Easter Vigil Homily 2016
I have often been drawn to a good campfire, whether it’s on the beach or in the woods, or at a picnic area or even in someone’s backyard. There is something comforting about standing in front of a fire, hearing the wood sizzle and crackle, and watching the sparks flit up on the bellows of the heat, rising up and suddenly disappearing into the darkness. For someone like myself who lives in the relative safety and comfort of the United States, a campfire is not a necessity but a luxury that one can enjoy. It is a special event enjoyed on a summer’s eve or a winter’s snowy deck. Of course, that is not the case in other parts of the world today: a campfire is used for warmth, for cooking, for cleaning, for protection. I suppose to, I wouldn’t have to travel to far back in time along my own ancestry to find the same within my family’s history. Fire – it’s light, it’s heat, it’s warmth, even it’s cleansing and destructive power is part of our human history and DNA.
So it is fitting tonight for us to first come together and commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ with a Service of Fire and Light. Of course, Christ referred to Himself as the Light of the World. It is easy enough to see in the light of this Easter candle the reality of the words sung by our deacon, “Christ our light” as we entered the darkened church. He is our true light and our salvation. To Him be glory, now and forever. But we should not forget the fire from which this light was ignited and Jesus other words, “I have come to set the world on fire and how I wish it were already blazing!” Fire brings light, but it also brings destruction. Fire brings warmth, but it also burns. It also cleanses. It also purifies.
Do you recall the words of the prayer over the fire this evening? We prayed that the fire of Christ’s glory, which has been bestowed on us, would inflame us with heavenly desire so as to attain eternal splendor. Powerful words. Life-changing words. Empowering words. But, there is a hesitancy I think in all of us to throw ourselves too fully into the fire of Christ’s glory. It’s almost as if we say to ourselves, “I’m not too sure if I want to be that much aflame for the Lord.” It’s as if we know both the benefits and the cost. You see fire of Christ works both ways: it both empowers us and it cleanses us. In order for a fire to work, it needs fuel. It means that there has to be some destruction in my life from the way of myself and into the way of Christ. It means that I have to trust enough to jump into the fire and not just stand on the periphery allowing the fire of Christ to only illumine that part of me that is facing his light. It means that I have to place myself in the middle of His light so that I am fully illuminated by his glory and by his offer of salvation and be open to change, to conversion, to the destruction of sin in my life.
In a few minutes, we will renew our baptismal promises. We will do so holding a lit candle, renouncing sin and professing our faith in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But before that we will witness the baptism of Steve Work, who after months of prayer, preparation, and discernment has asked to be baptized, Confirmed, and welcomed to the Eucharist. We will be happy witnesses of Steve’s dying to sin, entering the tomb of baptism, and rising with Christ to new life. In his baptism, we will see echoes of our own baptism, our own destruction to the ways of selfishness and sin and our own rebirth to new life. Steve will be “born again” is spirit and life. As we then hold the light of Christ in front of ourselves in our renewal of baptism, may we gaze into the flame and ask Christ’s glory to inflame us to be members of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own,” ones who announce the praises” of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.” May our answer to each of the questions we here be a resounding “I do” to the praise and glory of God now and forever. Amen