Benediction Online

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Vigil

This is the night of the great mystery. The great not-knowing. This is the night when Jesus the Christ mysteriously resurrected; the night when his broken, bruised and bloody body changed into a new resurrection body and he left the tomb totally changed and yet the same; the night when the human relationship with evil and death changed forever. We cannot know what happened or indeed fully understand what that really means for us and for the universe.

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist in the Tibetan tradition, has written a number of books, all of which challenge us to be comfortable with not-knowing. In a similar way contemporary physics reminds us that the universe is not what it seems. It’s not solid. Creation is very definitely here and yet at the same time it is not here. Perhaps it is created by the breath of God in a much more literal way than we have imagined possible. We don’t know. All that seems to be solid is changing even before our eyes. We have changed even in the time since I started this sermon. In a world where nothing is solid, nothing is stable, it behooves us to be comfortable with not-knowing.

There are of course, significant differences in the way that Pema Chodron, as a Tibetan Buddhist, understands the universe, from the way that we as Christians might conceive it. But in the book I am currently reading and pondering, she suggests that evil is no more solid than anything else. So I have been wondering whether that is a way to understand the great gift of this night.

There is nothing more lifeless than a corpse… I am often amazed at how small a person’s body looks after the life has gone out of it. Jesus was really dead; dead dead. That was as real and solid to his disciples as any experience they had ever had. And then he was alive. The tomb was empty. The disciples came and they were amazed. Everything they thought was solid suddenly changed to liquid. Even death was no longer as definite as it seemed.

Tonight we have reminded ourselves of the salvation story of the People of God. We heard the great stories of the ancient tradition which Jesus came to fulfill. And then we had the joy of baptizing Vandria and Gio, and recommitting ourselves to our baptismal vows. In baptism we make the salvation story our own.

The Holy Spirit brings us through the waters of baptism into a new life in Christ. Baptism symbolizes an inner migration from the realities of our old life into the realities of life in the reign of God. In the New Testament reading, Paul points out that when we are physically dead we can no longer sin. Through our baptism we become as dead – we die and are resurrected with Jesus so that we are no longer enslaved by sin.

It sounds good but it’s difficult to unpack that and have it make a whole lot of sense. It’s a mystery. It isn’t solid.

Perhaps through Jesus’ death and resurrection he showed us that evil isn’t solid, that sin isn’t as powerful as we thought. When we are caught in an addiction it seems that it would be next to impossible to change. We make all kinds of excuses to ourselves – “I really need a drink”, “I deserve to have another pair of shoes”, “everyone has to eat”… but the reality is that the addiction seems the most real and powerful thing in our lives. Often it is the central point around which we organize everything else in our lives. On this most holy of nights Jesus showed that the power of addiction is hollow. It isn’t solid. It shifts and changes as we look at it, so we are no longer bound by it.

Now when we are challenged by forces of evil, when our addictive patterns, our negative behaviors threaten to overtake us we can remember that we are baptized. We have passed through the waters with the people of Israel, we have mysteriously died with Christ and been raised again into a world where evil, sin and addiction only have the power we give them. Because Jesus’ resurrection shows that they are not solid.

We have baptized Vandria and Gio with a little water. A little water which is taken from the water that refreshes all living beings on this planet. Just like air, water is constantly recycling, so that water that the Israelites came through in their great migration from slavery into freedom, the water that floated Noah’s ark, the water that John used to baptize Jesus, is all present and represented in this little sprinkling of Los Osos water.

Just as all water is interconnected, so are all beings interconnected. In Romans Paul tells us that the whole creation is groaning as if in childbirth waiting for humanity to be redeemed. As each one of us is baptized and live into our baptismal covenant, in some small way we are contributing not just to our own salvation but to that of all beings. So tonight Vandria and Gio have contributed to God’s Plan for the redemption of the whole creation and in our eucharist we celebrate a foretaste of the day when all beings will come together in reconciliation with God and with each other.

Tonight we are taking part in the great cosmic drama, the plan of God, conceived in the creative and all-loving dance of the Trinity. We only get glimpses of this plan in which God created a universe, an ever-expanding, ever-changing cosmos of an infinite number of planets, stars, black holes and other celestial beings. And then God created humanity to be in a special relationship to the Godhead and to the rest of creation. Just as through Jesus we come to God, so through us the universe is brought to God in a new relationship, one which is like the relationship the Trinity has with one another – a relationship of love, joy, creative mutual submission and obedience.

We humans play a vital role in bringing the whole of created matter into reconciliation with God – bringing it to its perfection.

We only get glimpses of this plan and the glimpses we get are so limited and so brief that we can’t hold on to them as real, solid facts. Yet the vision is amazing and glorious; deeper and more vibrant than the most brilliant sunset, broader and more thrilling than the most breath-taking view or the most overwhelming special effects.

We want things to be solid. When the disciples had the first glimpse of the resurrected Jesus they grabbed his feet. They wanted to hold on. We too want to hold on. We make stories based on the glimpses we have received and we call them Truth and we fight others who don’t share our glimpses of reality. But all the ideas we have are mere shadows of the reality which is the Godhead and the plan to bring Creation into full union with the Trinity.

As we allow ourselves to explore not-knowing, as we allow ourselves to live with the uncertainties and the doubts as well as the vision and the hope there are some things we can hold on to. We can hold on to God’s unconditional and extravagant love for us. This is not just a general non-personal love for humanity, but a love for each one of us personally.

God finds you infinitely loveable. Just as you are. You are God’s beloved.

And in our baptism we are joined in some mysterious way with Christ dead, buried and resurrected. So the other thing we can hold on to is our baptism. When things are bad, look in the mirror, splash some water on your face and remind yourself that you are sealed as Christ’s own for ever. Sealed as Christ’s own for ever.

We are the people of God and the future is ours.

As St Paul said in his letter to the Romans, For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


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