Easter Vigil, 2015
54 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD.
2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.
4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
5 For your Maker is your husband,
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
6 For the LORD has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
7 For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
8 In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD, your Redeemer.
Sermon Theme this Lent – Singing With the Exiles
Yesterday, on Good Friday, our sermon theme was “All”. We remembered that Christ had suffered not just most, but all that we should have suffered. He drank not just a portion, but all of the cup of His Father’s wrath – the cup that you and I should have drunk. He was crucified all the way unto death, the death we should have died. He paid for all of the debt for all of the people in all of the generations, with no exceptions and with zero conditions.
Tonight, our sermon theme is “Nothing” On that first Holy Saturday, it seemed as though all was lost and that nothing had been gained. As though darkness had prevailed over light and as though life had given way to death. As though nothingness had won the day and as though there was nothing at all to sing about. And yet Isaiah invites us this very night to sing. To sing along with the exiles who were about to be released from Babylonian captivity. This evening we would sing as a warm-up for tomorrow morning, at which time we will be invited to sing as we have never before sung.
The Easter Vigil is the first official celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Frequently, especially in the ancient church, it was during this service that people were baptized and adult catechumens were received into full communion with the Church. During the vigil we get our first glimpse of a distinctively Easter hope. From the darkness of Good Friday there bursts forth light from our Savior’s empty tomb. From nothing comes everything.
Nothingness described Zion in the days of the prophet Isaiah. Zion stands for sixth century BC Israelites who were exiled in Babylon. It was from Sarah’s barren womb that God had built a great nation. In those days for a woman not to bear children was a great shame. To lose children would be great grief. Just as Sarah was barren but thenwwas giventhe promised son, so the exiles would once again be fruitful and multiply. We are told in chapter 54 that Zion had no children, no family, and no husband. Her city had been destroyed, her cupboards were bare, and her hopes were diminished. She had absolutely nothing.
Nothingness describes sinners and exiles in every generation. The Preacher cries out in Ecclesiastes 1, “Complete nothingness…..all is vanity.” St. Paul agrees, “All have turned away; they have become useless.” Shakespeare adds this line, “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Just two days ago, 147 people were killed by Muslim extremists and 79 more were wounded at a Kenya University. They were killed because they were Christians and because it was Holy Week. Nothing new about any of that, is there? Every passing year is marked with bombs, bloodshed, and brokenness; death, decay, and destruction, more tears, terror, and trauma.
Every time God meets up with nothingness, everything changes. He is the One Who met up with an earth that was without form and voice and dark and created the heavens and the earth. In the days of Noah, the same water He used to destroy was that which carried the ark to safety. At the Red Sea, same waters His servant Moses used to crush the enemy were those He used to rescue Israel. Faced with the fury of Nebuchadnezzar, the same fire that consumed His enemies didn’t have a prayer when it met up with the friends of God,namely Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Jesus Christ, who although he was in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Fix your eyes tonight on the King who volunteered for slavery. On the Creator who gets spit on by creatures. On the source of truth found guilty of lying. On the source of light who for three hours hangs in the darkness. On the source of life who gets crucified, dead, and buried. On the hero who goes from the pinnacle of praise to the ultimate of nothingness. Isaiah writes, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him; nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.
Because of what the Suffering Servant would do on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, Isaiah 54 announces that Zion’s precious children and priceless city structures would be renewed. Her tents, once destroyed, would not only be restored but expanded. Her dead children and past misery would forgotten, and a new family would rise up in a city now safe and prosperous. God’s reversal of Zion’s shame would be complete. The barren one would give birth to many children. The ravages of the Babylonian flood would recede and give way to peace. The refugees in Babylon would possess a rebuilt city decked in royal splendor! Reason to sing like they had never sung before.
Psalm 30 – His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Isaiah writes, For a brief moment, I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. Whatever is your emptiness here tonight, get ready for it to fade away as darkness must give way to the sunrise. John writes, “From Hs fullness we have received grace upon grace.” Paul is amazed, “And you have been given fullness in Christ.” David shouts, “You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” Jesus confirms it, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”
In Christ alone, there is grace enough to pay off your entire debt. Grace is the day’s wages paid to workers who had worked only an hour. It is the father scrubbing the stench of pig off his son’s back. It is a criminal received into paradise in his dying hour. It is nothing plus mercy, which equals everything.
The kingdom of God is like a man who is often tempted to be full of himself, but tonight once again at the foot of the cross he learns to spend his days begging and not bragging, beseeching and not boasting, learning to bend his knees and never again to strut his stuff. Yet one more time he is remembering what he has learned from his mother’s knee – that apart from Jesus Christ he could just as well be dead and buried, but that in Him, He is alive and well. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther