Year B; Easter Vigil, 3.31.2018
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Oh! It’s wonderful to be celebrating the resurrection with Grace Church this third year in a row! Last year in Bath, the celebration with you at Grace was grand. Thank you for coming to Brunswick this year.
Each year it feels more and more that our Easter Vigil gathering is like a family reunion. WE do the same things that families do when they get together: We tell stories about the family “characters” of our ancestry. We sing songs together. We pray together. We prepare a feast at a special table and eat it together. We make promises to each other and to God. Tonight’s gathering is really quite a reunion!
I lived in North Carolina for 15 years. There are two things I learned about family traditions there. One is that ancestry is extremely important. It’s important to know who is related to whom; and where your “people” are from.
The other thing I learned was that family reunions happen all the time there. Now, I’m from a small family in Kansas – I’m of fairly recent Scottish and German ancestry. But my family did not have lots of children. My mother is an only child. So, in order to have a decent sized Thanksgiving dinner, we used to invite the “aunties” and cousins. But that gathering wasn’t even very big. I have never experienced a real family reunion. I think those of us who have never experienced regular reunions, secretly nurse a desire to be part of a large gathering of “blood kin.”
Yet, my secret desire for a family reunion is assuaged by our gathering tonight because we are “the family of God,” and that transcends blood ancestry. Tonight is the night that Christians mark as the Passover of Jesus from death into life, and that is our common bond.
We are brothers and sisters, members, one of another. And we are brothers and sisters of Christ. We are joined with him as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, through our once-in-a-lifetime baptism and are raised with him in his resurrection. Paul called our relationship to each other “adoption.” “We received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’”
In ancient Rome, adoption was more powerful in families than even being related by blood. In her blog, Ellen Mady writes this about adoption, “In ancient Rome, adoption had a powerful meaning. When a child was born biologically, the parents had the option of disowning the child for a variety of reasons. The relationship, therefore, was not necessarily desired by the parent, nor permanent.”
“Not so…if the child was adopted. In Rome, adopting a child meant: That child was freely chosen by the parents, desired by the parents. That child would be a permanent part of the family; parents couldn’t disown a child they adopted.”
That’s a powerful statement for our adoption as children of God – freely chosen by God, one and all. Maybe we aren’t blood kin. But we are family. We are joined to each other and to Christ by the Sacrament of our baptism. That joining was reinforced tonight as we recommitted ourselves to our baptismal vows. “I will with God’s help” is our common family assent to a life in Christ.
Another way we are joined together is by the bond of the “witnesses” who have gone before us. One of my favorite phrases in Scripture is, “The great cloud of witnesses” from the Letter to the Hebrews. These are the millions of believers who have born “…witness to the life of faith” that we are celebrating tonight.
These “witnesses” are our ancestors. Not related by birth or name or geography, they are our witnesses of faith. And they are not some far-off saints we read about in books. They are witnesses right here in our midst. Those who have gone before us; Family, friends, people of faith, teachers, mentors…people we have known or whose lives and love we have claimed in our memories.
Here at St. Paul’s we sit among windows and holy objects that have been dedicated to the glory of God and to the memory of loved ones. Look around and see that we sit among the local “cloud of witnesses” whom we remember. The window over the reredos behind me has been given deep care in the wording of the dedication by the woman’s husband. It is movingly inscribed, “In memory of Annie Hale Pierce erected at the direction of her husband Frank W. Pierce.”
I think my favorite inscription is the one under the window over there in the east wall under the scene of Christ’s Ascension, “to the glory of God in memory of loved ones and faithful parishioners.” No names, just a simple acknowledgement of “faithful parishioners.” Our faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.
At Grace, you have a wonderful memorial garden that is home for your “cloud of witnesses.” After my first winter here, I attended the Lenten Clergy retreat at Grace. By the end of the season of Lent that year, I had come to the realization that the winters in Maine are long and severe.
During the first day of our retreat, Bishop Lane dismissed us for some quiet reflective time in the afternoon. I strolled out to the memorial garden. The sun was shining. I was aware that the sun had not shone for what had seemed like weeks. But the sun that day even made the Kennebec River off in the distance sparkle. The ground was still hard and dead-looking…until I looked down and saw a tiny, frail “cloud of crocuses,” and near it a tiny cluster of snow drops. The new growth that day in the Grace Church memorial garden gave me great hope.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, our common faith tonight is this:
“Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate.
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead, the first of the sleepers. Glory and power are his for
ever and ever.”
(Hippolytus, The Catholic Telegraph, March 31, 2013)