Sunday, April 5, 2015

Great Vigil of Easter, 2015-B: Our family story

Lectionary: At The Liturgy of the Word: Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood]; Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac]; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel's deliverance at the Red Sea]; Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]; Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 [Learn wisdom and live]; Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit]; Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]; Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God's people]
At The Eucharist: Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Mark 16:1-8
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Every family has stories… We hear them told and re-told at family gatherings: birthdays, graduations, weddings, funerals – whenever the family gathers.

I remember hearing my Poppa, who came to the US from Ireland, tell how he bootlegged whiskey and was a chauffeur for the Rothschild’s to keep his family fed during the Depression. I remember hearing to story of my Mamacita snapping the green beans in the local market to test their freshness. When the store owner would try to stop her, this tiny but fierce woman would respond with the only sentence she knew in English. It started with “Shut up you…” but it ends a cuss word, so I won’t finish it.

It doesn’t matter how many times these stories are re-told, they fascinate, educate, and delight us. Some of them make us laugh, others make us cry, but they all help us remember who we are, where we came from, even why we look or act like we do.

Our family stories ground us in the present, giving meaning to our past and hope for our future. It’s why we tell them over and over, generation after generation.

And that is exactly what we are doing tonight as the gathered family of God. The stories we read tonight from Genesis through the psalms, the gospels and the epistles of our forebears in the faith are the source of our identity as a people of God, followers of Christ, and pilgrims on an eternal divine journey into unity.

These stories show us how those who came before us did their best – succeeding and failing in their “growing up” in the faith. They weren’t perfect, and neither will we be, but it’s OK, because God is perfect and that perfection is made most real in the world through our weakness.

When we fail, God redeems and another generation witnesses it and is transformed. When we repent and return to God, we leave a legacy of faith for those who will follow after us on this eternal pilgrimage.

When we re-tell the stories of our faith as we have done tonight, the words and images in them become part of our very essence. Over time, they begin to live deep within us.

For example, when we read the story of creation from Genesis, the words, “and it was evening and it was morning” reverberate within us like a heartbeat. The vivid images play in our imaginations like a movie: light being divided from darkness, heavens from the earth, waters taking shape as oceans and rivers, trees and bushes springing up on the earth, then animals and insects and “every living thing” taking its place in creation. And how soothing it is to hear over and over that most wonderful concluding phrase: “…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

And who doesn’t love the story of the Valley of the Dry bones? God tells Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the bones.” Dismissing the practical impossibility of the request, Ezekiel obeys and as he does, God breathes new life into God’s people who have died. As life is restored we hear God say over and over, “O my people…. O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” We believe we will! But it helps to hear it again.

When we hear the story of the women heading to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body and finding the tomb empty, our stomachs jump a little as we enter in Mary Magdalene’s experience and we hear those words: “he is not here” even though we know why. But sharing in that fright and the frustration when the other apostles refuse to believe Mary when she finally does tell them she has seen the Lord (which she does in the next paragraph of this gospel) – we “feel” the truth of this story over and over and it becomes part of us.

We tell all of the stories – all nine of them, plus the Eucharistic readings – on this holiest of nights because it helps us to hear how our forebears: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ezekiel, and the women responded to God faithfully, even as they were confronted with what seemed an impossibility. It consoles us to remember that they failed sometimes too, and God redeemed anyway. It renews our hope to hear God’s promises of love, mercy, and desire for union with us repeated.

And it calls us to wake up and live our lives – right now, starting today - in the divine unity Jesus made eternally real by his life, death, and resurrection. In her book, “The Interior Castle,” Teresa of Avila describes this divine unity as complete and permanent, saying, “it is like rain falling from the heavens into a river or spring; there is nothing but water there and it is impossible to divide or separate the water belonging to the river from that which fell from the heavens.” ("Theresa of Avila, An Extraordinary Life" by Shirley DuBoulay, p. 235)

Theologian and Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr describes it like this: “In Jesus, matter and spirit were presented as totally one. Human and Divine were put together in his ordinary body, just as in the rest of humanity. That's Christianity's core and central message! … Christians believe that God chose the human, the material, the physical, the earthly in which to reveal God's very Self. Two thousand years later this is still a scandal for most of the world. It just doesn't seem ‘spiritual’ enough!” ("The Cosmic Christ" by Richard Rohr)

It is a simple, profound, impossible truth - and it is our family story.

So, on this night, the holiest of nights, as we re-tell our family stories, we remember. We remember that the Triune God, who created us out of love and delivered us time and time again from our lost-ness, entered into our human experience in Jesus, the Christ, and remains with us in the Holy Spirit, loving us and delivering us, even now.

May we walk in the steps of our forebears and respond faithfully (if imperfectly), that we may continue to shine the light of hope for those who will come after us.

Happy Easter! Amen.

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