Saturday, May 07, 2011

Easter Vigil Sermon

Readings: Gen. 1:1 - 2:4a; Gen. 7:1 -5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13; Gen. 22:1-18; Ex. 14:10-31; 15:20-21; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

Our lives are defined by our stories.

I have two cats, whom I adopted when they were six. Charles quickly adapted to his new home, because his story is that humans are there to pet him, feed him, give him treats, and entertain him. He often sits in on premarital sessions with couples planning to get married, and will sit with new people who enter the apartment. Once, when our priest in Boston was being ordained to one of the minor orders that were part of her journey to the priesthood, we held the ordination in the chapel in my home, and eight people were there. As we gathered in my living room before the service, Charles sat in the middle of the room, clearly convinced that the gathering was in his honor.

In contrast, Allie lives by a story that tells her that humans are out to SKIN HER ALIVE!!! She spent the first two weeks in her new home behind the refrigerator, and the next two weeks on top of the kitchen cabinets. It was six months before she stopped cringing in fear every time I walked in her direction. And she would run under the bed any time another person besides me entered the apartment. Clearly, there was some trauma of some sort in her past that has caused her deep distrust of people.

Like my cats, our lives are defined by our stories.

We may believe that our lives are defined by the abuse we received at the hands of a parent or significant other. We may believe our lives are destined to follow the script of our illnesses, our limitations, our flaws. We may believe that the mistakes we have made – the sins we have committed – determine the end of our stories.

Our lives are defined by our stories.

But something interesting has happened in the three years Allie the tabby cat has lived with me. People have stayed in my guestroom who have been kind and gentle to her, and by the next morning, she has slowly begun to walk up and rub up against them. More recently, she has even begun to remain in place when friends who are frequently here have gently leaned over to pet her (or in Fr. Joseph’s case, brush her hair). She even came and smelled the boots of one friend who came over for the first time, and rubbed her head against his jeans as he gently scratched her ears. She has begun to accept, however tentatively and hesitantly, that perhaps her story is not that humans are out to SKIN HER ALIVE!!!, and that she must run and hide lest they succeed, but rather that humans are there to feed her, give her milk, pet her, and take care of her.

I love the Easter Vigil because of the salvation history we hear in the readings from the Old Testament. Some of the best stories in the Old Testament are in there. We hear how God created the heavens and the earth, and that it was good, and then created humankind, and it was VERY good. We hear how, despite the wickedness that led God to destroy humankind, a remnant was saved, and that God made a covenant with humankind never to destroy the earth in that way again. We hear how God delivered the Israelites from slavery by bringing them across the Red Sea. We hear how God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son – a son that Abraham and Sarah only received in advanced old age, after they had given up all hope – and that Abraham was ready to make the sacrifice, but the angel of the Lord stopped him at the last moment, and provided another sacrifice. We hear how Ezekiel, depressed in seeing a valley filled with dry bones, was given a vision of the bones connecting to one another to form skeletons, and then saw those skeletons being covered with muscles, and sinews, and flesh, and skin – and then he saw those bodies filled with the spirit of God so that they might LIVE once again.

And we know that those stories are not just about people who lived thousands of years ago, those stories are OUR stories.

And then the lights come on, and the alleluias ring out, and we hear that marvelous epistle reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans – all of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ have been baptized into his death – and that, just as God raised Christ from death to new life – so we will be raised from death to new life as well, both in our daily lives, and at the end of time, when we will experience the physical resurrection that Christ experienced that Saturday night nearly two thousand years ago. And the gospel describes the women discovering that Christ is no longer in the tomb, but alive, when he appears to them. And then we experience his living, risen presence through the gifts of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

But these are not just stories that we hear in church and forget about, no – these are TRUE stories that change OUR stories.

Our stories are no longer just stories of death, sorrow, sickness, sadness, sin – although they are still there. Our stories are now stories of how we experienced these thing – and then our lives are transformed into new lives of triumph over sin, sickness, death – because we have been made part of the victorious risen Christ through baptism. And these new stories RE-define our lives -- from stories of defeat into stories of victory.

My tabby cat Allie is not very bright – and she’s just a cat – but even she has begun to accept that her story has changed from a story of fear to a story of love.

As we begin this joyful Easter season, may we embrace our new stories of life and resurrection lived through the one True Story of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Alleluia, Christ is risen – He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

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