Sermon: Great Vigil of Easter

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” – Cicero

This is the night we remember how our lives are woven into the lives of our ancestors.

So what makes this night special? To discover the answer we must go far back into the history of God’s people. Just prior to the Exodus from Egypt and the Israelites captivity there, you will remember the ten plagues. The tenth was the death of the first born. The Israelites were told to sacrifice a lamb and to take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and lentil of their house so that when Death came, it would pass over their houses. The Israelites did as the Lord commanded and lived. This is the night that we remember how God caused Death to pass over the Israelites.

God commanded the Israelites to commemorate this night each year with a seven day celebration. The Mishnah is a book of Jewish Law dating back to around the year 200 and it outlines how the laws and holidays are to be observed, including the seder meal, which is eaten on this night in Passover. As part of the ritual, the youngest child is assigned the role of asking some very specific questions, which provides the father with the opportunity to retell the Exodus story. The first question given for the child to ask is, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and the father proceeds by answering, “This is the night…,”and tells the history of the Israelites salvation.

As a Christian people, we have taken that same idea as the pattern for this night for the telling – in the words of Paul Harvey – “the rest of the story.” For telling how Jesus brought salvation to all through his death and resurrection.

Therefore for us…

This is the night the faithful people of God gather. We come to light a fire in the darkness, to kindle a flame that reveals the content of every shadow, and to light a candle that represents the light of Christ returning from the shadow of death and into the light.

This is the night that we hear God’s holy word as it proclaims to us how he has saved his people throughout history, how he parted the sea so that his people might be saved from their enemy, how he has made an everlasting covenant with his people and proclaims that we will be His people and He will be our God.

This is the night when we renew our Baptismal Covenant, reaffirming the means by which God saved us. As St. Paul writes to the Romans, ”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”

This is the night that we celebrate the great Eucharistic feast to receive the food of our salvation.

This is the night when we begin the great fifty days of Easter leading up to the giving of God’s Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

This night is considered the Queen of Feasts and it is the night that we prepare for the great celebration of Easter, the resurrection of our Lord.

Why is this night different from all other nights? This is the night that Jesus conquered death once and for all and it is the Eve of our Salvation. As the Psalmist declares, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight.”

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