Saturday, March 26, 2016

Path to Something New

Great Vigil of Easter
Exodus 14.10—15.1; Ezekiel 37.1-14; Romans 6:3-11; Luke 24:1-12
Saturday, March 26, 2016 – St. Paul’s Emmanuel, Santa Paula

In the past few days, we have been on one hell of a journey. We joined in shouts of “Hosanna!” as Jesus made his triumphal entry to Jerusalem. The palm-strewn road into Jerusalem then took a deadly turn, leading to the palace of Pontius Pilate, where shouts of “Hosanna” were replaced with cries of “Crucify him!” And the crowds got their way, as the road lead from Pilate’s home down the Way of Sorrows, and ultimately to Golgotha, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. And the road now dead-ends at a sealed up tomb where Jesus’ body was placed. For the last two days, we have lived in the shadow of Jesus’ death. Buried in a tomb, his presence is gone from us. Leaving only a palpable sense of emptiness. At times it has felt that maybe this is the dead end. Literally. For death has had its say.

But tonight is not about dead ends. It is about new beginnings. Tonight is about new life!

This journey to new life has been one that has gone on far longer than just the span between Palm Sunday and Holy Saturday. As we see tonight, it has been millennia in the making. Every single element of our worship experience, lifted from our ancient history as the people of God, points to this new life. This ancient history that we celebrate foreshadows the new life that began with the first Easter and is renewed this night.

As our forefathers and foremothers did over three millennia ago, we followed a pillar of fire, represented by the Paschal Candle. They followed a pillar of fire, providing light in the darkness of night to lead the people out of Egypt, through the wilderness of the Sinai Desert to a Promised Land. On this night, we followed a pillar of fire leading out of the darkness of the world, the darkness of our own lives, through the wilderness that is sin and death, through the mystery of Baptism, to a new Promised Land. The Promised Land of eternal life.

In the Vigil readings, some of the stories of salvation history, we heard the story of the Jewish people as they continually sought to live into who they were called to be as God’s Chosen People. In these same stories, we hear echoes of our own story as God’s people, seeking to be faithful to the One who created us and calls us into relationship with him.

First we heard the Crossing of the Red Sea. In this story is imagery of crossing from the old to the new, from an old way of life in captivity in Egypt to a new life of freedom in the Promised Land. An ancient story witnessing to God’s saving power even in the most adverse conditions. In crossing through the waters, we see our own journey through water, as we went, in our own faith journeys, through the waters of baptism that leads from a former way of life to a new way of life. Here again, we see the saving power of God in our own lives. The saving power only made possible through Jesus Christ.

Then we heard the Valley of Dry Bones. In this metaphorical story we see imagery of how God, out of the devastation of the Exile, the death and destruction of Israel, issues a promise to the exiles. God will give them new life, bringing them out of the death of exile, restoring Israel to its land, thereby bringing about a new people. This is unmistakable imagery of the promise of resurrection and new life. Just as we are promised resurrection and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And then we participated in the Renewal of Baptismal Vows. Employing a tangible sign beyond the mere words of ancient history, a reminder, of the new life that we entered at the time of our own baptisms.

Paul, in writing to the Romans, brings all this imagery together – of baptism as a means of fulfilling these historic images, whereby we share in the new life that Jesus has brought about. “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” (Rom 6.3-4).

This is a vivid reminder of what has happened this night. How the women who had journeyed with Jesus, who had witnessed his Passion and death, came to the tomb on this day. But they did not find a dead end. Instead, a passage opened to what was beyond this life. For the stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was gone. Raised in glory as he had told them would happen. As the angels, who sat watch asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Lk 24.5).

Years later, Paul would write one of the definitive statements about this great reversal, in which the dead end of the tomb had been opened to reveal the path to something new, to new life. “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6.9-11).

In Christ’s resurrection that we celebrate this night, we, like our forefathers and foremothers, have passed from darkness to light. From captivity to liberation. From death to life. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

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