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Easter Vigil Homily

April 13, 2009

April 11, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

The long awaited day has arrived. The 40 day pilgrimage has ended, for now is the night when our Lord has arisen. So we have sung with festive joy on this evening: “Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness! God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness.” The sadness has ended. Joy is found in its place. For that is the response that spared sinners, substituted victims, redeemed slaves, returned exiles, and rescued prisoners have as they witness and comprehend the change in fate that has come to them.

That is the story of this night. A change of fate has been given. The Lord God has acted with His divine ability to bring salvation to people. Noah and his family are spared from the flood. Isaac is spared from Abraham’s knife and a ram mysteriously appears in his place. The Hebrew slaves are freed from Egypt and escape recapture. Exiled Israelites are given leave of Babylon to return to the Promised Land. Three faithful young men are protected from the fires of the furnace, so that they may continue to worship in spirit and truth. These events are all done by the hand of the Lord God who brings life to people who were destined for death.

So the Lord God has acted in the past. And this night is to remember past acts. But this remembering is more than simply recalling what has been done. Rather, it is to see ourselves in these stories of deliverance, to see the Lord God building up to the act of deliverance that He accomplished for us. The events that we have heard on this night are the track record of our God. They point out what He has been able to do, so that we can trust His promises given to us. But they also prefigure what took place centuries later in the death and resurrection of Jesus, for that is the greatest act of redemption, one that transcends times, places, and people.

We are to feel the emotion of joy on this night, since our sadness has also ended. Like Noah, Isaac, Moses, the Babylonian exiles, and the Three Young Men, we have experienced redemption; we have been delivered. Our sins have been rinsed away. A sacrifice has been given in our place. Our tyrant has been overthrown. We have a promise of a land after our exile here on earth. The fires of hell will not consume us. This is the result of our having a share in the resurrection that the Lord God has worked with His hand.

You have been told that Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified has been raised. And that is no simple human act. Rather, that is the act of God Himself. And since His tomb stands open and empty, so yours will also. All the deliverances of the Old Testament have led up to this great act. Here the Lord God acts, not in a temporary way, but for eternity. So you and I have been given a change of fate: “Were Christ not arisen, then death were still our prison. Now, with Him to life restored, we praise the Father of our Lord.” That is the reason for our joy this night and tomorrow and for eternity.

So our pilgrimage through Lent—both the 40 day season and all the time of our repentance—will come to an end. In its place will be the inexpressible joy that we have just first begun to taste this evening: “Now let our joy rise full and free; Christ our comfort true will be.” So it will be now and forever, as our life is given by the Lord God’s hand. The sadness has ended; joy is found in its place. For that is our reaction, since our fates have been changed. So let us sing the praises of Him who has made it so.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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