Vigil Of Easter – Pr Smith

Homily for the Vigil, 2024

In a Jewish household on Passover the youngest asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

‌It’s a good question for us tonight, on the night all Passovers but pointed to and was completed by. In and already full week, why are we here, yet again? On Easter Eve, the Church gathers for worship in anticipation of the dawn of Easter Day, the chief festival of the Church. We recall tonight God’s mighty act of deliverance of His people in the Old Testament even as we look forward to God’s mightiest act of deliverance of His people through the death and resurrection of God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. The reason we celebrate the Vigil is the same reason we celebrate Christmas Eve, the day starts at sundown in the Hebrew reckoning we heard in the refrain for each day of creation, it was even and morning. And so, we are here on this night before Sunday which is different from all other Sundays, on this night which is different from all other nights.

‌It may be a new service to you. I get that. I’ll admit that the re-introduction of the Easter Vigil in American Lutheranism is rather recent. We can trace it to the liturgical renewal movement, which came to fruition in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and so it might seem like a new thing. But I can assure you that the Easter Vigil is an ancient service of the Church, perhaps even the most ancient we have and restoring it is like excavating down to the bedrock for the most sure-footed of foundations, the central themes of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This night is different from all other nights. It is the Lord’s Passover.

‌This is the night. Didn’t you hear? This is the night when God brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on dry ground. That Passover is not only for Jews. Abraham and Moses and the Israelites are our mothers and fathers in the faith. That first Passover in Egypt was the forerunner and prefigurement of our Lord’s Passover from death to life. And so this is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from bondage to sin and are restored to life and immortality. This is the night when Christ, the Life, arose from the dead. The seal of the grave is broken and the morning of the new creation breaks forth out of night. This is the night.

‌Many people know that it is on this night when ancient Christians gathered to baptize new converts. The many months of preparation, study, and prayer, culminated in this first festival service of the Passover of our Lord and so as the new believers were baptized, the Lord passed over their sins, washing them away in the waters of new life. But there was often another group of people at the Great Vigil too, the penitents, those who had been caught in great sin and had been public ally under the discipline of the church. It’s hard to imagine anyone enduring such shame today, but they did back then. But in John Chrysostom’s famous sermon from a Vigil sometime in the late 300s, we hear:

‌Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! Celebrate this night! All of you.

‌Let no one mourn that he has fallen into sin again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

‌We heard it too in the exuberant chant of the exultet: this is the night “when innocence is restored to the fallen and joy is given to those downcast!”

‌On this night, the penitents too were restored to the full company of believers and welcomed to the table of the Lord for the Holy Communion, and not because they endured their shame, but because Jesus endured their shame and freed them from it! Oh, tonight is a great night of rejoicing, it is a night of anticipating the great restoration that will come fully in the age to come and so we have a taste of it now. Tonight, sin and death are undone by the power of the resurrection.

‌And so rejoice in this beautiful bright festival! Again the golden words from Chrysostom: Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it. He destroyed Hell when He descended into it. Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

‌This is why tonight is different from all other nights.

‌Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Amen!

‌The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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