March 31, 2018
Tonight, we keep the Easter Vigil. To keep vigil means to keep watch. On this holy night we keep vigil for our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, this isn't simply us playing pretend, keeping vigil at Jesus' tomb with great anticipation for his resurrection from the dead. Christians have been keeping vigil on the evening of Holy Saturday, to keep watch for the return of the resurrected Christ. This holy evening is an appropriate time for such a vigil, because the fact that Christ rose from the grave gives us assurance that he will also return in his risen form and give to us new life.
Yet, keeping vigil doesn't simply mean to stay awake. We need to be attentive. We stay attentive for Christ's resurrection and glorious return by focusing on God's Word. The lengthy Old Testament lessons we heard tonight all point toward the fact that Christ would rise from the dead bodily and give new hope to all who believe in him.
It is also a tradition to perform baptisms during the Easter Vigil, because of the beautiful connection St. Paul draws between Christ's death and resurrection and Baptism, as we just heard, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His." (Romans 6:3ff)
And so, it is especially appropriate that Callel, Carah, and Emily were brought to the saving waters of Baptism tonight. On this night we are keeping vigil by focusing on God's Word and the fulfillment of God's Word in Christ Jesus. Yet, the entire Christian life is a life-long vigil, keeping watch for the return of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Tonight Callel, Carah, and Emily began their holy vigil when they were baptized. Their entire life from now on will be one of hearing and learning God's Word and in-so-doing, they will be keeping watch, as our Lord Jesus warns, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." (Matthew 25:13)
Our first reading on which we meditated tonight was the creation account from Genesis 1 and 2. This historical record should always be on the mind of the Christian, as we confess in the creed, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." Our God is a powerful God. He created the entire universe with only his word! Which gives us confidence in the power of God's Word, to forgive, even to grant new birth to three small children with a few splashes of water! God is the source of all life and he is certainly able to give new life, as we know from the resurrection of Christ. God is the source of all things good. After each day of his creation, he called all his work, "good." So, we know that the new heaven and earth, which God will create to be our eternal habitation, will most certainly be good. All of our following meditations on Scripture must keep this in mind, that our God is the powerful creator of all things, that he exercises such power through his word, that he is the source of all life and can give new life, and that everything he does is good.
Our second meditation was on the flood account from Genesis chapters 7, 8, and 9. This account, perhaps above all others, shows us the necessity of our life-long vigil. Our Lord says in Matthew chapter 24, "For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. … Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." (vss. 37-39, 42) This certainly is a solemn warning. We can see ourselves being caught up in the cares of this world, distracted by eating and drinking, marriage, jobs, and pleasures, many of which are not sinful in and of themselves, but we permit these things to distract us from our vigil for our Lord. And if we fail to keep vigil, we will not be prepared, because no one knows when Christ will return to judge the living and the dead.
The flood also gives us a picture of Baptism, as St. Peter writes, "God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 3:20-21) Noah's flood is an historical event. It really did happen. Scripture declares it and even geological records verify it. Yet, this cataclysmic event also serves as a type of Baptism, that is, it gives us a visual lesson of what happens in Baptism.
God destroyed all life on earth through the flood because of the great wickedness and violence of mankind, as is made clear in Genesis chapter 6, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (vs. 5) Likewise, within hearts of Callel, Carah, and Emily, from their conception, was only sin and evil. They were inclined toward sin and unbelief and away from true faith in God. So, just as God washed away all sin in the great deluge, so also, he washed away all sin in the hearts of Callel, Carah, and Emily as water was poured upon their heads in Baptism. Of course, the little bit of water that wet their hair did not wash away their sins, but the Holy Spirit, who works through God's Word in the waters of Baptism did this.
And as Noah and his family were kept safe in the ark, separated from the wicked world and death, so Luther's Baptismal prayer requests that God grant that Callel, Carah, and Emily be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving God's name at all times with all believers in God's promise. Baptism places the baptized into the safety of the Church, where Christians keep vigil and are made a distinct people, separated by God from the unbelieving world. And so, in our meditation on Noah's flood, we recognize the great work God does and continues to do in Baptism.
Our third meditation was on God's deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea from Exodus chapter 14. This too connects to Baptism, as they entered the water as slaves, but came out free. And their slaveholders, who followed them into the sea drowned in the tides of the sea. And so, Callel, Carah, and Emily entered Baptism as slaves of Satan, sin, and death, but they emerged free citizens of heaven. And all sin and death was drowned in the Baptismal waters, even as Pharoah and his army were drowned in the Red Sea.
This is a wonderful illustration of Baptism. Yet, it is important to note that Israel did not enter immediately into the promised land after crossing the Red Sea. And neither do the baptized enter heaven immediately after Baptism. Rather, as Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years between their crossing of the Red Sea and final crossing of the Jordan River, so we baptized children of God must contend in the wilderness of this world, keeping vigil until we cross the Jordan into heaven. Baptism isn't a magic trick that gives salvation even to those who do not have faith. St. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 10, "For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness." (vss. 1-5)
And so, we should guard ourselves from the misleading notion that Baptism saves apart from faith. Those who cross through the Red Sea must keep constant vigil on God's Word lest they deny the salvation granted them in their Baptism.
Our fourth meditation is a favorite Bible story of many children. And why shouldn't it be? God's tremendous miracle kept the three men alive in a fiery furnace! Yet, our focus for this meditation is on the words of the three men before they were thrust into the fire. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." These three men had faith that God could save them from the fiery furnace, but they did not necessarily have faith that he would. Nevertheless, they refused to worship a false god. They would have rather burned to death than break their vigil. And they teach us a great lesson. God certainly is able to save you from many physical disasters. And he has no doubt rescued you from many calamities, most of which you are oblivious of. Yet, these three faithful teach us that nothing in this life is as precious as the heavenly gift God gives to those who trust him. It is better to die than deny Christ, who bought us.
Our final meditation is on the resurrection from John chapter 20. This is the event to which all Scripture points. And it is this historical event on which our vigil depends. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, "Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. … But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." (vss. 12-14, 20-22)
This is why we keep vigil! This is why we have faith that Christ will return and give new life to our mortal bodies. This is why we daily turn from our sins and remember our baptism, that we are joined to Christ's death and resurrection and shall experience eternal life without sin! This is why we come together on the first of the week every week to celebrate Christ's resurrection, because this gives us hope in our own resurrection! This weekly gathering is essential to our life-long vigil.
The resurrection of Christ is proof that what we heard Jesus suffer last night for our sins was not in vain. Our sins truly are washed away, and all who are joined to Christ in faith will live again. We look forward to Christ's return with hope. And through this hope we are given strength to watch another hour. Here we learn that our vigil is not in vain! May God bless your vigil this evening with increased faith and may he keep you in your vigil until you meet its glorious end. Christ is risen! Amen.