4.16.2017

This is the Night



The Great  Vigil of Easter
This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land. 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, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.”[1] 
My brothers and sisters in Christ, THIS is the night.  The stories of this night are not about some events that happened thousands of years ago to some ancient people.  No, THIS is the night and it is happening right now in our time, in our lives - it is happening to you and to me. 
For you and I are the ones whom God recreates in God’s own image each and every day.[2]
You and I are the people who are pushed to our limits, who experience pressure on all sides and worry and pray and wonder. . . will God intervene?[3]
You and I are the people who whine and weep and wail even when God has us by the hand and is dragging us through the waters of the Red Sea to safety on the other side.[4]
You and I are the people who are confused about life, unsure about what’s going on, and who yet resist God’s invitation to leave our confusion behind and live fully in God’s love.[5]
And, you and I are the people whom God has anointed in baptism.[6]
How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. . . . How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and [we are] reconciled to God.”[7] 
Yes, THIS is the night.  This is the night that hauls us out of the darkness of the tombs we create for ourselves and throws us headlong into the full light of day.[8]  This is the night that proclaims “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”[9]  This is the night of “victory for our God. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”[10]  And, my friends, this is the night of victory for all creation.
In St. John Chrysostom famous Easter Sermon he wrote,
“Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?”[11]
Indeed, this is the night of “victory for our God. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”  And, my friends, this is the night of victory for all of creation.  The resurrection hauls us out of the tight, constricted tombs we construct for ourselves and shouts, “Live!”  Let go of all that holds us back – the isms, the phobias, and the addictions of our individual and communal death – let go of the racism, materialism, Islamophobia, homophobia, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexism  - all that holds us back.  Let it go.   Let go of these false systems of belief, these ways of living that are no living – let go of all that binds us and live into the fullness of God’s resurrection love. 
THIS is the night to begin again because Jesus is raised from the dead and so are we.  Yes, Jesus is raised from the dead and so are we.  Because the resurrection didn’t just happen to Jesus. It happened to a community as one by one they got back up on their feet and lived.[12] 
Resurrection happened for Mary Magdalene and the other Mary when they arrived at the tomb and were told, “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”[13] Their mourning turned to confusion and then, upon meeting the risen Christ, their confusion turned to resurrection joy.[14] They got up and lived.
And in the weeks ahead we’ll hear how resurrection happened for Thomas as his doubt turned to renewed belief and faith in the risen Christ.[15]  We’ll hear how resurrection happened for Peter as his denial turned to proclamation of the promise of the resurrection for all.[16] We’ll hear how resurrection happened for those first communities of Jesus followers who devoted themselves, as we do, to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.[17]  They got up and lived.
And in the days and weeks ahead, as we hear the stories of these early followers of Jesus being raised up, I pray that we will begin to share our own stories of how resurrection is happening to us in the here and now.  Stories of the ways in which God has liberated us from our bondage to self.  How our blindness to systemic oppression is being stripped away and our sight restored.  How we have found reconnection after a time of feeling alone.  How we have experienced resurrection or rebirth after a time of feeling dead in the midst of life.  How we have gotten up and lived.  For all of this is resurrection and all of this is at the heart of our celebration. For THIS is the night.
This is the Good News, my friends.  That Jesus is not here - that the tomb is empty and Christ has been raised from the dead.  You and I are here as witnesses to this truth.  And you and I are the ones whom God recreates in God’s own image each and every day.  And you and I are the people whom God has anointed in baptism to share this Good News.  “Do not be afraid; go and tell your brothers” and your sisters so that they too can see the Risen Christ.[18]

[1] from the Exultet, Book of Common Prayer, 287.
[2] Genesis 1:1-2:4a.
[3] Genesis 22:1-18.

[4] Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21. 

[5] Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6.
[6] Isaiah 61:1; Romans 6:3-11.
[7] from the Exultet, Book of Common Prayer, 287.
[8] Jeffrey D. Lee, “Remembering Who We Are,” Preparing for the Paschal Feast: A Morning of Reflection, Eucharist & Blessing of Chrism for All, Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, April 11, 2017.
[9] 1 Peter 2:10
[10] John W. Arthur, “This is the feast of victory for our God,” The Hymnal 1982, 417.
[11] from The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD), accessed April 13, 2017.
[12] Lee, Ibid.
[13] Matthew 28:6a.
[14] Matthew 28:9.
[15] John 20:24-28.
[16] Acts 2:36-41.
[17] Acts 2:42.
[18] Matthew 28:10b.

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