Easter Vigil April 4, 2015
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish
Alleluia. The Lord is Risen. The Lord is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!
What an incredibly complex and rich fabric of our Christian heritage fills this holy evening on which we celebrate The Great Vigil of Easter - the first service of Easter Day.
As you may know, the Great Vigil is actually a four-part liturgy. We open with the Service of Light – the Lighting of the Pascal Candle. The term "Paschal" comes from the word Pesach, which in Hebrew means Passover, and relates to the Paschal mystery of salvation, the Divine truth and life to which God through the Church - the sacraments, the Word of God, and faith - makes himself known to those who choose to follow him.
The flame of the Paschal candle – the Light of Christ - symbolizes the eternal presence of Christ’s light of the world in the midst of his people. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians described this mystery when he wrote, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” (Eph 1:17)
Tonight as we entered the church, darkness engulfed us. A fire was kindled – the Paschal Candle was lighted - the Light of Christ appeared, and a lone voice bathed in the new light proclaimed, “Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout salvation for the victory of our mighty King…This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life…This is the night that Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave…How blessed is this night when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”
Powerful words – extraordinary images – passionate prayers in which we yearn to burn with heavenly desires so that we may come to know the divine mystery of salvation.
After the Service of Light, we moved into the Service of Lessons in which we heard the beloved stories from Scripture that tell of God’s saving deeds in history. Stories that remind us of the power, the scope, and the beauty of God’s creation.
The testing of Abraham who was blessed by God and whose offspring would be a blessing to all nations. The compassion and love of God as he delivered his people at the Red Sea. God’s plan of salvation for the whole word as described by the prophet Isaiah. And, in Zephaniah, God’s dramatic announcement of a time in which God would act decisively to re-establish justice after the exile.
Through stories and psalms we heard in one way or another, and over and over again, comforting words that assured us, “Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense and he will be my Savior.” (Canticle 9; vs 1-2)
After the Service of Lessons came the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, a time in which we renewed the solemn promises and vows of or Baptismal Covenant. Vows in which we promised to love our neighbors as ourselves and to serve God faithfully – without hesitation – always.
And then, finally, we arrived at the Holy Eucharist with the administration of Easter Communion. The Altar candles were lit from the Paschal Candle – The light of Christ burst forth, and we proclaimed: Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
The Light of the resurrected Christ shines out of the darkness; our hope is restored. Our Easter opportunity to leave behind an old way of life – a way of life beholden to distraction and self-involvement – stares us straight in the face – challenges us. Are we ready for this new life, once again given to us through God’s grace and love?
Once again this Easter we have the Easter opportunity to be renewed both in body and in mind to a way of life that brings Jesus the Christ front and center in our lives. Jesus Christ as the way – our way, the light – our light and the truth – our truth– all that we need, really, to live into the Baptismal vows that we have just renewed.
With candles lit and joy in our hearts we listened, once again, to the Gospel story of Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Salome who, with spices in their hands, approach Jesus’ tomb. They are there to anoint his body, as was the custom; to ensure that he receives the compassionate care and love that he taught and so profoundly demonstrated. They go to the tomb to honor their beloved teacher.
The tomb is empty – Jesus is not there. Instead, they see a man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side of the tomb. He speaks to them saying, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” (Mark 16:6-7)
Mark tells us that the women fled – they were seized by terror and amazement. Terror and amazement – powerful and graphic words that remind me of Luke’s shepherds who were terrified when the angel of the Lord shone around them bringing “good news of great joy,” and, then amazed when they saw the baby Jesus lying in a manager surrounded by the angel and a multitude of the heavenly host, who were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Lk 2:13)
As we experience this incredibly rich Great Vigil of Easter liturgy are we not filled with terror and amazement? Is it not frightening to consider the power of God as he reigns over his Kingdom? Is it not amazing to consider the benevolence of God as he continually bestows grace upon us – both sinner and savior? If you were at the tomb, would you, like the two Marys, not also be filled with terror and amazement?
What does the resurrection of Jesus mean to you? When you contemplate the gift of the resurrected Jesus in your everyday life, are you not both terrified and amazed?
Sister Joan Chittester, a Benetictine nun, author and lecturer writes: “To say, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ... who rose from the dead then, is to say I believe that the Resurrection goes on and on and on forever. Every time Jesus rises in our own hearts in new ways, the Resurrection happens again. Every time we see Jesus where we did not recognize him before — in the faces of the poor, in the love of the unloved, in the revelatory moments of life, Jesus rises anew. But that is not all. The real proof of the Resurrection lies not in the transformation of Jesus alone but in the transformation awaiting us who accept it.”
That is to say, we also are resurrected tonight, and through the resurrected Christ, God has given us the gift of continual resurrection. Along with Jesus, we become a new people. A people who know the darkness, and a people who continue to walk through it because we are assured that the Light of Christ shines brightly, guiding us in our journey…healing us in our pain…and bringing us into the eternal Kingdom of God’s grace and salvation.
“This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life…This is the night that Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave…How blessed is this night when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”