Tonight we celebrate one of the most ancient, and in many traditions, the most important liturgies of the Church. This is the festival of the resurrection of our Lord – despite what you may have learned about Easter Sunday. Tonight is the night that we liturgically mark that shift from Lent and the Passion to our Lord and Savior’s Resurrection. The church gives us this incredible gift tonight, and our job is to hearken back to an innocent sense of awe as we realize what God does through Jesus Christ.
Luckily the Church helps us hearken back to that innocent sense of awe through the structure of the liturgy. I like to think the Church’s work in the Easter Vigil as being like that Grandfather in the movie The Princess Bride, who visits his sick grandson to read him a fantastic story. In that movie, the grandson is skeptical – that in fact his grandfather might be planning to read him a boring or sappy story. But the grandfather insists that this story is one of the greatest stories ever told – a story that his father read him, that he read to his son, and now, he would read to him.
The Church is like that grandfather to us tonight, who gathers up the grandchildren around him, and says, “Let me tell you a story. This story is greater than any other story you have ever heard. This story is full of intrigue and surprise, full of the primal elements, full of drama and passion, and full of twists and turns you do not expect. Do you want to hear the story?” And before the grandfather can even begin, the grandchildren are waiting with baited breath.
“Once upon a time, before there was time, or people, or even land or sky, the earth as we know the earth was a formless void – filled with watery chaos. God created the world as we know the world, and proclaimed that creation, ‘good.’ Sometime later, that world fell into sin and God used water to cleanse the whole earth through flood. To the one person God saved, God promised to never do such destruction again and made a covenant of protection. Much later, the people of God were fleeing a horrible fate – an awful leader who had enslaved the people. This time, God once again manipulated the water – both to save God’s people and to destroy those who wished to destroy God’s people. On the other side of the sea, on dry land, the people rejoiced. Later, the people fell away from God and although God was grieved, God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel. God told Ezekiel to reassemble the dry bones of God’s people, and to breathe new life into them. And the people lived again. Much later, when the people had become dispersed and disheartened, God proclaimed new hope. God proclaimed that God would gather God’s people again and would eliminate their despair.
“But after all of that – after creation and floods, after the division of the sea and the giving of new life to old bones, even after promising to save the people – after all of that, yet still the people of God lived in sin and in separation from God. And, knowing no other way, God did something so unexpected, so wonderful that we could never repay God. God sent God’s Son to live and breathe among us, to show us the way of faithful living and the way to eternal life. And as if that were not enough, that same Son was betrayed by his friends, mocked and reviled, and killed on a cross. That was a dark, painful time – darker and more painful than anything the people had known before. And so the people of God did the only thing they knew to do: they mourned, they hid in fear, and a few brave women went to tend to this precious gift they had been given, making his death as sacred as they knew how. But something amazing happened – something no one ever anticipated. The Son of Man, the Prince of Peace, the Messiah, Jesus was not there. And the disciples went from east to west, sharing the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”
At the end of the film The Princess Bride, the grandfather finishes the book, and tells his grandson to go off to sleep. The once skeptical grandson hesitantly addresses his grandfather, “Grandpa? Maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow.” His grandfather smiles and responds, “As you wish.” Those words are significant because in the story the grandfather tells, the main characters say, “As you wish,” as their code word for, “I love you.” Tonight, we too hear the story of our salvation, the great sweeping of our history with our Lord, and the salvific work of our Savior Jesus Christ, and we too find ourselves strangely warmed, longing to perhaps hear the story again. And to us, the Church says, “As you wish.” Amen.