There is a long list of passages that are to be used for the Easter vigil. But if I were to use all of them, or even the portion that is recommended – a minimum of three for the Old Testaments and Epistle, Psalm, and Gospel readings – I doubt there would be time for you beloved reader to read through it all. And then there are the passages that are for the Easter Service, and even more for Easter Evening. Being the high point of the church year, it has many scripture passages appropriated for it. So instead, let me lightly and briefly list a few.
“But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:13 – 14)
The passage from Exodus the lectionary highly recommends. It comes from where the Hebrews newly released from Egypt stand by the Red Sea as the Egyptians are racing towards them. Their deliverance comes from the Lord, and only through the Lord. Without their Lord God they would be helpless.
Another Old Testament passage cited is from Genesis, the creation story, where the Lord created the heavens and the earth, and kept creating, up to and including the creation of humanity. Passages from the stories of Noah and Abraham are also cited, as well has some beloved passages from Isaiah. Passages also from Ezekiel, Baruch (from the Apocrypha), Zephaniah, and Proverbs to recount the prophets and wisdom. And passages from the Psalms, singing and praises and celebrating the Lord. And there is also a passage from the Epistles, Romans to name the book.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)
And finally, a passage from the New Testament, Matthew, telling a slightly different story of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary seeing an angel of the Lord who told them of Jesus’ resurrection, and then seeing the Risen Lord who tells them to tell his disciples to go to Galilee. The passage from Matthew is also cited for possible use during the later Easter service. You can see there is a great deal of fervor, excitement during the Easter vigil time.
It has been many, many years since I have kept Easter vigil – the early morning hours of Easter Sunday. As a youth, when I had much more energy etc than I do now, our youth group made a practice of gathering together early Easter Sunday morning, many times outdoors, to have an Easter Sunday service. I remember one year I was up late the night before baby sitting, and got up early the next morning for the Sunrise Service. How I did that, went to regular church and did not crash-and-burn, I attribute only to the vigor of youth. But youth gives way, and fortunately in its stead comes (hopefully) wisdom, maturity, and deeper understanding. In a way, the first-coming-to-faith that evolves into the coming to deeper/wider/broader faith that is so intense it feels “all new”.
The disciples and followers of Jesus must have felt that same way when Good Friday turned into Easter Sunday – that is, the faith they had in Jesus their teacher giving way to Jesus their risen Lord.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.” (John 20:1 – 10)
As much as I have fondness and affection for Simon Peter, and for the other disciples in their turn, sometimes it takes a woman to get to the core and center of things.
“But Mary [Magdalene] stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (Verses 11 – 18)
As I said, about a page back, it has been a long time since I kept a true Easter vigil. A long time since the first-coming-to-faith time. Youth has given way to seasoned experience. And I know that quite often the first brush with faith gives way to a more sustaining experience. It was that way with Simon Peter. Throughout the time Peter was with Jesus, he had many insights but it was only after the coming of the Holy Spirit that Peter came into his own. And even then, Peter came to a deeper and broader understanding of Jesus Christ’s message of good news.
“Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-43)
The apostle Paul, who came to faith through his own encounter with the risen Lord, speaks also to making plans and living out an authentic Christian life.
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)
If you were wondering, the under girding thrust of my thoughts are this. Jesus’ resurrection set into motion a whole new way of seeing and understanding how to live. When we first realize that, it is like coming to new faith. We feel it, but do not know or understand the deeper implications. New faith gives way, over time, to deeper faith. Because we are realizing things for the first time, it feels like first time faith. Not faith that we are recommitting to, nor coming back from going astray. But coming to new bends, twists, and turns in our faith life. Each year during Lent we journey the same ground, but many times come out at a different place, a different understanding. Now that we are on the other side, let us journey forth into new dimensions of faith. Selah!