Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why Is This Night Different from Every Other Night?

RCL Easter Vigil
7 April 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            As we gather on this most holy of nights, our Jewish sisters and brothers are continuing their celebration of Passover, the commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt and their exodus into the freedom of the Promised Land.  For Jews this is a domestic celebration and around dining tales throughout the world traditional dishes will be share with prayer and with song and with story.

            At an early point in the meal the youngest person at the table will ask the famous question, “Why is this night different from every other night?”  This question will open the door to the stories of the exodus and Jews will fulfill the obligation to share these stories from generation to generation until that great Passover when the Messiah comes to bring God’s eternal reign of justice and peace.

            Genuine religious faith is not afraid of questions.  Questions give rise to a search for meaning and to a wonder at the depth and variety of our existence.  Our searching leads to discoveries, revelations and to more questions.  We are drawn to the mystery we call God as surely as moths are drawn to light and newborns to the scent of their mothers.

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            For Christians this is the night when we sing the great Easter proclamation known as the Exsultet after its opening word, “Rejoice!”  I still remember the first time I heard the Exsultet:  April 1979 as Saturday the 14th gave way to Sunday the 15th.  It was the moment when I fell in love with worship as a means to experience the love of God.

            In the version of the Exsultet I first heard, there is a phrase which disappeared from the version we have in our service book:  “Accept this Easter candle, the work of your creatures, the bees.”  It is an omission that I regret.

            We tend to be so focused on our own bondage, whether to sin, to fear or to death, that we forget that all of God’s creatures are in bondage to those things which we have done and to those things which we have not done.  Throughout the world plant species are declining because the bees that pollinate them are dying, some due to our pollution of the environment.  As human beings encroach on the ‘wild places’ of the earth, some predators and scavengers seek food in our garbage dumps and our homes, becoming dangers to be hunted down and, if not relocated, killed.

            This is the night when the Exsultet reminds us that all creation needs liberation --- not from its sin but from the sins of humanity.  When we sing the Exsultet, regardless of which version we use, we renew our commitment to live simply so that other creatures may simply live.

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            This is the night when Christians acknowledge that the new life promised by God’s raising of Jesus from the dead has come in response to human disobedience and evil.  It is an admission that requires humility and courage.

            In the oldest forms of the Exsultet there is a line:  “O blessed iniquity!  That such a sin should merit such a Saviour!”  Christians, on this night, are unafraid to speak of humanity’s ancient sin:  the desire to be God rather than rejoice in being one of God’s beloved creatures and stewards of creation.  We dare to speak of this deep-seated fault boldly, because we know that God’s power to redeem, to renew and to transfigure is far greater than our power to destroy, to alienate and to stagnate.

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            This is the night when we join Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his simple profession of the Easter faith:

Good is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours,
through Christ who loves us.

            This is the night when we proclaim that the good news of God in Christ is good news to all of God’s creatures who suffer from the consequences of human sin.

            This is the night when we proclaim that the new life we celebrate comes only because we have loved the works of selfishness and division more than the works of compassion and reconciliation.

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            Because Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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