Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Easter Vigil, 2011

And God Saw that it was Good
The Rev. Deborah Magdalene
Easter Vigil 2011

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

When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to visit Jesus’ tomb it was the dawn of a new creation. In the twilight of this momentous morning God was doing a new thing. Like the beginning of time, on the first day of the week, when God separated the formless void of chaos and darkness by blowing His Holy Wind over the waters, God again blew a powerful wind deep into the earth shaking it fiercely with the birth pangs of resurrecting Christ, our new light. And God saw that it was good.

Christ is the new light through which we participate in birthing a new world.
The Paschal candle plays a primary role in the Great Vigil of Easter, reminding us that when Christ died our light went out, but with his resurrection at dawn, “on the first day” the light of our own new life with Christ is lit forever, never to go out again.

The two Marys, through their simple act of being present to Christ throughout his suffering and death, never once abandoning him, were the first to hear the Easter message, “Do not be afraid, for He is risen!”

Like the dawn of creation, Christ’s resurrection is the creation of a new form of life: inviting us all to abandon our old ways of thinking in order to follow Christ into an unknown, but abundantly creative and surprising future.

Tonight, we are literally co-creators with God as we bring new life to pass through Christ, in our liturgy. God is doing a new thing which we celebrate through an ancient and mystical midnight service, signifying the end of Lent. Tonight’s great liturgy of Easter pulls us into the present moment, where Christ rises again and leads us all into a new and resurrected life.

Christ’s death and resurrection is a culmination of the ancient Jewish celebration of Passover (or pascha). As God rescued the Hebrew people from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, so God rescues us through the death and resurrection of Christ: the central saving act of God in the New Testament.

God has a habit of creating new things when we least expect it. Tonight we hear the story of our Hebrew ancestors crossing the Red Sea. This parting of the waters is another mirror of the creation story. God’s Holy Spirit-filled wind separated the waters as it had once separated the dark and watery void from the light.

It was in this new light that God beckoned his people to follow Moses into the Promised Land, never again to be bound as slaves in Egypt. Our Christian ancestors in the faith saw in this deliverance of the Israelites an image of our passing through the waters of death into the promised land of our Baptism in Christ.
We participate sacramentally in Christ’s death and resurrection each time we celebrate the Eucharist, but the primary celebration of our Christian year is this Great Vigil of Easter.

During the Vigil the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist come together in dramatic fashion in the celebration of joy that is ours on Easter morn. This night of all nights is also the night of our own salvation, where all who believe in Christ are forever saved from sin and death.

In the words of Leonel Mitchell, in his book “Praying Shapes Believing”, it is “in the baptismal waters [where] sin is washed away and grace [is] given – a grace which establishes, through Christ, a new relationship between God and the race of Adam”.

Tonight we hear the great narrative of our Christian faith from a series of readings out of the Hebrew and New Testaments, plus multiple collects and psalms that draw our attention to Paschal, or Easter, themes. The readings are our final class, or a catechumenate review of Scripture, to prepare us all for Baptism.

This ancient Vigil service contains the passion and resurrection in a single, unitive celebration. Early Christian liturgists and theologians developed this service out of an instinct that the power of God in the resurrection is a mystery that emerges by, through, and in human suffering.

In our participation in the renewal of our baptismal covenant, we are plunged into the water of our own baptismal renewal, before we receive the Eucharist as if for the first time. The effect is powerful.

In the early church, baptism into the body of Christ occurred at Easter, after months (and sometimes years) of catechumenate study. Baptism was seen as the entry point into the great Paschal Mystery which focused their attention on the great redemptive themes of our faith.

Immersion into the water is intended as a burial into Christ’s death, followed by a physical rising out of the water as a sign of our resurrection with Christ. We enter the life of the resurrected where time is compressed and the end of time is upon us now, calling us to urgent and new action based in Christ’s love.

The order for Holy Baptism emphasizes God’s role in creation: especially in the Thanksgiving over the Water:

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.
Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.

Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage
in Egypt into the land of promise.

In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy
Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death
and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are
buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his
resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.

It is in the reborn state that we approach the Eucharist. In our Eucharistic Prayer we affirm the relation of God to all of creation. The earliest Eucharistic prayers always included a thanksgiving for God’s creation, echoing the ancient Jewish prayers of thanksgiving.

Eucharistic Prayer II in Rite I includes the line, “for that thou didst create heaven and earth,” and in Eucharistic Prayer A, which we will use tonight, we hear this:

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and every-
where to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of
heaven and earth.

But chiefly are we bound to praise you for the glorious
resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the
true Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for us, and has taken
away the sin of the world. By his death he has destroyed
death, and by his rising to life again he has won for us
everlasting life.

This prayer, known as the Proper Preface for Easter, contains the images of Christ’s triumph over death, reminding us that suffering does not have the last word.

As the Hebrew people suffered during the years of slavery in Egypt, and as Christ’s followers suffered in their bewildered horror at his painful death, we have a tendency to suffer through our days as if we have not been already saved.

In our weekly liturgy we are asked to gather up our sufferings in order to present them to God as our gift – along with our faith and hope in the new life we receive through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Like the two women at the tomb, the light of Christ beckons us to follow Christ as he awaits us in Galilee. The only way there is through actively reaching out to others to join us in the quest. We are on our way to salvation, and we must spread the Good News.

“Go quickly,” says the angel, “and tell the others, ‘He has been raised from the dead and has gone ahead of you – waiting for you as he leads the way.’” And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day of our renewed life in Christ.

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