A Sermon for The Easter Vigil
Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation], Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea], Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all], Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God’s people], Romans 6:3-11, Psalm 114, Matthew 28:1-10
This evening Sarah will be baptized. The Vigil readings give us the opportunity to explore how Baptism’s roots go far beyond Jesus all the way back to creation. The place we’ll start is Paul; he tells us we are baptized into Christ’s death, not a real comforting thought. Paul’s reasoning is simple: when we die because we are connected to Jesus death by baptism, by baptism we are connected to Jesus’ resurrection, and we will as Paul writes: walk in newness of life. It’s a story captured in a baptismal liturgy of a remote people whose fonts look like small water-filled coffins; and whose children are plunged into them as the priest shouts: “I kill you,” and who witness their children are raised high as the priest proclaims: “and raise you in Christ!” It’s dramatic; almost as dramatic as the connection baptism has with all of scripture. So, off we go, and plunge into the darkness of chaos.
And that what it was, all darkness and chaos, but also the lack of reason the lack of relationship the lack of love. The first thing God does is to show up, ruach – wind, spirit, or breath; and then God sings, harmonics of love burst forth first in light, not illumination, but presence a declaration I am here! And then there was all sorts of stuff, including the light of illumination, by which we see the world, and by which we perceive truth.
On the very last day we are created. Two bits are critical. One is that we are created in the image of God; that doesn’t mean we look like God; it means we bear, or carry, God’s image into the world. Imago Dei Signifier, it’s not as poetic as I’d hope, but you get the point. Second: God makes us male and female in God’s image. I, she, we, are all forged as Imago Dei Signifier; none more so than any other, for sum of us all is less than a mere passing of infinite love.
The last thing God does is to call us to vocation. We are to: fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over … over every living thing… Remember this is an agricultural vocation, tilling the earth. To subdue and dominate is to bring forth earth’s bounty. This is a calling to be stewards, the care takers of every living thing.
Famine drives the Hebrews into Egypt. They survive, they grow in to an overly prosperous people, and the new Pharaoh enslaves them. God calls Moses, to lead the Hebrews from slavery to freedom. It requires a dramatic set of signs, including the death of every first born Egyptian. They are making their way out of Egypt when Pharaoh decides: Nope this isn’t going to happen. and sets out after the Hebrews, who panic. Why? Have they already forgotten all those divine signs, I guess so, Pharaoh seems to have. Or do they not quite trust God and faced with death, reflexively turn back to the deceptive ways of worldly power? Moses tells them: Do not be afraid, stand firm, and witness the salvation God will provide for you today. They do, and witness a massive technological failure, it’s amazing what mud will do to the best we can think up, and the Egyptian army drowns as they dance to Miriam’s song on the shores of the sea. You would think it be unforgettable.
And it was ~ sort of. They enshrine Miriam’s song in liturgy, but pretty much forget everything else. Half a millennia later Isaiah is preaching to Judah, who’s trying to establish their own destiny. Isaiah questions their tactics, their reasoning, and their theology; here they go again, not trusting God. He asks: Why do you spend your money at Macy’s, Dillard’s or Land’s Ends? Why do you seek bargains at Wal-Mart, or Dollar General? What do you think you’re really going to find at Amazon or E-bay? Thirsty? God provides living water, ~ no charge. Hungry? God provides bread and milk ~ no charge. Isaiah is pointing to the covenant that originally linked them to God. He’s telling Judah God wants to reestablish that covenant. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s God’s way.Isaiah also lets them know God has no worries, what God seeks, God will see.
Another hundred years and this time Zephaniah is speaking to God’s people. The message is the same, trust God, the emphasis is different: God is in your midst, gathering the outcast, healing the sick and broken, transforming shame to praise darkness and chaos to light.
And now we are three days after monumental divine failure, the messiah is dead, crucified at the request of his own people, at the hands of Rome. Mary and Mary go to the tomb. They witness: an earthquake, the appearance of an angel, the guards freeze in fear. They see Jesus and he tells them to go tell his disciples, he will meet them in Galilee.
We do not know what they expected; none of the above was on the list. I’m not sure what we expect, yes we know about Jesus’ resurrection, but we don’t expect Mary and Mary to be the first apostles, but they are, they are the first people sent to bear witness to the resurrected Jesus.
All of this is what we are baptized into. The end point for us is the promise of resurrection. Our entry point is our sharing in Jesus’s death. But the foundation, is laid all the way back in Genesis, with light that brings light, that shapes us as Imago Dei Signifier, that calls us to tend every living thing. At the Red Sea we witness God’s continuing refrain: Do not be afraid, stand firm, and witness the salvation God will provide for you today. Through prophetic voices we hear God’s offer of living water, bread and milk, and covenant life. Through prophetic voices we are prompted to trust God to take care of all the details. And just as God provided a vocational calling so does Jesus’ we are called to follow Mary and Mary to go and share Imago Dei in a crucified messiah now risen from the dead, who brings us into complete covenant relationship for all eternity.
It’s not a job I’m up to, but neither was Moses, or David, or Isaiah, or Zephaniah, or the disciples, or Mary or Mary; but that’s God’s way. And the truth is they carried God’s image, after all we have it, that being said, we can trust God to trust us.
Sarah, you are about to die and be raised in Christ! so welcome to the church, the body of Christ, as Imago Dei Signifier, to live in light, stand firm, trust God and go about tending to all creation. It’s not what anyone would expect, but God’s ways are not our ways, and our risen Christ, is the eternal witness.