Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Vigil Sermon: "The Greatest Story Ever Told"

+ Easter Vigil – April 19th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings there are these mysterious characters known as ents, ancient, tree-like creatures. As we’re told in the book, their language is beautiful, “but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to."

That’s exactly what Easter Vigil does. Any good story worth telling takes a long time to say, and to listen to. This is especially true on this night of nights.
Tonight God tells the story of His people’s salvation from Creation to the flood, from Israel’s Red Sea rescue to the resurrected valley of dry bones, from Job confessing his Redeemer to the women running to the tomb and finding out their Redeemer was not there. He had risen.

Job’s redeemer, their redeemer, your redeemer – He lives. Jesus crucified is risen.
Tonight God tells the story of salvation. We listen. And we rejoice. For this is also our story. Every word, chapter, and verse of the Easter Vigil readings unfolds the story of your salvation, from sadness to joy, from death to life.

But this isn’t just any old story. This is no fairy tale. This is the greatest story ever told for it is both beautiful, satisfying our deepest needs and longings; and it is true, historical, and trustworthy. Your faith is founded on facts. The facts of salvation handed down to you faithfully in the Scriptures where God tells us this one great story. Page after page the story becomes clearer, the light of Christ grows stronger, and the story unfolds.
Chapter 1: Creation.

In the beginning the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep. And the Lord said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. But Eden's radiance was swiftly covered in shadow by the wicked serpent; and man’s perfection was marred by temptation, disobedience, and death. But do not think we’re innocent bystanders of history. We’re active participants. We, the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, are born in sin and only increase it. Yet, out of the night of sin, a light shines. God promises a child, one who’ll be born in human flesh; he who shines with uncreated light. And He who most wonderfully created our human nature will yet more wonderfully redeem it.
And the story goes on…

Chapter 2: The Flood.
Mankind was fruitful and multiplied, but so had our sin, like a gangrenous disease infecting all of creation. And so, according to God’s strict judgment he condemned the unbelieving world through the flood; yet according to his great mercy, he preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all, that likewise in our saving flood of baptism all sin which has been born in us from Adam, and which we ourselves have added, has been drowned and engulfed forever in a surging fountain of divine goodness and mercy. And you are kept safe in the holy ark of the Church. The light of Christ’s resurrection washes out all sin.

And the story goes on…
Chapter 3: The Exodus.

Israel is caught in the middle: Egypt, Pharaoh, and slavery behind them and nothing but a fluid fortress in front of them. Death all around. But not for Israel. And not for you. The Lord of Hosts camped between Israel and Pharaoh’s army with a pillar of sacred fire; likewise Christ sets up the tent of his sacred flesh and stands between you and the grave. How beautiful are the feet of the people of God who walked on dry ground from slavery to freedom, from death to life. How beautiful are the feet of Christ who brings you out slavery and into freedom by his great exodus on the cross. The light of Christ’s resurrection gleams ahead in the Promised Land.
And the story goes on…

Chapter 4: The Valley of Dry Bones.
“Son of man, can these bones live?” Our bones are wasted away. We are dust and to dust we shall return. Dead, sin-parched, dry bones. Ezekiel has no answer just as Adam, and you and I – we have no answer. But Jesus, the true Son of Man does. Can his bones live? Oh, yes they can; they do. The same Lord who breathed new life into Adam will breathe the fresh air of his resurrection into your life-less pile of dry bones. It is the Easter Vigil. Hear the rattling of Christ’s tomb opening as loud as those dry bones being knit together, sinew, flesh, and tissue. Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves. O my people…and I will put my Spirit in you and you shall live. Do you see it? The light of Christ’s resurrection fills the valley of the shadow of death with light and life.

And the story goes on...
Chapter 5: Job.

Everything he had - goods, fame, child, and wife even life itself - was wrenched away. Everything that is, except the Lord’s promise. Satan could send suffering, boils, and bruises, but he could not remove the Lord’s promise. For he could not contend with Job’s redeemer and yours. For us and for Job fights the valiant one whom God himself elected. With an iron pen and led he engraves his love for you forever, not in a rock, but in his hands, head, and feet. And what’s more, your Redeemer lives. Our sin and death destroyed him, yet he stands in victory over them for you. See how the light of Christ’s resurrection now shines brilliantly through the flesh and bone of Job’s redeemer and yours.
And the story goes on…

Chapter 6: Jesus’ Crucifixion.
To the unbelieving eye it appears that this is the end of the story, Satan’s last laugh. Jesus is betrayed, beaten, and mocked. The Lord of life hangs dead on a tree, that’s twice now that a tree has overcome God’s people. It appears that death wins, evil prevails, and all hope is lost. But then there’s the sudden twist in the plot, the unforeseen, unexpected event in this greatest story. The instrument of death becomes the means of our life. By the tree of the garden all men fell in temptation. But by the tree of Jesus’ cross all mankind are led back into Paradise. By the tree of the garden the curse spread to all men. But by the tree of Jesus’ cross, he overcomes the curse for you and all mankind. And though the darkness covers the face of Jesus from the 6th to the 9th hour, the light of Christ is not so easily dimmed. Christ cries out: “It is finished.”

And the story goes on…
Chapter 7: Jesus’ Resurrection.

Tonight the seal of the grave cracks open and the morning of the new creation breaks forth in the darkness. Death’s dark shadow is put to flight.
Tonight Jesus leads Adam and Eve, Noah and his family, Job and each of you out of the blackness of the tomb and into the joyful radiance of the eighth day sun. This is the night when we receive from Jesus more than we lost in Adam; when we, like Noah, find rest upon a mountain where the Lord provides; when we’re saved through a watery exodus and enter the Promised Land; when the Spirit of God hovers over the face of our dry bones and breathes Christ’s life into us as he did at our Baptism; when we stand with Job and the women at the tomb to greet our risen Redeemer.

Tonight we rejoice! You are God’s holy people. And the story of your salvation doesn’t end here. Quite the opposite; it’s just beginning. Easter Vigil is the story of Christ’s resurrection from the dead; which means it’s also the story of your resurrection from the dead. And this is the one story that never ends and never gets old. Tonight we rejoice in hearing it again and again and again.
The dawn of an endless day has arrived at last. Your Sabbath rest is won. Your salvation is secured. Sin is banished. Death has lost its sting. Hope is not lost. Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Come, and join the women in running to see Jesus. See the place where he lives for you and where he pours out his body and blood for you, just as he promises.
Here in Christ’s church, the story goes on…

For it is the greatest story ever told. And it is yours – tonight, tomorrow, and forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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