26 March 2016

Homily for Easter Vigil

"How to Say 'CHRISTIAN'"

Surely, you remember the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings—Frodo, Sam-Wise, Merry, and Pippin. Frodo and Sam-Wise had gone off to return “the Ring” to Mt. Doom—save the world or some such thing. Merry and Pippin, though, had been captured by the Uruhkai. Then they escaped and were wandering through Fangorn Forest. That’s where they met the “Ents”—the tree creatures that  walk and talk. The first “Ent” they met was Treebeard—an wise, old Ent. At first Treebeard wasn’t sure he had ever heard of little creatures called Hobbits. Treebeard went through his whole list of creatures—elves, dwarfs, ents, and humans; beavers, bears, hounds, and eagles; swans and serpents. Nope, no Hobbits. But he was pleased to meet Merry and Pippin.

So, Merry quickly introduces himself by name. And Treebeard says, “Hoom, hmm! Come now! Not so hasty.” He wants to ponder why they call themselves “hobbits.” Pippin quickly introduces himself by name. And Treebeard responds, “Hm, but you are hasty folk, I see.” Then Treebeard slowly declares, “I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.” Why not? He says, “For one thing it would take a very long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story.” In Treebeard’s story-language, Entish, things take a long time to say. Then Treebeard says, “It is a lovely language, 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.”

Tonight we are being good little Ents! What does all of this have to do with Jesus, Easter, resurrection, and new life? Don’t get hasty now; just wait. It’s truly amazing how hasty we get in our world of 24/7 news, and Facebook status updates throughout the day, and email correspondence where we feel insulted if we don’t get a response in under three minutes. Yes, we’re suffering from a plague of hastiness. Yes, the symptoms of that plague are not saying much that’s worthwhile and not hearing much that’s worthwhile. Certainly, our hasty speaking, our hasty listening, and even our hasty living, all tend to crowd out our God who loves us for the long-term of eternity.

According to Treebeard, anything worth saying is worth taking some time to say it. Think about this evening. We actually gather here with the express purpose of taking longer than normal to worship ... waiting and watching in vigil … of hearing lots of God’s Word … of remembering our Baptism … of confirming two young men … of praying … and of receiving His gifts. We began with preparing and lighting the Paschal candle. Yes, Jesus Christ is the light of the world. Oops. I’m getting too hasty here. We processed in and that light of life spread through the congregation. One candle after another, Jesus the resurrected light spread for each person here. Just think how gloriously long it would take to spread through the country or around the world.

Then we heard the Word of God. If there’s anything worth saying and listening to, here it is. Story after story of how God loves us to redeem us, of how God steps into our story to rescue us, rescue us from sin … and from death … and from the devil. First, came Creation. Yes, He loved us so much He wanted to give us His whole perfect world. Then came the Flood. Yes, our rebellion against Him is judged. And yet He delivers us through the water, safe and secure in the ark—the ark of His holy Church, that is. I hope I’m not going too hastily here! Then came the Exodus. Our gracious God delivers us from our slavery to sin, just has He delivered His ancient people from slavery in Egypt. And finally Daniel and his friends. Notice we did not speed through that story! Daniel and his friends would not bow down to the human king, regardless of his unjust legislation and mandate, regardless of how the governing authorities sought to curtail their religious freedom. And the consequences for their civil disobedience? A fiery furnace. But there was a Helper in the midst of that blazing oven—the Son of God Himself. Yes, we’ve taken a long time to rehearse these stories. If there’s anything worth saying, it’s worth taking time to say it. You see, these are our stories. They teach us how to say, “CHRISTIAN.”

And this evening we’ve had the privilege of remembering our Baptism and new life with God in Jesus' death and resurrection. And, yes, it happened far more hastily than the story deserves. You see, we get to spend our whole lifetimes learning this new life in Jesus, life that lasts into eternity. Yes, for years to come, we get to learn how to say “CHRISTIAN” … and how to live as “CHRISTIAN” … and how to serve as “CHRISTIAN” … and how to love as “CHRISTIAN.” It’s what we all get to do when we are baptized.

After that story we witnessed the story of two young men confessing the one, true faith and being confirmed in that faith. If there’s anything worthy saying—especially in those confirmation vows—it’s worthy saying slowly, over a long period of time, even over the long period of your lifetimes. Yes, you did confess faith in the true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes, you did promise to remain true to Him for the rest of your lives. Yes, you did promise to live the rest of your lives in His Church—hearing God’s Word, receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood faithfully and regularly. It’s how you say, “CHRISTIAN.” You live it. You don’t make a promise, and then hastily rush off to other pursuits. No, you live the story. You live life within God’s family, the Church. We all do. How do you say “CHRISTIAN”? By coming to Jesus’ house, by hearing and learning His words, by eating and drinking His Body and Blood—week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out. If there’s anything worth saying—and living—it’s worth taking time to say it and live it. So, Blake and Evan, welcome to the family.

What does all of this have to do with Jesus, Easter, resurrection, and new life? Don’t be so hasty. It’s what we’ve been hearing all evening. New life from God and His rescue of sinners. New life in Jesus Christ, crucified and now risen. New life in Baptism. New life in practice, lived out in His family, the Church. New life that is worth taking time—our whole lifetime—to say, to live, to shout, to sing.

When we shout out and sing out that “Christ is risen,” we mean all of this. When we shout out and sing out that “He is risen indeed,” we mean His story is our story, His life is our life. When we shout out and sing out, “Alleluia!”, we shout out and sing out a word that is worth saying over and over and for a long time to come. Praise the Lord that He has sent His Son! Praise the Lord that He is risen from the dead! Praise the Lord that He has raised us to live with Him! Praise the Lord that He teaches us how to say, “CHRISTIAN”! Praise our risen Savior that He has given us something to say, and a whole lifetime to say it!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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