Great Vigil of Easter: 2013 update

(For the fire and water demo that accompanies this sermon, see last year’s offering:

New fire and living water. Extremes of existence, held together by the cross and the resurrection, like life and death.

Fire. It falls from the heavens and scorches the earth. It burns out of control, terrifying; yet without it, we would have no life, no earth, nothing. The sun, a burning ball of fire, gives us light, warmth, the conditions we need for life on this, its third orbiting planet. Fire even delights us, whether through the comfort of a homely fireplace or the excitement of a firework display; it adds to our enjoyment of life.

Water. Soothing, refreshing, life-giving. We play in it, luxuriate in it. Our bodies are more than half made of it. Yet when it is contaminated, it kills; when it is scarce, we fight over it and worry for it; and when it breaks loose, like the archetypal flood, the waters before creation, the terrifying deep, it burns like fire and drowns all that it touches.

Fire and water. Life and death. Extremes which shouldn’t be able to play together. Yet, in the very beginning, the Spirit which fell like fire on the disciples brooded on the surface of the deep waters to bring not destruction but creation. In the person of Jesus, humanity and divinity, the mortal and immortal, life and death, flesh and spirit were made into one being.

By his death on the cross and his resurrection, by the mystery of the tomb emptied overnight of death, Jesus showed how fire and water, life and death, mortality and immortality, the creation and its Creator can come together, held together in the cross and the resurrection, the cross which we mark with oil on the heads of the newly baptized; the resurrection which overcomes death.

The waters of baptism, and the fiery anointing of the Spirit, come together in the shadow of the cross of Christ, the sign and sacrament of God’s grace, God’s love for us, God with us.

We began Lent, forty days and six Sundays ago, by marking our faces with ashes, those signs of our own mortality, of the dying of the light, the remains of the fire.

When we are united with Jesus in death, we are united with him in resurrection. When we bear the sign of the cross anointed with oil on our foreheads, we hold the cross and the resurrection together in our own bodies, our own lives. We are sinners, forgiven. We draw mortal breaths, filled with eternal life. We are transformed, and our lives are no longer our own, but they are God-given and thanksgiven and we live no longer for ourselves alone but for God and for one another.

We began Lent by marking our faces with ashes, the dying of the light, the remains of the fire.

Now, as we baptize and renew our own baptismal vows, we wash our faces clean, so that they might reflect the new fire, the Paschal candle, the signs of the eternal life that we live with God, the divine spark within each one of us, fire and water by the grace of the cross and resurrection burning together.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Saviour: Amen.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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