Easter Vigil: Rejoice Now!

Rejoice now! our Cantor, Loren Crow, sang at the beginning of the service tonight. Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels. Rejoice now, all the round earth. Rejoice now, Mother Church. The word church means, of course, the people of God. You, who follow Jesus Christ, are the church. So rejoice now, you, the people of God, you, who are baptized in Christ. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice! Rejoice now this night, around this Paschal flame. Rejoice now this night, as we hear the story of our salvation, of freedom from slavery in Egypt, of freedom from sin and death through Christ and the empty tomb. It is a beautiful story we heard by the flame of this Paschal candle, the story of our loving, liberating, life-giving God, as our Presiding Bishop so beautifully puts it.

Like the people gathered around a campfire, we heard this story tonight around this flame. But unlike the campfire of our childhood, they are not ghost stories, although the story about Ezekiel and the dry bones might have felt a bit like one. But rather, these are sacred stories, our sacred story, stories about liberation and love and life.

Starting with Exodus, we heard about our ancestors fleeing slavery in Egypt; we heard of them facing their fears, of God telling them to act in courage and to move forward toward their liberation, liberation from the horror and brutality of generations of slavery; liberation from somebody else controlling their bodies from birth to death. And we heard of their celebration in their liberation, led by Miriam and the other women, tambourines in hand as they sang, rejoicing, that beautiful song of their salvation. Rejoice this night. Rejoice now, you the church, rejoice, rejoice, rejoice in their liberation.

We heard from Isaiah of that loving invitation to all who are hungry and thirsty, regardless of the means to pay for it. This was written to a people in Exile, a people who felt abandoned and ashamed, a people full of many hungers and many thirsts, physical, social, psychological, and spiritual. And whatever hungers and thirsts one experiences in life, God, through Isaiah, cried out Come. Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. You who have no money, come and eat. Incline your ear and come to me, your God, and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, an unbreakable bond without end, founded in love, love for David, love for his descendants. Come, return to the Lord and God will shower down mercy upon you, and you will receive the abundant harvest of pardon. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice this night in this loving, grace-filled invitation to these people.

And then we heard Ezekiel, and that wonderful story of the life-giving hope that God provides. Even dried bones can come to life. That, which has lost all hope can be renewed. To a people with no hope, God asked, Can these bones live? Oh, Lord, you know. Prophesy. Prophesy to these bones, these very dry bones. Tell them to hear the word of the Lord. I will cause breath to enter you, I will lay sinews on you, flesh will come upon you, I will cover you with skin, I will put breath in you and you shall live. Given hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone, our life-giving God will take them and resurrect them. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice in this life-giving power of God shared with these people.

Rejoice in this loving, liberating, life-giving God who calls us this night in Christ’s resurrection as we heard proclaimed in the Gospel. In our baptism, we have been swept up into the story of love, liberation, and new life. In our baptism, as Paul reminded us tonight in the Epistle, we have entered his death, and entered his resurrection. And in doing so, these stories became our story, our freedom from slavery, our invitation into love and grace and mercy, our own resurrection from all death that we experience. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice in this night.

This is the night Loren sang over and over again, this is the night that this salvation takes place. Not just 3500 years ago when the waters separated at the Red Sea, not just 2500 years ago when Isaiah and Ezekiel prophesied, not just 2000 years ago when the rock was rolled away. No—this is the night, in this night, in this Vigil our salvation comes to us around this Paschal flame. For just as death dies this night, time dies as well, at least chronos time does, that chronological time that our watches count or perhaps your cell phone, that chronological time of instructional hours, billable hours, accrued leave, pension eligibility, election cycles, parenting plans. This chronos time that seems to rule our lives is destroyed in Christ’s resurrection, and we are pulled up into God’s time, kairos time, where chronological past, present, and future, all come together. And we, with the whole great cloud of witnesses, join together in this night to hear and experience our salvation, and rejoice: rejoicing in God’s loving, liberating, and life-giving story, rejoicing in our loving, liberating, and life-giving story. Rejoicing as we join this story and learn to love, liberate, and give life to a world full of hate, slavery, and death.

That is the Easter message. In Christ’s resurrection we are pulled into his love, liberation, and new life, and start living a life of love, liberation, and new life. Those lives should be lived in such a way that we are bringing others into the loving, liberating, and life-giving power of God as well. Go tell the others, the young man told the men by the tomb on that first Easter morning. Go tell the others the young man tells us this night. Go rejoicing from here tonight, basking in the glory and sharing the good news of the love, liberation, and new life that comes from the empty tomb.