Some of us are here because of the sheer beauty of the liturgy itself; the light of the paschal candle representing the light of the risen Christ which cannot be extinguished, the ancient hymn ‘Exsultet’ which extolls the light and its meaning for the world, the ancient stories from sacred Scripture which remind us that God has given us our very life and has journeyed with us through times of radical renewal, deliverance from slavery, the bestowal of new identity and mission, and rescue from the deadly dryness of spiritual despair.
Some of us are here because these stories speak to our own journeys, and the hymns and psalms provide us comfort and reassurance.
Some of us are here because our faith is already strong – and out of gratitude we come to celebrate and rejoice in the truth of the faith which carries us forward day after day and year after year.
Some of us are here because we’re still looking for something that rings true, something which just might resonate with the longing we feel to be connected to what is essential and meaningful in life.
But no matter what brought us through the doors of this cathedral this evening we have come to the place in our vigil where a definite shift takes place. The rehearsal of God’s mighty acts in the lives of our ancestors gives way to the reality of God’s life among us in the person of Jesus – and let’s be clear about this, it is in Jesus that our deepest longings can be satisfied.
At Easter – the highest and holiest feast of the Christian calendar – we claim the fullest meaning of that gracious act without which this night would have no meaning at all – the Incarnation. In the Incarnation God enters human life for all eternity, sharing what is best about it, becoming vulnerable to all that is worst about it.
Jesus, God in the flesh, is no temporary interloper. In Jesus, God has taken up residence within human life, and what Jesus does among us is unbound by time and place. At every moment Jesus the Christ is born among us. At every moment Jesus the Christ is rejoicing with those who celebrate human creativity, human compassion, humor, and love.
At every moment Jesus the Christ is healing the sick, and teaching those who hunger for wisdom. At every moment Jesus the Christ is sharing meals with sinners, encountering outcasts, speaking publicly to the ‘unworthy,’ challenging the self-righteous, and reframing people’s understandings of the Law.
At every moment Jesus the Christ is getting alongside the rebuffed, the ridiculed, the misunderstood, and the hated ones. At every moment he is taken by force, falsely accused, cruelly tortured, and shamefully executed, giving the lie to the notion that might makes right.
And in those same moments, Jesus the Christ takes and blesses bread and gives it to his friends, commanding them to continue this sharing as a reminder that he is ever present with them. In those same moments Jesus is blessing and sharing the cup which becomes the sacrament of his willingness to forge an eternal covenant in his own blood….a covenant not with the deserving, but with those whose sins will otherwise overpower them….a covenant with us.
It is this Jesus – God in the flesh – who offers us what we cannot provide for ourselves – and whose Spirit guides and strengthens us to love as he loves, and to serve as he serves.
Only Jesus gives us Easter life.
The world around us has trivialized Easter perhaps even more than it has Christmas. And let’s be honest, we have participated in the domestication of Easter. We dress it all up with bunnies and baskets of chocolate. We give in to the temptation to make it into a festival of renewed life – of the return of the warm weather and the greening of the trees. A butterfly emerges from a chrysalis, the daffodils begin to bloom, the robins return, and the cycle of life revs up again. Ah – a sign of resurrection!
We forget that Easter is also being celebrated (perhaps more profoundly!) in the southern hemisphere, where the natural world appears to be dying. We forget that the cycles of nature have precious little to do with Resurrection. When our own ritualized delight in seeing spring return obscures our wonder at the transcendent emergence of Jesus from the grave, we are left not knowing the heart and soul of Christianity – and that heart and soul is not the return of old life – it is rather the beginning of entirely new, Resurrection life, in Jesus.
In today’s climate of bombastic rhetoric from those who seek to be our political leaders, we followers of Jesus must call to mind the commandment to love as he loves. It is for Jesus people to say out loud that God’s love embraces every human being – even the refugees among us, and that inviting fear of those who differ from us is not the way to love them.
It is for Jesus people to take stands which indicate that we value our neighbors as we do ourselves – even if higher wages might mean higher prices. It is for followers of Jesus to refute the lie that disagreement on important issues must mean that we condemn those who disagree with us. Do we think we must agree in order to have a meaningful, lasting relationship with each other? How wrongheaded! Agreement is not the issue! Mercy does not depend on agreement! Neither does love.
Human sin makes it abundantly clear that we disagree with God. We disagree with God about what is right and good, and about what will be best for us. If agreement were the condition on which we could have a meaningful relationship with God, then God would have cut the ties long ago! But even with all our stubborn, sinful disagreement, God has maintained the relationship. Not only that, God has overlooked the disagreements and all the damage they have done throughout history, and has given us a way to live faithfully beyond them. In Jesus we have the gift of God’s unifying love and grace.
And if anyone came here tonight wanting to hear about the grace of God – that God gives us not what we deserve but what we need, that God is on our side no matter what, that God wants us reconciled with each other in spite of our disagreements, and offers release from sin and death – then come to the empty tomb.
Come seeking Jesus as the women did before sunrise on that day when a new reality was abroad in the world. Bring your doubts and fears, and anger, and pain, and emptiness, and loneliness, and confusion.
Come, with Jesus’ own teachings ringing in your ears; about healing for the suffering, about his own searching for the lost, and the rejoicing in heaven when any one of us repents and is welcomed home. Remember that redeeming grace is only needed by sinners, and resurrection only works on what has died.
And if you feel full of joy and gratitude for all God has given you, then out of that wonderful place of gratitude reach out your hand to someone near you who needs reassurance – and remember that even your overflowing joy does not reflect all that God has given you.
Come asking for Jesus’ resurrected life to live in this broken, frightened world, or in your own fear, or in your own knowledge of your need for him. Then you will experience Easter.
Either it’s true or it isn’t. Either Jesus is alive or he is dead. If he is dead there’s nothing more to say. If he’s alive, enough words cannot be found to describe the new life of grace awaiting those who believe he lives in them.
We are human. There may never be a time when we are able to leave disagreement and fear completely behind. But we know the rest of this Easter story. We know that new possibilities emerge because the risen Jesus lives in those who love him, and changes us if we will allow him to love us as we are, and not try to hide ourselves from him….
Resurrection love, like the kingdom Jesus proclaimed, is here and now reality. I can’t prove it to you, and the Church can’t prove it to the world, unless we start seeking it with all our hearts. And when we do, the proof of what we say we believe will be irrefutable. Our lives will be characterized by the justice that brings peace, the mercy which issues in nobility, the worship which issues in joy, and the love that honors every person as image of God.
Then whoever observes us will marvel and say, “What do you know!?!, Christ IS risen!” and we will respond, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
+Catherine M. Waynick
Christ Church Cathedral
The Great Vigil 2016