... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Easter Vigil
Message April 04th, 2015

From Fear to Faith to Freedom: The Covenantal Journey


We began our service this evening with the welcoming words, “Dear friends in Christ, on this most holy night when our Lord Jesus Christ passed from death to life, the Church invites her children throughout the world to come together in vigil and prayer.” The Great Vigil of Easter thus begins. The Vigil is arguably one of the oldest yet inconspicuous of the great Church festivals dating from earliest times. Yet in the last several hundred years has fallen into, or rather relegated to the “also-rans” of holy days. Fortunately with the coming of the BAS the entire ceremony has been rekindled.

We gather in the darkness of the first day of the week – the Sabbath having ended at sundown to wait to pray and to re-enact the covenant cycle – called from darkness into a divine promise, given a trust and a faith in a salvation, and witnessed in the resurrection of Christ. In the darkness a new light is given, a light of warmth evoking the memory of Creation. As the new paschal candle is lit we reaffirm the covenant God has made not only in Christ Jesus bit in the preceding ones of Noah through to all the prophets. We carry this lit candle into the sanctuary where meditation prayer and readings lead us to our individual renewal either in baptism or renewal of baptismal vows culminating with the Eucharist, the commemoration of our bond to and in Christ.

The ceremony is old, dating back to a time when the early Christian coverts would be preparing for the final hours prior to their baptisms at the first rays of the rising sun on Easter morning. The Vigil reminds us of the journey of the covenant – a journey from ignorance and fear through the coming of faith into the liberation from slavery and an experience of freedom.

While the journey into freedom might seem to be a given and a desire for everyone, the reality is that we fear being liberated, we fear the unknown, we fear not being in control we fear change and we fear death. The human condition has scarcely changed in thousands of years. In the times of Noah the people feared; they were afraid of the unknown, afraid of change and afraid to trust in the word of God; electing instead to continue in that which was comfortable. The story of the Exodus is a story of fear and the journey into freedom. Fear abounded! Fear of the Israelites drove the Egyptians to enslave their former guests and friends; fear governed Pharaoh’s heart in refusing to let the Israelites go, and fear kindled the hearts of many of those Israelites as they fled.

The Exodus passage seems most appropriate for the Great Vigil as it recalls the fears we all harbour including our leaders. But it also witnesses to the salvific actions of God in delivering on the promises which seem so blatantly impossible or improbable. Instead of the direct route to the Promised Land by way of the land of the Philistines God led the people by the circuitous route of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Perhaps this was to avoid a pitched land battle between the Israelites and their Egyptian pursuers. Such a battle would have surely been in favour of the Egyptians. However at the Red Sea the Israelites are now caught between a rock and a hard place – the Egyptians at their back and the Sea in front. Nowhere to go the people are afraid – they cry out and Moses admonishes them, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, keep still.” The additive words for these commands are to witness what the Lord will accomplish and that the Lord will do battle with the oppressors.

The words of admonition ran through all four readings – the fleeing Israelites were filled with fear despair mistrust and anxiety; the Psalm speaks of fleeing and turning back; the letter to the Romans quells the fear of slavery to sin and death in ignominy and the and the Gospel informs us of the fear experienced by the women who were so afraid as to remain silent despite the command by the angel to tell of the events to the disciples.

Fear drives us – it certainly has put a damper on our society. The events of 9-11 ignited such fear as we have all these new security measures, the recent German air crash has prompted airlines to institute measures to counter any likewise action however infinitesimal that might be. Political parties spin stories and probabilities to instill such fears of the other parties that we have no option to vote other than for them. Even consumerism plays of the fears of people – you have to have the latest (fill in whatever toy, et.) or else you cannot be popular you cannot get ahead, you cannot be successful. We live in and by fear.

Notwithstanding that fear we can sometimes be healthy as in preparedness for survival or for survival of the species. God through Moses and the prophets or even through Christ Jesus, assures us that we need not fear. The divine covenant tells us that God will care for us, will not let one hair be harmed to those of faith, and who put their trust in the Almighty. However, the movement from fear to faith is more easily said than done. It means letting go of things one has no control of; It means foregoing the urge to do in certain situations and be. It means going in the direction which might seem counter to both intuition and or knowledge. We all experience it, we all feel it, we all live it. Perhaps one example we all link into is when you visit a friend who has lost a loved one. The tendency is to do something or say something. Just being there in quietness or doing nothing seems so counter-intuitive. We dread the awkwardness of the situation. Yet despite our urges we are oft times best served by simply just being there – no doing, no saying – just being!

So Moses urges the people – fear not, stand firm and witness what God is about to do. Have faith and trust in the promises God has given – that you will be delivered! Be calm and let God!

The Gospels all testify that Jesus attempted to quell the fears of the disciples in like manner but to no or little avail. Jesus himself we are told experienced the fear of death and even prayed that the hour might pass him. However, he was living in faith and trust and acquiesced to God’s will; and it that calm was able to be the instrument of salvation for which he became exalted, resurrected and the path for all others to be saved. The proof of God’s promises are in the resurrection, but the whole story encompasses the Christmas event, the ministry, the way of the Cross, the events of Good Friday and the 1st Easter morning. All are inexorably connected. All from the Divine plan to accomplish the promise of the covenant wherein through Christ’s death and resurrection we are given the means to die to sin and be alive to God. That is the meaning of Baptism; that was the vigil for the early catechumens; that is the journey we recall this evening. By our baptism and baptismal renewal may we continue our journey from fear to faith to freedom. Amen