The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Easter Vigil 2014
“Today we remember tomorrow.” That’s the phrase that the author of the book we’re reading for our confirmation class uses to frame her approach to church history. “Today we remember tomorrow” Jennifer Gamber says as she takes us back to the very beginnings of the early church while she’s also opening doors into the church today. “Today we remember tomorrow.” I’ve come to think of that as a wonderful way to talk about what we’re doing here tonight.
All those lessons we just heard about God’s people in ages past? (And just for the record a little footnote here – for those of you who thought that was a lot – in an Easter Vigil that includes all the possible readings – which is an event on my bucket list, so look out – there would be lots more! In addition to what was read tonight we would also hear about Noah, Abraham and Isaac, with more from Isaiah and a couple of other prophets too. So either breathe a sigh of relief or go home from here and look up those stories too, depending on which way you lean. End of footnote.)
Now there are so many readings in this service because this is the night, the one night when we remember the WHOLE STORY of what we call “Salvation History” – from the very beginning of Creation right up through the resurrection of Jesus. And this remembering isn’t just for the sake of fondness. It isn’t even really remembering primarily for the sake of teaching, although it has a formative dimension to it. This isn’t remembering for the sake of building knowledge, or even purely for the sake of keeping the stories themselves alive. In fact the act of remembering when done by God’s people gathered has never been just for the sake of communicating what happened yesterday, or two thousand years ago, or ten thousand years ago. Remembering has always been done for the sake of sustaining God’s people today, and orienting us in hope for what is yet to come.
Because what we’re remembering tonight are the actions of God in this world and the dreams that God has for humanity. Did you hear what God has done, what it is that God desires? God created us male and female in the image of the divine and saw that it was good! God liberated people from slavery. God dreamt of abundance and feasts of rich food and good wine for all. God breathed new life into old bones and made them dance! God incarnated God’s very self in Christ, embraced the extreme frailty, and failure and sin of our human reality through death on the cross. And then God resurrected Christ – while completely freaking out (in a good way) anyone who had anything at all to do with the tomb. And in that resurrection, God offered new life to all.
And part of the miracle of all of that is that in this active, holy remembering that we do – gathering in darkness, sparking the fire, listening to the stories, ringing bells, lighting up the place, and feasting – the limits of time are shattered – we actually stand among those created in the image of God, among those set free, among the dancers, and the dreamers, and the prophets. And more than standing among – we are those people tonight. And we will be those people tomorrow too. And the day after and the day after. Because there is a holy sort of becoming that happens when we remember this way.
So last weekend Anne Lamott whom I would consider one of the literary saints of today – told us at Calvin’s Faith and Writing conference that all she has to offer to the world, through her writing, through her speaking is her past two weeks. That’s all she’s got really, she told us and that may be true of us too, or at least it might feel that way. An eternal story is a big load after all, and to carry this whole thing around in our hearts and minds in a constant state of awareness might make it a little hard to keep walking. How could we possibly manage even a step if we had to go back to the very beginning every time? Maybe that’s part of why we only do this once a year. The enormity of it is so, well, enormous. But, following the wisdom of Lamott, we can pretty much always manage fourteen days. So bear with me for just a couple of more minutes because I want to try that and see what happens.
Let’s take fourteen days here at Grace . . .
Well, last Thursday we welcomed Leon Milliyon into the world, the newest of God’s creation here among our community of Grace. And just a week before that, people from all corners of this city were given a feast of rich foods here in our undercroft and parking lot as you all, prophets and dreamers that you are, opened our doors and called out for anyone who was hungry to come. And last weekend, a Grace member died suddenly and we met with his family at what they would all say was a place like the cross. And then on Wednesday just over three days later, we gathered with them to remember, to mourn and to celebrate; and in that celebration an incredibly diverse gathering of distinct nations took place. It was a Christian Reformed Church meets the Episcopal Church meets Wheatland sort of experience. And the spirit was here with us; dry and tired bones of all ages, against all odds, managed to dance as even through our tears we made our cry, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!.”
Now admittedly there’s a little risk interpreting our own stories this way. We can over interpret and quickly label this as creation, or that as an example of redemption, and that over there as resurrection. Or we might even disagree on what is what. But the more I think about that risk, the more convinced I am that over-identifying, is probably not a sin that Episcopalians really need to be too worried about. It’s just not in our nature to oversee the grace of salvation playing out in our every day and to name it as such, let alone out loud. So we can let that concern go. It’s also a little messier to do this kind of remembering with our own stories, because salvation doesn’t present in quite as linear a fashion as it does in Scripture. But I’m pretty sure the point of the Bible isn’t that God cracked it all open in an exact order. The point is that God cracked it open at just about every turn, often in surprising ways and even when that seemingly final turn included a tomb, that wasn’t so final afterall.
So take the risk with me this Easter season. See salvation unfolding in all of it, from the very beginning and starting two weeks ago. And jump in with all you’ve got. The good news is that God is creating, liberating, feeding, inspiring and most miraculously of all, God is raising us from the dead today. May we remember together, and become together, and trust that no matter what happens today, with God’s help, we’ll be remembering tomorrow.