Easter Vigil Sermon Year A

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Rom. 6:3-11; Ps. 114; Matthew 28:1-10

  In the Name of the Risen Lord. Amen.

Alleluia. Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

     A British Jew is waiting in line to be knighted by the Queen. He is to kneel in front of her and recite a sentence in Latin when she taps him on the shoulders with her sword. However, when his turn comes, he panics in the excitement of the moment and forgets the Latin. Then, thinking fast, he recites the only other sentence he knows in a foreign language, which he remembers from the Passover Seder:

"Ma nishtana ha layla ha zeh mi kol ha laylot."

     Puzzled, Her Majesty turns to her advisor and whispers, "Why is this knight different from all other knights?"

     Christians ask this very same question - albeit more seriously - as we celebrate this holiest of nights.

Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.

       These words which began this service, invite us into the Paschal mystery - the Great Vigil of Easter that we celebrate tonight: For this is the Passover of the Lord.

     The Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ - his Passover from death to life - is the foundational event of our faith, just as the Passover/Exodus event is the fundamental event for the Jewish faith. The events of this Holy Week and Easter are closely tied to the stories of Passover and Exodus. It is for that reason that the reading of the story of the Exodus is always heard at the Easter Vigil. And in both these events the question we ask ourselves is, "Why is this night different from all other nights?"

      At Passover our Jewish brothers and sisters don't just celebrate a memorial. Rather, they take part in the mighty saving acts of God that occurred in those events. In the same way we Christians don't just hold a memorial of the Last Supper when we celebrate the Eucharist, but rather, Jesus becomes truly present for us in the bread and wine.

       At the Passover Seder it is customary for the youngest child present to ask the traditional "four questions," which all have, as their overriding theme, "Why is this night different from every other night?" This ancient Jewish question is one that we Christians ask ourselves as well tonight. Why is this night different from any other night in the year? Why do the clergy keeping announcing in the weeks leading up to Holy Week that the Easter Vigil is the most important liturgy of the year? Why does what makes it different, make this night the holiest night in Christendom?

     Our answer lies in the words of the joyous Easter song, the Exsultet, which we have heard Jeremy sing tonight:

  This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.

  This is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.

  This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

      Most folks think of the Resurrection as having taken place on Easter morning. It's why church attendance is so high then, rather than now. Actually, we don't know what time of day it was. However, as the Gospel tells us, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came, "as the first day of the week was dawning." It was dawn, and the tomb was empty; so it would seem that it was sometime between dusk and dawn when Christ "broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave."

  How holy is this night, the Exsultet continues, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord. How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.

      WOW! Think about it. "[This night] restores innocence to the fallen." How can that be? It's been a long time since we have felt innocent, isn't it? In today's world, even little children aren't allowed to keep their innocence for very long. Just a glance at the evening news reminds us of that. Yet on this night, we are told, our innocence can be restored.

     And this night brings joy to those who mourn. Who among us does not mourn tonight? We mourn for those we love but see no more; we mourn for the lost opportunities of our lives, for the sins that weigh us down. We mourn for lost relationships. Yet no matter what the griefs are that we carry with us this night, joy can be ours, because this night really is different, different from any other night.

     And we are told that this night casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord. What an exchange that is! It's better than bringing an old beat up car to the dealer, and him giving you a bright shiny new model with no additional payments or cash down. It's a darn good deal exchanging pride and hatred for peace and concord: especially since pride and hatred have done enough damage in our lives already. Who needs them? Especially if because of what happened in Christ's Passover, we can trade them in-give them to God and receive peace and concord in their place.

      On this night, heaven and earth are joined together, and we are reconciled to God. That is really what God offers us tonight. We are bound to the earth, but God invites us to participate in heaven. We may have wandered far , but God calls us back, like the Prodigal Son was, to be reconciled and to be loved. "Come home!" God says to us. Christ is risen! You are delivered from the gloom of sin; you are restored to grace and holiness of life. That is why this night is different from all other nights.

Alleluia. Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!