Saturday, March 26, 2016

Homily for Holy Saturday - The Vigil of Easter

Genesis 1:1 – 2:3; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13;
Exodus 14:10 – 15:1; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Jonah 3:1-10; John 20:1-18

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning…. When someone utters a statement that begins with words “In the beginning…,” you know you’re talking either to a theologian or a philosopher, or perhaps even a lunatic. Those words indicate that the speaker is about to make an absolute statement, something that they believe to be true even if they could never be prove it using empirical data or scientific method, even if contradictory evidence exists. In essence, they’re making a statement of faith, even a creed. And that is exactly how the sacred Scriptures begin, “In the beginning, God….”
And, the first thing that God reveals of Himself in the beginning is that He is a maker, a creator. This is remarkable, for to make something, to create something, is to put some amount of yourself into that which you make. And, the created, for as long as it exists, bears the mark of the Creator. It is remarkable that God should have created at all, but this He has revealed of Himself that to make, to create, to give life to another is an essential quality of God in His innermost being.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth by speaking, by His Word gone forth from His mouth. And, the Word of God does not return to Him void, but it accomplishes that for which it was sent. In this way did God make all things that have been made, by His Word, in six days: sun, moon, and stars, the birds, fish, and animals, the trees, and everything else. And then, remarkable, God made a man, not by His Word as with everything else, but with His hands from the dust and dirt of the earth. God made a man in His image and breathed into the man His own living breath, and the man became a living creature. And from the flesh of the man God formed a woman and He brought her to the man. God blessed the man and His wife with the blessing that they would be makers, creators, life-givers like Him: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” And on the seventh day God rested from all His work of creation, and God blessed the seventh day.
God is a maker, a creator, a life-giver – this first self-revelation of God is most important, for it helps us to better understand the incomprehensible and boundless love, grace, and mercy that also are essential qualities of His innermost being. We know how it went with our first parents in the garden. Infinitesimally more amazing than their rebellion against their Creator is God’s plan of salvation, that He would save man at all, let alone at the self-sacrifice of His Son. Before their fall He knew what He would do. In a moment’s vision to the “I AM”, but over hundreds of generations of mankind, God was creating anew, re-creating His fallen, broken creation. Why in this way? Why so long? These are imponderable questions from man’s perspective, but suffice it to say that this, too, is a revelation of God’s essential quality in His innermost being. He will not force Himself on anyone, but loves men that they might love Him in return. He gives life to dead and dying men that they might receive it from Him once again.
The flood was a mighty example, not of God’s silence, but of God’s mercy towards man. He cried out to the world drowning in sin and death that there was another way. He cried out “Stop going down the path you are going, the path that leads only to death”, and His life-giving Word cried out “Turn around and live!” The waters He utilized in creation He would now utilize in re-creation, washing away all sin and corruption while lifting up in salvation those who hearkened to His voice.
Similarly did God demonstrate to His people that He would save them, provide for them, and protect them, ushering His people out of the house of bondage in Egypt, passing them through the Red Sea, while destroying those who refused to repent and live in that same life-giving water.
The valley of dry bones combines themes of God’s creation of man with those of the resurrection of the dead, both occurring by the life-giving breath of God. These were the bones of God’s people that once were covered with flesh and tendons, but now were dead, dried out bones. Along the way the people of God turned from faith and lost hope; they cut themselves off from the life-giving breath and spirit-filled water of God.
In Jonah, God gives us a prophetic type of His plan of salvation. God told Jonah to preach to the Ninevites that they might repent and be saved. Because Jonah disobeyed God and fled, God brought both judgment and salvation upon Jonah when he was swallowed by the great fish. The three days Jonah spent in the belly of the great fish are a type of the three days Jesus spent in the heart of the earth. Jesus was judged in the place of Jonah and in the place of all men, and He arose triumphant from the grave to release all us would-be-Jonahs from sin, death, and the grave. And, once again God used water as an instrument of judgment and salvation. Jonah was thrown into the water in judgment to drown, but he was swallowed by a creature of the water and was saved.
Not only does God continue to call men to repentance and faith, but those who receive Him He marks and seals and protects. The baptismal imagery in the readings you have heard this evening are no coincidence, God continually uses His life-giving Word, water, and Spirit to mark and to seal His people. In renewing your baptismal vows, you are not unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refusing to bow down to false gods and idols, renouncing the devil and all his works and ways. So doing does not endear you to this world whose prince is the devil who will hurl many fiery darts at you. But like those three faithful Israelites, you know that you are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection and that nothing, not even death, can separate you from God the Father’s love.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In six days God made the universe and everything in it, and on the seventh day He rested. When Adam’s rebellion plunged the world into sin and death, God set about restoring His fallen creation. The last thing He had to do was to redeem mankind from sin and death. God the Father sacrificed His only-begotten Son for the life of the world. God the Son willingly laid down His life in love. When He died on Good Friday, all that was required for the redemption of mankind was completed, it was finished. Having finished God’s work of re-creation and redemption, Jesus rested from His labors on the seventh day. Jesus rose from the dead on the day we call the first day of the week, Sunday, but from God’s perspective, it was the eighth day, the culmination of the seven that went before it. The sun never sets on the eighth day, it is eternity, for Jesus, and for all who are baptized into His death and resurrection. The sun has set, that day is now. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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