Easter Vigil 2018

Easter Vigil
March 31, 2018 A+D (Inspired by a sermon from Dr. Mayes 2005)
Exodus 14:10-15:2

In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the night when God brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on dry ground. This is the night when He stood in the breach between Israel and the hosts of Egypt so that Pharaoh’s forces could not touch the Israelites as they passed through the Sea safely. This is the night when Christ, our deliverer, redeems His children from the hand of the satanic Pharaoh. This is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from bondage to sin and restored to life and immortality.

To some liturgically-minded it may seem strange to celebrate this victory the night before Easter Sunday, but according to Jewish reckoning, the day begins at sundown. So even though we celebrated Good Friday last night, we’ve come already to the beginning of Sunday on this night. Just as we celebrate Christmas already on Christmas Eve, so we celebrate Easter already tonight at the Easter Vigil. Even during this Vigil, you saw the shift from Lent to Easter in the liturgy and in the ceremony of changing the paraments. This is the night where we have the lengthy Scriptures readings—all pointing forward to Christ, the Resurrection, and, yes, to Holy Baptism. This is the night when God brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on dry ground. This is the connection between Easter and Baptism. These three scenes go together: Exodus, Resurrection, Baptism. And lest you feel like we’re stretching the connection, listen to the Apostle Paul: “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1-2). Red Sea and Baptism go together.

As the Jewish people were under the tyranny of Pharaoh and were set free by his destruction in the waters of the Red Sea, so all you who were baptized—were under the tyranny of Satan and were set free by Satan’s destruction in the waters of Baptism. His power over you was broken and cast off as the Holy Spirit came to you in your Baptism. “When the people, [were] leaving Egypt, escaping from the power of the King of Egypt by passing across the water, the water destroyed the king and all his army. What could be a clearer figure of Baptism? The [Baptized] are delivered from the world, and this is done by water, and the devil, who has hitherto tyrannized over them, they leave behind, destroyed in the water” (Tertullian, On Baptism, 9).

This is the link between Exodus, Resurrection, and Baptism. In His death on the cross, Christ paid the debt that the human race owed to God. In His resurrection, He became the conqueror over death, over Satan (who was a murderer from the beginning), and over sin (which brought death into our world in the first place). His resurrection made Him our liberator. The Resurrection breaks the power of sin, death, and the devil. And Baptism makes this all yours. In the Resurrection salvation was gained by Christ. In Baptism Christ makes salvation yours.

However, Israel passing through the Red Sea was not enough to make it a Baptism. As Paul says, “they were baptized … in the cloud and in the sea.” But what is this cloud? At the time of Israel’s liberation of Egypt, it was the visible presence of God. The Church Fathers debate whether it was the Son, or the Spirit, or the entire Trinity. But this is not much of a debate. It is God as He makes Himself known in word and deed. And the works of the Trinity are united. God said He would lead Israel in a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. It was this divine-presence visualized in the pillar of cloud which stood between Israel and Pharaoh’s armies as Israel marched through the Red Sea with dry foot. The divine cloud protected Israel and made the Red Sea into an efficacious means, saving them, and destroying their enemies. They needed both the cloud and the sea to be “baptized.” They needed the water and the presence of God. This is the same in your Baptism. Having water poured on you was not enough to make it a Baptism. You also needed a cloud of divine presence, the Word of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be a Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, a new birth into God’s family. As Paul says, Baptism is a “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). You need both the washing and the Word, and that’s exactly what you have. God, in Christ, protects you from your enemies—sin, death, and devil—and He makes this water into an efficacious sacrament by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Working through the Word, He comes to you via the water, dwells within you, and begins to renew you in holiness, righteousness, and purity—that is to say, the image of the eternal God.

There is however, an important difference between the Exodus and Baptism. It is the resurrection. God prefigured the coming death and resurrection of Christ when the Israelites crossed over the Red Sea, but it had not yet been fulfilled. This earthly salvation was a type of the heavenly salvation yet to be accomplished. And Christ rising from the dead on the third day completed this heavenly salvation. Now all who believe in the sacrifice of our Lord, are rescued from death. Though we may die a temporary death, and our bodies will rest in the tomb, yet we who believe and are baptized shall not die the eternal death. We will be raised, even as He was raised, to live forever with our true King—Christ. This is the meaning of the resurrection, making this night so much better than the Exodus of old. And as the Exodus colored all of their theological teaching and preaching in the Old Testament, so also the Resurrection colors all of our teaching and preaching in the New Testament. Not only is this the night when God brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on dry ground—this is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from bondage to sin and restored to life and immortality.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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