Sermon: Great Vigil of Easter – “This is the Night”

The Sacrifice of Isaac (mid-1750s) by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727 – 1804)

In her book, When God is Silent, author and Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor speaks to clergy about preaching.  At one point she addresses how we should go about preaching on some of the more difficult passages, such as the one we read: the sacrifice of Isaac.  Barbara says, that the Bible is full “of such raw and powerful stories.  Maybe we should preach more of them and where they are obscure, troubling, or incomplete, perhaps we should leave them that way.  Who are we, after all, to defend God?… The discord—like the silence—is God’s problem, not ours.  When we try to solve it, we are no longer being courteous.” (p.115-116)

When it comes to her advice and that passage of scripture of Abraham and Isaac, very few have taken Barbara’s advice.  They launch into long explanations of how this is only a myth and not an actual event or attempt to break down Abraham’s thought process or the psychology of Isaac or anything else so as to avoid or distract us from what the story tells us.  I’m guilty of all of the above because when taken at face value, all that remains is God telling Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”  Abraham did not argue or weep or bargain.  He was obedient.  In the end, because of his obedience, Isaac was saved.  In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul summarizes what took place and how it was viewed, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son.”

We can finagle, whitewash, and analyze the incident all we want to make it easier to swallow, but the Scripture itself is clear: God tested Abraham by asking him to deliver his son up as a burnt offering so that God could determine whether or not Abraham was faithful.  

I do not believe that there is a parent in the room who would even consider it.  In fact, I believe that every single one of us—parent or not—would fail that test.  We would unapologetically tell God, likely in some rather colorful language, “No!  What you ask is impossible.”  If that were the end of it, we would all be lost, but Jesus refuses to lose us.  

Jesus says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  

Jesus says, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  

Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”  

Jesus says, “It is finished.”

“This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.” 

In order to prove our faith, we will never be called upon to sacrifice anyone or anything, for this is the night that the sacrifice that was made once and for all restores us to God. 

Alleluia.  Christ is Risen.

The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Sermon: Great Vigil of Easter RCL A – “Ghost!”

Jesus blurI like for my television programming to be intellectually stimulating. I like to constantly be stretching and growing my mind, so I stay away from things on the History Channel or the Learning Channel and go straight for the meat and potatoes: America’s Funniest Home Videos with an occasional episode or two of Friends. I do watch other things as well that are equally as stimulating. For a while I was on Mythbusters then I moved over to Miami Ink – especially when Kat Von D was on for a while, followed by Deadliest Catch. However, I’ve found one show that I’ve been absolutely hooked on for a while: Ghost Adventures, with my buddies Zak, Nick, and Aaron. Zak is the front man with the weird hair, Nick is the serious one, and Aaron is the one who acts a bit like Shaggy in Scooby Doo.

They’ve got all this really great equipment too for detecting ghosts: digital recorders to capture EVPs – that’s Electronic Voice Phenomenon for you non-ghost believers – night vision cameras, infrared imaging, the works. What is so tragic is that so often the ghosts drain the energy of their cameras, so just when they are about to capture something good like a full body apparition on tape – the camera dies! So they just have to tell you about it instead of showing it to you – I’m so disappointed for them.

The reason I mention this is because of our Gospel reading tonight. Jesus has been dead and in his tomb for three days, yet now he is appearing to the living. Is he a ghost? Is this the full body apparition that Zak, Nick, and Aaron are always talking about, or is it something all together different? The gospel writers are very careful about helping us to understand that what these women are seeing in tonight’s gospel – and for that matter at all the appearances of Jesus following his resurrection – is not a ghost.

For example our Gospel from today said, “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.” “They took hold of his feet.” All ghost adventuring aside, even the folks in the time of Jesus knew that you could not touch a ghost. In later appearances we are told that others touched him, some walked down the road with him and broke bread with him, and there is the time when he will meet with the disciples on the shore of the sea and have breakfast with them. All of these things occurred after his death and resurrection; and the Gospel writers use these examples to help the reader understand that the Risen Jesus is not a ghost. He is alive.

Following his resurrection we know that he ascended into heaven so that we can no longer see him as he was and for many their response to that event is, “Well isn’t that convenient.” A bit like the Ghost Adventurers’ cameras going dead just as the ghost shows up, leaving only someone’s word that something actually took place. I think the lawyers would say that its all circumstantial evidence.

Perhaps more folks would believe that Jesus is in fact the risen Lord if they could take hold of his feet or have breakfast with him on the shore of the sea. We read in our Gospel tonight, Jesus told Mary, “Tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Many today would ask, “Where is my Galilee that I might see Him?” You know how I respond to that? Open your eyes. He is all around you. As St. Patrick wrote:

Christ beside me, Christ before me;
Christ behind me, Christ within me;
Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
Christ to right of me, Christ to left of me;
Christ in my lying, my sitting, my rising;
Christ in heart of all who know me,
Christ on tongue of all who meet me,
Christ in eye of all who see me,
Christ in ear of all who hear me.

Open your eyes. You won’t see a ghost. You’ll see the Risen Lord. You’ll see Jesus.

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