Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sermon from the Vigil

I preached at the Easter Vigil as I usually do. Well, 'preach' is kind of stretching it. I meandered around in a reflective sort of way. What was that term? A Preach Moment, maybe, even Homily is kind of generous. A sermonette for a Christianette. Anyway, here it is. Today we are going to try and have a proper celebration of Easter at home. Totally discouraged myself by Saturday reading blogs of what other people were planning to do. In the past we've tried to come home from a church and cook lamb and bake a pie or whatever. But reality, six kids later, has finally set in. We just can't go the distance of Holy Week and Easter and then come home and do anything else but sit around in a stupor. Maybe when the kids are older and can help cook. But maybe not. This year Elphine and Alouicious each took a turn to carry the incense boat, and Good Friday turned out to be a family affair--Matt led the stations, I carried the cross and they both carried candles. I have long looked forward to this moment when they can be up on the altar (and want to). They then volunteered for the funeral yesterday and ended up being paid modestly for their trouble. Really puts the 'fun' back in a funeral to be paid, AND there's always lunch afterwards. Yesterday's desert table was positively groaning.

Preach Moment for the Great vigil of Easter
The night before my grandmother died I had an interesting and troubling dream. I don't generally put much stock in dreams. I certainly have never had a prophetic dream—where I dreamed something and then it happened. But a few times in my life I've had a richly vivid dream that colored and shaped not only the light of day I woke up to, but many days and times after it. This dream was one of those kind. I was living in Oregon at the time and in the dream I was driving along the rocky and seemingly precarious curves of the agonizingly gorgeous gray rainy coastline. I was in a convertible car and I had a basket with me with, among other things, my mother's Bible. Of course, in the dream, the car silently and slowly swung itself off the road into the ocean which turned out not to be gray and choppy but to be clear and blue, like I was suddenly in the Caribbean. I floated along under the waves, looking up at the sunlight and sky and then realized with horror that everything was falling out of my basket! My Bible was floating along in front of me, and my keys and an apple and several other items. I tried in vain to gather them and put them back. The effort, though great, was not enough. I woke up startled saying, almost aloud, my basket is empty! My basket is empty!

Mid morning word came that my grandmother had died very unexpectedly, playing the piano at a nursing home for the elderly. She played the opening cord of the hymn, laid her head on the piano, and was gone, suddenly, like Bilbo running out of his house without a pocket handkerchief for the adventure of a lifetime. Most everyone here tonight, I expect, has experienced some kind of loss, some very deep. The kind of loss that leaves you thoroughly and completely empty. I expect Ezekiel, looking out over the Valley of Bones, must have been overwhelmed by the emptiness, the loss.

Certainly the women, on the way to the tomb, were empty and lost. They had gathered together what they could—spices, linen, oil—but nothing that would be enough, that would fill up the great hole that was the loss of Jesus.

I am frequently startled by how very great losses and small mingle themselves together to overwhelm me in grief. If I am very troubled by something, grieved and needy and unhappy, it will be the rice jar being empty, or finding I am on my last egg, or that I neglected to buy flour and butter, that we have no sugar cereal in the house or milk, that brings me to tears.
Come, buy and eat, says the Lord.
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Your basket is empty. You are starving to death. You are dying. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

This is the original question, isn't it? The very moment Eve plucked the fruit, the moment her eyes saw it and that it 'seemed good' that somehow she would be satisfied with something other than what God had provided. Eat from all the other trees, he said, but not that one. So it must be that that one has something better, something more satisfying. That was the original sin, and that is what we do every day. We give everything we've got to chase after what can't give us what we need. We eat and eat and eat and are never satisfied. We strive and work and end exhausted with our baskets still empty. The crown of this sin was the arguing of the disciples On the Night Before he died, about who was greatest. The Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Word made flesh is sitting with them, and its not enough. There must be something more!
But the more only turns out to be a dry ruined valley full of corpses, the ultimate end of all that work—death.

“Listen diligently to me,” says the Lord,
“and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to me; hear that your soul may live”
Lean in, listen, attend.
How can He even say this?
How can God, even as Adam and Eve's fingers are yet stained with the fruit of their sin, say this! How can he offer anything to us? Why does he want to? I confess to being often baffled by this question. I don't know why God wants to redeem and save us! Even when God wants to tell us, we still don't know, don't want to know. Somehow So Often, daily, moment by moment, broken sinful rebellious need is better and safer than looking into the face of God, looking really at Jesus and listening to his real voice and hearing what he really says. We run away, argue, distract ourselves, grow busy and strive after anything that we can other than face the voice and face of God. Whether we are a long way a way in the pig pen in a far country, or whether we are close by in the upper room, or on the way to the tomb filled with broken empty grief. This is not only the problem of the wretched unrepentant sinner. It is everyone's problem. We don't see and hear, we don't want to. We don't find because we don't actually seek. We don't seek because we don't want what we know we will find.

I always wonder about Adam and Eve's relationship with God after the garden. Sure, it was hard work, and painful, but probably they felt safer in their broken emptiness, not always having to talk to God, to see him and hear him. Maybe he left them alone and they felt more comfortable. So comfortable that when God speaks to Abraham, no one has heard of him. It is a totally new thing. The trace and memory of his voice and presence has been unreluctantly forgotten. And so on, through the Old Testament, line by line, fall by fall, rebellion by rebellion, the desperate history of a people trying to Get Away from God.

And yet the Lord says, Come.
Come buy at eat. Delight yourselves in rich food. Seek the Lord while he wills to be found. Though you, fully rejected and sinned against would say that's it, I've had enough,
I'm done. The Lord still wills be found. His thoughts are not your thoughts, your ways are not his ways. The heavens are higher than the earth. His ways are higher than your ways.
Rain and Snow fall from the heaven and obey him, watering the earth, bringing forth growth, bread for the eater.
All of creation is obedient to the voice of God, the Word of God. So is the Word that goes forth from his mouth
obedient. Perfectly obedient. The broken and empty body of our Lord, willing in perfect obedience to go to the very end of emptiness, brokenness, sin, and grief, going farther than any of us could ever go, carrying a burden beyond measuring or numbering. Not one small valley of death and destruction but the weight of every small rebellion, every great and terrifying sin, my constant and innumerable selfishnesses, the mass murdering of every horrible thug—all of it accounted for in the broken empty body in the tomb.

The women hurrying forward in the darkness with their hands full of emptiness. But the cavernous rock hewn out of the hill is so full of the glory of God. Death is gone. Destroyed. There is only life. There is only joy.

Do you think your way is higher than his way? Do you think you can go on with your life coping as you want to as if your basket, your jar, your life is still empty?

You Cannot.
The Lord is Risen. The whole earth is full of his glory.
He has succeeded in his purpose.
What is his purpose? To Raise the dead.
To raise you to life.
To chase after you and bring you to himself.
To provide for you with his own body and blood.
To give you everything you need.
To gather you and love you and raise you.
He can because he is alive. Its only up to you to come, join the feast be satisfied with your Lord.
Alleluia. He is Risen.

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