APRIL 1st, 2018: EASTER VIGIL
The LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me?
Tell the Israelites to go forward.
And you, lift up your staff and, with hand outstretched over the sea,
split the sea in two,
that the Israelites may pass through it on dry land.
But I will make the Egyptians so obstinate
that they will go in after them.
Then I will receive glory through Pharaoh and all his army,
his chariots and charioteers.
The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD,
when I receive glory through Pharaoh
and his chariots and charioteers."
The angel of God, who had been leading Israel's camp,
now moved and went around behind them.
The column of cloud also, leaving the front,
took up its place behind them,
so that it came between the camp of the Egyptians
and that of Israel.
But the cloud now became dark, and thus the night passed
without the rival camps coming any closer together
all night long.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,
and the LORD swept the sea
with a strong east wind throughout the night
and so turned it into dry land.
When the water was thus divided,
the Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land,
with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.
The Egyptians followed in pursuit;
all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and charioteers went after them
right into the midst of the sea.
In the night watch just before dawn
the LORD cast through the column of the fiery cloud
upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic;
and he so clogged their chariot wheels
that they could hardly drive.
With that the Egyptians sounded the retreat before Israel,
because the LORD was fighting for them against the Egyptians.
Then the LORD told Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea,
that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians,
upon their chariots and their charioteers."
So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,
and at dawn the sea flowed back to its normal depth.
The Egyptians were fleeing head on toward the sea,
when the LORD hurled them into its midst.
As the water flowed back,
it covered the chariots and the charioteers of Pharaoh's whole army
which had followed the Israelites into the sea.
Not a single one of them escaped.
But the Israelites had marched on dry land
through the midst of the sea,
with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.
Thus the LORD saved Israel on that day
from the power of the Egyptians.
When Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the seashore
and beheld the great power that the LORD
had shown against the Egyptians,
they feared the LORD and believed in him and in his servant Moses.
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.
Thus says the LORD:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,
the benefits assured to David.
As I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of nations,
so shall you summon a nation you knew not,
and nations that knew you not shall run to you,
because of the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.
Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked man his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.
For just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.
When the sabbath was over,
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome
bought spices so that they might go and anoint him.
Very early when the sun had risen,
on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.
They were saying to one another,
"Who will roll back the stone for us
from the entrance to the tomb?"
When they looked up,
they saw that the stone had been rolled back;
it was very large.
On entering the tomb they saw a young man
sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe,
and they were utterly amazed.
He said to them, "Do not be amazed!
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Behold the place where they laid him.
But go and tell his disciples and Peter,
'He is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him, as he told you.'"
Tonight we’re reflecting more on our own death and resurrection than we’re reflecting on the historical Jesus’ death and resurrection. If we haven’t personally died and risen, there’s no reason to celebrate Easter. These readings only make sense when we listen to them through the filter of our own experiences.
The entire celebration revolves around Paul’s reminder to the Romans, “. . . We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. . . . If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”
When Paul originally wrote these words, he didn’t envision baptism as just pouring a few drops of water over someone’s forehead. Baptism in his day was administered by immersion. Catechumens were totally dunked under the water, then raised up; an outward sign of dying, being buried, and rising with Jesus. As with all sacraments, what happens outside symbolizes what’s happening inside.
The key is that, like Jesus, one must really be dead before one can rise. As John’s Jesus states in chapter 12, “Only when the grain of wheat dies will it produce fruit.” That’s why these specific women are at the tomb. In Mark’s gospel they alone actually saw Jesus die. Had they not initially experienced his death they wouldn’t have been the first to experience his resurrection.
They’ll eventually understand they’re not dealing with a resuscitation. The historical Jesus doesn’t simply start breathing again. When Paul experienced the “Christ” on the Damascus road, he experienced a whole “new creation,” no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. As he later told his community in Galatia, he’d never before experienced anyone quite like him/her.
The essential thing about Jesus’ followers is that those who, like him, die by giving themselves to those around them also rise into new creations. That’s why, as we learned in catechism class, no one should confess sins they’ve committed before baptism. It isn’t just that baptism washed away those sins; a different person committed those sins, a person who died.
Just as the ancient Israelites became a new people by crossing through the sea during the Exodus, so we became a new people when we were submerged in the waters of baptism. A group of runaway slaves became the Chosen People when they stepped into the sea; we became other Christs when we stepped into our baptismal water.
Our newness is something on which we can constantly reflect. We never run out of possibilities, never have a shortage of ideas. We’re always acquiring new insights. That’s why Isaiah 55 is a unique reading for this unique night. Deutero-Isaiah’s disciples deliberately chose to end their 16 chapter collection of his oracles in this way; mentioning experiences on which, 500 years after their mentor’s death, even other Christs can reflect.
We who’ve imitated Jesus’ death and resurrection know what it’s like to actually have a deep thirst quenched, a thirst many of us didn’t even notice until this Galilean carpenter became part of our lives. Because of his/her presence, we daily experience someone who simultaneously is so near to us that we can’t imagine how we existed before, yet who is also as far away from us as the heavens are above the earth. Part of our dying/rising is a commitment to live our lives in the midst of such contradictions.
We have no choice but to constantly fall back on God’s word in our life. Deutero-Isaiah was convinced that as soon as Yahweh says something, it happens. This night of all nights is the best occasion to surface what the risen Jesus is saying in my life. If we don’t know, we simply haven’t been listening.