Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flesh-to-Flesh Connection

Great Vigil of Easter – Year A
Vigil = Exodus 14:10-15:1; Isaiah 55:1-11; Ezekiel 37:1-14
Eucharist = Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

Saturday, March 22, 2008 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

[Following is the sermon I wrote for the Great Vigil, although I actually preached it without notes.]

About a week and a half ago, my friend Moki was in town for a visit. One afternoon, we decided to go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. After spending a couple hours at LACMA, we decided to walk to The Grove to do a little shopping and have some dinner. As we walked down Wilshire Boulevard, a man came walking up behind us. I was unaware of his presence until he spoke, commenting on how the weather was finally turning warm, a nice change from previous weeks. I looked back over my left shoulder to see who spoke. I saw that he was rather disheveled with rather dirty, unkempt clothes and a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Despite his appearance, he had a pleasant voice and a kind, smiling face. My initial reaction was that he was probably homeless and wanted something from us.

Not wanting to be rude, even if he was a homeless person, I replied that the weather was very nice and a welcome change. Moki and I continued walking and the man came up beside me. I just knew that at any moment, he would ask us for money. I was surprised when he said, “you know, it’s not that governor’s fault. All those politicians do it. He just got caught.” This was the day after former New York governor Elliot Spitzer admitted to involvement in a prostitution ring. The homeless man was obviously referring to the Spitzer case. I don’t really remember how I responded, but I made some comment of agreement. I was a little uncomfortable because I really didn’t know what to say, and kept wondering what he really wanted. The man walked silently beside us for a few more yards, and then as quickly as he appeared, he pulled over to the edge of the sidewalk, stopped, and wished us a good day as Moki and I continued on our way. I returned the sentiment and we continued on down Wilshire.

Through the rest of the day and into the next, I periodically thought of our encounter with this gentle, well-informed, companion. Some how, I found it interesting that he was aware of the current news and even more so that he wanted to talk about it. I was also a little intrigued that he did not ask for money or any type of assistance. And it finally occurred to me. We humans are social creatures. We long to connect with others. All this man wanted to do was connect with someone, with another human being. And what better way to do that than to strike up a conversation about such ordinary things as the weather and current news stories?

As I pondered this experience, this man’s attempt to connect with someone other than himself, to be in some sort of relationship with another person, I saw a great metaphor for our relationship with God. We are made in the image and likeness of God. It stands to reason that God, too, longs to connect with us. That’s what salvation history has been all about – God's longing to connect with us. Throughout salvation history, a portion of which we heard read during the Vigil, God has been attempting to connect with his people – the people he made in his image and likeness. The trick is, how can the divine, the Almighty, connect with mere mortals? He tried speaking through a burning bush. To weird. Too scary. He tried speaking through other people, such as prophets. Again, too scary, but in a different way. And besides, there was not the direct connection. We just thought those prophets were a little off their rocker.

God needed a way to directly connect with humanity, face to face, flesh to flesh. So God sent his Son to become human as we are, so that through that humanity, the divine might know what it means to be human; so that through his Son, the human and the divine might be united, in one person; and so that that one person, fully divine, yet fully human, might be connected with the rest of humanity. God made flesh, providing the flesh to flesh connection that we humans require to be in relationship. In this act of incarnation, God was finally able to physically touch, and be touched by, humanity.

But how can one man, even one who is fully human and fully divine, touch more than a handful of people? In his own time, he could only touch a limited number of the people who lived on Earth. And with a limited human lifespan, he would only be able to touch a small fraction of the people who would ever live. God’s connection through this one man would be fleeting at best, just as man on Wilshire’s connection with me was momentary and fleeting. No, this experiment of the incarnation, of God made flesh, would still not be enough to reach all the people who might live on this planet. Something more was needed if God was going to be able to connect with all of humanity. Something far more radical than even God incarnate was needed if there was to be an on-going, eternal connection between God and his beloved children – the children he so longed to be in relationship with.

For this to happen, Jesus, God made flesh, would need to be able to live forever. He would need to live for all eternity so that all humans who came into being might have the opportunity to know him and be touched by him, to be in relationship with him. But alas, Jesus was human. Humans do not live forever. For this to happen, Jesus would need to die and be resurrected into new life, a life that would be eternal. That’s what the last couple of days have been about. That’s what this night is all about – Jesus being resurrected to new and eternal life, so that through his eternal life, we might connect with him, know him.

We share in that eternal life, in that connection to God through Jesus Christ, through the sacrament of baptism. In baptism, we share in Christ’s death. In baptism, we share in his resurrection, being reborn to new and eternal life, cleansed of sin.

Tonight, we welcome into the family of faith, into full relationship with Jesus Christ, into full relationship with God, three new members. Mira, Mattea, and Johnny come on this most holy of nights, offering themselves to God. In the waters of baptism, they will be washed, they will be made new, they will be assured of eternal life with their Savior. God has longed to be connected with them, just as he longs to be connected with all of us. And tonight, that longing will be fulfilled.

But baptism is not just a personal act of devotion, a private, feel-good, moment in which we are connected with Christ and with God. Baptism carries with it an awesome responsibility. In baptism, not only are we connected to Christ, but we become the Body of Christ, living in this world, doing his work. Our lives are no longer our own. They belong to him, who is the head of the Body, guiding us, directing us, to continue the work he began 2,000 years ago. In this way, Christ does indeed continue to live in this world, in this time. In this way, Christ continues to be connected to humanity.

Through baptism, we are not only connected to God and to Christ. We are also connected with one another. We are connected with all of humanity, not just those in the church. Not just those who profess faith in Christ. But with all humanity. Just as Christ came into the world to minister to all, so we, as his Body, are called to minister to all, and to be a witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ – the power that was realized this day, through his resurrection.

We all long for connection with our fellow human beings. Just as my brief traveling companion on Wilshire Boulevard sought connection in any way that he could, so God seeks connection with us in any way possible. That way is provided through Jesus Christ, the one who was resurrected this day, to provide eternal connection with us. We enter into that connection through baptism, the outward sign in which we say “yes” to relationship with God through Christ. But unlike my connection with the man on Wilshire, which was momentary and unsubstantial, our connection with God, Mira’s connection with God, Mattea’s connection with God, Johnny’s connection with God, and God’s connection with each and every one of us, will last forever, and carries the promise of new and eternal life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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