The Great Vigil of Easter: April 15, 2017
Preacher: The Rev. Kyle Oliver, Assisting Priest at St. Michael’s Church
This is a very special night. I hope that you’ve been able to feel that, deep down in your soul, even just for a moment. Or I hope you will at some point.
What we do together tonight is beautiful, to be sure. The fire, the candles, and the music. The narratives, mythic and grand.
What do we do together tonight is strange, I admit. Sitting in the dark. At a pretty challenging hour. On a week where we’ve spend no few hours here already.
But I want to say to you tonight that what we do here together is nothing short of wondrous.
Tonight is special because we witness—and by virtue of our baptism participate in—the profoundest mysteries of our faith.
“This is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.” Two faithful women of Jesus’s acquaintance will have that good news for us shortly. It never ceases to amaze me how real it sometimes feels.
This is the night.
This is the night when God brought our forbears the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.
This is the night when all who believe in Christ are restored to grace and holiness of life.
This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell.
This is the night when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God.
This … changes everything. Here’s little manifestation of that change, a liturgical oddity I had never really noticed but that captures the wonder of this night.
If you were here in the evening on Ash Wednesday, you may remember that I encouraged us to not wallow in our sin this Lent. “Don’t grovel!” God said to King Arthur via Monty Python.
And yet we’ve rightly spent the last forty days making proper self-examination. Hopefully we haven’t wallowed in our sin. But I, for one, was certainly aware that it was clinging closely. I was ready to be free of it.
Now listen to this strange line from the beginning of our liturgy tonight: “O Blessed iniquity, for whose redemption such a price was paid by such a Savior.” Blessed iniquity. Iniquity: “A gross injustice. A wicked act or thing.”
Tonight, it seems, we can be thankful even for our sins. Without them we could not have understood the lengths to which God would go to show us we are loved unconditionally. Christ experienced death. And now he has overcome it.
This is the night when the fullness of God’s power, God’s mercy, and God’s loving-kindness is made real to us. We learn, once again, that it is not ironic but deeply fitting that to redeem a slave, God gave a Son. For God, each of us is worth the very highest price that could be paid—and yet in Christ this payment is not an end but a beginning.
And so we will make a new beginning too by renewing the vows we took in baptism. We will promise once again to entrust ourselves to Christ Jesus our Savior, and with God’s help to lead lives worthy of his example.
It is dark now, but not for much longer. This is the night when rises the Morning Star who knows no setting. Rejoice now and behold his appearing.