac]; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea]; Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]; Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit]; Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]; Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Luke 24:1-12
Well, we made it.
We made it through Lent.
We made it through the wilderness.
We have come through our forty days of fasting, our forty days of wandering, and have arrived at a land flowing with milk and honey.
This week, as it should be, has been a special week.
On Thursday, we sat with Christ and his disciples at the Last Supper and heard him tell them and us to “Love one another.”
On Friday we watched as Christ was condemned, crucified, and laid in the tomb.
On Saturday, until sundown, we live in that horrible, horrible Saturday, that in-between time, when we can’t be sure there will ever be a Sunday.
Tonight, we have listened to the old, old stories, from the story of Creation, to God’s salvation of Israel at the Red Sea, to the Valley of Dry Bones, Ezekiel’s vision of a restored Israel. We have heard Israel’s story of God’s grace throughout history. We have heard Paul tell of what Christ’s resurrection means for us. And we have heard the story of the women at the tomb. As yet, all we have is an empty tomb. We have been told he’s risen, but we haven’t seen. We haven’t met the resurrected Christ yet. Be patient, I have a feeling we’ll meet him in the morning.
Many of you know by now that my Dad died on Maundy Thursday. Earlier in the week I was kind of floundering as to what I would preach about this evening, but my Dad’s death brought it into clear focus. And this is why the sermon is coming at this point in the service, when I could have preached right after the Old Testament passages we read tonight. There’s a lot of material there for sure, but since the phone call from my Sister on Thursday I have wanted to preach AFTER we read the Gospel reading. I wanted to talk specifically about the Resurrection and what it means to us.
You see my father had a rock-solid belief in resurrection. When my Mom died, he talked about how he wasn’t heartbroken, because she was out of pain and he knew…KNEW…they would see each other again. This is the faith we should all have, the faith that we should show in our lives every day. Because with his Resurrection, Christ showed it to be true. In his Resurrection, Christ showed that Resurrection could really happen, would really happen.
When we hear the Exsultet, when we hear the readings of God’s saving deeds throughout the ages, when we respond with psalm and canticle, and when we then declare that Christ has indeed risen front the dead, we are doing something incredibly important. We are declaring that death itself has been conquered. We are claiming that we do not have to be afraid of it anymore. We are claiming that death has no power over us. And that’s why I can stand here tonight with joy in my heart, instead of overwhelming sadness.
Because this is the night. This is the night. This is the night when everything that Jesus said was vindicated. This is the night of which every other church service is just an echo. We make a huge deal of Christmas, and rightly so. Easter Sunday is important, sure. But this night, this holy night, is the most important, most holy night of the year. We have all those Old Testament readings because we need to see the whole story. We need to feel the power and depth and sweep of the history that led up to this night.
This special night is the climax of a love story that began in the depths of time before Creation. This night is prefigured by the ancient stories of the salvation of Noah and his family from the Flood, and the Israelites salvation at the Red Sea. This night was hinted at by the prophets. The events of this night were set in motion with an announcement to Mary and the birth of a small child. This night was made possible by an arrest, trial, and execution. This night is the completion of all those bits and pieces. It’s what history was headed toward from before the beginning of time.
This is the night when Christ made the down payment on our promise of resurrection. That’s resurrection. Not a disembodied ghost-like existence after we die, but a real, physical, resurrection of the body. When Christ rose from the dead, he didn’t come back as a ghost. He came back fully alive, and that’s what is in store for us.
And even though we can’t celebrate Eucharist this year, we can still celebrate what has happened. We can still come together. We can still read the stories. And we can still shout our alleluias to the heavens for the saving work that God, through Jesus Christ, has accomplished this very night.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!