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Homily preached at the Easter Vigil at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, Alexandria on March 30, 2013.

Easter Vigil Year A, B, C (RCL): Gen 1:1-2:2; Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21; Ezekiel 37:1-14 (Baptism)

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life. This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. Amen.

             The Great Vigil of Easter that brings us together this night calls us to remember the salvific work of the Lord our God throughout the history of the world. This is the night when we participate in the dying and rising again of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the center of our Christian faith and life together.

This Vigil marks not only our movement from the season of Lent into Easter, but represents Christ’s Passover from death to life in the resurrection and our participation in it. It is by hearing the “Word” and participating in the “Sacraments” of Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist that we come to share in the Paschal Mystery.

         The lighting of a new fire as we moved from the darkness is a symbol of the new life in Christ which the resurrection proclaims and welcomes in. We are moving from that strange and sacred absence during these Three Holy Days into the wonderful and glorious fulfillment of God’s Promise to us.

         The Paschal themes, the Good News of Easter, are illustrated in the Exsultet that we heard. They were amplified in our readings, hymns and canticles, and prayers. These are “the record of God’s saving deeds in history.”

But not all of them. We heard the Story of Creation from Genesis, and Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, and the Valley of the Dry Bones.

Look in the Book of Common Prayer and you will see that we omitted The Flood account and Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac from Genesis; God’s Presence in a renewed Israel and how Salvation was offered freely to all, both from Isaiah; the lesson about a new heart and a new spirit from Ezekiel; and the gathering of God’s people from Zephaniah. Mary and I were good to you this night for we could be here until the morning. But it is important that you know these stories because they are our stories also.

The Story of Creation provides the context for the proclaiming of salvation by recounting again: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the beginning of the story of the people of God. God made all that is, and after doing so, declared that it was good.

But sin and evil began to permeate that goodness. In the Flood Narrative, Noah becomes a sign of our salvation by rising above the waters in the ark. As the bow in the clouds was a sign of God’s covenant with Noah, so are the Christian sacraments of baptismal water and the Eucharistic sacrifice signs of the New Covenant.

Abraham, who obediently gave up his own son, is seen by Christians as an example of one surrendering everything of value to follow God’s command; this also is a symbol of God’s sacrifice of his only Son for us. A shocking account, indeed, but it ends with the message, “The Lord Will Provide.” Our tradition identifies the ram God provided for the sacrifice in place of Isaac with Jesus, the Paschal Lamb. As Isaac was saved by the sacrifice of that ram, so we too are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea waters is the one lesson that is always read at the Great Vigil for the Exodus story is central to the proclamation of this celebration’s meaning. For in it, we hear the Song of Moses, a hymn of praise for the mighty act of God in saving the chose people of Israel. Here we remember our Old Testament heritage, taking upon ourselves God’s promises to the people of Israel. Not one people only, but all the peoples of the earth are to be counted among the children of Abraham.

In Isaiah, God’s presence is marked by the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night leading the people, and the lesson of Salvation offered freely to all speaks of God’s new covenant and the universality of the reign of God. We are called to the baptismal waters, where we are cleansed and renewed, receiving forgiveness of sins, to become participants in God’s kingdom here on earth. Ezekiel’s lesson about a New Heart and a New Spirit also speaks directly about baptism: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, ... a new heart will I give you, and a new spirit I will put within you … I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes …” (Ezek 36:25-27)

The Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel’s vision offers us the Christian theme of resurrection: “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people … and I will put my spirit within you and you shall live…” (Ezek 37: 12, 14) In this, we come to understand more fully our own union with Christ in his death and resurrection, our birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.

The last reading appointed for the Vigil from Zephaniah is a great shout of praise for the Lord’s victory and God’s promise. “The Lord, your God, is in your midst … I will bring you home.” (Zeph 3:17, 20)

These are the stories of the work of salvation that God has worked for God’s people. These are our stories. They are a part of our heritage, and we have become a part of the continuing story. And tonight, we welcome a new child of God to join us in this journey and share with us in this promise. Tonight, we baptize Margaret Louise Reed into the community that knows its story, to celebrate this sacrament of beginnings, to be fully initiated into Christ’s Body, the Church.

As we have heard, water is the ancient symbol of cleansing and deliverance. We wash to make new, through the spirit of God’s forgiveness. Soon Charlie, Allison, Beth and Jill, who all support Maggie this night, will make promises on this child, and we too, as the people of God join with them in this promise and pledge. Our prayer should be that Maggie, and we, all might know the great love of Christ, grow into a fuller understanding of that love, and all share in magnifying the Light of Christ to others in this world.

Indeed, we have moved from a strange and sacred absence into the wonderful and glorious fulfillment of God’s Promise to us. This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life. This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.