A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on April 15, 2006.
(Easter Vigil, Year B).
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” This question is asked in Jewish homes at the Seder dinner on Passover. It is traditionally asked by the youngest member of the family, or at least the youngest one who can read it out of the Haggadah. It’s a leading question, of course. A question that can only be answered in the telling of the story of the faith. And on Passover, that story is the seminal event of the Jewish faith: the story of the Exodus out of Egypt.
For us, this night is also different from all other nights. Not just because your priests get to play with fire. Not just because you get to come to church quite literally “with bells on.” This night is different from all other nights because this is our night of “passover.” The night Jesus Christ passes over from death to life. The night that we, as a church, pass over from Lent to Easter. The night we pass over from darkness to light; from sin to righteousness; from crucifixion to resurrection. The night that, as we hear in the dulcet tones of the exsultet, “Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.”
But this passover is not a mere retelling of the story. It’s not just a recounting of past events. We remember the events of that first Easter Day, we read Matthew’s account of what transpired, but it doesn’t end there. Because each year as we gather in vigil, Christ passes over anew. As we gather to tell the stories of our faith from the very beginning of creation, through the rising waters of the flood, the liberating waters of the Red Sea, the sacramental waters of Baptism straight through to the empty tomb, Christ passes over
anew. And we are all along for the passover journey. We are not passive observers, but active participants with Christ along the way. For we worship a living God. A God who transcends all time and space. A God made manifest though the Word, through the bread and wine of the eucharist, and through the reflection of God’s love in each one of us. A God through whom we live and move and have our being.
I love this service. It’s the heart of who we are and what we do as Christians. And it’s got all the great symbols of our faith: fire, water, light, darkness, bread, wine. And even some lesser known ones like champagne and jelly beans (later anyway). But the Vigil is not for everybody. It’s not the best attended service of the year. Many people have never been to an Easter Vigil and the thought of either not going on Easter Sunday or going to church twice within twelve hours is a bewildering concept. And it takes special people to spend more than an hour in church. Barbara Harris, the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion was fond of saying that as Christians “we are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” I can see that. But if Christians are an Easter people, we are a special subset of this. We are Vigil people (not Village People – that’s something else). And as Vigil people, we gather around the flame, we gather around God’s Word, we gather around the Baptismal font, we gather around the altar. This is what Christ calls us to do: to gather around him. To gather around the risen Christ to hear the story of faith and then share the resurrection with one another and with others.
If Easter Day is all about resurrection and joy and chocolate bunnies and big hats, the Easter Vigil is literally about the pass over. And it’s an important piece of the story; a critical piece of the journey from the cross to the empty tomb. For those of us who are here this evening, this is Easter! The tomb is empty, Christ has been raised, the passover from death to life is complete. I think I’ll sleep in tomorrow (well, maybe not).
This night is different from all other nights. “For this is the Passover of the Lamb, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his sacraments, we share in his victory over death.”
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2006