Sermon for the Vigil of Easter Saturday, April 20, 2019
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
A few weeks ago, a softball teammate was excited to tell me about a television show he had just watched. The show was about astronauts, and he wanted to share with me the insight of Astronaut Jim Lovell. Fifty years ago, Astronaut Jim Lovell circled the moon and was able to watch the earth rise above the moon’s surface.
As he considered the earth from 240 thousand miles away, he suddenly had an awakening. When he returned to earth, he described the awakening as this: “People often say, ‘I hope to go to heaven when I die.’ In reality, if you think about it, you go to heaven when you’re born.”
Lovell was referring to Earth as heaven, comparing the planet we live on, teeming with life, with the endless void of space. Astronaut Lovell noted: “When you are born, you arrive on a planet that has the proper mass, has the gravity to contain water and an atmosphere, which are the very essentials for life. And you arrive on this planet that’s orbiting a star just at the right distance – not too far to be too cold, or too close to be too hot – and just at the right distance to absorb that star’s energy.”
With this insight … what might it mean, to think in the reverse way that we normally think? That instead of thinking that we go to heaven when we die, what if we arrive into heaven, planet Earth, when we are born?
Granted, one thing that stops us from considering that earth is heaven, is the reality of sin and the ways sin has scarred the world. The truth is, Jim Lovell was born the right color, the right gender, had the access to the right education, and was born and in the right country in the right time. If one is not born between the right borders, or born with the correct skin color, the right gender, the right sexual orientation, the right economic class, the right body ability, the truth is that life on earth can be a living hell.
But what if we paired these two insights? That indeed, God has blessed us with the gift of planet Earth that is truly heaven in the cosmos, with the reality, that in our sin we have scarred and damaged that heaven?
Holding those two insights in tension, what if the stories of life and deliverance we gather around tonight, a story of creation, of a flood, of deliverance through the Red Sea/from the belly of a fish/ and from a fiery furnace, are not stories of literal and scientific fact, but are stories of the very real ways God continues to deliver us from sin and break into earth now with the heavenly kingdom of God?
What if these sacred stories bear witness to the very real ways God continues in us and through us to create heaven on earth for all peoples?
Astronaut Lovell went on to say this: “In reality, you know, God has really given us a stage, just looking at where we were around the moon, a stage on which to perform. And how that play turns out is up to us.”
What if the good news of the resurrection of Christ … is that in the living Christ, God continues to deliver us into God’s new creation? That in the living Christ, God delivers us from places of hell on earth, working in us the kingdom of God on earth? That in the living Christ, God leads us constantly from death to new and surprising places of life?
Not life for some, not life for the lucky few, not life for the privileged insider, but life for all the 6 billion people on the planet. Life for peoples of all tribes, nations, and languages bestowed in systems of equality and justice!
Tonight, as we gathered around the font, we affirmed our baptisms. In affirming our baptisms, we affirmed we will continue: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, and to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed.
Simply put, in response to the gifts God has first proclaimed in us in baptism, we affirmed we will live in relationship with other Christians as we live out our lives in relationship with the Church.
But our affirmations went further. They were more than living together as church in this building, they were also that we would be church living publicly in the world.
We affirmed that, following the example of Jesus, we will serve all people and will strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
Joined to the living Christ in the waters of baptism, our baptismal faith calls us to strive for all people. As an act of faith and discipleship, it is our work to ensure that all systems on earth, all structures, all institutions, and all organizations, are equitable, inclusive, and fair to all.
Joined to the living Christ in the waters of baptism, our baptismal faith calls us to work for one community. As an act of faith and discipleship, it is our work to stand against racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, classism, and all that divides community and creates hell on earth.
Joined to the living Christ in the waters of baptism our baptismal faith calls us to work for Earth itself. As an act of faith and discipleship, it is our work to ensure that policies and actions sustain the Earth and its atmosphere, reducing carbon in the atmospheres, so the Earth does not become a blast furnace with the climate spinning out of control.
Friends in Christ, this is the night!
This is the night we celebrate God, in the risen Christ, making all things new.
This is the night we celebrate that in the waters of baptism, we are joined to the risen and living Christ.
This is the night, we celebrate that joined to Christ, God works life, healing, and justice in us, for us, for our neighbors, and for the whole world.
Allelluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!