Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Vigil Sermon: 3 April 2010

This Is the Night

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, saints of God: now we join with angels and archangels, with cherubim and seraphim, with apostles and martyrs, with all the company of heaven and all the saints on earth, to give voice to all creation as together we proclaim, “This is the night!” How holy is this night. How blessed is this night. For this night is the climax of salvation history. Every past act of God points toward this night and every future act of God radiates outward from this night. It is both the last of the first days and the first of the last days, the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end – the alpha and the omega.

This night we tell the story – the story of creation and fall, of God’s good and very good creation ruined by our failure to bear God’s image, by our refusal to be God’s instruments of grace and life in his world. Why is there evil in this world? Why corruption? Why pain and sickness and loneliness and despair and death? Why plague and famine, slavery and poverty? What is wrong with God’s good creation? I am and you are and we are, all of us together, as it is written:

“There is no one who is righteous,
not even one;
there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God”
(Rom 3:10-11, NRSV).

Adam, Cain, Lamech: generation after generation we spiraled downward into corruption and dissolution. We did this, for this is your story and mine.

We knew God but we did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in our thinking and darkened in our senseless minds. Claiming to be wise we became fools; and we exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles (cf Rom 1:21-23).

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created,” (Gen 6:5-7a, NRSV).

But God had mercy on our father Noah – a righteous man, blameless in his generation – and preserved him, along with his family, through the great flood. Yet sin survived the flood as well, carried by the very hope of our kind, Noah, who in hung-over rage cursed his son Canaan to slavery and began anew man’s downward spiral toward the hubris of Babel and the alienation of person from person, nation from nation.

But God had mercy on our father Abraham.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:1b-3, NRSV).

This is the covenant, the promise God made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever: election, nation, land, blessing.

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ (Gal 2:16, NIV).

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob: each carried the seed of blessing and each carried the thorn of sin. The ones chosen to be the means by which God would put to rights the world were themselves part of the problem: blessing and curse, freedom and slavery. And slavery came as the house of Abraham went down to Egypt and was ruthlessly oppressed with forced labor by Pharaoh who made their lives bitter in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields (cf Ex 1:11-14).

But God had mercy on us and raised up for us a deliverer, Moses, who commanded Pharaoh in the name of our God, “Israel is my firstborn son. Let my son go that he may worship me” (cf Ex 4:21-23). But Pharaoh would not, so God struck him again and again – ten times God struck Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm until the pride of Ham, the firstborn sons of Egypt, lay dead, and Israel, the firstborn son of God, was driven from Egypt with the riches of the land and the blessing of the people, until the might of Egypt lay drowned on the shore of the Red Sea, until our fathers and mothers, former slaves all, could sing together,

I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted;
the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my refuge;
the Lord has become my Savior
(The Song of Moses, BCP 85).

To Sinai we came, to Sinai where our God called us a holy nation, a kingdom of priests to serve him; to Sinai where God gave us his commandments; to Sinai where we bowed the knee before idols made by hand; to Sinai where we sat down to eat and rose up to play; to Sinai where we traded glory for shame; to Sinai where we inherited the curse of the Law and not its blessing.

But God had mercy on us nonetheless and brought us into a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the land promised on oath to our father Abraham. There we became fat and arrogant – a stubborn and stiffnecked people – and rebelled against our God, prostituting ourselves before the gods of the peoples of the land. And God punished us, delivered us over to our enemies, yet forgave our sins when we called upon him: again, and again, and again.

But God had mercy on us and raised up for us a man after his own heart, David, son of Jesse, sweet psalmist and king of Israel. And to David, the LORD Almighty said,

I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.

The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son
(2 Sam 7:8-14, selections, NIV).

But David, even David, turned from the Lord and embraced Bathsheba, embraced the lust and sin within him and within us all. Confronted and beguiled by the prophet Nathan, David pronounced his own condemnation; “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die” (2 Sam 12:5)! David rightly placed himself and all men under the righteous judgment of God.

But God had mercy on us and sent us prophets who again and again called us to repent and return. And though we were faithless, God remained faithful. Though we were false, God remained true. Again he made covenant with us, a covenant through the promised seed of Abraham. He says,

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the LORD says – the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel – to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you”
(Is 49:6-7, NIV).

And about this light for the Gentiles, about this one chosen by the Holy One of Israel, the prophet says,

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth
(Is 53:4-9, NIV).

And God had mercy on us, for he came, this one, in the fullness of the times. He came, the last Adam. He came, the seed of Abraham. He came, the fulfillment of the Law. He came, the son of David. He came, the hope of the prophets. He came, the anointed of God, the savior of Israel, the light of the Gentiles. He came.

Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:22-23, NIV).

God have mercy on us. For in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. All the promises of God found their fulfillment. All the righteousness of God bore all the sin of the world. God have mercy on us. For we put to death the author of life, the Messiah of Israel, the hope of the world.

And so it all comes down to this, to this night when all creation holds its breath, when all promises are pending, when all hope peers forward in the blackness of night into the darkness of the tomb. This night is the climax of salvation history. Every past act of God points toward it and every future act of God hinges on it. This is the night when all of watching creation – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – will learn whether Adam’s sin will be forgiven, whether man will be renewed in God’s image and will bear that image before a creation set to rights, whether God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled, whether David’s son will receive an everlasting throne, whether the hope of the prophets will be vindicated, whether the Messiah of Israel will become the light of the Gentiles and the Lord of all creation. This is the night. And on this night the One on whom all this depends lies in a tomb – beaten, broken, and crucified for the sake of all.

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me’ (Mt 28:1-10, NRSV).

This is the night: the night of sorrowing women, the night of earthquakes, the night of angels, the night of the empty tomb, the night of fear and great joy, the night of Jesus – suddenly Jesus – risen from the dead and going ahead of us, the night of Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid.” This is the night when Adam’s sin is forgiven and man is reconciled to God. This is the night when man is restored to the image of God, when men and women and children are renewed in nature and vocation, and when nature itself experiences the firstfruits of its liberation from the bondage of corruption. This is the night when God’s covenant with Abraham is fulfilled and the world is blessed through his seed. This is the night when David’s son takes his everlasting throne. This is the night when the prophets are vindicated and the Messiah of Israel is shown to be the light of the Gentiles and the Lord of all creation. This is the night that marks the dawn of the first day of God’s new creation. This is the night of resurrection.

Christ is risen and all is made new.
Christ is risen and death is conquered.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

This is the night!

Amen. Alleluia.

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