We have just listened to the Easter Vigil readings (listed below), which give a whistle stop tour of our faith. And there is something which runs through them. Did you hear it, echoing through the readings? Did you see it, lighting up the darkness? Did you recognise it, erupting from the horror? Life! But first … chaos.
Over the face of chaos, God hovered. And God imagined something new, and called it into being: life! Plants and trees, fruits and seeds, grasses and vines and mosses and lichen: life! Monsters of the sea and teeming fish and every kind of bird: life! Insects, reptiles, mammals; animals of every kind: life! People male and female, people made in the image of God: creative, joyful: life!
But rejecting life: Rebellion. People turned away. They hated and killed and pillaged and betrayed, and they plundered the earth. So the earth revolted and the waters rose up and chaos threatened to rule once again. But God remembered: life is good. So God arranged for a lifeboat, a little ark riding the waters of chaos, a tiny coracle teeming with life, life which would restore the earth. And the waters subsided, life returned, and a rainbow was the witness: never again would the earth be destroyed: just life!
But tainting life: Sacrifice. Abraham was faithful. He climbed the mountain, prepared to sacrifice his only son. But an angel called out, “Do not hurt the boy”—and Abraham listened. For our God does not demand the sacrifice of children; our God stopped him and showed a different way: the way of life!
But constricting life: Slavery. God led the Israelites out of back-breaking slavery; God kept them apart from the Egyptians so they would not fight. But the Egyptians would not let up. The Egyptians chased the Israelites across the sea bed. But the engines of war bogged, the sea washed the chariots away, and the Israelites walked free, having never wielded a sword. A testament to life!
But destroying life: Despair. God looked at the people: whining and listless, apathetic, without hope. Zombies. So God sent Ezekiel into the Valley of Death, the killing fields of Cambodia, the bone cellars of Rwanda; and Ezekiel saw God’s Word restore the dead. Bones linked up, enfleshed and covered with fresh healthy skin; and God’s Spirit blew into them. Their hearts of stone became hearts of flesh; God’s ways were written on their bones. God promised and Ezekiel proclaimed: Life!
But ignoring life: Exclusion. The people were in exile, but God promised once again: God will rescue the prisoner, the humiliated, the crippled, and the refugee. No longer will these people be treated with contempt; no longer will they be kept on society’s margins. In God’s city, they will be honoured; at God’s table, they will be fed. And when this happens, everyone will sing! Sing to the God of Life!
In the face of chaos, in the face of rebellion, in the face of violent sacrifice: life! In the world of slavery, in the world of despair, in the world of the marginalised: life! Again and again, God enters our darkest spaces; again and again, God breathes out life!
And born into this story: Jesus, the Word who brings life. The story we have just heard is his story, the His-story of our faith. He preached against the deathly forces of chaos and violence and blood sacrifice; he promised liberation and life and inclusion for all. He stood up against the powers of military violence and religious authority; and so of course they killed him. But they did not know him: for even in the grave, even in death: Life!
And it is terrifying. Much simpler to keep our heads down, obey the powers, and sacrifice our children to pacify these gods. Much simpler to have insiders and outsiders, and stay away from people who are ‘not like us’. Like the women at the empty tomb, we might run from the news, shaking with fear, heads spinning, and keep our mouths shut.
But still he will come to meet us. And we can turn our backs, be the walking dead, weighed down by the sin of the world. Or we can turn towards him, and walk with him, and eat together once again. Communion, creation, liberation, restoration: these are all ours, if only we will follow Jesus through every horror of the world, right into God’s own life.
So let us die to sin: everything which restricts, constricts, and diminishes life!
And let us rise again: alive and flourishing in Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord! Amen. Ω
A reflection on the readings below prepared for Sanctuary, 31 March 2018 (Easter Vigil) © Alison Sampson, 2018.
Readings for Easter Vigil
(Australian paraphrases © Nathan Nettleton, 2001-2003, from our sister church at South Yarra Community Baptist)
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
…….. Psalm 136: 1-9, 23-26
Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18 ; 8: 6-18 ; 9: 8-13
…….. Psalm 46
Genesis 22: 1-18
…….. Psalm 16
Exodus 14: 10-31 ; 15: 20-21
…….. Exodus 15: 1b-13, 17-18
Isaiah 55: 1-11
…….. Isaiah 12: 2-6
Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21 ; 9: 4b-6
…….. Psalm 19
Ezekiel 36: 24-28
…….. Psalm 42 & 43
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
…….. Psalm 143
Zephaniah 3: 14-20
…….. Psalm 98
Mark 16: 1-8 (Year B 2018)