In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s not just empty ceremony….creation, I mean. Because behind it stands the Creators full love for you.
It’s not just empty ceremony….the flood, I mean. Because behind those waters, stands the full washing away of sin for you, so that you can remain safe and secure inside the ark of the Church.
It’s not just empty ceremony….the Exodus through the Red Sea, I mean. Because the passing through on dry ground and the drowning of hardhearted Pharaoh, means that you are released from slavery to sin.
It’s not just empty ceremony….the earthquake after Jesus’ resurrection, I mean. For it was the response of the earth at the resurrection of it’s Creator. What greater handiwork can the earth show, than the raising of the one who was crucified? (Ps. 19) What greater event can creation confess than the salvation of mankind and the resurrection of it’s Creator?
God lives! The fast is finished. Lamenting is foregone. The day of our Lord has dawned. The desert wandering is over. We have entered into the promised time of feasting and rejoicing. Sackcloth and ashes have been washed and purified by the blood of the Lamb. He who was crucified is not dead. With triumph He has come forth from the tomb. In victory, He marches forth to give peace, comfort and rest to His weary children. Heaven and earth are united in joy once again. Those who were with Him through the fasting, praying, and grief can now take comfort.
The Resurrection is the event that colors all of history. It cleanses all events in the world and establishes the Christian Church. It is the lens through which we see every action in the history of the world. That’s what makes the Vigil different from every other service in the Church Year. It gives us a snapshot of all that the Church does, and shows it from the perspective of Easter. Salvation is now complete. There is no more Old Testament anticipation. It is finished. It has been accomplished. God has worked it with His own arm. It’s all here tonight, readings from the Old Testament and the New Testament, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, singing, rejoicing, and Benediction. Our Alleluias are back, and they echo into eternity with the choirs of the heavenly Jerusalem.
All the symbolism tonight points to the salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus. It permeates our lives in Christ, and it should not be any surprise that it colors our life and practice in the Church. Six services tonight are all rolled into one. 1. the Service of Light, 2. the Service of Readings, 3. the Service of Holy Baptism, 4. the Service of Prayer, 5. the Service of the Word, and 6. the Service of the Sacrament.
Light, all light, reminds us of Christ, the light of the world. The paschal candle with it’s Alpha and Omega, it’s date and it’s wax nails representing Christ and the washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit, the cleansing of beginnings and endings, of time, and of His own death. Lamenting is over. It’s the time of excessive rejoicing, that’s what Exultet means in Latin, it brings the idea of almost reckless, over-the-top rejoicing, rejoicing that cannot contain itself or be contained. That’s what light does to darkness and that’s what life does to death. Darkness cannot comprehend or contain light. Death cannot contain, limit, or stymie life. Jesus has broken free of death’s chains. The bonds are shattered. He springs forth, leading the charge of all who have died in Him. Because death could not contain him, it cannot contain any whom He clothes by Baptism.
Creation, the Flood, the Exodus, they all show the glory of God and His divine plan of salvation. Everything on earth is in the service of God and of His redemption of man. Daniel’s canticle, what we call the Benedicite, omnia opera—“All you works bless the Lord,” shows in an exuberant way that everything in this world was created for the praise of the Lord.
The Service of Baptism reminds us how we are made children of God and partakers of salvation. We were united to Christ’s death and resurrection in the waters of Holy Baptism. Because He was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, you too will live a new life.
The Litany is the voice of the Christian Church confessing that we are a new creation and citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, joined together in Christ’s work with all saints. It is your prayer. It is an expansion of the petitions of the Prayer that your Lord taught you.
The Service of the Word exalts the Lord in the Gloria in Excelsis and the Easter Proclamation in Matthew 28. The death and resurrection of Jesus is sanctification of the Sabbath day. Preaching and His Word are now the means by which the resurrection is proclaimed to all the world. He lives, no more to die. He lives for you to have life. Rejoice in the proclamation!
And finally, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the Holy Eucharist, the foretaste of the Feast to come, where we dine together with our Lord and the whole Christian Church on the true body and blood of our crucified and risen Savior. You eat in remembrance of what He has done, and we eat in anticipation of the time when you will dine with Him in eternity. He has made himself recognizable in the breaking of bread. He is your bread from heaven. You have life in yourselves because you feast on Him.
This night permeates all nights. This event sanctifies all events. This is your hope and your confidence. It has changed everything. You are not lost in your sins. You are not wondering aimlessly in the wilderness of this sinful world. God is in control. He will not let you suffer and die forever. Because Jesus rose, you too will rise again. Christ rose from the dead through the closed tomb. The Angel came down to roll away the stone to show that He was no longer there. The earth quaked in jubilation. Jubilation that bursts also from your lips.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia!
(He is ris’n indeed! Alleluia!)
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
Rev. Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana