Tonight I had the extreme honor and privilege of preaching at The Great Vigil of Easter at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer. The readings can be found here (I focused on the epistle Romans 6:3-11), and the recording can be found over on SoundCloud.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
We have been on a journey throughout these forty days of Lent, a sacred pilgrimage that has intensified in this past week. This time of fasting, self-denial, of prayer, and reflection in heart and mind has led us to this very moment. For this is the night, God brought the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from sin and 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. We have arrived at the moment we have been waiting and preparing for . . . So now what?
Where do we go from here?
Do we go home to Easter Baskets, lilies, and family dinner?
Do we go forth from this place and return to daily life as if nothing has happened?
Is there something more to this night, than an end to our recent pilgrimage?
For the last several days we have witnessed the fullness of the life of Christ. On Maundy Thursday we received the great commandment, the Mandatum from Jesus to love one another. This is not just any kind of love, for it is through this love that we are called to extend hospitality to friend and stranger, to extend loving, humble service to all people especially those who will betray us and fail to offer this same hospitality to us.
Last night we gathered on that most Solemn day in our life of faith – Good Friday. We stood in the shadow of the Cross. We witnessed first hand the very worst that humanity can do – the very worst that we can do. We were reminded of the ways small and great that we continue to crucify people today. We were reminded of the ways that we fall short of the glory of God.
This morning we gathered to keep Holy Saturday. We prayed together in the quiet starkness of the morning. We sat in that awkward period, as the world stood still, as Christ was in the tomb, waiting for this night.
For this is the night we remember the magnificent salvation history God has given us. This is the night we take all of that history together with the pilgrimage we have just completed and carry it through the waters of Baptism just as the people of Israel carried their history through the Red Sea to new life on the other side. This is the night we have been washed with the waters of Baptism. We have entered the watery grave dying to sin and death – to this earthly ordinary way of life – and we rise with Christ to a new and redeemed reality. As we pass through these waters we are restored to our full and true nature as humanity and can now turn our lives towards God. Here in this one night we witness and embody the great metanoia of all faithful people, we see humanity turning back towards God and the world being turned upside down.
It is this new life – this reoriented life – that Paul is concerned with in his letter to the Romans that heard a moment ago. Hear again the words of Paul:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
We, by the virtue of our Baptism, are called to be alive to God and to walk in a new way – a Christ like way. While our Lenten and Holy Week pilgrimage ends this night, our Baptismal pilgrimage begins. For this is the night the Church, all of us, assume the identity of Christ’s own body in the world – the same identity of servant to the suffering world as practiced in the humble and loving actions of Maundy Thursday and in the Solemn Collects of Good Friday. It is our baptism, it is our being alive to God that incorporates us as Christ’s body and demands we walk this new pilgrim road. Baptism is not just some ritual act of cleaning it is the culmination of all that we have experienced in these last days.
In order to begin this Baptismal pilgrimage we must die. Paul makes this abundantly clear in his letter to the Romans. This is the cost of being a disciple of Jesus, it is the truth of being one of the baptized. For as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “when Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die.” And this is what it means to die: we must sacrifice all control, pride, and stubbornness. We must relinquish our sinful preoccupations of getting what is ours, of focusing on our own needs at the expense of other. In stripping away all our earthly desires, in dying to this ordinary way of life, then and only then, can we fully embrace our need for God. It is then that we have made room in our lives for love, compassion, mercy, truth, and justice. It is then that we truly become the body of Christ.
So this night as Christ tramples down the gates of sin and hell we are called to trample down the gates of systematic oppression and violence.
This is the night we are called to shout out against the causes of evil in this world as loudly and passionately as we shout Alleluia.
As we are made into a new creation through the waters of Baptism we are called to make new God’s beautiful creation. No longer can we stand idly by as forests are cut down, as sea levels rise, and temperatures increase.
As we rise to new life in Christ all metaphorical and physical walls we build between them and us must come crashing down.
As we are nourished with the body of Christ in gifts of bread and wine we are called to nourish a hungry and starving world.
For this is the night that, as that prophet Amos proclaimed, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Because this night Christ has destroyed death once and for all, this night we have died to sin and risen to new life in Christ, this night we have baskets in those all powerful waters of baptism.
Beloved of God, this night we have a choice before us. We can deny the truth of our identity and continue in the ways of this world or we can accept the choice God offers – the choice to love beyond our limits; to shatter all that holds down the people of God; to proclaim Christ risen from the dead.
This night let our choice be God. Let us choose to love beyond what we deem possible. Let us choose to turn this world right side up once again.
This night, let it be so.