Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter 2008

Christ, Our Light

In the morning sun:
Christ, our light.

In the shining stars;
Christ, our light.

In the burning bush:
Christ, our light.

In the pillar of fire:
Christ, our light.

In the glistening temple:
Christ, our light.

In the tongues of flame:
Christ, our light.

Can it get any better than this?
Fire and smoke and bells.
The light of Christ returning to the church.

It is our Episcopal version
of the earthquake and lightning and descending angels
that the women at the tomb experienced
that Easter dawn in Matthew’s gospel.
Easter arrives
with great joy.

Oh! Haven’t we been waiting for ALLELUIA a long long time!

In the ancient church, the tradition of the Easter Vigil played an important role.
Those waiting to be baptized on Easter day,
stayed awake all night, watching and waiting,
for the day of their baptism.

They read and studied and prayed the same scripture readings
we read this very night.
These readings tell the story of the sacred past of Israel
and foretell and foreshadow the coming of the Messiah.

If you want to know the stories
that are the foundation of our lives as Easter people,
take your Book of Common Prayer
and read all eight of the scripture readings from the Easter Vigil.

But this night is more than readings or even our sacred history.
This night is about rolling back the stone of the tomb.
The stone rolls away and the dark tomb is flooded with light—and life.

Death and darkness are overcome by the light.

The dream of God is that we all have life and have it abundantly.

The dream of God is that the stone will roll away
and we will all be freed
from everything that keeps us trapped
in our own dark tombs.

Tombs are not just a thing of the past.
We have our modern day tombs as well.
We are paralyzed by the darkness.

I have a friend whom I love very much
and he is entombed in a job that is truly sucking his soul away.

He is being asked to do things as part of his job
that are-- at best-- borderline unethical.

My friend feels trapped.

He is very, very well paid for the work he does--
the work he hates-- but does—for the money.
He is not a greedy man.
He has a family, with children in college.
He has a mortgage and car payments and a stack of bills.
He is a responsible person—but a very unhappy person.

His misery is turning into a river of rage.
It is a river that most do not see,
but it is there,
running underground,
through the dark tomb where he sits—feeling trapped.

Does my friend have the strength
to push away the stone from the tomb?

Absolutely. God has given him everything he needs.

But my friend—like many of us-- is afraid.
Fear is one of those tombs that often keeps us closed away in the dark.

both the angel and then Jesus tell the women at the tomb,
Do not be afraid.

We all need to hear and heed those words.
Do not be afraid to live as Easter people.
Do not be afraid of the new life that awaits us.
Do not be afraid to step out of the darkness and into the light.

If we want to live in the light,
we need to calm our fears
and trust that Jesus will always go ahead of us.

Remember how the Pascal Candle came into the church tonight
and went ahead of us,
bringing light into the darkness?

Light is more powerful than darkness.
Life is stronger than death.

Thomas O’Loughlin in his book Journey to the Edges
writes about visiting relatives in rural Ireland in the 1960’s
when he was just a child.

Every time when the electric light was switched on,
the old man in the house would exclaim,
“God gives us the light of heaven!”
And in unison, all his other relatives in the house would respond, “Amen!”

O’Loughlin admits that, even as a child, he thought it strange
because he took electricity for granted—
yet it had only arrived to his rural relatives’ house
less than 10 years earlier.

Perhaps it is not a bad reminder—that simple “household liturgy”—
perhaps it is a useful ritual--
to remind us of the source of light
or us as Christians.

Perhaps each time we turn on a lamp or flip a light switch
we might echo those words of O’Loughlin’s relatives—
“God gives us the light of heaven.”

We are dependent on that light of heaven
and we are blessed that it is offered and given with such generosity.

Do not be afraid, says Jesus.
You will see me.

In the morning sun:
Christ, our light

In the shining stars;
Christ, our light.

In the burning bush:
Christ, our light.

In the pillar of fire:
Christ, our light.

In the glistening temple:
Christ, our light.

In the tongues of flame:
Christ, our light.

Indeed. God gives us the light of heaven.

+ + +

The Christ, Our Light poem is from Gail Ramshaw in Triduum (Liturgy Training Publications, p. 226)

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