2T2he Story of Tonight
Easter Vigil 2018
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wilmington
May I speak in the name of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
For those of you who may not know my connection to St. Paul’s or why I’m preaching tonight, I have known Ronnie Wise, your choirmaster, since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. And one of the things that Ronnie has always instilled in everyone he has come in contact with is a love of the arts, and we can all thank him for helping to make this week truly holy. That being said, I love musical theater and I’ve had the opportunity to see Hamilton on Broadway twice now—I think Ronnie would be proud. For those of you who haven’t heard of this Tony Award winning musical you must have been in the tomb with Jesus for the past few years. Because truly it has taken the scene of our cultural landscape by storm. The musical chronicles the story of our 10-dollar founding father, Alexander Hamilton from his earliest beginnings to his demise at the hands of Vice-President Aaron Burr. But one particular song caught my attention the last time I saw the musical. The song is called, “The Story of Tonight.” In the song, Alexander and his comrades are preparing for the inevitable conflict with the British and they sit in a bar. They talk about how freedom is something the British could never take away, no matter what they are told. They remark in the song that the story of tonight is the story that will be told by their children and their children’s children into posterity.
I tell you this story of Alexander Hamilton and the American Revolution because I feel like we have found ourselves telling the ultimate story tonight. Where we left off yesterday all hopes had been dashed and all life from the body of our Lord had been taken. We had been left feeling written out of salvation’s script with nails piercing our God’s hands and a spear in his side. And yet, for some reason, for love so deep and so divine God came back. God chose to be reconciled to humanity through Christ by re-writing the story of tonight to make it the story of salvation. A story we will tell our children and our children’s children into posterity. This story so amazing, so divine, requires us to take stock in the moments and glimpses of salvation we have heard tonight.
My mother-in-law, the good Catholic lady that she is remarked that Easter Vigil isn’t for the faint of heart, and it isn’t. We have ran a marathon of Scripture and at the finish line we see the story isn’t over, for when all had been lost and all had been taken we found God there. We found the heart of Easter and the heart of faith in the tension between despair and hope… We found God in the heart of the cross and empty tomb because Christ is alive, Christ is alive forevermore, and in that abundance Christ offers abundance of life to us as well. The story of tonight is amazing grace made incarnate—It is that indescribable feeling of hearing the first hymn of Easter and knowing deep down that resurrection happened in the first century and happens in the twenty-first century.
The beauty of Easter is that the story of tonight is also the story of tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow. We are met with Christ’s triumphant victory over death, and the Eucharist at the table to remember that reality, and we find ourselves in communion with the saints of glory and the Triune God. But this Easter I am left with the reminder that Jesus did not tell Mary to stay at the tomb, but to go forth for God in the hope of telling others about what she had seen. The first preacher was a woman in whom the world saw nothing, but Christ saw hope. I wonder if perhaps that’s you, that you feel like Mary coming to the tomb tonight, not out of hope but out of despair and doubt.
If that is the case then you only need to find your Bible when you get home and flip to the stories we read, because these stories show us that God chose a people and God does not give up on the chosen of Israel. Through Christ’s blessing of resurrection we are made part of that covenant for the sake of a better world. Abram’s faith and Sarah’s story show us that through Christ the first Adam is redeemed and so are we. That’s always been the beauty of Scripture for me, that it’s not only the source of our knowledge of God but the source of our knowledge of each other. We see ourselves in Adam’s fall, in Moses’ call, in Ruth’s faith, in David’s song, in the prophet’s weeping, the sage’s keeping, the hope of time fulfilled in Mary and the fellowship of bread and wine. These stories are not just fairy tales but the story of all of us. The story of God come near and made known to ordinary and common folk. People who thought differently, crazy enough to believe that God could and would make a way. And the even crazier reality is that God did make a way—through the Christ we now call risen.
So this Easter, as you go from this place, as you take with you the Body and Blood of our Savior and the light of Christ that could not be overcome by death, may you also find anew the hope that God is not done with this world… A new day is coming, a new day is dawning, a new hope has been born out of death, that even amidst the tombs of our existence something new is happening. This hope, renewed through the beauty of the story of tonight tells us God has not given up and will never give up on the chosen people of God, from Genesis to the culmination of all things in time and space we know that God is with us and God is for us.
Take heart, because the story of tonight is the story of all of us, brought near to Christ and to the new creation of salvation through him. Take his body and his blood and find that in that story you who have been lost have been found, those of you who have been blind in the doubt and despair of Good Friday have found Jesus saying to you, “Greetings!” and in that Easter word of hope, we see the resurrection and life of the world to come forever and in abundance.
The story of tonight, is the story of life everlasting. So take, eat, remember and look forward. For both then and there, here and now, and there and then we will find Christ alive. Behold he is alive and alive forevermore, bringing to those who long for freedom the hope of resurrection. That’s the greatest hope, that despite everything going on in our world the future is redeemed and restored. So let us work to make this place and space in Wilmington North Carolina a story of resurrection. We have work to do, but may we do so in the livelihood of resurrection.
When I was little, I remember the first time I had a realization that I was going to die. I was in the back of my mom’s green minivan and had what later we would diagnose as my first bipolar panic attack. I was so scared of dying that I was screaming and whaling in the van and my mom, not knowing what was going on pulled off and held me close. She told me that though the world seem oft so wrong, God is the ruler yet. That though I would one day face death I could have hope that Jesus faced death too.
Years later I was driving here to preach to you, and my wife Stephanie and I were talking theology. She remarked, “Isn’t it worth preaching that Jesus experienced the fullness of everything we could ever experience?” Let those words be your story tonight: That Christ would go to Hell and back to retrieve you and me, and in so doing the whole of Creation was reconciled to God.
This is the hope of our eternal story—We will face tragedy and despair, and in that tension we will even face death. But Christ’s victory this night shows us that nothing at all can keep us from the love of God made evident in the empty tomb. The story of tonight can be found in the words of John 1: The light shined in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. It tried, but it failed. “Where O death is thy victory? Where O death is thy sting?”—Paul would later write, and thanks be to God, that is the story we can tell the world. Amen, and Amen.