April 8, 2023, Easter Vigil. Sermon preached by Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund, Grace Church, Bath.

Year A; Easter Vigil.FB, Grace, Bath, 4.8.2023

            Our Lenten fast has come to its conclusion!

            Our Holy Week sorrow has been vanquished!

            We celebrate the ancient liturgy of the Easter Vigil tonight as a faith family. This is a night of mystery and history when our family of faith, Grace and St. Paul’s break our fast and allow ourselves to shout, “Alleluia,” for Christ has passed from death into life.

For this, we rejoice to resume those things we gave up during Lent because we are set free to start anew in Christ who is raised to new life.

For many of us, breaking our Lenten fast means returning to some food or practices that we’ve abstained from during Lent.  Honestly, I always struggle to commit to giving up things that are not good for me; that tempt me from my relationship with God.

To be honest, giving up using swear words that reflect my anger and frustration AND, giving up the worries that cable news causes me, have helped me calm down. I do think these practices, though, um, not pure…have created in me a better relationship with God.

The beauty of a Lenten Fast is that it has the potential to cause even deeper joy when we arrive at our celebration tonight –breaking our fast and entering into Christ’s heavenly banquet of the way the prophet Isaiah describes it…“rich food and well-aged wines…well-aged wines strained clear.” I might enjoy rich food, but I hope not to go back to swearing regularly and letting cable news worry me!

            And so, here we are, friends, gathered in the dark, candlelit nave on this eve of the Resurrection, to lend our ear to the history of God’s enduring salvation of our elders throughout the ages. We learn again and again that God promises never to abandon us nor the world he loves so much even to this day.

Tonight we heard those stories again. I’ve always imagined that the people of God are having a reuinion around a campfire. I imagine that our “elders” are sitting with us. I imagine that they show up for every Easter Vigil and are the ones who teach us of a God who acts in our lives and in history.

I invite you to imagine that we have arrived around the campfire. And to break our fast of rich food, each of us holds a stick with a marshmallow on the pointy end over the fire. Perhaps we will break our Lenten fast by eating things like a roasted marshmallow squeezed between two cookies with a square of melting chocolate in between. Imagine this: that God calls these sweet delight, S’mores, and God calls them “good!”

We heard first the ancient story of how we were created. The story of Creation, the story of how this magnificent planet and all that is in it was created out of love.  We heard the remarkable truth that we were created in God’s image. Yes! In God’s own image! We learned that after God created each component of the heavens and the earth and you and me, God called it all GOOD.

We next heard the story of the flood. People behaving badly and God needing a way to start over. There was a flood that covered the earth. There was an ark that Noah built. God directed Noah to build the ark that saved a few creatures. We learned that the flood story reveals a God that wants to teach us that there are ALWAYS do-overs, that God is a God of forgiveness. And, the bow in the sky is God’s gift of forgiveness and renewal.

Next, we heard the story of how God set the enslaved Hebrews free from Pharaoh’s bondage. “Let my people go!” Moses shouted to that ole Pharaoh. The Exodus story tells us that God wants God’s people to live in freedom. The night the Hebrews readied themselves to leave Egypt, they shared the first Passover meal. And then, they proceeded to cross the Red Sea in safety to freedom. I enjoy wishing my Jewish friends a blessing on this holy day.

On Wednesday last week, the day of Passover, I was walking my dog around the block. My Jewish neighbor Stephen was crossing the street in front of me. I called to him and asked, “Are you observing tonight? Hope it’s a good feast.” He laughed and said, “Let my people go!” We laughed together knowing the importance of Moses’ shout to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”

Finally, one of the favorite stories of our salvation history teaches us that God wants us all to live and breathe and be raised from our tombs! Exekiel tells of the very, very, very dry bones. The dry bones represent the deported, conquered Israelite exiles who thought there was no hope for their dead future. They cried, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” But God is not a god of death and separation. God is a god of new life and spirit. God promised to open the graves and said, “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…”

And so, let us return to our “campfire” and imagine being flanked by our loving elders telling stories of God’s love and freedom. Let us break our fast. Let us laugh and sing together, as the family of God.

Look to the person sitting next to you and shout to your sibling, “Alleluia! Christ is alive.”

Now, look to the other person sitting next to you and shout to your sibling, “Alleluia! Christ is alive.”

“Alleluia. My friends, You SHALL live.” Christ’s grave is open! Death is vanquished. Let us rejoice, sing and join the feast.