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The Easter Vigil

  • To:
  • Subject: The Easter Vigil
  • From: Grant Mauricio Gallup <grant73@turbonett.com.ni>
  • Date: Thu, 05 Apr 2007 18:46:44 -0600


by  Grant Gallup,
Genesis 1:1-2:2 - 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 14:10-15:1 Israel's deliverance at the Red Sea
Isaiah 4:2-6 God's presence in a renewed Israel
Isaiah 55:1-11 Salvation offered freely to all
Ezekiel 36:24-28 A new heart and a new spirit
Ezekiel 37:1-14 The valley of dry bones
Zephaniah 3:12-20 The gathering of God's people

The Early Service:
Romans 6:3-11 - baptized into his death
Psalm 114 In exitu Israel
Matthew 28:1-10 - At the dawn of a new age

Of the nine readings appointed for the Vigil, we rarely get to hear
them all. But Nine is a mystical number--a trinity of trinities;
there were nine muses, there are nine points of the law, a novena has
nine prayers, gestation takes nine months, and there are nine orders
of angels, nine times out of ten. There used to be more--in the
church's adolescence, she stayed out all night listening to long,
long readings from Scripture. The faithful came to pray at sunset on
Saturday, the end of the Sabbath, and as it began to dawn towards the
first day of the week, the readers ran out of breath. They had begun
the vigil when the janitor arrived at dusk to light the great beeswax
tower, or the oily lamp, and they stayed until the janitor turned
into a deacon singing the Exsultet. "May Christ, the Morning Star who
knows no setting, find you ever burning" he poignantly, cheerily
serenaded the candle. Only when the sun rose would the Alleluias be
sung and the eucharist shared in its first creeping light.

Easter is the Christian Pasch, but is also the whole world's festival
of liberation and restoration. The nine lessons that have been chosen
are liberation theology all the way, so they can be your textbook in
these Easter weeks, if we don't read them all tonight. But get a good
contemporary translation of the Bible and sometime during the Great
Fifty Days, immerse yourself in this Bible bath, with its
intermittent psalmody, as indicated in the Book of Common Prayer,or
your equivalent liturgy. Pray over them alone or in groups, and think
about them in terms of your own lives. Bring your lives to these
lessons and listen to the questions your life asks of them, what the
Scriptures answer back, and what they ask of you. Bring your
heartfelt thoughts and remembered failures, your imagination of
wholeness and your hope for glory. These nine pericopes are the
Easter eggs you need to crack open one by one, whispering "Christ is
Risen", and responding "Indeed!" some time during the Great Fifty
Days. Here are some hints about each of them. They are nine tailors,
to weave your Easter finery.

The first reading tells of the first days of Creation, of God's
blessing of it all, and how good God saw it to be. This at once flies
in the face of creation-negative religion, which looks at the
universe and clucks its tongue and says "Behold, it is very bad." The
material world--contrary to poor, neurasthenic Mary Baker Glover
Patterson Eddy, to give her all her husbands' names, is not error,
nor is it fatally flawed with malicious animal magnetism. The heresy
is older than that redaction of it.

The sea, the air, everything in them, all is given to us all, and not
to an oligarchy to own and to exploit. We all share in humankind's
common title to it still, for the title of what has been stolen and
sold to private investors has not passed to them: Title never passes
in a theft. "Thou shalt not steal" is the rule for their heavy
thumbs. God says, "behold I have given everything," and so properiety
right in the planets, the spheres, the seas, belongs to all of us as
gift, as well as the sources of produce and the means of production.
Think about that when you see the evening news and learn that a few
greedy guts are carving up creation, even patenting life forms.

Now God gives at the end of the chapter the gift of Sabbth. Number
One, you will notice it is not Sunday. Number Two, you will see it is
not for the purpose of going to church. The Sabbath was the first
labor legislation, the declaration that the surplus labor of the
human race--more work than is needed to sustain life--does not belong
to venture capitalists. All the work that's done by working people is
all the wealth there is, and most of it is stolen from them by those
who claim the planet and its life as theirs alone. All the people
have a right to work, a right to rest from work, and God's own rest
upon the sabbath is the ikon of rest, joy, wealth and ease for the
human community, indeed for our animal dependents, too. The Sabbath
is not a kind of religious unemployment, but the reward of a society
fully employed, fully sharing the creation's blessings. God's last
act of Creation is to institute the weekly festival of liberation of
human beings from exploitative labor.

I won't get through the lessons at this rate. Next comes Noah and the
ARk, and think of the liberation there-- the old Ark's a moverin' and
it moves with its own liberation: that of the human community from
disaster, from catastrophe. And how? By enlightened technology! The
Ark is the first work of human skill and science to deliver the
planet's communal, ecological life, from disaster. How we need a
theology of the Ark now! Human technology, all our genius, is not to
be used for Star Wars or defoliation of jungles, that we may wage
racist war, but is for our work in a Rainbow Coalition, to deliver
our planet (and our neighbor's?) from destruction, from extinction in
our time. Tomas Borge, the old Sandinista mentor in Nicaragua, spoke
of the Somocistas' "Covenant with Death" and their kind continues in
league with everything destructive to all life. Their dead hand is on
every flower, their stink on every sunrise.

In the third reading, we are delivered from the religion and theology
of death, when the angel stays the hand of Abraham from bloodthirsty
religion, and declares the slaughter of our youth on our altars
(Military intervention, capitalist punishment) to be ended. God will
provide for the Lamb. And we have come to see that this did not mean
immature mutton, but God's own Life, laid down to shield us all. God
does not want human blood and patriotic gore, nor does God giggle at
the slaughter of animals, we have come to see-- and God liberates us
> from such religion here today. Isaac should be one of the patrons of
the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, and old Abraham an honorary member.

The fourth reading, from Exodus, shows us the exit from the house of
bondage. We are liberated (as liberated as John Brown?) from the idea
that the lives of some human beings can belong to others, as
property--or that some nations of human beings have the right to
direct the lives and destinies of others as their slaves. Fidel
Castro Ruz didn't think this idea up over rum and coke (Cuba Libre!)
in La Habana. Nobody lives in somebody else's back yard. There's
nothing here in the way of an exception for Manifest Destiny or the
Monroe Doctrine. Those who pick your breakfast bananas should decide
who is to be Top Banana in the banana republics, and Big Enchilada
Bush should roll his own tortilla. The Two Thirds world has been
faithfully singing for centuries a song it learned from God: " Tell
old Pharaoah, Let my people go."

The fifth reading is a prophet's vision of the liberated human
community: "In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and
glorious-- everyone who has been recorded for life in the resurrected
city, when the filth of prostituted politics and the blood of
military murder are washed away." God will be present in the renewed
and restored people of the land. Isaiah saw it coming. Will we be
able to see it in some places, touching down in our time?

The sixth reading sees that liberation is to be offered to everyone,
and there isn't a price tag on it, as the televangelists tell you.
"Ho, everyone who thirsts, come and drink this water. You skid row
bums, come with no money, buy and drink wine or milk, no money
needed, no price attached." The liberated community is for all
religions, all nations: "Behold, you shall call nations that you know
not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you. Seek YHWH while
YHWH is available to you! Nothing can come up short or return to this
God empty. And the liberating God will reach out to all peoples, and
God will prosper it all.

The seventh reading from Ezekiel reinforces that promise of a
gathered people of God from all lands, all ethnicities: "A new heart
and a new spirit for all--you shall all be my people and I will be
your God." Liberation includes escape from our nationalisms, our
hearts of stone, our racisms. The human heart is to be free to be one
flesh again.

Then Ezekiel sees the valley full of dry bones, the graves of the
past. The whole house of human history, its bones dried up, its hope
lost--how are the dead, the defeated, to take part in the new
community, the restored human race? Resurrection in the Bible is
always restoration to a community, not the flight of the alone to the
alone. "When I open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my
people, I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live, and I
will place you in your own land." Liberation is never to individual
survival, but to community restoration.

And finally, the prophet Zephaniah sees that God means to deal with
our oppressors, and rebuild the broken creation. Clean out and fix
up. God will deal with the enemies of the people, and remove them. "I
will deal with your oppressors, I will save the lame, gather the
outcast, change their shame into praise and renown. At that time I
will bring you home and I will gather you together."

So all nine of these lessons are articles in our charter of
liberation, chapters in our own story of life and resurrection. As
the lessons began with the story of the first sabbath rest, of God
resting at the end of creation, so the lessons end with the gospel
story of the great sabbath's ending, in Matthew 28. After the
sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, we will meet in
the gospel our beloved familiar friend Jesus, who still meets us and
says in this fresh Spring morning, "Greeting!" As we run to him and
take hold of his feet, and hold him, we hear him say "Do not be
afraid, go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee: there
they will see me."

To Galilee, to the historical Jesus of that Third World backwater, we
will go with all our friends, with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary,
to see him. Felices Pascuas! Our Liberator is up and about! Do not be

The poet Les Murray wrote, in "Easter 1984" these lines:

"Ever afterwards, the accumulation
of freedom would end in this man

whipped, bloodied, getting the treatment.
It would look like man himself getting it.

He was freeing us, painfully, from freedom,
justice, dignity--he was discharging them

of their deadly ambiguous deposit,
remaking out of them the primal day

In which he was free not to have borne it
and we were free not to have done it,

free never to torture man again,
free to believe him risen."