A Sermon preached on April 20, 2019 by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector
For me, The Easter Vigil is something like the view from the window seat of a plane at 30,000 feet. The Vigil is the one time during the church year that we hear the sweep of the biblical narrative read in church, from Creation to the Resurrection.
Several years ago Hale and I were invited to go on a group “glamping” trip in Baja California with our friend Susan, who was celebrating a cancer-free anniversary. We camped on a deserted beach on an island called Espiritu Santo Island, or, in English, Holy Spirit Island. It was easy to enter into the Creation story in such an unspoiled and primitive place, and to imagine the Spirit of God moving over the turquoise waters.
One day, we all put on wet suits and fins, and motored out to a large rock outcropping where a large colony of sea lions lived, for an activity called “Snorkeling with the Sea Lions.” In retrospect, I realized that this is something you can only do in Mexico, and a little reckless, but at the time the adolescent sea lions had fun bumping into us, and they felt like our brothers and sisters in creation.
It reminded me of the fourth day of the Creation Story when God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures…So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves…with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind.”
The Story of Creation shows us God’s delight in creating the world. After creating each day, God says “It is good!,” and God creates us in the divine image as an expression of God’s love.
We are God’s creation, and we are also mortals. We have free will, which allows us to stray and often become our own worst enemy. But God loves us anyway.
We see that love in the Exodus story, when God leads us out of slavery to the promised land. Much of the biblical narrative tonight helps us remember how God stuck with us and loved us through thick and thin.
There are times in our lives and times in our history when all seems lost. Ezekiel wrote, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” In the story of the Dry Bones, we see God reaching out to us yet again and promising resurrection: “I am going to bring you up from your graves…I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…you shall know that I, the Lord have spoken, and will act.” Tonight this reading speaks to me as we enter our Interim time together and open ourselves to God’s grace and guidance in the months ahead.
And we heard the beautiful promise, also from Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and a new spirit. I will sprinkle clean water upon you and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Tonight we blessed the baptismal waters, and renewed our Baptismal Covenant. When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was put together, the Baptismal Covenant was a new element that put baptism at the heart of our liturgy and our faith.
Here at All Saints’ we are sprinkled with “clean water” every Sunday, which is one of my favorite parts of our liturgy. Tonight at the Easter Vigil, we are refreshed in our commitment to serve God, and seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. With God’s help. That is so important. We cannot do it alone, or even with each other. We need God’s help through grace to follow Christ and gradually over time, become more like him.
Though we heard many readings tonight, it seems to me that we’re missing an important one—the Christmas Story. Because in the gift of Jesus, in the Incarnation, God becomes one of us; Jesus lives and dies as one of us, which allows God to raise him and us to new life.
Tonight’s Easter Story is from the Gospel of Luke. The women go to the tomb to prepare the Body of Jesus, but it is not there. They encounter two men in dazzling clothes who tell them, “He is not here, but is Risen.” They hear the words and remember what Jesus said about rising in three days, but it doesn’t sink in, and being women, “these words seemed to the (male) disciples an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Peter, who had denied Jesus three times does go and look and sees that only the linen clothes were there.
There is a gap between what they saw and what they understood, and what had really happened, through the grace of God. In that gap lies the mystery of God’s action, the mystery of the resurrection that we can only understand with God’s help, and with faith. In the coming days, they saw the Risen Christ, and they were changed forever, “with God’s help.”
I’d like to take you back to Baja for a moment. Our friend Susan, who was celebrating her recovery from cancer asked us to go for a swim with her back at the rocky outcropping where we’d swam with the sea lions. There was a natural arch in the craggy rock where the sea lions lived. Susan asked that we swim with her single-file through the opening in the rock. So we all put on our wetsuits and our snorkels, and we followed her through the arch.
It was a long ways to swim away from the security of the boat, and it was a very deep place in the ocean. As we passed through the arch, I looked down through my snorkel mask and saw fathoms of water below me, filled with layers of sea life: tropical fish of all colors, sea lions, schools of fish glinting like silver. Swimming with the group, yet with no way to communicate, I felt at one with the ocean, and was thankful to be alive. Our swim through the arch was an act of thanksgiving for Susan’s recovery, and it was also a something holy and mysterious, a shared sacramental experience.
While the readings of the Vigil show us our common journey with God in the past, the Easter story shows us where we are going. It points to the future, and our continued journey with God in Christ. Sometimes it feels like we’re a long ways out away from the boat, and the way is uncharted. But it is a beautiful journey. The Vigil is symbolic of our shared journey with the lighting of candles and multiple symbolic actions. As a parish, All Saints’ is moving forward and our liturgy tonight helps unite us as a community, and reminds us who we are as a people blessed and renewed for ministry.
Tonight, I know that Christ has gone before us through the mysterious arch of death into new life. As the Lord of Creation, He makes all things new, and makes us Easter people, filled with hope. As Easter people, we live with the assurance that we will follow Christ through that arch into everlasting life.
Tonight, the Risen Christ invites us to follow him, single file, up to the altar to receive Communion, and then go out to share the Good News! The Lord is risen indeed! Amen.