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Easter Vigil Message

Saturday.

Nobody was expecting Saturday.

They hadn’t signed up for this. Three years earlier Peter, James, and John had been fishermen in Galillee. They were probably your typical man’s man.

I don’t know what the Hebrew is for “huh, huh, huh,” but they probably did it.

Everyday they would go out to work, slave away, and then walk past the Roman soldiers on their way home.

The Romans. They had never known life without the presence of that oppressive empire camped out in their living room.

As Jewish men they had been raised on the hope that one day God would send a Messiah, a new king, who would overthrow their oppressors and reestablish David’s throne in Jerusalem and establish the kingdom of God once again in Israel.

Many had claimed to be that Messiah, but all of them ended up the same way. Hung on a cross by the Romans and left to die like wild animals.

Then one day along comes this man named Jesus. He didn’t just claim to be the Messiah, he demonstrated the power of God through his miracles. He spoke with authority. He healed the sick. He calmed the storms. He raised the dead.

Peter, James, and John had even seen him transformed right in front of their eyes and standing next to Moses and Elijah, the two most powerful prophet leaders of the Old Testament.

When they marched into Jerusalem a week ago they came in with the King. He had arrived to deliver the final blow to the corrupt leadership and establish the Kingdom of God.

That sounded like a good plan. That sounded like a plan worth fighting for. Worth dying for.

And then they took him. They beat him. They killed him.

Now it is Saturday.

Jesus is in the tomb. The disciples are on the lamb.

All is lost. All is darkness.

Hope is gone.

Have you had a Saturday?

Have you ever had something very dear to you taken away?

A child, a parent, a spouse?

A dream, a plan?

Your health?

Maybe you’re in that place right now. It was everything you could do to drag yourself to church tonight. The last place you want to be is a place where they talk about God and God’s plan.

How could God have let this happen? How can it be Saturday?

How many of you were here at the last Lenten Vespers Service?

Rob Bell talked about losing his good friend, Matthew, to a car accident. He talked about the painful experience of receiving that phone call.

Four years ago this month, we received one of those phone calls.

I will never forget the sound of my wife’s voice when she got the news.

Her father was gone. He went to bed the night before, and never woke up. 64 years old. No warning. We had just been with him the week before and he seemed fine.

At that moment life slows down and becomes a slow motion, blurry dream sequence. A few days later I find myself standing up in front of a crowd of people leading my father-in-law’s funeral.

What do you do at a funeral?

You tell stories.

You look back at the person’s life and remember.

One by one family members and friends come forward and they retell the story of that person’s life. Sometimes you laugh out loud. Most times you sob.

But through it all, you remember.

We sit here on Saturday night. It is the Easter Vigil.

It is the time between times.

It is a time when we look back and remember the stories of God. The stories of how God has redeemed his people again and again.

We remember Jesus’ life.

Then we sit in the darkness of the tomb. The Bewilderment and shock of Saturday.

And then we look forward to the morning. To the sunrise. To Easter.

A long time ago, when the early church was forming these rituals, they held the Easter vigil as one long, service that went all through the darkness of midnight and ended with the sunrise.

It was used as a baptismal service.

They would take all the adults that had come to follow Jesus during that year and baptize them.

The service was like an initiation and rite of passage. They were retelling God’s story and then bringing the new followers into that story through baptism.

Earlier in the service you heard a passage read from 1 Peter.

The reason 1 Peter is read is because most scholars believe that this letter is actually the manuscript of a baptismal service. Right in the middle of the text, in between two verses, you can almost hear the water splash as the people are baptized.

Peter speaks to the new followers and teaches them about what it means to follow Jesus.

Take out your Bibles and turn to 1 Peter 4.

In verses 1-8 we see a little snapshot of the message of the whole book.

As I was reading this passage, it hit me.

In some ways, all of life is like the Easter Vigil.

It is like the Saturday that you experience.

The Easter Vigil is a space in which we force ourselves to sit in that inbetween time and look all around us..

The real question is, “How do we get out of Saturday?” How do we break free of the darkness, the sadness, the pain, the confusion.

1 Peter gives us some direction.

Throughout the passage, and throughout all of 1 Peter, and in this Easter Vigil there are three Views that we need to take. Three directions we need to look. Three moments we need to live in.

The first is backward. We need to Come Out of the Past.

There two ways we come out of the past.

The first is to look back and remember that we are the product of everything that has come before us.

We are not the hero of the story. We are players in a long, ongoing story that is continually unfolding.

That is why we spend time on Saturday night retelling the stories from the Old Testament.

Something that my kids always loved to do, they would ask, “Dad, tell us a story of when you were a kid.”

As children of God, we need to hear the stories. We need to be reminded that over and over God has delivered his people. He has rescued them from their own messes. And he will do it again.

That’s the pattern of God’s story.

He creates something beautiful for us.

We mess it up and suffer in the pain of our own consequences.

Then he takes our mess and recreates it into something beautiful again.

Creation, Uncreation, Recreation.

Our loving Father continually redeems his creation and we need to remember that.

We come out of that Past.

There is another way that we come out of the Past.

Look what Peter says:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2 As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

As a follower of Jesus, we leave the past behind us.

We walk away from the junk that clogged up our lives.

We walk away from the addiction, the distractions, the bondage.

But, how do we do that? How do we walk away from the garbage and baggage of our past?

We die.

That brings us to the second view we must take.

We must Be Buried in the Presence.

That’s what baptism is really all about.

It’s about dying.

It’s about being buried right along with Jesus.

Remember, the Easter Vigil is really a baptismal service. It is a time when people came forward and joined Jesus in the tomb.

The church I served at in Vegas was really into baptism. It came from the Christian Church tradition that practiced immersion baptism. You know, the complete dunking of the whole body.

Lutherans practice pouring water on babies head’s. That church practiced the dunking of a person who had made the conscious choice to join in Jesus’ death. To me, it doesn’t matter, because it isn’t about the water, it’s about the intention of the heart.

In this church we had baptisms every week. Some weeks we might have 20 baptisms during a regular worship service. On Easter there was always at least a hundred. It was amazing.

One thing I liked about the immersion practice was that it was so violent.

You take the person by the back of the neck and you thrust them down under the water. If they were really bad you’d hold them down a little longer J

One time I had to baptize this guy who was 6’8” about 280 lbs. We looked at each other and wondered how this was going to happen. I reached way up and dropped him into the water. A tidal wave sloshed over the side. I think all the people in the front row got wet. It was awesome.

We would say, “You are buried with Christ.”

Buried.

Dead.

Look what Peter goes on to say:

6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Following Jesus means we have to die.

Jesus told us to pick up our cross and follow him.

The only way we can live in a new life is to die to the old life.

Here’s the thing. Baptism isn’t a one time deal.

That’s not a typo on the screen. We need to get buried in the presence of God.

Every day we need to wake up and die.

We need to die to the idea that we are in control of our lives.

We need to die to the idea that it’s all about us and our pleasure and self-gratification.

We need to bury ourselves in the present reality of God.

Here’s a wild thought. If God is eternal, then, for Him, there is no past or future. There is only now.

If we are going to live for God, then we need to live every moment fully immersed in the present reality of God’s presence with us and in us.

It is God’s Kingdom all around us and we are invited, in every moment to join God there and join him in His redemptive process.

We need to look around every moment and say, “God where are you moving. Who are you helping. How can I join you, right now.”

As pastor Mark often says, we need to “walk wet.” We need to be buried in the presence of God.

Now, look at the last thing Peter says

7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

The final view we need to take is the view toward the future. We need to move forward with Purpose and Power.

What does Peter say?

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.

That is what Jesus demonstrated for us on Friday night.

He told his disciples that greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.

Now, here’s the wonderful thing about the story. The wonderful thing about the Easter Vigil. The wonderful thing about Saturdays.

They don’t last.

It’s easy to say we need to die to the past. It’s easy to say that we need to be freed from the bondage of destructive, addictive behavior.

It’s easy to say we need to move forward and love each other.

But the real question is “How?”

After all, it’s Saturday, right?

Jesus is dead.

The disciples are freaked out.

You are in pain.

If that was the end of the story, then you would have something to worry about.

You probably would be like the “pagans” that Peter talked about.

You would have no hope.

But, that’s not the end of the story.

It’s way past midnight. We’ve been up all night retelling God’s story of redemption.

Just below that horizon, the sun is just waiting for it cue. Tomorrow morning it will rise.

We have a leg up on the disciples. When Peter, James, and John sat in their Saturday, they didn’t know Sunday was coming. They didn’t know that Jesus was going to break free from the bondage of death and change the world forever.

But we do. We know that tomorrow morning we will gather in this place and this altar will be transformed.

We know that Jesus has conquered death.

We know that, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, Jesus rose from the dead, and that very same Spirit is coursing through us right now, giving us the power to live and walk in a brand new life.

It’s Saturday, but Sunday is coming.

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