Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Light That Burns Forever

Great Vigil of Easter – Year C (RCL)
Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Luke 24:1-12
Saturday, April 3, 2010 – Trinity, Redlands

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

Yes, the Lord is risen indeed. These are probably the most beautiful words ever spoken. For these words point to what salvation history is all about. These words reveal the priceless gift God has given us. These words contain the foundation of our faith as Christians. All else flows from the fact that our Lord is risen.

That’s what this whole night has been about. It has been about the fulfillment of salvation history. In the vigil, we started off with the story of our creation in the image and likeness of God and continued with stories emphasizing God’s love for his people, his desire to protect them, and provide for them. These are the stories of a God seeking to be in relationship with us, and for us to be reconciled to God. And while we did our best, we still could not quite live up to what God wanted. We just had a hard time trying to be in relationship with a God who we could not see, who we could not touch. We humans need face-to-face, flesh-against-flesh relationship.

So, it became evident to God that a new covenant was needed, one in which God would come in the flesh, becoming one of us. So it was that God became flesh through Jesus to establish that face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh relationship with us. But even so, there was still a divide that precluded the type of relationship, the complete reconciliation that God desired. That divide was the sinfulness of humanity. Elimination of that sinfulness would require a sacrifice so huge that we could not possibly pay it. There was only one person who could – he who was totally human and totally divine –Jesus, the only begotten son of God. And so Jesus willingly took all the sins of humanity – your sins and my sins – upon himself, so that in his death, those sins would be forgiven and erased. And God allowed this because he loves us so much that he was willing to suffer the ultimate sacrifice, that of his only son, so that our relationship with him, reconciliation with him, might be secured for all time.

That was Good Friday. But on this night, God’s desire is fulfilled. Christ has been resurrected. And in so doing, he has broken down the barrier of sin and destroyed its hold on our lives. He has defeated the bonds of evil and death. Death no longer has dominion over humanity. In breaking those bonds, he has insured for each and every one of us forgiveness of our sins. In washing away our sins, we are made a new creation reconciled with God and promised the joy of eternal life.

The death of Jesus on the cross was not the end of the story. Even his resurrection is not the end of the story. It is just the beginning. On this night, we are all there, at the tomb, along with Mary Magdalene and the other women, witnessing for ourselves the empty tomb, coming to terms with what it means for us that our Lord has risen. In that we are all witnesses to the resurrection. We are all apostles. And our job as apostles is to take the message of the Risen Christ, of God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life, into the world. That is our sacred responsibility and our solemn vow as members of the Body of Christ. For in a few minutes, we will renew our Baptismal vows, acknowledging that “through the Paschal mystery . . . we are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life” (BCP, 292). One of those Baptismal vows we will reaffirm is that we “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (BCP, 293). And the news doesn’t get any better than that Christ is risen.

One of my favorite stories about the Easter Vigil and about proclaiming the Risen Christ is a story about St. Patrick.

Every year, the Druids celebrated the festival of Beltane at the time of the Spring Equinox. The festival was held at Tara, the seat of the High King of Ireland. As part of the festival, the Druid priests would light a great ceremonial fire atop the Hill of Tara, from which all other fires in the land would be lit. In preparation for the festival, all fires, inside and out, in the vicinity of Tara were to be extinguished. Law required that no other fires were allowed to burn in the vicinity of the great festival fire. Any such fire would be considered blasphemous, punishable by death.

In the year 433, the eve of Easter happened to coincide with the Spring Equinox and hence, the festival of Beltane. That year, Patrick decided to celebrate the Easter Vigil atop the Hill of Slane, 10 miles across the valley from and in direct line of sight of Tara. And of course, the Vigil started with the Service of Light and the lighting of the new fire, just as we did this night. But this wasn’t just a little fire that might go unnoticed. This was a bonfire bright enough to be seen for miles, in direct violation of Druidic law. The High King and the Druid priests at Tara watched in surprise, horror, and anger as the first fire of Easter burned in the distance – an obvious affront to their beliefs. According to tradition, one Druid priest said to the High King, “If that fire isn’t put out tonight, it will burn forever.”

Outraged, King Laeghaire (pron. Leary) led his army to the Hill of Slane to arrest the rebel responsible for this blasphemous act. Due to Patrick’s eloquent preaching, the King was quickly pacified and rather than being arrested and executed, Patrick was allowed to preach to the pagan army and further extend the light of Christ throughout Ireland. The Druid priest was right in his prediction. That Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane was not put out, at least figuratively. And its light has continued to burn throughout Ireland to this day.

I started off this homily by saying that this night has been about the fulfillment of salvation history. Well, that’s not entirely true. The story is not over. The story is only beginning. And it is our job to continue to tell the story, to live the story of salvation, of the ongoing hope and promise of forgiveness and new life that is only made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Tonight a new light is shining in the world through the resurrection of our Lord. Through us that light will burn forever, as we continue to boldly proclaim to the world:

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

No comments: