The story of our salvation, Easter Vigil (C) – 2010

April 3, 2010

Liturgy of the Word: Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood]; 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]; Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 [Learn wisdom and live]; Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit]; Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]; Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God’s people]

Eucharist: Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Luke 24:1-12

“Alleluia, the Lord is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed!”

That is enough. What else do we need to know on this most glorious of all days? What else do we need to shout? Nothing! Nothing at all.

Our 40 days of Lent are over. We have prepared ourselves with prayer and fasting. We have prayed for all those who will be baptized. We might even feel freed from 40 days of self-denial. Already, for some of us, our mouths tingle with the expectation of that first taste of chocolate Easter egg. So, preacher, sit down, let’s get on with the celebration. Alleluia, the Lord is Risen!

But wait. We are human after all. We are not like the angels who hover around God’s throne singing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord.” The pure ecstasy that comes from an absolute understanding of what Jesus’ resurrection means doesn’t belong to us mortal beings just yet. It’s much too easy for us to get caught up in the sights and sounds of Easter that the world throws at us: bunnies, Easter bonnets, purple and pink plastic grass for our baskets. The lure of a Halloween-like stash of candy makes us forget what the symbol of the Easter egg even means.

So, yes, let us shout Alleluia, but then let us remember how we began this service in deep, expectant silence. The Paschal candle – the Light of Christ – pierced the darkness proving that life is stronger than death. What did you see with your own small candle lit from Christ’s light? We’re amazed that as the community gathers, individual tiny lights blend to cast a stronger glow. We can begin to imagine the early dawn bathing the stone that will soon roll away, impotent against the power of resurrection.

And then, we hear the story of our salvation. This is the night when we need to hear those familiar Bible stories in a new way. The Word of God comforts and encourages, challenges and teaches. In Genesis, all creation explodes in beauty and variety. The sun and moon, creatures of every kind, man and woman made in the image and likeness of God – wonderful and beautiful images and our ears hear that God saw that it all was good.

Lent comes to mind as the arc floats for 40 days and 40 nights on a sea of God’s anger at humankind’s inability to love one another and care for creation. It’s a frightening image until God makes a covenant between God’s self and all flesh. “See,” God says, “I have set my bow in the sky as a sign of the covenant.” But that bow is not a rainbow. The Hebrew word qeshet (“Keh-shet”) means the bow of a bow and arrow. God lays down a weapon of destruction, never to take it up again. God expects us to do the same. Isn’t it interesting that human artists have depicted this image with a colorful but ungraspable symbol and not the tangible challenge of an image that calls us to a strong, but often difficult level of love. This is why we need to hear these stories tonight. There is always more to learn and absorb.

Abraham proves his faithfulness, dry bones rise from the dessert floor and live again, God’s people are invited to sit down and eat and drink all they need. Tonight we surround ourselves with stories and images that remind us where we’ve come from. We see how we belong to the whole family of God. Abraham, Moses, Sarah, Miriam, Paul, Blessed Mary, and Mary Magdalene: they are our kin and we are their children. God’s bow is still placed in the sky. We are called to be peacemakers, to faithfulness and compassion and love.

Our 40 days of Lent prepare us to shout “Alleluia, the Lord is risen!” and we are risen with him. Twentieth-century poet Leonard Feeney gives us a wonderful image of this shared resurrection:

In crocus fashion, sunlight-wise,
The body of Our Lord
Slipped through the stone-bound sepulchre,
Streamed through the soldier’s sword. …
With bones ablaze and flesh aflash
And hair set flying free,
So shall I come to you, loved ones,
So shall you come to me.

May each of us leave here with bones ablaze and flesh aflash and hair set flying free, renewed and empowered with the Word of God, nourished with Christ’s Body and Blood, to keep this story alive and to bring about the Kingdom of peace.

Amen.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is executive director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches at the School of Theology, Sewanee, Tenn., and assistant professor of Contextual Education. She is also publisher of “Tuesday Morning,” a quarterly journal of ministry and liturgical preaching.

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