April 4, 2015

Easter Vigil

Romans 6: 3-11; Psalm 114; Mark 16:1-8


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

You may or may not know this, and the number of people here tonight compared to the capacity crowds we will have tomorrow doesn’t reflect what I am about to tell you, but tonight, The Great Vigil of Easter, is the most important service in the Christian calendar year. It is important because it is the first Eucharist of Easter, but it is important for another ancient reason.  

That reason is because Christianity is firmly rooted in Judaism – Jesus himself was Jewish. So this means that Jewish traditions are also in a way our traditions. One important tradition in the Jewish religion is Passover, which commemorates the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, a story we heard in one of our readings tonight. Specifically, Passover commemorates the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb a lamb whose blood was spread across the doors of Jewish homes in Egypt so that the angel of death would “pass over” those homes and not take the first born son.  

What does Passover have to do with tonight? Many Christians see Christ’s death and resurrection as a Passover moment. In other words, Christians see in Jesus that lamb whose blood spared the Hebrews in Egypt just as the death of Jesus upon the cross and his resurrection spares our lives and allows us to be truly free.

This connection between Judaism and Christianity is especially evident during the Eucharist, when the priest takes the bread, the body of Christ, breaks it, and says the words “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.”  

The connection between what we call Easter and Passover is so strong that in every language besides English, the same word is used for the Jewish Passover and Christian Easter. The word is “pascha,” and it means Passover.  It is from this word, pascha, that we get the word paschal, which is the name of this candle – we call it the Paschal Candle. It signifies to us the very light of Christ which leads us upon our journey as the pillar of fire led the Hebrew people in the wilderness.

This Paschal candle is a reminder to us of Christ’s own Passover from death into life, which we celebrate at this first Easter service. The Paschal Candle is lit during all services in the Easter season and also at all baptisms and funerals.  This year we made a change with our Paschal Candle. In years past we have used an oil candle, like the ones upon the altar, because they don’t melt and spill wax on the floor and create a nightmare for the altar guild.  

But this year we have wax Paschal candle, which is more fragile than an oil candle because it will age, and over the next year as it melts, it will look different.  Hopefully, it won’t spill wax onto the floor! The work of this candle is to burn in the service of God. It will be with us all year, until the next Easter Vigil service, when we light a new Paschal Candle. The candle is a special candle for us, a reminder of the Paschal mystery – which is Christ’s death, descent among the dead, and his resurrection to everlasting life.  

The Paschal Candle reminds us of the power of Christ’s eternal light which shines in this church now, and more importantly, shines in our hearts.  We began our service in darkness, and now in the midst of the first Easter, we are awash in brilliant paschal light. Let your light so shine before all women and men that they may see your good works which glorify God in heaven.  AMEN.

September 7, 2014

Pentecost – Proper 18

Exodus 12: 1-14; Psalm 149, 45c; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18: 15-20


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

As many of you know, my family and I recently moved into the Heights neighborhood this past May. It takes a while for a new home to have that “lived-in” feel, but I think we are getting there. Prior to living in the Heights, we lived in a neighborhood called Briargove, which is over by the Galleria.

The house that we lived in, in Briargrove, was not one that we owned or rented – it belonged to another church where I was serving. What became clear to us fairly quickly was that once we knew we were leaving that church to come to St. Andrew’s, we would also need to move out of the house, since it wasn’t ours. So, the circumstances surrounding our move were fairly abrupt. The HAR website became my new best friend, and each day I would scour it to see which houses were on the market in this area. 

We looked at many, and finally decided on one that is a few blocks away from St. Andrew’s, and subsequently we moved in shortly after. As I look back on the experience of moving a few months ago, it all seems like this big blur to me now, because it all happened so fast. We moved in a hurry. I have yet to meet a person who would claim that moving their home was an enjoyable experience. For most of us, moving entails all sorts of decisions to make – what to keep, or what to give away. Yet moving is also cleansing. It presents us that opportunity to finally go through closets left untouched, to go through the stuff we’ve accumulated over time, and ask ourselves – do we really still need this?

Moving is at the heart of the story from Exodus we hear today. God tells every Hebrew family in Egypt to prepare a lamb to eat in a very specific way. And God is clear that those who eat this lamb must be ready to go, ready to escape their slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt. Being ready to go in a hurry means that they are to eat this meal in their traveling clothes, with their shoes on, and walking staff in hand. They are about to move, and they need to be ready. 

It was an event now called Passover, which marked the protection of God’s people from the powers of death and their liberation from slavery. Today Passover remains one of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar in which every year faithful Jews remember death’s “passing over” the Hebrews so they might quickly flee Egypt. 

There is a sense of necessary restlessness with Passover. The Hebrews were restless in the Egyptian culture of fear, violence, and slavery. And those who celebrate Passover today acknowledge and own that ancient sense of restlessness is still with us today. If we understand words like “Egypt” and “Pharaoh” as references to any and every agent of oppression and abuse, whether that is in Mosul, Nigeria, or in our neighborhood, then understanding Passover invokes a necessary restlessness with the injustice of the world. That is the power of the urgent departure of the Hebrews from Egypt – if we are not restless, then we run the risk of acquiescing and becoming complacent in our own world. And then how easy it is for us, like the Hebrews, to become enslaved to the way things are. Moving is never easy. It certainly wasn’t for the Hebrews. But God calls us to be a restless people, ready to move against the evils that surround us.

I hope to live in this new house for a good long time. My family has moved four times in nine years, and we are ready to put down roots in this neighborhood. But I also know that there is a part of God that calls us to be restless, to never be content with the status quo. Passover reminds us that sometimes we need to hurry, sometimes we need to eat the lamb – because it is on our belly where we practice hurried departure and upon our doorposts that we mark our safety. If you are restless today, know that your restlessness is holy. Where is God calling you to move?