Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Vigil Sermon - John 1:5

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Brothers and Sisters Brought into the Light of Christ:

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (Mark 15:33 ESV)

Things couldn't have been darker on that Good Friday. The sun and the moon hid their faces from the unimaginable. The earth quaked at the sight of the very Son of God receiving the cruelest of deaths as a barbaric murderer, a capital offender, a renegade deserving no show of humane treatment. Those who passed by turned their heads at the sight. The disciples had looked on from a distance, and then left, overpowered with grief and trembling with fear.
The darkness of the sky paled in comparison to the darkness of despair, for now the Promised One, the Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer of the World hung suspended motionless between the heavens and the earth, slain at the hands of evil men bent on preserving their power and prestige at any cost.
Jesus had announced the coming of "the hour" throughout his three and a half year public ministry — to his mother, to his brothers, to the disciples, to the Samaritan woman at the well, to his heavenly Father. And now the hour had finally arrived.
On the day that our Lord Christ was sacrificed upon the wood of the cross, the God-appointed substitute for an entire rebel race was plunged into the dark chaos of time before God spoke his Word of light and order and life. The Light of the World lay lifeless upon a borrowed Cross. The Light of the World lay lifeless in a borrowed tomb.
The night of despair for those who had placed their trust in this Jesus of Nazareth kept the disciples and the women who had followed him from any sense of certainty or peace. There was no consolation. There was no solace. There would be no restful sleep this night.
And so the women threw themselves into making preparations for their Sunday visit to the tomb to array the dead body of Jesus with their tokens of love and devotion.
Yes, the darkness was suffocating for Christ's own. The silence and cold damp of the night. The wrestling of mind and heart. "Why had Jesus walked down this road? Why didn't he see what was coming? What are we to do when we have no power to bring him back to us or restore the light of life in our souls? How can we meet another day void of hope and gripped in confusion and fear? Who will rescue us from this overwhelming darkness and despair?"
The hour of darkness had fallen upon Jesus, and all his disciples who found themselves blindly groping for anything that would help make sense of a completely senseless situation. We see that unshakeable despondency in the disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Mary weeping at the tomb, in the disciples cowering behind bolted doors, in Thomas' pledge to himself that he would never be hurt this way again.

But Christ had not left them without his Word. He had announced that his Passion would be followed with his being raised form the dead. He had preached the sign of Jonah. He had proclaimed that he was the fulfillment of the very Passover eaten by the children of Israel the night before their deliverance from the darkness and death of Egypt's oppression. He had promised them deliverance and life and light.
But they were asking themselves, "What use are mere words now that darkness has overtaken us?" That's the question each of us as believers must settle in our own hearts and minds. "What are mere words in the midst of such dark uncertainty — in the midst of such dark sin and despair and death?"
That is the question of the hour this hour as we await in darkness — in faith — as we await the appearance of the Light of salvation. That is the question that frames the entire fourth Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
The Holy Gospel According to Saint John, the first chapter:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:1-5, 9-14, 16-18 ESV)

For those of us who are on the verge of despair, for those of us who are fighting against the enveloping darkness of our sin, for those of us who are shaking in the cold damp of our helplessness and hopelessness, God announces clearly that there is One who was before the darkness, One who is above the darkness: the enlightening Word of God through whom all things were made; the life-giving Word of God who overcame the darkness — through the darkness of the sky on Good Friday, through the darkness and chill of the grave on Holy Saturday.
For, when it comes to the redeeming Word of God made flesh, it is as the old proverb says, "The darkest hour is just before the dawn."
Moses confirms that the darkness of night gives way to the light of day when he writes, "God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." (Genesis 1:5 ESV)
And so the faithful, even in the midst of darkness, wait in faith for the morning light to come and restore all things.
Faith, created by the same Word that created the sun and the moon and the stars, keeps vigil for the appearance of Christ, even on the most hopeless of nights. Faith in the Word of God that keeps us awake and alert and watching for the first rays of his appearing.
This is the Christian faith that triumphs over fear and sin and death itself. This is the gift of trust in the Word of Christ that prevents us from scurrying back into the darkness of our ignorance, guilt and shame when the Light of Heaven reveals himself to us.
Christ has not come to simply expose our sin and then leave us to our own pitiful abilities to rescue ourselves out of the gloom of our own spiritual quicksand. That was the job of the Law and Moses and the Ten Commandments: exposing sin in the light of God's holy will for his creatures.
No, Christ has come to bring sin to light, that he might take it and drag it to Calvary.
The light of Easter morning is the light of God's own revelation —that Christ's sacrifice for sin has been accepted, — that Christ is raised to life never to die again, — that the Light of all Grace and Mercy has illuminated our hearts and minds as the Word comes and announces: you are now baptized into my name, my death and resurrection.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint John, the Sixteenth Chapter:

[Jesus'] disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:29-33 ESV)

As the first rays of Easter dawn approach, let us sing the praises of him who is our light that no darkness can overcome. Let us give thanks to him who by his death destroyed death. Let us offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to him who has brought life and immortality to light for all who believe.

Mighty Victim from the sky
Hell's fierce pow'rs beneath you lie;
You have conquered in the fight;
You have brought us life and light. Alleluia!
(At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing. LSB 633:5)

Let us pray:
O thou that art the Light eternal, the Sun of Righteousness, evermore arising and never going down, giving light, food, and gladness unto all, mercifully vouchsafe to shine upon us, and cast thy blessed beams upon the dullness of our understanding and upon the dark mists of our sins and errors; for thine only merits, who art alone our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen