The Great Vigil of Easter - 30 March 2013

At the Service of Readings:
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13
Genesis 22:1-18
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21
Isaiah 55:1-11
Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4
Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6
Ezekiel 36:24-28
Exekiel 37:1-14
Zephaniah 3:14-20

At the Eucharist:
Romans 6:3-11
Psalm 114
St. Luke 24:1-12

Background: The Great Vigil of Easter
This stunning service with its various parts and dramatic use of light and reading was not always a part of the Anglican tradition, having been forgotten at the time of the Reformation.  It was recently restored to the tradition through the writings and restorations during the Tractarian movement in the 19th Century.  The Vigil has four distinct parts: 1) The Service of Light during which a new fire is lit, the Paschal Candle is both blessed and lit, and the Exultet is sung by the Deacon.  2) The Service of Lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures, which follow the pattern of lessons, that came to the Western Church through the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.  Each lesson, which together describes Salvation History, is followed by a canticle or psalm.  (The psalms and canticles are not commented on here.)  3) Baptism or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, and 4) the first Mass of Easter.  It is not the only Vigil celebrated during the Triduum (The Three Days).  On Maundy Thursday with the translation of the Reserved Elements to the Altar of Repose, a vigil follows during which the faithful keep watch through Good Friday.  In many respects, the Great Vigil of Easter is a continuation of that vigil that culminates in the announcement of the Resurrection.

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth." And it was so. God made the two great lights--the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night--and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

Unlike the creation epics of other ancient near eastern religions, the first Creation Narrative, (the second is found in the verses following 2:4b, largely representing the Yahwist’s approach) is a hymn that stands at the beginning of a strand of understanding the Patriarchs and the on-going story of Exodus, and the gift of the Covenant.  It does not represent on a grand scale the conflict between Chaos and Order, but sees God in a more central role exercising the prerogatives of the Creator. Largely composed by the Priestly author (P), it is almost liturgical in its structure with each section ending in the refrain: “God saw that it was good.”  The central theological notion is that God alone is acting, and is the activity of the one God of Israel.  Its presence here in the readings that precede the Paschal Mystery, is to root the faithful in the Story of Salvation.  What follows is a history of God and humankind and their relationship in Creation.

Breaking open Genesis (Creation):

1.     God saw everything as good.  Do you?
2.     Where does creation manifest itself most completely to you?
3.     When do you acknowledge God as your creator?

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13

The LORD said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground." And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him.

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark, they and every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind-- every bird, every winged creature. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.

The flood continued forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters.
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.

In the six hundred first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, "Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh-- birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth-- so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth." So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives.

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth."

The use of the reading from the Flood Narrative at the Vigil is a pointer to the Baptisms that will follow later in the liturgy.  The connection between the Flood with its images of death, water, and a new creation tie directly into the Christian themes of Death and Resurrection, and Baptism as a participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  The Narrative was woven into its present form by an editor who used strands from both the Yahwist and the Priestly writer.  That, however, is not our purpose on this evening, when seeing the antecedents to the Easter Message and Baptism is of a more important nature.  The themes of the narrative are the sinfulness of the time, the selection of a “righteous one” (Noah and his family) and the new creation and the restoration of humankind on the earth.)  Martin Luther thought so highly of this Narrative that he included it in his Liturgy for Baptism, and its great Flutgebet (Flood Prayer) in which the flood is seen as the precursor of Baptism.

Breaking open Genesis (Flood):
1.       The time of Noah was described as “sinful”.  Do you live in sinful times?
2.       What does the story of the Flood mean to you?
3.       Do you see its connection to Baptism?  How?

Genesis 22:1-18

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice."

This is a troubling text no matter how you look at it, and its original purpose may have been to offer an argument against the human sacrifice that was prevalent in the cultures that surrounded Israel.  There is also the theme of the faith of Abraham, who is tested as a father to give up the life of his son.  For Christians, the connection will be immediate, with the crucifixion serving as a central comparison for this text.  Other themes are the journey (three days) from an undistinguished place to Mt. Moriah, (which in the Hebrew sense presages the journey in the wilderness and the gift at Sinai).  All of this will serve as grist for Saint Paul’s mill when he lifts up the faith of Abraham to his gentile readers.

Breaking open Genesis (Isaac):

1.               What does Isaac represent in this story?
2.               What are the emotions of Abraham?  What are yours?
3.               How would you describe your faith?

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, 'Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." But Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still."

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers."

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt."

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers." So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them:

"Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea."

Here again we are met with images of Baptism, and a mistranslation of the Hebrew text has magnified the image.  The possible land routes available to the refugees are all discarded, perhaps for the sake of the story.  Instead a route through the Reed Sea (a location either North of the “Bitter Lakes” or South of the same lakes.  What is important here are the themes of Godly care (the pillar of fire and of smoke), the grace poured upon Moses to lead the people through difficulty, and the destruction of forces bent upon enslavement rather than liberation.  Here we need to recall the first reading from Maundy Thursday (Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14), in which we read about the Passover meal and its memorialization in the liturgy if Israel.  This was a feast of liberation at the beginning of a great adventure, and with the scene at the Reed Sea we see even more themes of liberation and victory.

Breaking open Exodus:

1.               What does freedom mean to you?
2.               What are its biblical and theological qualities?
3.               How have you been like Moses?

Isaiah 55:1-11

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
Seek the LORD while he may be found,

call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,

and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them,

and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

On the tails of the Passover banquet comes a latter Isaiah who celebrates the messianic banquet for a renewed people.  Such meals portrayed to the reader and to us the hoped for reality of salvation.  Abraham and Sarah host the heavenly banquet, much in the same way that Jesus hosts his own banquet of redemption.  Here the author attracts us with savory speech, “Ho, everyone who thirsts…” Almost sensual in nature the words attract us to wine, milk, and rich food.  The author, however, has a deeper meaning for this banquet, for it is not only the food of the earth that he calls to our mind, but to the food of God’s word as well.  If Israel walked through a parched wilderness on its way out of Egypt, it did so also in its return to Palestine following the Babylonian captivity.  It is in this environment of loneliness and spare resources that God chooses to come and greet his people.  It is this land that is “watered” by his word.

Breaking open Isaiah:

1.               What tools does Isaiah use to get the reader into the text?
2.               How is God like a banquet?
3.               How might the poor hear this passage?

Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4

Hear the commandments of life, O Israel;
give ear, and learn wisdom!
Why is it, O Israel, why is it that you are in the land of your enemies,
that you are growing old in a foreign country,
that you are defiled with the dead,
that you are counted among those in Hades?
You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
If you had walked in the way of God,
you would be living in peace for ever.
Learn where there is wisdom,
where there is strength,
where there is understanding,
so that you may at the same time discern
where there is length of days, and life,
where there is light for the eyes, and peace.
Who has found her place?
And who has entered her storehouses?
But the one who knows all things knows her,
he found her by his understanding.
The one who prepared the earth for all time
filled it with four-footed creatures;
the one who sends forth the light, and it goes;
he called it, and it obeyed him, trembling;
the stars shone in their watches, and were glad;
he called them, and they said, "Here we are!"
They shone with gladness for him who made them.
This is our God;
no other can be compared to him.
He found the whole way to knowledge,
and gave her to his servant Jacob
and to Israel, whom he loved.
Afterwards she appeared on earth
and lived with humankind.
She is the book of the commandments of God,
the law that endures for ever.
All who hold her fast will live,
and those who forsake her will die.
Turn, O Jacob, and take her;
walk towards the shining of her light.
Do not give your glory to another,
or your advantages to an alien people.
Happy are we, O Israel,
for we know what is pleasing to God.

Now Israel is addressed by Wisdom, a personification of the gift of the Law.  It is she who will comment on Godly grace in the verses of this poem.  Here the themes center on the Commandments and their gift of life to those who follow them.  Wisdom is the gift of a gracious God, and a resource that humans aren’t quite ready to find on their own.  How does this relate to the themes of this evening?  For Christians, Wisdom is Christ, and the wisdom that Christ offers is his law of freedom and redemption.  Wisdom is described as “liv(ing) with humankind”.  That is incarnational thought to the Christian, and it is suited to the spiritualization that flowed from the pen of Jeremiah, and presumably his secretary, Baruch, as well.

Breaking open Baruch:

1.               Who is wisdom to you?
2.               What does wisdom teach you?
3.               How is Jesus wisdom?


Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
"To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right;
for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.

"My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
endowing with wealth those who love me,
and filling their treasuries."

To those without sense she says,
"Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight."

For those skittish about reading from the Apocrypha a reading from Proverbs is provided.  The themes are similar, however this reading has an additional image that is quite becoming.  “On the heights, beside the way…beside the gates in front of the town” – this is a description of where justice was meted out to those who lived in Israel.  At the city gates sat the judges and representatives of the king who heard the pleas and presumably granted justice.  This is a common prophetic theme that is accompanying the usual wisdom themes.  If there is one thing for which the prophets yearned it was the granting of justice.  Here Wisdom becomes the personification of such a gift.  “All the words of my mouth are righteous,” she says.  Thus is the word of the Lord.

Breaking open Proverbs:

1.               Where do you find justice in this world?
2.               How have you given justice to others?
3.               How could Christianity be more just?

Ezekiel 36:24-28

Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

See the notes for the reading below.  Similar themes are addressed in both readings.  What is notable in this reading is the image of water and cleanliness, along with the promise of a new “heart of flesh”.  The situation is the same, a nation caught in slavery in a foreign land.  What is needed is the hope that springs from a God that not only creates but recreates, imparting a new life.  Final comments relate that life and the Law of God are inextricably bound together, along with notes on the everlasting covenant.

Breaking open Ezekiel 36:

1.               What makes you feel really clean?
2.               Does Baptism make you feel clean?
3.               What needs cleansing in your life?

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD."

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act," says the LORD.

Our scene shifts to Babylon and exile and sorrow.  The prophet stands overlooking a valley filled with the bones of those who had fallen in battle.  The vocabulary (dry, very dry) accentuates that these are the truly dead.  There is no life left in them.  To this situation, God calls upon the prophet to utter prophesy – not a future prediction but rather God’s word for that moment and that time.  We, need to be clear about the situation, as well, for this is not a general prophecy about death (resurrection was a foreign idea when this was written).  This situation is the sorrow of Israel, tucked away in Babylon, in a foreign land.  The text becomes clear with, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel”.  The necessary components of life are to be “blown” upon these sorrowing peoples just as the Spirit’s breath was blown into the whole of creation.  This reading is about hope and the Spirit, and about God bringing God’s people home.

Breaking open Ezekiel 37:

1.               What is dead in your life?
2.               What would you like to rejuvenate in your life?
3.               How might your faith help do this?

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;

you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;

do not let your hands grow weak.
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,

he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing

as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,

so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame

and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,

at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes

before your eyes, says the LORD.

With an emotional context similar to the Song of Miriam (see Exodus 15:20ff, above) the women of Zion (the holy city Jerusalem) are called upon to sing and shout.  The situation is similar to the readings from Ezekiel.  Israel is bound, and seeks to return to the land of the fathers and mothers.  So Zephaniah pens a psalm of hope and return.  The themes are forgiveness and return, rescue and exaltation – the restoration of fortune.  This last reading serves as a segue into the joy that will come after the baptisms and the first Mass of Easter.

Breaking open Zephaniah:

1.               When does your religion make you emotional?
2.               Have you ever felt stranded and alone?
3.               Who or what liberated you?

At the Eucharist

Romans 6:3-11

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

All of what we have learned in the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures comes into fruition in the reading from Saint Paul who announces to his readers and to us the reconciliation of the Christian in salvation through the resurrection of Jesus.  He then goes on to describe this liberation in three sections, one exploring freedom from sin and death, the second describing freedom from self (this reading) and the final section describing freedom from the Law.

If Easter is the celebration of the living Christ, then it is also the realization that those who follow Christ, who are in union with him, also participate in a new life.  Baptism is the point of entry into this new life, and then the question becomes, what shall I do now.  Paul uses the events of Holy Week to describe our own condition is well, “our old self was crucified”.  “We have died with Christ”, “we shall also live with him.”  Understanding what is meant by “death to sin” becomes the point of our learning now, and the starting point of a new way of living.

Breaking open Romans:

1.               Do you recall your baptism?
2.               How is baptism like death?
3.               How is it like life?

Psalm 114 In exitu Israel

When Israel came forth from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from an alien people,

Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel, God’s domain.

*The sea saw and fled;
the Jordan turned back.

The mountains skipped like rams;
the hills, like lambs.

Why was it, sea, that you fled?
Jordan, that you turned back?

Mountains, that you skipped like rams?
You hills, like lambs?

Tremble, earth, before the Lord,
before the God of Jacob,

*Who turned the rock into pools of water,
flint into a flowing spring.

Our earlier readings are recapped in this psalm, which celebrates the liberation from Egypt.  The liberation described is not only one of being freed from labor but from foreign thought as well.  What is translated as “from an alien people,” is translated by Alter as “from a barbarous-tongued folk.”  For people for whom the word of God is the primary operator in life, the phrase makes ultimate sense.  Another interesting phrase is “Judah became God’s sanctuary (or “holiness”)”.  The very people become the locus of God’s holiness.  The repeated act at the Sea of Reeds, at the River Jordan is remembered in the third verse.  All is rooted in this scene of liberation, and the future is tied to it.  What the poet describes is a creation fully controlled by the creator, to the end that the chosen people might understand God’s holiness.  It is a remembrance of the Exodus, and an echo of Miriam’s joy.

Breaking open Psalm 114:

1.               What is God’s word to you?  How do you understand it?
2.               How is it your word?
3.               How do you speak God’s word to others?

Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

In Luke’s narrative there is no 40-day period extending from the Resurrection to the Ascension.  He knows these events in a 24-hour period of one day.  The day is a new day – the day of resurrection and a new future.  The women are met at the tomb by two men (a reflection of the Transfiguration?) and dazzling light.  The fear of Mark’s women is not present here, but rather a sense of purpose.  The “men” however have a new purpose for the women – that they relate the news of the resurrection to skeptical disciples, and the remembrance of Jesus’ description of his fate.  The women “remember” what the disciples see as an idle tale.  However, the key word for Luke is “amazement”, and that is Peter’s reaction when he goes into the tomb – he believes.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What differences do you notice in John’s Narrative?
  2. What are the basic elements of the story in your mind?
  3. Who do you think Joseph and Nicodemus represent?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for the Easter Vigil:

Almighty God, who for our redemption gave your only- begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or this

O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord's resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller


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