Monday, April 09, 2007

Another brief homily at Easter Vigil

I know what you're thinking! 2 1/2 or 3 hours? Man, I hope his homily is short. Well, you might be interested to know that in the Early church, it was common for a vigil to last all through the night. People didn’t have Swiss watches to tell them the time, instead they used the sun and moon to know when day ended and the next day began. For our Jewish brothers and sister and all in the ancient world, really, a day began and ended at sunset. And, night was the time when evil, or to use a word from the first reading we hear this night, chaos reigned. The people kept vigil by staying with one another through the chaos of night into the light of a new day. We can imagine our Christian ancestors in the faith gathered together on a night 2000 years ago when it seemed like the world was turned upside down because Jesus, the one who was to deliver them from oppression, had died on the cross. They gathered to support one another. They gathered to love one another. They gathered because their grief was too great at the loss of Jesus. The early Christian community emulated that attitude by gathering together the night before Easter. I suggested to Fr. Ev that we should move to this most primitive understanding of Easter Vigil at this liturgy by reading other readings from the Old Testament. I said that we could read from Ezekial about the dry bones that come together when they receive the Spirit of the Lord and I could talk about how, in baptism we receive the same Spirit that enlivened these dead bones and made them whole again. I thought we could read the account of David and Goliath, how David slew a mighty warrior despite his young age. I would talk about how nothing gets in the way of God’s call for us. And of course, I would have to read about the prophet Elisha and the she bears. You do know about the prophet Elisha and the she bears, right? It says in the Second book of Kings “Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. ‘Go up, baldhead,’ they shouted, ‘go up, baldhead!’ The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the children to pieces.” The word of the Lord. I believe the lesson behind that is self-explanatory.

I was set to go all night listening to readings and, unfortunately, Fr. Ev said, “No, we’ll just do it the same way we did last year.” And, being the good and obedient associate pastor, I gave in. The truth is that this liturgy has enough words in it that are meaningful. We see the prominence of fire and hear how God made fire in the creation of the world and spared Moses’ son from the fire. Yet, God’s own son was not saved from being sacrificed. We hear about how God created water and used water to rescue the Israelites from the land of slavery in Egypt. In this liturgy we will see three people who have been preparing for the Easter sacraments escape the scourge of sin and death through the waters of rebirth in baptism. There is so much that happens that, perhaps, I need to try to add to it. Maybe, we all just need a couple moments of quiet to take it all in.

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