The Pas Easter Vigil
1 April 2018
Psalm 114 pg 862
you have made this night bright
with the radiance of the risen Christ.
May we, who have been raised with him in baptism,
reflect the light of his glory
and live with him for ever. Amen.
This morning we find ourselves standing in the garden. We find ourselves standing before the tomb.
We came with the expectation of needing to talk our way past the guards.
We came with the expectation of having to find a way to move the stone that blocks the entrance to the tomb.
We came with the expectation that Jesus is dead
But once more, we find that God is 3 to 5 steps ahead of us because everything we’ve expected isn’t as we find it, today, in the garden.
Now, if this were a horror story, we’d find ourselves consumed with fear, the tomb would be dark yet, someone would go in, in fear and trepidation, while the rest of us huddle in front, waiting for the ultimate scream of horror as yet another body occupies the tomb.
There are countless examples in literature, in movies, throughout the years that hold to this model.
But, this isn’t a horror story.
Instead, this is a story of joy, of the unexpected way that God has turned our expectations on their, on our ears, once more.
I’ve been reading a romance story, lately, and in this story both the main characters suffer from a lack of self-esteem, from a lack of feeling that they are worthy of the love of their partner.
Naturally, this leads to misunderstandings, and it’s through this barrier that the story needs to move in order to achieve its naturally happy ending.
Interestingly, we’re the same, when we stand before the love of God. We’re constantly looking at our sins and our errors, our problems when we stand before the actions of God, since Thursday, since the Garden of Gethsemane, since the crucifixion on Friday, and the death that leads us to stand in the garden before the sun has risen, today.
At the same time, God continues to strive to prove to each one of us that we are loved, that we are worthy to stand not only before the tomb, this morning, and receive the messenger’s news, but before the throne of God as well.
That we are worthy to witness that Christ has been raised from the dead, that we’re able to be able to live into that love and to grow into the vision of humanity that God has held onto since Adam and Eve.
But God never does things in ways that we would expect, that we would recognize from our human perspective.
When we look at the reading from Exodus, for this morning, we find that once more God is doing things in a way we don’t expect. God is once again showing us a different way through the unexpected, and into the love of God.
The Hebrew people have left slavery in Egypt behind them. They’ve walked away from generations of slavery at the hands of the Egyptian people. A slavery imposed because the Egyptians were afraid of the population growth of the Hebrew people.
But, along the way, the Egyptians pursue. Perhaps they’ve realized that they need a labour force to maintain the roads, and the infrastructure of the Upper Kingdom and they suddenly don’t like the prospects of the manpower shortfall.
The passage tells us that the Hebrew people see them coming. In their fear, they stop thinking, in their panic they turn on the one who is striving to show them the way to freedom, to liberation, to being the people of God.
In order to progress, to move forward, we need God’s help.
We need God’s help to break out of the mindset that before us is death in the Red Sea, and behind us is death under the hooves and wheels of Egyptian chariots.
All around us, all we see is death, yet, God desires us to live, to grow, to love, to be free not just in body, but in mind as well.
We can see this, as we stood on Golgotha, on Friday, and witnessed what can only be perceived as the death of Christ on the cross.
He died there. We saw this happen. He was crucified for each of our sins. He died in the hot sun, scourged and beaten, mocked and made the subject of laughter.
He died. That was the end.
There was nothing after that but to bury him, and at the earliest opportunity do the embalming practices that were not able to be done before the Sabbath on Friday evening.
We see the same thing that the Hebrews on the shore of the Red Sea saw. Death before us, death behind us, and no way to change that score.
So, in the midst of the Hebrew panic on the shores of the Red Sea, in the midst of our sense of defeat at the foot the cross and as we contemplate the tomb, we see God opening our minds, opening our eyes, and hopefully our hearts, to some degree as well.
“13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” (Ex 14:13-16)
And we can see that even Moses needs to trust where God is leading, how God is leading us and our lives.
God points the way by saying: ”Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” (Ex 14:15b-16)
God doesn’t want us to stand around and panic, but to move forward, to move into the way that God opens for our lives, and for our lives in God’s love.
And naturally that isn’t a way that is obvious to us who are a part of God’s creation, who only see walls where God sees pathways.
In the movie “Labyrinth” released in 1986, the young heroine needs to find a way to through the labyrinth to its centre to rescue her brother. And in her first few minutes she finds it seemingly impossible because she doesn’t see where pathways intersect, where the way forward is able to be found because one wall looks as solid, as far away as all of the others. To her it looks like a straight line that doesn’t lead her any closer to her goal. To those who see the twists and the turns in the path, the view is completely different.
Where the Hebrew people see only death, whether by water or Egyptian sword, God sees a dry path through the ocean.
Where the Egyptians see a dry path to pursue the fleeing Hebrews, God sees a quagmire of mud and stone that dooms them.
Where we see a tomb where Christ’s body is supposed to be found, God shows us the open tomb.
Where we see the abandoned grave clothes, and the messenger to give us heart, to show us the way forward, God shows us the miracle of the resurrection.
Through our sense of fear, through our thoughts of ghost stories, and horror tales, instead, we find the throne of God, the seat of God’s love. We are given a new way to interpret Christ’s sacrifice on Friday, as the doorway through which we pass into God’s loving embrace.
Not just here, in the first light of the dawn before the sunrise, but every day when we find a way forward, when we turn to God to show us how much we are loved, how much we have yet to see.
“21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. … 26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place.” (Ex 14:21-23, 26-27)
“when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord … the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” (Ex 14:31)
We, too, are encouraged to look at the world through God’s eyes, as we encounter the open tomb, the fallen soldiers, and the message of hope for all of humanity, that Christ is risen, and he is not here. (Mk 16:6b)