April 15, 2017: Easter Vigil, Fr. Carey Stone

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 Easter Vigil A’17

15 April 2017
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone
Holy God, Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption, which is given to us in Baptism that we might remember our true identity. In the Name of the One who is Resurrection and Life. Amen.
Darkness and light, smells of middle eastern frankincense and myrrh, silence and loud noises, ethereal and joyous music – This is a night like none other in our sacred calendar, a night filled with mystery and paradox, of opposites finally being reconciled in the glorious light of the resurrection sometime during the wee hours of darkness. On this night we join with the great cloud of witnesses who throughout the centuries have gathered to worship and sing and to be reminded of the wonderful story that is ours as Christians. 
This grand story of our salvation stretches all the way back to the very beginning of creation when the Spirit of God hovered over the watery chaos of a formless void and by the power of the Word spoke all that is into being.   We are reminded that our very existence comes from God.  
In the story of the Exodus we hear of the deliverance of God’s people from bondage through the waters of the Red Sea into a new day of freedom in the land of promise.  Through the words of the prophets we are told of God’s plan to offer salvation to all and to give us all new hearts and new spirits.  St. Paul in his letters takes us back to the waters of baptism as the place of our freedom. Through the waters of baptism we are delivered from the bondage of sin and the permanent effects of death and our new identify is established as God’s beloved children. 
Tonight one young soul will be making the first sacramental step in his long journey of salvation. He will embark on the journey of becoming his true self, which is God’s new creation. We who have already begun the journey will be reminded of our true identity through reaffirming our baptismal vows and by the sprinkling of Holy baptismal water. Through the death of baptism we are raised to new life beginning the life-long journey of becoming the persons that God intended for us to be.
 But this process isn’t automatic. If there is a true identity then it stands to reason that we can have a false identity. This false identity is what St. Paul refers to as the body of sin, he writes: “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6) The word sin here is used to describe more of a state of being than that of a moral category. It describes the state of alienation from our true identity as God’s children. The world around us will present our true identities as God’s beloved children with a daily challenge. The old and false self that was created by the forces of socialization and biological necessity will not go quietly. We will have to continually choose this identity and rely on the power of the Spirit given to us at baptism to live into this identity. 
Dag Hammarskj√∂ld who was the former sec. general to the UN spoke of our daily choice: “At every moment you choose yourself…Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many “I’s”. But in only one of them is there a congruence of the elector and the elected. Only one—which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your “I.”    Only when we choose to live out of the Holy ‘I’ of our true self are we ever really fully alive, only then are we living the life we are created for. That’s why St. Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Through entering into this sacramental death with Christ we are also raised to walk in a new way of being and living. 
This new life is more like the kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of this world. Now when we see someone that is different than us rather than turning our heads in disgust we turn toward them and see Christ in them. We see someone who deserves dignity rather than our disdain. Now rather than rushing through our busy days without consulting God we make a decision to make time for prayer, spiritual reading and fellowship. Evil is now repented of and resisted wherever it is encountered. The pursuit of justice and peace for all people becomes the norm in our lives and the Good News of Christ’s loving embrace is shared with those in our spheres of influence. 
 This is a night like no other. Tonight Ezra will begin a life-long process of dying to the false self of fear and rising to the new life of love that is his in Christ.  Tonight we are all reminded of who we are and who’s we are – God’s beloved Children. Tonight we are all invited to recommit ourselves to the process of becoming our true selves and we are reminded that we do not have to go it alone in the journey – we’re all in this process together. Sometimes it may feel like we’re taking three steps forward and two steps back but God is faithful. There is nothing we can do to earn this new life in Christ it is simply given to us.  I’d like to close with a prayer by Tom Loder:
 O God of fire and freedom, deliver us from our bondage to what can be counted and go with us in a new exodus toward what counts, but can only be measured in bread shared and swords become plowshares; in bodies healed and minds liberated; in songs sung and justice done; in laughter in the night and joy in the morning; in love through all seasons and great gladness of heart; in all people coming together and a kingdom coming in glory; in your name being praised and our becoming an alleluia, through Jesus the Christ. Amen.