March 31, 2018, Easter Vigil, The Ultimate Family Reunion – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell

To listen to this sermon, click here:  Z0000074

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.

The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.

I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.

And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

We have a special place at our house for all those extremely valuable things we all save, but don’t necessarily use on a daily basis. We have boxes and boxes of photographs and hand-made cards and works of art from our kids at all ages and a few little things that have great value only because they belonged to someone we loved very much. And among those things, we have a huge Bible. To my knowledge, no one has ever actually sat down to read this Bible, because it’s huge and heavy and it’s all in King James English. Its value to us lies in the pages in the middle of the book, where we have undertaken to write the names of our family members on both sides, from our parents’ parents to our children’s children – and where we can record births and deaths and graduations and marriages. Because a family is made up of all those stories that belong to its members.

The service tonight is called the Easter Vigil, and it’s not a service that every church celebrates, not even every Episcopal Church. Somebody recently told me they always thought of the Easter Vigil as a way of “cheating” and getting to Easter ahead of time. We know that Thursday’s service was a commemoration of the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples. And we know that last night was the most solemn remembrance of the Crucifixion of Jesus. And we know that tomorrow morning (and here’s a spoiler alert!) tomorrow morning will be a joyous no-holds-barred celebration of the glorious fact of the Resurrection. With brunch. And champagne.

So what are we here for tonight, with the fire and the darkness and so much reading? What is this Easter Vigil thing for? And one answer is this: tonight we read the stories of our family, the family of God, into which have been adopted and made full members through Jesus Christ. A family is made up of the stories of its members, and so tonight we get out the family book. We remember our history, where we came from, and what we have gone through – and, because our family has a Father who is eternal, we can also play a little fast and loose with time, and remember where we are headed.

Tonight we read about our roots in the garden of Paradise, where our very first ancestors knew every animal by name and walked with God as a companion. We read how God delivered us when we had been enslaved by a cruel and powerful nation, how our ancestor Moses led us to freedom on dry ground, through the midst of the sea, the waters standing up like a wall on our right and on our left. We read about the kind of freaky vision that our ancestor Ezekiel had, when he saw a valley full of dry, dusty bones, and how he saw the bones come together, and take on new flesh, and live.

And last, we read about the great family reunion, the great and final homecoming, that our ancestor Zephaniah sent out many centuries ago:

At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.”

I know that every family in this world is different, but it has been our experience as a family that family reunions are a mixed bag, as far as goodness goes. There is always some good in seeing people you haven’t seen in too long, some joy in simply spending time with those who belong to us and are so dear to us. But there is also, always, some tension and dissension, some offense given or taken, some old grievance given new life or some new grievance created. Maybe my family is more flawed than the average, but I suspect we are fairly normal.

But tonight we read the story that promises that our family will be gathered in perfect peace. Because on the cross, Jesus did not merely enact some neat legal transaction that got us off the hook for our evil deeds, and wiped our slate clean. The event of the cross means so much more than that we get a free pass for all our wrongdoings. The cross is the catastrophic shattering of all the barriers, all the tensions and dissensions, all the grievances and offenses, that have ever separated us, almost from the dawn of time, from our Father, and from one another. Paul wrote – and he was speaking of the tensions between Jews and Gentiles, but it applies to all divisions between human beings everywhere:

He himself is our peace, who has made us one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…creating in himself one new man instead of many, so making peace, 16 and reconciling us to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

The earthquake and the tearing of the veil in the Temple, the unearthly darkness of the sky at the death of Christ – all of those were signposts to our great reunion – the final death that will bring the healing of all hurts and hatred and suspicion and prejudice. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free – you are all one family,” Paul wrote. And we, who have had so much experience with family divisions, could add to the list. “There is no longer white or black, rich or poor, gay or straight, liberal or conservative.” Now, in Christ, we are all one family, bathed in the love of our Father, who promises,

I will rejoice over you with gladness,
I will renew you in my love;

I will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.

And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

And at that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you.

And the most important thing to remember this night, is that this prophecy is not the promise of a happily-ever-after ending for the sweet bye-and-bye someday. It is the proclamation of the joyous reunion of the family of God’s beloved children, gathered together from all races and nationalities and genders and all stations in life, because every barrier that divides mankind was broken down on Calvary. The good news that we have to share with the world is that absolutely everyone has been invited to the gathering of God’s people, the great and glorious reunion that is already in progress this day. And that comes to an end – never.

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