Lessons at the Great Vigil: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 114; Mark 16:1-8; Romans 6:3-11
Welcome friends. This is the night. This is the night we gather as God’s people to hear the stories that matter most to us, the stories that teach us who we are, what we believe, what we long for, and what we should be about. These stories teach us about our God.
Just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine that our Paschal candle is the campfire at the center of the family or clan. We are among God’s tribe, the Hebrews seeking light in the darkness and comfort in the wilderness. We are longing for the promised land, flowing with milk and honey.
It all started with the God hovering over the chaos. Are your eyes closed? If you listen closely, you might hear it…the wind sweeping over the waters. It’s a wind, maybe God’s own breath, the same that will speak life: “Let it be: it was.” Can you hear it?
It started anew when Noah and the animals were sent upon that ark. When the earth is covered by the waters of a flood, humans and animals enough for a new beginning, travel safely under God’s grace until they find dry land. God establishes a bow in the sky as a sign of covenant with creation.
And with Abraham, it starts anew. Called from his land to a new land, from his life to new life. Abraham is promised a son whom he offers to God but God spares Isaac. God establishes a covenant with Abraham and his offspring forever.
And it started with a burning bush. When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, Moses heard God’s voice. God spoke to him, revealing God’s own name to Mose: “I am being who I am being.” And in that encounter at the burning bush, God also revealed the divine character, showing Moses how God cares for the people.
God said to Moses,
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Our God hears the cry of the poor and the oppressed. Our God is the God of freedom.
Moses did as God asked that day. He journeyed back to Egypt, to Pharaoh’s palace where he and been brought up as an adopted prince of Egypt. Moses confronted Pharaoh as God instructed, saying to Pharaoh: “Let my people go.” Pharaoh said no.
Moses went back to Pharaoh as God asked. Moses said to Pharaoh: “Let my people go.” And God said yes.
Pharaoh said no when Moses and the Hebrew people cried for freedom; but God said yes.
Are we in bondage? Do we have eyes to see the powers of this world oppressing the creatures of God? And if people are suffering, take heart! Our God will lead from slavery to freedom, from bondage to liberty because that is who our God is.
God stretched out his hand to save the Israelites from Pharaoh. Even when things seemed desperate, when there was no way out, God made a way. Standing between the armies of Egypt and the sea, Moses stretched out his hand, and led the Hebrew children through on dry land. God led them through with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.
Our God will find a way when there is no way. Even when we are blind and can’t see a way forward, God brings us new hope, helps us see in a new way. Our God is the God of exiles, leading us home through the wilderness, guiding our way, day and night.
The people of Israel finally made it out of the wilderness into the good land that God had promised. The powers of this world, however, did not stop trying to take away the freedom and abundance that God had given – Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and, finally, Rome.
And that leads to the next part of the story. Jesus grew up under Roman oppression. He knew the burden of living under Roman rule. But Jesus would bring Good News: God’s kingdom is at hand! In God’s kingdom, there will be enough bread for every day, the lame will walk, the blind will see, and their will be justice for the poor.
We have journeyed with Jesus through Lent, hearing the stories of how he healed the sick and brought hope to the hopeless. We have seen Jesus turn toward Jerusalem and how he entered the city on Palm Sunday to cries of Hosanna. Remember how Jesus went to the Temple and overturned the tables of those who were buying and selling grace, confronting those who controlled access to God’s love.
Jesus taught in Jerusalem, confronting the religious authorities and challenging the way they made life hard for the people of the covenant, especially the poor. Jesus challenged them with his vision of the Kingdom of God where all would have enough and peace would prevail.
Rome was always quick to put down rebellion. Roman justice was swift and brutal. So, they put this zealot named Jesus to death. The authorities didn’t like what he had to say, so they killed him. nailing him to a cross on the outskirts of the city – a public example of what happens to those who cry for justice.
Just as Pharaoh said no to Moses’ call for freedom, the authorities said no to Jesus’ call for justice.
Rome thought it could silence Jesus by putting him to death. Rome assumed that killing Jesus would be their final solution. God would not let anything silence the Good News, not even death. So even though they killed Jesus, nailing him to a cross, he now lives. Tonight, he lives. This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.
Our God is the God who leads us from death into life. Not even death can stop God’s love, God’s peace, God’s justice, God’s abundance.
Because now, God’s kingdom has taken root in us. Now, Jesus lives in us.
Every time we reach out in love to help someone in need, Jesus rises victorious again.
Every time we share the abundance God has given us, Jesus rises victorious again.
Every time we refuse the power of Empire, Jesus rises victorious again.
Every time we defend the innocent, Jesus rises victorious again.
Every time we refuse discrimination and prejudice, Jesus rises victorious again.
Every time we protect migrants, immigrants, and refugees, Jesus rises victorious again.
Every time we stand with the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, Jesus rises victorious again.
This night, and every night, and every day, Jesus lives. He lives now in us.