Sermon from the Vicar 26 March 2016 Holy Saturday

The Easter Vigil 2016 Gen 22: 1-18, Exod 14: 10-15:1a, Isaiah 55: 1-11, Ezekiel 37: 1-14, Ezekiel 36: 24-28, Romans 6: 3-11, Luke 24: 1-12

The Easter Vigil is liturgy of the Church where whole proclamation comes together and we go right to the very core of our baptismal faith.  We began with the light of Christ, kindled from a brazier in the darkness.  It reminds us of the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it, even the darkness of death. That is the message of Easter seen vividly over these great three days.

The purpose of this Easter Vigil liturgy is that we renew our union with this light, indeed with Christ in his resurrection. In his resurrection we discover that the love with which he loved us is stronger than hate and death.

We are here to renew our life in Christ by reaffirming once more the promises of our baptism.  We do this personally as part of the Church and in doing so we rely on the grace of Christ’s faith.

Life in God, indeed baptismal life is grounded on the decisive encounter of human faith and God’s response. The readings we heard this evening as we waited and watched demonstrate this theme:

Abraham was tested by God to offer up what was most precious to him, what he most cherished.  By faith he did this, and discovered that God provided more than he could have imagined.  The psalm reminded us that when God shows us the path of life, we discover the fullness of joy.

The people of Israel struggled to believe God’s promises. Moses believed God and told them all they had to do was to stand firm, keep still and watch for the deliverance of God.   God provided and they sang for joy when they witnessed God’s glorious triumph.

Isaiah spoke a message of comfort and hope to the people of Israel in the brokenness of their exile in Babylon.  Perhaps these are words Jesus’ disciples read that Sabbath day following Good Friday.  Isaiah tells Israel to listen and to seek the Lord that they might live because the word of God will accomplish its gracious purpose.  The refrain repeats God’s message, “Trust and do not be afraid, because God surely is your salvation.”

Ezekiel sees Israel like a valley of dry bones:  Hope is lost.  Yet with the Spirit graves are opened, bones gain spirit, Israel lives.  They are given a new heart and a new spirit: A place to be and a right relationship with God.

In the wait, as we hear these stories of God’s love and of the response of faith, we think of our own personal faith.  Perhaps life is difficult, perhaps you’re tired out, perhaps your own soul is cast down, and you struggle to hope and believe.  I know I do at times.

Yet, out of the darkness come the words, “Christ is risen!”  These women, looking among the dead, discover that Jesus is alive.  He has been raised.  They are told to remember.  When our soul is cast down, the one thing we struggle to do is to remember. Then we need to remember stories of faith, like we’ve heard tonight.  These women find an empty tomb and are told to remember what Jesus had said about being handed over to sinners, being crucified and rising again.

When they do remember, they go and tell the eleven and all the others.  But they were still in amnesia.  They thought it was just an idle tale.  Peter, though, had just enough imagination, hope and faith to think it was worth a trip to the tomb to see for himself.  He came away amazed.  This story marks the beginning of the infectious resurrection faith of the early church.  This faith is that having died and risen with Christ in baptism we will never die again.  Death has no dominion over us anymore.  The church of our own day needs to recover this kind of faith.

Perhaps you have come here tonight with faith hanging by a thread: hope almost gone.  If you have this liturgy is most of all, the place for you.  The purpose of this vigil is that we meet our risen Lord:  We hear his words of peace as he comes to us in bread and wine.  But first of all we draw near to him around the font that through his grace our faith might be renewed.  For those of you who are not baptised, as you are sprinkled, think of this as an invitation to come to the waters yourself, to share in the death and resurrection of Jesus personally in baptism at some future time.  For those of us who are baptised we have been to this place or one like it, before at our baptism.  For many of us this was long ago, perhaps even beyond our memory. This is a moment to remember when we first came to faith ourselves.  It is a moment to recall the excitement we once had in knowing Jesus for the first time and indeed to rekindle that. It is a moment where we will be re-grounded by the encounter of faith with God’s response: That response being the love by which we have been loved which has proved stronger even than death.

Christ is risen!  Alleluia!