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Easter Vigil Sermon
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan at the Easter Vigil, March 30, 2013

KGL+
Sermon
Christ Church Andover
Easter Vigil Year C
March 30, 2013

There are church services, and then there are church services. This is something that clergy know, as do those who attend service often. It’s something that even the occasional dropper-inner to Sunday services might glean when they pop in for a service and leave blown away, transformed, because that, that, was not just church as they remembered it. Just as there are meals crafted solely to take in calories for energy and sustenance, there are meals which linger and last, which defy the simply designation—perhaps for what it served, how it has transformed simple elements into something sublime, or perhaps because of the company. There are meals, and then there are meals. There is church, and then there is church.

This is a church night.

We don’t dabble in the adorable tonight. We don’t dumb down or lighten up what we do. We don’t just perform the service, do it because it’s Sunday morning and that is what we do on Sunday morning. Tonight, we LIVE into it. Tonight is the night of all nights in the Christian tradition, in this clumsy designation of ‘Church’, the gathered faithful that we call ourselves, and tonight is the night when we don’t abridge who we are. It is a night filled with mixed metaphors: fire and water; darkness and light; sin and redemption; death and life. We move from place to place, from outside to indoors, from the past into the present and into the future. We open tonight with the salvation history of God—the stories that punctuate our existence, our faith. We tell the ones that ground us—the stories of our creation, of our redemption; and we tell the stories of the moments when it was not all light and creativity, but darkness and doubt, such as of a father considering the sacrifice of his son, or the telling of the dry valley filled with rattling, empty bones.

The New York Times ran an article in the past week about how the strongest and most resilient families told their children the stories not just of the highs or good times of their history, nor of just the challenges the family and individuals faced, but stories which intertwined the two in a message of both life and death, and how those moments made them who they were.

Tonight, we tell those stories from scripture because this is the night where death transforms into life. The holiest of the Christian days is not on Christmas Eve with a heartwarming pageant and babies and heavily softened manger scenes. The holiest of Christian days is not Easter Sunday morning when we are adorned with pastel (regardless of the outside temperature!) and we take comfort in the pure joy of music and flowers. The holiest of Christian days is this night—this time between placing Jesus’ lifeless body in the tomb on Good Friday, and finding that rock moved away at the first glimmer of dawn on Easter. Tonight is when the paschal mystery of the Resurrection happens—Jesus’ triumph over death and sin and darkness—leaving us no longer slaves and servants to the fear of death being the final word or trump card.

And we mean ‘mystery’ when we say it. What we know is that Jesus’ triumph over death means for us that we too are freed from death. By participating with Jesus in his death and days in the tomb, and finally his resurrection, by dying, essentially—we live. This is the same mystery that we encounter in the sacrament of Baptism. Bailey and Julie are part of this mystery tonight—when death and life meet and meld and merge— when fire and water are blessed—when we sit in darkness waiting, knowing that at some point, we will be brought into the light and light of Easter.

Do we know how exactly that happens? Will Bailey and Julie automatically become new and improved, sparkly and shiny perfect people? No. Well, not at that moment that the water touches them. The mystery of the resurrection, the mystery of the waters of baptism tell only what we know from our scriptures and our salvation history—that there is a God who reaches in love towards a people, and they have the option of reaching back to God in response. The choice is wholly ours, even though there is always the invitation waiting for us. In that response, in that acceptance of a God who was known as God’s Son, Jesus Christ, a preacher and teacher and ultimately, deemed a criminal, who was put to death and who rose from the dead and continued to love us anyway, we too are brought into the Paschal Mystery.

We may never understand the workings of the resurrection as we might a car engine. But we can learn how to live into the assertion that love is more powerful than death. That is essentially what Julie and Bailey are promising tonight, what their witnesses and sponsors promise along with them, and what we, their congregation and their fellow pilgrims on this crazy, mixed up journey of fire and love and death and water and hope and dark and alleluia—we promise that alongside them as well. We promise to practice resurrection, to light our fires in the darkness, to proclaim that death is never the final word, to preach hope when we are bombarded with messages of gain, win, succeed, earn, inevitability and power. In practicing resurrection, we slowly begin to understand it not with our minds—but with our hearts; our souls. We are drawn to it more and more because that life it brings with it defies the darkness which can haunt and destroy.

Sister Joan Chittester writes: “To say, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ... who rose from the dead,’ then, is to say I believe that the Resurrection goes on and on and on forever. Every time Jesus rises in our own hearts in new ways, the Resurrection happens again. Every time we see Jesus where we did not recognize him before — in the faces of the poor, in the love of the unloved, in the revelatory moments of life, Jesus rises anew. But that is not all. The real proof of the Resurrection lies not in the transformation of Jesus alone but in the transformation awaiting us who accept it.” We are resurrected tonight along with Jesus, we become a new people, one who knows the darkness, recognizes it, and continues to walk through it because we have walked through three days in the tomb with Jesus before, and risen from it. We know the stories that we tell tonight tell us the stories of our sisters and brothers who did the same thing—who emptied themselves to fear, because they were created to be people of a God of abundant love—or else there was little reason to create us.

This is part of a well known poem to some, but something I offer to our baptismal candidates tonight, and to their sponsors and witnesses, and to all of us who sometimes forget that by our baptisms, our immersion into the water and our coming to life and breath once again once we emerge, we too are practitioners of resurrection, whether we remember regularly it or not. And on this night—and this is the night when death and life merge and transform from one to the other—this night where we experience both— we are part of a long line of faithful and not so faithful working out this mystery in our own ways, in our own times.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmers Liberation Front

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
Practice resurrection.

Last Published: April 23, 2013 3:44 PM