Re-telling the Story of God's Love at the Easter Vigil

This year at the Easter Vigil we replaced the traditional readings with four stories about God’s love before we gathered around the Easter Gospel.


THE STORY OF GOD’S LOVE: GOD LOVES US INTO BEING

Imagining nothing is as hard as imagining everything.

Our story began with nothing.  No people, no birds, no fish.  No Merewether, no Australia, no world, no universe.  Nothing.  Or so it seemed.  In fact, right at the beginning there was everything, because there was God.

It is too hard to imagine nothing, it is even harder to imagine everything.  So our story is punctuated with pictures that help us to point to what it must have been like, when the God who is everything created something out of nothing.

Darkness became light; barrenness became fertile. Silence was replaced by the sounds of animals and birds. Stillness was pushed aside as fish began to swim and plants began to drive through the earth and out into the light of day.  Timelessness began to tick as seconds were created which formed into minutes, and then hours and days and months and years.  And in every moment of this new time God’s work of creating continued.

We do not know the mechanics of how all of this came to be, except that the pictures which have been passed on to us (down through the centuries) are clear that none of this happened simply by chance.

And at the heart of the story, at the centre of the arena of this new life, our ancestors emerged – the first man, and the first woman.  In our picture language we remember those first people who were showered with the love of God.  And we imagine what it must have been like back then, in the dream time of our tradition, to walk closely with God as if we were one with him, as we will one day be.  Even though we can hardly get our minds around it, that is how our story begins, in the creating actions of God.

In fact, creating is so much a part of God, that everything that was made was given the ability to participate in the ongoing work of creating.  This ability to be part of creating points to God’s DNA alive and well within us.  But the problem with creating is that it can be a bit ‘hit and miss’.  We can create paths that lead to nowhere, or worse still, paths that lead to destruction.  We can create ways to love God, but we can also create ways to ignore him.  Remember the problems that are created in our story when people start eating apples and listening to snakes, and showing off by building towers into the sky?

And yet all of these diversions which we create, fade into momentary insignificance when see them in the whole (much bigger) story of which we are a part: the story of God’s creating, which began in the beginning and which continues into the future.

On this holy night we remember that our story begins in God’s creating love.  And we remember too, that that creating goes on through each of one of us as well.

On this night we remember God’s love.  Blessed be God forever.

THE STORY OF GOD’S LOVE: GOD LOVES US INTO FREEDOM

Journeys are important for all of us.  They take us from the place where we have been, to the place that we are going to. 

We often find out about other people’s journeys in order to better understand our own.  Before we set out on a journey, we ask people who have travelled to places that we are going to what the best route will be, what we should stop and see on the way, and how long the journey will take.  After we have been on a journey we compare what happened for us, to what happened for others.  That is why our story is made up not only of what we have experienced ourselves, but also the journeys of the people around us, and the people who were here before us.  Our story is the story of the journey of the whole of humanity, seen through the spectacles of God’s love for us.

Thousands of years ago our ancestors in the faith (who sought to follow God) found themselves on a terrifying journey.  They had travelled to Egypt when times had been hard in their own land.  And for a time they had lived well amongst the Egyptians.  But as times and leaders changed, the Egyptians began to treat them like slaves, and made them work very hard without any rewards.

Then God called a man named Moses, who was a very unlikely leader, to be his spokesperson.  It did not matter than Moses had not been trained to be the leader, because God was making all of the plans behind the scenes.  Moses went to Pharaoh and told him that God had had enough of how he was treating the people, and that they were leaving.  At first Pharaoh said “no” but when it became clear that God wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer, the people began their journey.

They wandered out of Egypt, but Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his soldiers after them to bring them back again, after all there was no one left to do all the nasty jobs which the Israelites had been doing.  When the Israelites reached the Red Sea it looked like their journey had come to an abrupt end.  But then God gave them a big surprise.  He moved the waters so that the people could cross where the sea had been, and he closed the waters again so that the Egyptians could not follow them.

At first the Israelites thought that their journey had come to an end, but they soon learnt that they would be travelling for a very long time.  They wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and God was with them the whole time, even though sometimes they did not remember that he was.

Finally they came to the River Jordan, the river which separated them from the land that they wanted to live in.  Again, God surprised them.  Just as had happened at the Red Sea forty years earlier, God made the River Jordan to stop, so that the people could cross on dry land.  Many, many years after those ancient ancestors crossed the River Jordan, Jesus went to the same place in the river so that he could be baptised.  It was from that river that he started the journey which ended with the events which we have journeyed through this week.

On this holy night we remember that we are not the first people on a journey with God, and we are not the only people on that journey.  But just as God was with our ancestors, so too (even when we don’t realise it) God is with us as well, on our journey towards being truly free in him.

On this night we remember God’s love.  Blessed be God forever.

THE STORY OF GOD’S LOVE: GOD LOVES US INTO PURPOSE

God has given us his purpose – that is what our story is all about.

As incredible as it might sound, the God who created us has learnt to share his purpose with us along the journey, and we (and our ancestors before us) have begun to learn how to respond to it as well.  The purpose which God has given us, is to love him and to love one another – mirroring his love for each one of us.

For the people who needed something more concrete with a little more detail, God inspired stone tablets which outlined in a kind of holy summary how we were to live out that purpose.  And for those who thought it was important for all of this to be written down, guiding principles and laws have been developed from those stone tablets in each generation of our story.  For the people who needed something that they could touch and feel, God inspired liturgy and movement and music to express the same things in different ways.

The way that our ancestors lived out our purpose of loving God and others has developed and grown within particular contexts and cultures.  But no matter which way God’s purpose, (and our participation in it) was expressed, our ancestors in the faith kept forgetting about it when something more exciting came along.   And of course, what was true for them is true for us as well.

So in every generation of our story men and women have emerged to call us back to God’s purpose for us.  Speaking out can get you into all kinds of trouble, and men and women who have bravely spoken out for God have ended up being persecuted for it.   When Jeremiah saw our ancestors in the faith worshipping other gods, he warned them that if they did not stop, God would wipe Jerusalem from the face of the earth, so that all that remained was a pile of rubble, a kind of monument to their stupidity.  When Hosea saw the corruption of the religious leaders in his time he pointed to the way that a moth destroys wool, to warn them of what would happen if they did not reform their actions.  It is little wonder that these men, and others, got themselves into trouble.

Our story is punctuated with the voices of men and women seeking to call people back to a more faithful way of living for God.  These men and women were not so much evangelists (sharing God’s news for the first time), but more like representatives of God, calling people back to commitments that they had already made.  In our story we call these people ‘prophets’.  And these prophets have not just existed in the past, there are prophets with us today.

Sometimes we hear them in our own story, in the life of the Church.  Sometimes we hear them in other stories, from other religious movements or traditions.  Sometimes their message seems to have no outwardly religious flavour to it at all, and yet what they have to say resonates with what we believe to be true.  These prophets are the ones that keep the message of the love of God alive when religious ritual and religious bureaucracy have begun to forget about it.

Both now and then these prophets are the ones who ask the difficult questions, about how religious people can continue to feel good about themselves when the poor are hungry, and the orphans and widows are left lonely and without new families; and when the structures of society work for the good of the most powerful, but not those who are on the margins; and when the world that God created is being destroyed more quickly than it regenerate itself because of greed and carelessness.  Again and again in our story these men and women have reminded us, and continue to remind us that when people truly ‘hang around God’ this will be shown not only by their praying, but also in their actions.

On this holy night we remember that we have been given a purpose: to love God and to love one another.  And we thank God that knowing his great love for us, the prophets throughout our story, have continually called us back to him.

On this night we remember God’s love.  Blessed be God forever.

THE STORY OF GOD’S LOVE: GOD LOVES US INTO COMMUNITY

The stories that most attract us normally have a happy ending.  They point to the fact that whatever else happens all will be well in the end. Many of the stories which Jesus told did not fit into that pattern, which is why they sometimes leave us feeling uneasy.   Some of Jesus’ stories simply leave us wondering.  Did the Good Samaritan ever return to pay the bill?  Are relationships ever restored between the Prodigal Son and his faithful older brother?  Jesus deliberately leaves these kinds of stories open ended because they are stories about us, the Church.

On this holy night, as we hear again the story of God’s love, from the beginning of creation, and through the many experiences of those who have gone before us, expressed for us most completely in the life of Jesus, we not only look backwards to the story of our salvation, but forwards to God’s work through us tomorrow.  Gathering here this evening, hearing again the story of God’s love, we create another moment in the part of the story that has not yet been written.

When the first Christians tried to make sense of what they had experienced in Jesus they looked back to the words of the prophets for a vocabulary and a framework for what they wanted to say.   These first followers of Jesus were able to find in the sayings of the prophets phrases and images which resonated with their experience of God at work in all that Jesus had done.  In the centuries since Jesus walked on this earth the community of his Church has looked back, not only to experiences of the first followers of Jesus, and the prophets before them, and our ancestors in the faith before them, but also to God’s actions through each successive generation of the Church.

Now we, who have been gathered by the Spirit of God, as this community of faith look back to what we have inherited, in order to find the words and the images to better express our experiences of God at work in our lives and in our city.  And as a community, gathered as the body of Jesus, we remember with grateful thanks that whenever we tell the story of God’s love, the memory of all those who have journeyed before us will be present amongst us.

On this holy night we remember that God has given us this community in which we can continue to gather to tell the story of God’s love, a story that does not just look backwards, but looks forward in anticipation as well.

On this night we remember God’s love.  Blessed be God forever.

Lord of all life,
We thank you that the telling of your story
confirms in us your great love,
and gives us resolve to celebrate these Easter mysteries
with reverence and joy.

In the power of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.