March 30, 2013 Easter Vigil – Becoming Part of the Big Story
To listen to this sermon click here: Becoming Part of the Big Story
We have a big storage closet in our new house, and about a third of it is full of boxes and boxes and boxes of photographs – some boxes full of photo albums, and other boxes full of envelopes and shoeboxes and piles of loose photographs, all of them waiting for a miracle to happen so that I will get organized and put them all in order. It has not happened yet.
But we all love to pull out pictures from time to time, to sit together and look through family pictures. I have a small album of each of my kids, and they like to look at themselves, tiny and small and medium and medium-grown, at the places we lived when they were different ages. We love, too, to look at the old pictures, some of them when Carroll and I were little, and some even older than that. Some of the pictures are of people that the kids have never met, and some are of people even I have never met. But all of the people and places in our family pictures work together to tell the story of who we are as a family. I have a picture of my father in a sort of Little Lord Fauntleroy suit when he was about 5 and was a page to the Bishop in Springfield Massachusetts, and a picture of him when he was a young man, playing saxophone in a Big Band, and later in his uniform when he went in the army. They mean a lot to me, they are part of what makes me me, it’s all part of our family story.
And the reason I am talking about my family story is that tonight, we are going to have a baptism – well, five baptisms. And what happens when we baptize someone is that they are adopted into a new family – the family of God. Suddenly, Gary, and Dusty, and Stacey, and Tristan, and Brooklyn, your story is going to get much, much bigger because the story that we read at this Easter Vigil service, the story of God’s faithfulness to his people and his love for his children, belongs to you in a whole new way. And you belong to it. John wrote that to all who believe in him, Jesus gave the right to become children of God. And it isn’t by another person’s choice and it isn’t by accident – it didn’t just happen that you are here tonight – and it isn’t even just by your own choice, but it is by the will of God, because he loved you from the day you were born, and he has been bringing you to himself ever since, and he will keep bringing you closer to himself as you live as his child. But tonight is your official adoption into his family, into our family, because most of us here are also adopted children of the Father, and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
Our family story begins at the Creation of everything, when the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit got together and spoke into being everything you’ve ever seen, or not seen, the sun and stars and mountains and oceans and elephants and crocodiles and kittens, and he put his human children in charge of it all. But we failed in our loving – we didn’t trust God and we went our own way. And the rest of the story has been God’s long journey to bring us home: he chose Israel to be a sign of his presence in a dark world, delivering them out of slavery through the waters of the Red Sea, and establishing them as a people. And when they also failed in their loving he sent the prophets to remind them of his love and to promise that no matter what they did he was going to bring them home. And then at last he came himself, God the Son, becoming a weak, frail human being so that we could become children of God. This night of all nights, we read in the Exsultet, when all who believe in Christ are delivered, by his Death and Resurrection and the power of his love, from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life. How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and man, and woman, and child, are reconciled to God!
We’ve been telling our family story this week. We shared a meal on Thursday and we washed one another’s feet, acting out Jesus’s final command to us, to be like our big brother, to serve one another in humility and love. And we remembered the sad and scary days that Jesus spent in the tomb, when his friends and his family thought they had lost him forever, and that all the hope he had brought them was ruined after all. And tonight we rejoice in the best part of our story, when the story of the whole universe was changed forever: when Jesus walked out of the tomb, not just rescuscitated like someone the EMT has been working on, but resurrected, alive in a whole new indestructible, incorruptible, glorious way, a whole new kind of life that he now shares with us, with you, in baptism.
And then, we will do that other most holy thing that almost all families love to do together – we come together to the table and eat together. And this family, the family of our Heavenly Father, shares a very special meal. We set out plain old bread and wine on the table, but by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, Jesus himself is here with us. Just as Jesus himself was a real flesh-and-blood man, but also at the same time he was the real Son of God, so the bread that we share is real bread, but it is also the Body of Christ, in our hands and in our mouths. And the wine that we drink is real wine, but it is also the very blood of Christ, that was poured out for us on the Cross. It is one of the greatest and most wonderful mysteries of our family.
This is our story: on this night, Christ our brother broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God our Father, is your mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem us, who were slaves to sin and death, you gave your Son, and made us your sons and daughters.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!