Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter

delivered at St John’s Church, Washingtonville, NY

It is a great pleasure for me as your dean to be asked to preach at this year’s Easter Vigil. Growing up as an Episcopalian in the late 50’s and early 60’s in a church in the Diocese of Virginia, we did not celebrate the Easter Vigil and looking back, I think our observance was the poorer for it.

Doing The Vigil together has been one of the bridges from the old Hudson Valley Ministry to today’s climate in the Episcopal Churches of Eastern Orange County. Today’s grouping has great potential for mission service in voluntary cooperation as many of us have experienced through the Episco-Build program.

While I am leaving the area at the end of June, I will be keeping tabs on your progress as 21st Century cooperating church communities.

Communities–Since the beginnings of the synagogue movement during the Babylonian captivity, the faithful have gathered in community to remember the past events of the salvation history of Yahweh and those people who through time have been in relationship with God.

It is clear that those seeking to join the faith community which had gathered around the friends of Jesus needed to learn or be reminded of the salvation story whether they were former pagans who had no experience of Jewish history or Jews who needed to learn of Jesus as the risen Christ from those who had had that experience of the living Lord or had heard it from those who as youths had heard it from the Apostles.

Notice that these readings which are among the traditional readings of the Vigil are in fact read—not found on Facebook or on a Kindle but read aloud because the majority of early Christians were illiterate as well as faithful.

The purpose of the timing of the Vigil either beginning at sundown in observance of the Jewish day where light follows the darkness or beginning very early on Easter morning in observance of the Roman day which began at midnight, those present were reminded that the light of Christ overcomes the darkness and that resurrection is about new life.

Leonel Mitchell in his Lent, Holy Week, Easter, & the Great Fifty Days explores this core portion of the church year and the themes of death of the old self and the opportunities of new life in Christ.

Tonight we have been reminded as Christians have down through the ages that God is the source of Creation and that humanity was created to be in fellowship with the Creator; we have been reminded that Noah represents God’s continual offering of a fresh start even in the midst of sin, and that Abraham’s willingness to obey even at the cost of his only son by Sarah would be echoed by God’s willingness to sacrifice God’s only Son that the cycle of sin and death might be broken.

We have been reminded of the events at the Red Sea when God acts powerfully against the might of a modern army showing that God continues to seek liberation for the oppressed whether in Egypt, India, or the American south.

The readings from Ezekiel remind us that God continually seeks restoration and a new way of living with God and with our fellow human beings,, that God can cause change in human which can defy science.

But at the heart of this observance is the act of Holy Baptism in which we symbolically die with Christ and raise from the death to new life through the work of the water of baptism which reminds us of the placental fluid which surrounds the fetus until it is brought forth into this new part of life.

This view is expounded to the Roman Christians by Paul who calls them to living a new life free of enslaving sin and its dominion over us.

Yet as even Paul came to understand, it remains hard for humans to embrace the new life free of enslaving sin. We are all human; we all sin, but the important issue is whether sin has all consuming power over us.

Yesterday at the Ecumenical Preaching Service in Cornwall-on-Hudson, one of the speakers made the point that we are a resurrection people in a Good Friday world.

The Good Friday world features violence and overweening greed. It ignores the thousands of children who die daily from treatable disease, malnutrition, malaria, or just being in the kill radius of a bomb, mortar shell or mine. It is a world of laissez faire—let’s all be free to do our own thing.

And we conveniently forget that there is no such thing as an action which does not effect others besides ourselves.

The Anglican theologian and New Testament scholar Bishop Nicholas Thomas Wright speaks of the early Christians as being singularly focused on the Resurrection as a precursor of their own second life.

But today it seems to me that we need to shift the focal impact of the Resurrection to the always opportunity we have as Christians to break out of a mold formed by sin, knowing that in Christ we have new life and new hope.

Yes, we have the guarantee of everlasting life established for us on that first Easter morning but like the message of the two Marys the Angel and Jesus bring them to pass to the other apostles—we must be willing to journey to the Galilee where Jesus waits.

What kind of Galilee awaits us as a Resurrection people? It is a place of hope despite human-fostered economic conditions. It is a place where we freely concentrate on living out our baptismal vows, where mission to those in need is so common that focusing on it is almost an after-thought.

It is a place where there is always a hand out to help someone begin again, where those who were prisoners are truly liberated to pursue productive lives as tax-paying citizens.

It may even be a place where the very wealthy demand to pay more taxes so that all may benefit from good government.

Clearly this Galilee is the stuff of dreams but Easter, my friends, is about the dream of new life snatched from death. My prayer is that we will formulate our own versions of the dream and do all we are able to bring it to reality—for the one who rose from the dead and lives will help us make it so in our own Galilee.

Alleluia, He is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.