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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on the Easter Vigil, March 26, 2005

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Sermon for the Easter Vigil

Preached by

Bishop Michael Garrison

March 26, 2005

 

Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Wiesel wrote that God made people because God loves stories. We have gathered tonight to tell and hear the ancient stories and in telling them to affirm our faith in our Risen Lord. We have spent this whole Holy Week listening to these stories. Last Saturday Brother Kevin Hacket of the Cowley Fathers used a phrase in his meditation on Palm Sunday to describe the emotions that we experience from the liturgy of that day: "From carnival to carnage."

The phrase fits for the rest of Holy Week as well. But tonight let us add another element to this: "From carnival to carnage to celebration." Why do we celebrate? It is robably too cold to go out and gather around a camp fire, as was probably the original setting for their telling of many of these stories. However, tonight we gathered here in darkness into which we gradually introduced more light.

The ancient story tellers remind us that once upon a time, before the beginning of time as we know it, there was God. Purely out of love our God creates heaven and earth; creates a garden paradise; creates all that is of earth and sea and sky; creates flora and fauna and then creates the man and the woman who is the mother of all the living. These stories remind us that we humans are created in God's own image and likeness and are created for a unique relationship with God.

However, so free is God with love that God does not create puppets to be manipulated; rather, God creates beings who are free to choose, free to love in return or free to reject that love. The man and the mother of all the living exercise that freedom and decide to follow their own way instead of God's. Although they choose their own way, God does not abandon them to the death that is the consequence of their choice. Instead God promises a deliverer, a savior.

When humanity is caught in depravity, God is tempted to destroy us but saves a remnant and provides a promise in the rainbow that appears in the sky that earth will not be destroyed by a flood. Much later when God wants the Israelites to celebrate and cherish the freedom God gives, God appoints Moses to lead the people from slavery in Egypt to the land of promise. However, even in that promised land, humanity's relationship with God is never all it can be. God promises to intervene. In fact God will be one who will place within wayward human beings a new heart and a new spirit. God will even go to the length of gathering up the dead and dried out bones of humanity and breathing new life into them. God will breath God's own life back into them.

The stories we have listened to this night are really different episodes of the same story. They are like simple snapshots in the family album of God's people. We also come together this night to tell the essential episode of the story of God's people, the episode that makes all the difference in outcome of the story. Jesus' death on the cross is the result of humanity's choices-your choices and mine-and that's the bad news. Along with the bad news there is also great good news and it is this:

"For if we have been united with him in a death like his,
we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."

Since that first Easter Day, when love broke bonds of death and the grave, no event has succeeded in eclipsing Christ's victory over sin and death. This is not to say that all is sweetness and light. We know that this is not so. Darkness is still rampant in our world and in hearts of many who inhabit the world. Terrorism, racism, sexism, religious persecution, and all sorts of horrors created by humans coexist with good. However,
tonight, in the midst of it all, we celebrate. Tonight we celebrate our assurance and our hope that our God brings light from darkness, victory from defeat, and resurrection out of death. And so we were exhorted by the Archdeacon in the ancient song, Exultet:

"Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, bright with a glorious splendor, for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal king."

Darkness has been vanquished and death overcome in the life of Wendy, our newly baptized friend. Tonight she has been fully initiated into the Body of Christ through each of us and through the faith of this community. Tonight the Risen Lord Jesus has extended his hand saying: "Wendy, you are my sister."

Holy baptism makes a claim on our lives-the whole of our lives. In Baptism Jesus has claimed each of us as his very own. In his incarnation Jesus laid a claim on the whole of humanity, wanting to love us, heal us, guide us, transform us. And now in Baptism Jesus Wendy, as he claimed all of who have been baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection.

In a few minutes we will pray that the Holy Spirit will specially guide our young men who being confirmed: Ian, Patrick, John, and Sam. Tonight these young people have already stood in our midst and affirmed for themselves their willingness to follow Christ as Lord and Savior. Tonight they join with us in affirming our call as Christians so to manifest the love of Christ, wherever we may be, that humanity is transformed by the power of the Risen One. Together we claim that that new heart and new spirit, promised so long ago by the prophet Ezekiel, is ours. This new heart and new spirit has been placed within us not by cardiac surgery but by the healing power of our Risen Savior.

Tonight we pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance for Myron, Denise, Patrick, and James, whom we receive into the fellowship of our communion. They have made faith professions in other communities of faith; but now we rejoice with them in their willingness to stand with us and join with us in the work of manifesting the love of God to and for the world Jesus came to save.

Tonight we also pray for the Holy Sprit's direction and guidance For Cyndy and Michael, who reaffirm the vows of Holy Baptism. Let us rejoice that they are willing to recommit themselves to the work of building up of the Reign of God.

In Holy Baptism we celebrate God's irrevocable faithfulness to all whom God has claimed for God's very own in Jesus Christ. In confirmation, reception, and reaffirmation we celebrate our call as Christians to lead holy lives, renouncing evil and following Christ as Lord and Savior in the service of God's mission for the world.
Together tonight on this Holy Night let us all affirm our own willingness to be empowered, sustained, upheld, directed, led, defended, and increased in the work of building up God's kingdom here and now. With the assurance that God has gifted us with many gifts, let us use them in service and witness. In Jesus' life, death, and resurrection we celebrate that our God has come out to encounter each of us, and in the power of this coming out, we are returned to God. In our returning to God, we are invited not to come back alone but to bring many others with us.

Thus this story we have been telling this week, a story of carnival, carnage, and celebration ends as it began: in God. With Jesus' resurrection we are new creatures
and joyfully we proclaim: "We are Easter people and Alleluia is our song!"

 

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