Apr. 7, 2012 Easter Vigil “Walk in Newness of Life”
I think that almost everyone in this room has had the experience of finding out about the birth of a new baby – remember that moment when you learned that you, or your wife, or your sister or mother or friend, was carrying a new life. There was a person in the world now who had never before existed – someone completely new and unique. And the lives of everyone around that child would never be the same again. In the months to come, there would be so many changes – the physical changes of pregnancy as the child grew and the woman’s body, or your own body, adjusted to this new life inside – something that was part of you, but completely different from you. And life changed emotionally too, and psychologically, because this new child would affect all your choices and all your relationships and all your feelings and experiences, the way you eat and sleep and the thoughts you think. Everything changes the moment you know about a new child, even though the reality of the child still seems to be far off.
When I was carrying Emily, our very first child, I would look at a beautiful, perfect little baby, and it was almost impossible to believe that my bulge that was accompanied by nausea and heartburn and backaches and swollen feet had anything at all to do with something so wonderful. I knew in my head that I was pregnant, and that pregnancies tend to result, by the grace of God, in real live babies, but my imagination often failed to really comprehend that it was going to happen to me. It was often hard to believe that this new life was coming into mine, even when I was enormously big, right up to the moment I was packing my bag and heading off to the hospital.
But I had to live every day in the expectation of a new baby. I had to be careful of my own needs, to eat and sleep and exercise to stay well. We painted the room that we planned for our baby to sleep in; we painted trees and birds and flowers on the wall and made curtains with panda bears on them. And we assembled the crib, and washed and folded tiny little clothes to put in the tiny little dresser we got at the thrift shop. And as we did all these things, I knew that our baby was coming, but it was often more than I could do to really believe it. It was too wonderful, too new, too strange. There was nothing in all my former life that compared to this new life that was coming.
Paul wrote that we were buried with Christ in our baptism so that in the very same way that Jesus Christ was raised from the tomb by the glory of the God the Father, so we too can walk in newness of life. That is the hope of Easter. We spend these three days every year reminding ourselves of the historical reality that God who became a real human being, who entered into the world in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born just as we all were, who grew up and lived in our world and taught and healed and touched the lives of thousands of people – we remember that that man loved these people, and all people, loved them so much that he allowed himself to be arrested and beaten and nailed to a wooden cross side by side with robbers and murderers. He let go of all pride, all pleasure, all dignity, all comfort, all reassurance, all safety and security, of his very life and breath, and they took his lifeless body down from the cross and wrapped it in cloths and laid it away in a dark hole that had been chipped out of the rock. And they rolled a stone to seal the entrance of the cave, and they thought it was all over
And in the whole world God alone knew that that was the moment of conception. In that dark airless tomb the spark of the new life that God had been planning from before the creation of the world, the spark of new and unending life was kindled. It was such a momentous thing that Matthew tells us there was a great earthquake, and the guards that had been set to watch the tomb and make sure that Jesus’s body stayed good and buried were paralyzed with shock and terror. It was such an entirely unexpected thing, so unparalleled by anything that had ever happened, that when you read the gospel accounts you can hear the confusion and surprise. The accounts of Easter morning aren’t any flowery super-spiritual poetic odes to new life, full of meaningful symbolism and exalted sentiments. They are the stuttering, utterly bewildered memories of men and women who saw something they had no words for, something that had never happened before.
Jesus appeared to hundreds of his disciples in the days following his resurrection, and they could see that he was the same man they had known before, but not the same. They recognized him, but sometimes they didn’t recognize him. He ate and drank with them as he had always done, but he could also pass through a locked door as if the material substance of this world had no control over him any more. And it didn’t. He lived the new life, the life of the new, restored creation, and he didn’t belong to this creation anymore. Remember, he told Mary Magdalene in the garden – don’t hold onto me, because I haven’t yet ascended to my Father.
The joy of Easter is this – the reason Jesus came into the world was to bring about this conception of new life, so that all of creation could share in it. In Colossians Paul wrote that Jesus is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. In the dark of the tomb that spark of the life of the new perfect creation came into being. And first Jesus, the firstfruits of the new life, and then his church, and then through his church the rest of mankind and the whole of creation , on earth or in the heavens – everything, absolutely everything, will be reborn into the new creation. It all began because God became a part of his creation, so that he could take it with him through the portal of his death and into the new life.
Paul wrote, “if we have been united with him in a death like his” – and Paul says that all who have been baptized have been given the gift of sharing in Christ’s death – “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” The resurrection body that Jesus had when he appeared to his disciples after that first Easter Day – we will have that kind of life, the physical matter of our bodies along with our thoughts and feelings and personality – the whole bundle of stuff that constitutes ourselves – will be reborn into the new creation. But now, right now we are pregnant with that reality. We live in this old creation with our mortal and feeble bodies but within us is already the spark of that new life. The spirit of the risen Christ is in us to guide us and refresh us, and the physical presence of Christ is with us each time we share his body and blood – to nourish us with his life, to begin even now the transformation of our bodies and spirits.
And often that will be more than we can wrap our imaginations around. We know it is real, but there is no way we can fully imagine what the reality will be like. John wrote “we do not know what we will be, but we know that we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” But meanwhile we are called to walk in newness of life. Now that we carry this spark of the new creation within us, our lives will never be the same. The things of the old creation that seemed so important – getting ahead, making a name for ourselves, avoiding discomfort, having our future all settled and secure – that will never again have the same hold on us because we are planning ahead for a different kind of life. Bishop Dan said in his sermon last night that we so often pray for our circumstances to be changed, but when our lives are changed in Christ those circumstances begin to lose their hold on us.
Paul wrote, You have died – through baptism – and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, than you also will appear with him in glory. The birth is coming. Now we suffer the aches and pains of pregnancy even as the glory of Christ’s life grows and ripens within us, transforming our minds, renewing our spirits, uniting us in love for one another because we are all looking forward to the one birth, the restoring of the one creation when our savior returns.
Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
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