Sacrifice, Promise, and New Life: An Easter Homily in Three Parts

Homily, Sacrifice, Promise, and New Life: An Easter Homily in Three Parts
The Great Vigil of Easter, 2023
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Tequesta, FL

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]
Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac]
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea]
Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]
Romans 6:3-11
Psalm 114
Matthew 28:1-10

Homily on Death: A Call to Sacrifice

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Abraham and Isaac as they made their journey along the road to the mountain of Moriah? Can you imagine all they were carrying? Not only the wood and the fire and the knife, but the emotional weight of the whole thing. The fear. The confusion. The pain. They carried it all, together, until they reached the place of sacrifice. The place of death.

Centuries later Jesus would walk that same path and call us to do the same, “take up your cross and follow me,” he says. Follow the road to Moriah, follow the road to Golgotha. The road to death. Is God so obsessed with death that God demands it us from us?

But notice in these stories that death is never the end. Death does not have the final word. While Isaac is laid on the altar, he gets back up again. While Jesus is laid in the tomb, he comes back out again. So is it really death to which God is calling us? Or is God calling us through death? 

Perhaps God is calling us through death so that we might lay down our vulnerabilities, pains, and worries on the altar and pick up something new. Perhaps God is calling us through death so that we can lay down our suffering and find relief. Perhaps God is calling us through death so that we might make a sacrifice of our own mortality, an offering to God of our whole selves, withholding not even the darkest places of our lives. Perhaps God is not hungry for death, but the abundant life that comes just on the other side.

Tonight, we in the darkness of this place, like Abraham and Isaac, like Jesus and so many others through the centuries, are here to make a sacrifice. Not a physical sacrifice of our bodies. But a spiritual sacrifice of ourselves. We are here to make an offering of our own mortality. An offering of our own pain. An offering of all the dark places in our lives. Rather than ignoring our suffering or denying our vulnerability or pretending we’re immortal, tonight we look into the face of our own mortality. We stand here at the edge of death, knowing not what is on the other side, but withholding nothing of ourselves from God, trusting in God’s loving wisdom. Tonight with Jesus, we walk through death.

Homily on Resurrection: A Promise of New Life

Can you imagine what it must have been like to look through the eyes of Ezekiel into the wide valley of dry bones? Can you imagine the utter grief and despair? Can you imagine the heaviness of death palpable in the air? The reality of mortality written there in the destruction laid across the valley.

It was a feeling familiar to Ezekiel and the people of Israel. They had walked through that same valley of death and been exiled from their own land. Their hope had been vanquished and the only thing they felt sure about was their own mortality. 

But then God spoke to Ezekiel, “Mortal, prophesy to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” And the bones rattled and joined together. They were filled with flesh and skin. And new life came into them. “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. I am going to open your graves.” 

And in that moment, hope was birthed again. The people of Israel had walked through the valley to the very edge of death, but now God had offered them a promise. The promise of resurrection.

Tonight, in the darkness of this place, we receive that promise. Tonight as we approach the edge of death itself, we receive that promise of new life. We receive that promise of new breath. Tonight as we wait with Jesus in the tomb and the valley of dry bones, we receive that promise of resurrection. 

Homily on Easter

Can you imagine the awe-inspiring wonder that filled the souls of the women in the empty tomb as this mysterious and angelic figure proclaimed to them the good news? Can you imagine how their mourning gave way to rejoicing? How their sorrow gave way to celebration? Jesus is alive. The tomb is empty. Death is no more. 

And then on their way to tell the disciples they encounter Jesus himself, who speaks to them, “Greetings. Do not be afraid.” What a sign of favor! What a privilege! To be first at the resurrected Jesus’ feet? What bestowed upon these women such an honor?

Perhaps it was because when all the men fled, when all the men had disappeared, unable or unwilling to to look at death in the face, the women gathered there at the foot of the cross. They walked the full path. They made the full journey with Jesus to the very edge of death and looked not only upon Jesus’ suffering but their own mortality. As he drew his last breath, they saw themselves die along with him. And having been there to die with Jesus, they were there to live again with him.

See, often we want to avoid the painful places in our lives and so we with the Jesus’ twelve disciples run and hide. But if we walk the full path. If we make it to the mountain of Moriah and the hill of Golgotha, and through the valley of dry bones and the dark tomb, we not only receive the promise of resurrection, but with Jesus we experience the joy of new life itself. But we have to make the full journey in offering our mortality to God and receiving the promise of resurrection from God. 

This is the meaning of baptism. Just as Christ is lowered into the grave, when we are lowered into the water we are face to face with our own mortality. We acknowledge all of our brokenness and suffering. Our sins, our pains, our griefs. And just as Christ is raised from the grave, when we come back up from the water we experience healing and new life.

We are lowered. We are raised. We are brought down. We are lifted up. This is the rhythm of baptism. This is the rhythm of Easter. This is the rhythm of the Christian life. And tonight as we were sprinkled with water to remind us of it, may we continue to be reminded daily of this rhythm. Tonight, in the light of this place, we are being called to live into this rhythm. 

This is the message of Easter. Christ has died. Christ is risen. And with him we have died. And we are risen. Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!