The Great Easter Vigil

St Barnabas, Norwich VT

Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson

Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  Good morning!  Welcome! 

The Great Easter Vigil!

    The light is trickled in… it comes in with a single voice calling out and other voices replying to it… it is small but so much more of a presence of hope than darkness… that tiny light is enough to make the huge darkness unable to overwhelm us!  …then that little tiny fragile light is snuffed out… then, the tiny light that is transferred to one another… that light of hope is brought in again and sustains us through the first baptism.  Then, just after the baptism or the promises of the covenant, we encounter the brightest light the biggest sound, the greatest life-affirming light, clapping of bells, the sound of all the voices of the people singing with joy this is the sight and sound of the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

You might not believe it, but even if you don’t believe it, the story of Jesus is one filled with hope that is as strong as a single flickering candle being blown in a bit of a breeze but stays lit. This evening in our rituals, we enact this light of life coming into the world. Whenever we have a new baptism, remember this time, this very service, and know that as we welcome new members into the body of Christ, we re-member all of us!  It is through a baptism or the promises of those already baptized tonight that we transition from darkness into the bright light of life and beautiful flowers of many colors and deep fragrances that are our symbols of celebration of life! Light, water and… trees. I have come to see trees as our ultimate symbol of hope in the resurrection, more so even than the cross. Here are some more stories about how that understanding has come to me.

    Peter says in Acts 10 that Jesus' death comes "by hanging him on a tree," the common way in which the Romans publically displayed the results of contradicting Rome's narrative of power. Just as we cut down trees for quick and cheap energy, and at the same time remove some of the powerful intertwining benefits provided to oxygen-breathing creatures by the primal rain forests, so Rome thought it could cut down trees of hope, and turn them into instruments of murder and torture. 

Yet, trees, all through the stories of our sacred texts, have carried a powerful symbolic meaning for the community. The first trees supply the human diet (Gen. 1:29), without benefit of sowing and reaping; the special trees in Eden are the source of infinite knowledge and endless life--unless appropriated by greedy and blind human hands that eat at the wrong time or for the wrong reason (Gen. 2:9, 17). Abraham meets angels beneath a great Oak tree (Gen. 18:1), and Moses learns that God is indeed a savior to the slave when he encounters a tree-like bush that burns with divine flame without dying of it! (Ex. 3:2) Prophetesses sit beneath their trees (Jdg. 5), giving counsel and leading the people; trees in Psalms are the very image of the Good Life, flourishing by streams of pure water (Ps. 1:3).

Divine Wisdom, who scolds like a Mother or beckons like a Lover (Prov. 1:20-33, 3:13-17), is said to be a "tree of life" (Prov. 3:18) to all those who find her and hold fast to her sage teachings. Even Job, as we read yesterday morning at our last Morning Prayer service of Holy Week,  even Job who hungers for a death which can end his pain of living, believes that "there is hope for a tree" (Job 14:7-12), even if it is cut down: when the scent of water reaches it, it will revive and live again. And out of the burnt stump of the Tree of Jesse, the line of David from which Jesus is said to be the latest manifestation, comes finally a Messiah, someone anointed to open our eyes, and spare us from the fate of our silly, narrow goals and visions (Isa. 4:2, 11:1-2; Zech. 3:8, 6:12). In the final book of the Bible, Revelation, the pure River of Life flows from God's throne and beside it is the Tree of Life, once again producing every kind of fruit for healing and sustenance of the life of the world (Rev. 22:2-3). 

[…] The Gospel is quietly directing us to this happy ending, even in so dreadful a moment as when the women disciples find that Jesus' battered body is nowhere to be found: instead, Mary is questioned by a Gardener about her concerns, only to realize that it is indeed Jesus, her beloved Teacher, who addresses her. Death cannot conquer Love, however it tries: whatever the questions our lives may pose, Love is always the Answer, and the death of Jesus as the Innocent who in no way deserved it, is our Emblem of Hope. [Dr. Carole Fontaine, Andover Newton Theological School]

So, look to the trees as a symbol of hope, rebirth, first fruits and Love and of the risen Jesus Christ who was resurrected today!  Look to the hope of the budding trees out in our springtime now.  Look to the trees for the energy of our very breath and air. And know that Jesus no longer hangs from a tree, he is resurrected and has defeated death this very Easter!

Let us pray.  We exult in your love, O God of the living, for you made the tomb of death the womb from which you brought forth your Son, the first-born of a new creation, and you anointed the universe with the fragrant Spirit of his resurrection. Make us joyful witness to this good news that all humanity may one day gather at the feast of new life in the kingdom where you reign for ever and ever. Amen.