March 26, 2016 - Easter Vigil - Salvation History: Variations on a Theme, Variations on our Hope

Easter Vigil 2016

The Rev. Bingham Powell

Some say that history repeats itself. I don't think that's quite right though. Rather, I think that there are variations on a theme. And that theme that our faith teaches us is one of hope, of liberation, of salvation, of resurrection. Tonight is the Easter vigil. Our first celebration of Easter. And every year during the Easter Vigil we go back into the story of our faith, the history of salvation we call it, and as we go back we see some the ways that God has been working throughout history. We see the theme as it unfolds in various ways.

We started with part of the story from Exodus, the story of God freeing a people living in bondage, a people who had been crying out in the agony of their slavery and oppression. With the help of Moses (and Aaron and Miriam), God confronted Pharaoh, who claimed to be divine.

God told him to let my people go. And when Pharaoh refused, God tried all kinds of ways to convince him, finally getting the people safely across the Red Sea as we heard tonight.

And we heard those readings from Isaiah and from Ezekiel. They are written as prophecies, but there are stories here, there is a history behind the writings. These are stories of people who are living in exile. Refugees who have lost their homes, livelihoods, often family members due to the violence of war and conquest. And in the midst of this horror, the exiled refugees hear these hopeful messages from Isaiah and Ezekiel. These messages of water for the thirsty and food for the hungry. Messages of a people scattered among the nations being restored, sprinkled with clean water as a sign of their new hearts and new spirits that God will give them. Messages of resurrection, new life being breathed into old dry bones. We know from history that this hope was not misplaced, that these words were true and the people were eventually allowed to return and rebuild, that those who had sowed with tears would reap with songs of joy.

And finally we heard the story of Jesus. Living in a time not of exile, but of occupation, brutal Roman occupation, violent occupation to maintain the so-called peace -Pax Romana - though it surely wasn't peace for everyone. It wasn't peace for Jesus. It wasn't peace for his followers who lived under its brutality. After three years of preaching, teaching, and healing, the powers-that-be killed him as we heard last Sunday, as we heard on Good Friday, but in our Gospel tonight, we heard that they and their brutality did not get the final word but rather Jesus conquered death on the third day as the disciples find the tomb empty. "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" Surely that is a question we need to keep asking. "He is not here, but has risen."

All variations on a theme. These aren't the only stories playing with this theme: the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, Ruth and Naomi, David, Elijah and Elisha, Hannah, Esther, Jonah, Mary and Elizabeth, and so many others all play with this theme. All variations on a theme. Variations of hope in the midst of despair, liberation in the midst of bondage, salvation in the midst of destruction, resurrection in the midst of death. All variations on the light of Christ shining forth in the world's darkness, that light of Christ that we lit tonight.

We study history, therefore, not just to avoid the doom of repeating it as the old expression warns, but to give us confidence. Confidence in the midst of the awful despair of whatever challenges we face. God is doing good and amazing things to liberate, to save, to heal, to resurrect.

Our history teaches that ultimately there is no reason to be afraid. That does not mean that horrible things won't happen. They will. They will. Tragedy strikes our world every day. Those large scale tragedies like a terrorist attack or war, and those more individual tragedies of personal loss and suffering and pain. But God is working through them. God is playing variations on the theme. I think that Frederick Buechner puts it best when he is trying to describe grace: "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you."

I am with you. That is what God told Moses in the burning bush when Moses was afraid to follow God's call. God's first response to Moses' first objection was "I will be with you." That is what God told the people of Israel through Isaiah. "Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God." That is what God told us in the incarnation when God dwelt in humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. And when God dwelt on the cross, that beautiful thing dwelling in that terrible thing. Jesus: the incarnation of God's promise to be with us. More variations on the theme.

Paul plays with the theme in our reading from Romans tonight: “

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead... we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."

That is us. We who have been baptized; we, the Body of Christ. We share in both Christ’s death and resurrection. We are now making the new history - the new chapter in the salvation history - as we live our lives. Don't forget that it is all a variation on the theme. For God can free us also from whatever chains us; new life can be breathed into our dry bones today, too; death has been vanquished and resurrected life is ours to start living right now. God is still playing with the theme. Amen.