The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Easter Vigil—Year A (video link)
Exodus 13:17-18, 20-22
Gospel of Truth 4:1-8
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21
What a night! All the momentum of this season, all the momentum of this week, all the momentum of the cosmos, it all converges here, tonight. We mark creation. We mark liberation. We mark dry, dead bones that find their way back together to dance again with divine breath. The eyes of our hearts are waking up, “Enlightened,” Ephesians says, and hope is not far behind. We hear of dying with Christ and being raised into newness of life as he dances his way out of the tomb. And, as on that night back in December, there is an angel; there is always an angel, calling out, “Fear not! I know you seek the crucified, but he is not here; he has been raised!”
The ancient chant calls us to “Rejoice now,” and not just us, but “heavenly hosts and choirs of angels and all the round earth.” “This is the night…This is the night…This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell and rose victorious from the grave. How holy is this night…How blessed is this night.” It’s almost too much to hold, so all we can do, in every way we can imagine, is make music and sing and let our hearts burst with joy.
And we’re ready to let loose a bit; trust me, we’re ready. It’s been a long, hard week. As we have journeyed through this Holy Week, we have peeled back layer upon layer of our humanity. We have lingered in the shadows of our motivations and actions. We have watched our courage fail, and we have seen our better angels depart, leaving us face-to-face with our conflicted, broken humanity. And we have watched God’s Presence go deeper, deeper, deeper. Into the dark, we have descended, and there we have waited, wondering if all was lost. But then, the match is struck, the new fire is kindled, the candle is lit and, just like that pillar of fire long ago, this holy candle lights our way, not back to our old life, but beckons us on to new life, resurrection life, life like we’ve never known it before.
What a night, dear Robert Holland, to baptize you! Into this swirl of image and sound, symbol and ritual, we will plunge you into the waters—over you they will flow catching you up in the eternal dance of the love this is always flowing. We will mark you as Christ’s own forever and an indissoluble bond, the Prayer Book calls it, will be forged between you and Christ, forever. There will come a time, a long way down the road, when the truth of this bond, when the reality of this bond will be the best news ever.
You are woven into a relationship that is beyond your undoing—you can’t do anything to make God love you more, and you can’t do anything to make God love you less. Tonight, God proclaims to you, what God proclaimed to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.” Robert, the world will tell you many things about who you are, but tonight, know this— beloved son of God, one in whom God is well pleased, this is your core identity. Your worth has already been determined, which means you are free to live and love with abandon.
Whew, all that freedom is a lot to handle, and so these baptismal vows that your parents and godparents will say on your behalf, they’ll be there to guide you in this radical way of love.
More than anything, Jesus will show you how to dance. The paschal dance, they call it. It gets its name from the feast we celebrate tonight. It’s the dance of death and resurrection. It’s the dance of loss and new beginnings. It’s the dance of losing it all and learning how to live and love again. It’s the dance that Jesus dances this night as he moves from death into life and bids us to follow.
Robert, baptismal life is not a guarantee of a pain-free life. In fact, it’s pretty much a guarantee of a life with a good bit heartache because this way of life will teach you how to live with your heart wide open, reaching out across divides, holding things that are often in tension—yep, the baptismal vows will flat land you in a world of trouble.
But baptismal life holds within it a promise that is better than some too-good-to-be-true-pain-free-guarantee—because we all know that the fine print on that guarantee says “There ain’t no such thing”—baptismal life holds within it a promise that is better than that illusory guarantee, and that promise is this—you will never, ever have to move through this life alone.
Robert, tonight, you are knit into Christ’s body, both the mystical Risen Christ whose presence spans the realms, and the very tangible body of Christ in the community of those who live and follow his way. Woven into the fabric of this body, you are secure; you will always have a thread to follow.
Robert, thank you for giving us all the chance to celebrate just a little bit more tonight. For you remind us, that Jesus isn’t the only one raised to new life tonight, but through these waters, we are raised, too.
As we watch you tonight, we can’t help but smile because we know that this is the night when we all go skipping into resurrection life.
Welcome to the dance, Robert, welcome to the dance. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 15, 2017