Easter Vigil 2017

Easter Vigil
St. Matthew 28:1-7
15 April 2017

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In many ways Holy Saturday typifies the Christian life of the now and not yet. All the glories and riches of heaven have been granted to you by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but you don’t yet enjoy their fullness in this world. All of the benefits of being children of God are yours now by the fact of your birth into God’s family through Holy Baptism, but you like young children of a rich father do not yet control or have full advantage of the large inheritance. Heaven is yours by a free gift of your loving, heavenly Father and the sacrifice of a loving, obedient, divine Son. Heaven is applied to you day after day and you are swept up into it through the contemporary working of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God and in the Sacraments. But you suffer daily in your sinful flesh from failing bodies and from the old man that so desperately clings to this sinful life.

You are moving through this life to the life to come. You are pilgrims and sojourners in this world, knowing that your Lord has prepared an eternal home for you in heaven. You live in the now and yearn for the not yet. The movement of the Easter Vigil liturgy shows the inner workings of your Christian movement from this world to the next. The six small services within this larger service, The Service of Light, The Service of Readings, The Service of Holy Baptism, The Service of Prayer, The Service of the Word, and the Service of the Sacrament bring us from darkness into light; from prophecy into fulfillment; from sinner to saint; from ignorance to wisdom; from alienated to intimate communion; from death to resurrection. As you could clearly see with the changing of the paraments, there was a move from Lent to Easter, Christ’s death to His resurrection.

In the Lenten portion of the service, we moved the new light into the sanctuary, we heard the Old Testament accounts of Creation, of the salvation of Noah and his family, the deliverance of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh, and the rescue of the three men from the furnace—delivery motifs. The Canticle of the three young men reinforces the idea of praise for God’s deliverance. The service of Baptism recalled your personal deliverance from death to life as you were connected to Christ’s crucifixion being buried with Him in a death like His so that you could be connected to a resurrection like His.

The service of Prayer was an Easter Litany transitioning into the Easter portion of the service. The Service of the Word began with the Easter Acclamation and the reintroduction of the Greater Gloria—The Gloria in Excelsis in full musical splendor, culminating in the Gospel from Matthew.

And the final movement will be the Service of the Sacrament, the intimate communion of the Christian community upon the Paschal Lamb, giving us the foretaste of the feast to come in the final Exodus, the heavenly banquet in eternal life.

These parts show us the movement from the now toward the not yet. So why do we get so consumed with the now and so easily lose sight of the not yet? Why do the difficulties in this life keep distracting us from the life of the world to come? Because sin makes us short-sighted. Repent. We need to learn from God’s creation how to look forward instead of down.

The earth quaking at both Jesus’ death and at the morning of His resurrection testify that the earth groans in eager expectation (Rom. 8:18-25). St Paul writes in Romans chapter 8, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:18-25).

In this passage, the Apostle directs us toward the future—anticipation for what is to come.[1] He directs us beyond an observation of what nature is doing now, to what creation is eagerly longing for. We are pretty good in our medical sciences, just as one example, of looking at the body and diagnosing what is ailing it now. We can detect diseases, illnesses, injuries, identify aging and pain, and other ways the human body suffers under the curse of sin. Our temptation with this knowledge is two-fold; First, to become so focused on the medical issue as to lose hope for any future happiness in this world. This can lead to depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction with life, and even to contemplations of suicide. This is what people in long term medical care, with mental illnesses, and in nursing homes are tempted with sometimes daily.

Second, it can lead to a complete reliance upon modern medication to solve our issues, whether they be physical or mental. This complete hope in medicine is bound to disappoint us at some point. Both of these temptations at their worst direct you away from the working of God within His creation. It leads people to despair or to hope apart from God in Christ. Our human reason gets the best of us and we fail to see what nature anticipates. We would do better with our reason to consider what creation waits for, groans after, how it turns away from the now and desires that which is still to come. “Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23).

This where we must concentrate on how God broke into His creation personally in Christ Jesus. He took on flesh to become one of us—He had a body like ours that groaned, but without sin. Creation, in a mysterious way, knew that its creator was in its midst. Jesus’ miracles point to the fact that He was in control of nature and could alter it as He saw fit in the service of man, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, giving the deaf the ability to hear, making the lame walk, making bodies whole, turning water into wine, multiplying bread and fish, walking on water, and even raising the dead. Everything in this world is in service to its creator.

On Good Friday, the earth responded to the death of God and quaked. On Easter morning, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, as Matthew records, the earth quaked again when the angel rolled back the stone, revealing that Christ had risen. We don’t know why it quaked, but we can piously guess that it was responding to the news that its creator, who died, is not dead. The firstborn of creation is also the firstborn from the dead (Col 1:15, 18). And maybe the earth realized what the women and the disciples would soon realize, that Jesus’ resurrection was the first of many to come, that in the final days, all the tombs would give up their dead; that man’s and creation’s groanings would cease.

But until that great and final day, we wait. Let us take creation’s cue in our waiting. Wait in hope. Wait in joyful expectation of God’s fulfilled promise to gather you together in heaven. Even as your bodies grow older, your physical ailments and pains increase, the Lord does not leave you to yourself. He is with you and He has a plan. Wait looking forward to the restoration of creation and the removal of all the physical effects of sin in the world and in your bodies. The Lord Jesus overcame sin and death. He rose from the tomb. The earth, the angel, and the women announced as much. All of the delivery motifs in the Old Testament pointed forward to this delivery. You know what’s coming. The Promised Land of heaven stands in front of you. The now is drawing to a close and the not yet draws ever closer. Tonight, we commemorate the passing from death to life. Come tonight and commune with your brothers and sisters and with your Savior and Redeemer, who died, but is not dead.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

(He is ris’n indeed! Alleluia!)

In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.

[1] Luther, Lectures on Romans, AE 25:360.

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