April 4 2015 Sermon Vigil
“For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you.” (Isaiah 54:7)
The Easter Vigil, was the first official celebration of Christ’s resurrection in the ancient church. Frequently, it was during this service that people were baptized and that adult catechumens were received into full communion with the Church. It is held in the hours of darkness between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Day—most commonly in the evening of Holy Saturday. During the Vigil we get our first glimpse of hope. Beginning in the darkness of Good Friday there bursts forth light from our Savior’s empty tomb and then we hear for the first time the Easter Proclamation: Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! From nothing there comes everything!
In the sixth century BC Israelites who are exiled in Babylon underwent the same experience; they go from darkness to light, from death to life. Our text puts it this way: “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isaiah 54:7).
Isaiah 54 says that Zion had no children, no family, and no husband. Her city had been destroyed, her cupboards were bare, and her hopes were diminished. She had absolutely nothing.
This sorry state of affairs is not confined to Zion. It is all around us. “Complete nothingness,” cries the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Paul agrees, “All have turned away; they have together become worthless” (Romans 3:12). Every passing year is marked with bombs, bloodshed, and brokenness; death, decay, and destruction; more tears, terror, and trauma.
Enter the Lord, the Husband, Maker, Holy One, Restorer, the God of all the earth. His Servant Jesus performed His first miracle when partygoers looked at their supply of wine and saw nothing. Then there was the widow at Nain, the daughter of Jairus, blind Bartimaeus, the Canaanite woman, Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, and the familiar words, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish” (John 6:9).
Even Jesus himself says, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). The King of kings, He becomes a slave. The Creator, He is spit on by His creatures. The originator of light, for three hours He hangs in the darkness. The source of life, He is crucified, died, and was buried. Jesus went from the pinnacle of praise in the universe to the ultimate, absolute nothing.
Because of the Servant’s selfless sacrifice, Zion’s precious children will be renewed. Her tents, once destroyed, are not only restored but also expanded. A new family is begun in a city now safe and prosperous. God’s reversal of Zion’s shame is complete. The barren one gives birth to many children. “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you.” In our readings tonight we heard about Noah in the great flood when there was nothing left. We heard about Abraham when he was to sacrifice his son. We heard about the Israelites slaves in Egypt. We heard about the bones of dead men strewn across the desert floor. And we heard of God’s acts of salvation, how he saved his people, how he turned the darkness of nothing into a great light.
These restorations prefigure God’s greatest act of salvation, Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Because Jesus is alive, in Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit delivers the blessings of rich, cleansing forgiveness that comes from the Servant’s wounds. (Colossians 2:10).
“For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you.” After death there is resurrection! And this means God, plus absolutely nothing, equals absolutely everything! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.