Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Great Vigil of Easter, 24-B: A revolution of love

Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-3, 4a [The story of creation]; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel's deliverance at the Red Sea]; Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]; Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God's people]; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

En el nombre de Dios, creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I love the Great Vigil because I love the long, intentional walk through the story of our liberation and redemption. From Genesis to Matthew, we hear the unifying message of God’s liberating and redeeming love for us.

In Genesis 1, God spoke creation into being, bringing order and peace to the chaos waters and divine purpose to all that is created. Speaking uses breath, so it is literally by the breath of God that we are created and blessed and proclaimed not just good, but very good.

In Exodus 14, we have gotten ourselves lost and tossed back into chaos by evil – which is anything that divides us, overburdens or exploits the vulnerable, deceives or harms someone, and creates sadness, hopelessness, and despair. In this story, some among the created have formulated a lie that benefits them alone, infusing them with a false sense of privilege and enabling them to hoard gifts meant for them all. This evil purports that some are not worthy, a lie that completely ignores God’s pronouncement in Genesis that we are, indeed, very good.

The shock of this betrayal creates a rupture in our relationships with one another. It weighs us down and weakens us, starving us of the resources and dignity given to us by God. We cry out and God hears us, lifting us into Their presence where we find comfort and the strength to keep going.

In Isaiah 55, God acknowledges through the prophet that evil has a foothold among us on earth. It’s just too tempting to put ourselves first, and God and neighbor last. The lie that some have power and privilege over others persists, so God clarifies, reminding us that everything that exists is God’s to give, including mercy and reconciliation, and God gives freely to all, including those who have gotten lost in the lies.

The truth is that God is a mystery beyond our knowing, and every creative word carried on the breath of God will accomplish God’s purpose for it because God is always faithful to Their promises. Our only response can be to give thanks and trust.

Zephaniah affirms that God always keeps Their promises, so we can rejoice knowing that God can and will deal with the liars who dishonor and diminish us, and God is always redeeming, restoring us to abundance in Their love.

Our response to God’s covenant with us, is our covenant with God: Our Baptismal Covenant, in which we affirm our commitment to live with one another according to God’s plan of love. We promise to resist the evil that lies to us and hoards God’s gifts. We promise to proclaim by everything we say and do that God loves all God has created. And we promise to serve God by making every effort we can to bring about justice and peace while upholding and honoring the dignity of every human being.

When we fail to resist evil (which we will), or when we join with it for our own benefit, we promise to repent, to turn around and go in a new direction, to return to God, who will forgive us, dust us off, and send us back out to keep on serving.

God has made clear that everyone is within reach of Their saving grace. We have no right to act as if anyone or any group is outside of that reach. Equality is the way of God.

The systems of the world would disagree. They thrive on inequality. They use it to justify their hoarding – I deserve this, I earned it. You don’t deserve it, so even if you did earn it, you can’t have it. The destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK in 1921 comes to mind along with the continued presence of racially restrictive covenants in the deeds of many homes here in St. Louis. This is an injustice we here at Emmanuel have been working to correct for the last two years.

In short, our Baptismal Covenant calls us to a revolution of love, that is, a transformation, a reformation of the inequalities of the world and restoration of the equality bestowed upon us by God. The beautiful thing about this revolution, the revolution of love inaugurated by Jesus’s resurrection, is that it is carried on the breath of God.

The revolution of love is not like revolutions of the world which sound like bombs and lies and threats. Neither is it guilt or morality-driven coercion like so many of the so-called Christian churches practice today. This revolution, the revolution of love, is one of a quiet, steady turning of the way of the world toward the way of God.

I was talking to a priest-friend last week about Tracy Chapman, the talented musician who made a big splash at the Oscars singing her 1988 hit song, “Fast Car”, with country music singer Luke Combs. Watching them, for me, was a dazzling moment of equality-making, a whispered revolution. There was a queer black woman singing her mega-hit with a straight white man on a stage viewed by millions. 

This priest-friend told me that Tracy Chapman’s song, “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution”, which she wrote at age 16, was inspired by her experience at her Episcopal High School. So, I looked that up. You can find just about anything on YouTube. (It's linked HERE and is found at 4.06)

So here’s the story: raised in Cleveland, OH, Tracy was awarded a scholarship to an Episcopal boarding school in Danbury, CT as part of a program called, “A Better Chance.” She said the people at the school “didn’t have a sense of where the scholarship students like [her] came from”; neither did they “have much interest.” She said they thought “that people who didn’t have money or were working class, their lives weren’t significant and they somehow couldn’t make a change.” This made her mad, she said, and inspired the song.

If you’ve never heard “Talkin’ About a Revolution” it starts with these words: “Don’t you know they’re talking about a revolution? It sounds like a whisper…”

Listening to this song 35 years after I first heard it gave me the chills. I understand this whisper so differently now. However she meant it, I heard it as the breath of God speaking creatively still, setting us on the path of justice, dignity and equality for all.

This path doesn’t destroy those who chose the lie or who fell into it by habit of the generations before them. It transforms them through repentance, by turning around and returning to God.  It’s a revolution, a turning.

This is described so beautifully in our gospel from Matthew, where Mary Magdalene and the other Mary , who represent lives the world would find insignificant, go to Jesus’ tomb. The earth shakes as the spirit-messenger from heaven comes among them. The guards, who represent protectors of the earthly status quo, shake too, and become like dead men.

This brought to my mind a rescue dog we once had, Deni, who decided at 6 months old that she was going to live outside. Try as we might, we couldn’t get her to come inside, even on the coldest, snowiest nights in Michigan. Deni was a sweet dog. She loved us and all of our indoor cats and dogs, one of whom, Ollie, was a real brat. Ollie didn’t mind being aggressive to get his way. Deni tolerated Ollie - until she didn’t. Then she’d simply smack him down with her paw. She never bit him or hurt him. She just stopped him, and he didn’t move – like he was dead.

That’s how I see these guards. God smacked them down and they didn’t move - like they were dead.

Then the angel tells the women not to be afraid, affirms that Jesus is not in the tomb because he is risen, and sends them to go tell the rest of Jesus’ disciples. He will go ahead of you, the angel says, and you will see him there. And they do! But this isn’t just seeing Jesus with their eyes. It’s perceiving him in their hearts and souls. It’s knowing him intimately, deeply, in unity of spirit.

Then Jesus sends them on again to tell the men who were hiding in fear that they too will “see” him. And we know they do! We know this because we have their testimony in the Scripture stories we will read in the coming weeks.

As Bishop Deon said in his Easter Message: the disciples came to the tomb “expecting death, but they found that resurrection was the word that got whispered into our world.” A revolution of love that sounds like a whisper.

We will see Jesus too. We will perceive him in our hearts and souls. We will know him intimately, deeply, in unity of Spirit because that is the gift he gave us at Easter.

On this most holy day, we celebrate that Jesus has transformed death into new life – resurrection life in him. As Jesus sent Mary and Mary then, Jesus sends us now to tell everyone that they too can “see” Jesus because they matter. We all matter. 

No comments: