"Baptism tells us who we are and who we are becoming," wrote John the Deacon 1,500 years ago. For most people, including many church members, the idea that identity is based on Baptism is a new one. We have so many way of determining our identity -- in fact, we have many identities. Gender, nationality, race, age, occupation, economic level, marital and parental status; all of these give us identities. But our gathering for the Great Vigil of Easter is about another identity, one which encompasses and transcends all the others.
Paul reminds us that when we were baptized we were baptized into the death of Christ. We have been buried with Christ by Baptism into death. Death means nothing less than the total loss of identity. But, Paul continues, this death into which we have been baptized happens so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so we too might walk in newness of life. We will, says Paul, certainly be united with Christ in a resurrection like his. We need to know that the verbs referring to death are in the past, we have already died. The verbs referring to resurrection mean an action which has begun and will be completed in the future.
Our old, rebellious, sinful identity is gone. A new identity is emerging and that identity is life in the resurrection of Christ. It is composed of all those partial identities as they are redeemed and grafted into the dying and rising of Jesus.
In the three-day period of the Christian Passover celebration the church has enacted this process liturgically. On Thursday we began a series of liturgical rites in which by word and sacraments, ceremonies and symbols, we saw the church die. The church, which is us, was finally -- at the end of the Good Friday liturgy -- dead. The building was dark, the sacraments were gone, and we departed without even a dismissal or a blessing.
Then in this night, before dawn, the church gathered. Light sprung up in darkness for the godly as we celebrated the New Fire and lighted the Paschal Candle. Then the praises of this night were sung in a great hymn, recalling the night Israel crossed the Red Sea and was saved by God from Pharaoh's might; the night of the new Passover of Christ from death into life, the night of the believer's passover into life in Christ. And then we sat down and began to tell our story.
Just as a married couple on their 50th wedding anniversary will tell the old stories of their courtship, wedding, and married years, listen to the playing and singing of "their song," and share their favorite meal, perhaps the meal they had on their honeymoon; so the church keeps it anniversary night. We tell our old stories and sing our old songs -- our creation, our being saved out of the flood, our ancestor Isaac's sacrifice, our crossing of the Red Sea, our prophetic vision of a new covenant which will restore us to God's kingdom and bring us with all the human race, not back to the garden we lost in our disobedience, but to a city prepared for us; and to the assembly of the firstborn in heaven, to an altar filled to overflowing with good things, and to a Lamb slain for the world's redemption and risen and living ever more.
Who are we, what is our identity? We are the people of that story. As that people our life is bound up with God in Christ. We are the restored man and woman of paradise, those saved by God through the waters, the dearly beloved children whose death is redeemed by the Lamb, the children saved through the waters of the Red Sea, the inheritors of the new covenant in God's Kingdom. Step by step that story unfolds during the Great Vigil, and the body of Christ which died on Good Friday begins stirring to life again.
Then we surrounded the font. We renewed the promises of our Baptism along with those who came to Baptism this day. Into its waters descended those who had been preparing for this day, Their old life died in that font and the church from the waters of death gave birth from the font to new members of the body of Christ: to new Christs, anointed and signed with the cross.
Now it is complete and we can once again proclaim the gospel of the resurrection. That first resurrection when the women went to the tomb, found the stone rolled away from its entrance, met an angel who proclaimed that Jesus was not there but had risen, and as they ran to tell the others they met him risen from the dead. And we proclaim the gospel of our own ongoing resurrection, our story of becoming who and what God made us in Baptism.
Like the prodigal son we are received into our home. Like the laborers in the vineyard who came only at the eleventh hour, we are given the same full reward of eternal life given to our Lord who las labored from the beginning. Like the man born blind we are given vision to recognize Jesus as our Savior. Like the woman at the well we receive living water springing up in us to eternal life. Like Mary Magdalene we are healed and restored to our true nature. Like Saul of Tarsus the scales fall from our eyes and we find a new way of serving God. Like Peter we are forgiven our betrayals of our Lord and restored and sent out to feed his sheep. The story goes on and on. And so we come to the culminating action. The final fulfillment of our redemption is, indeed, yet to come, but this moment anticipates that great day when Jesus will say to us, "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world." A table is prepared. Not, to be sure the Table of the marriage feast of the Lamb, and yet it is more like that Table than unlike it. Here we meet Christ face to face though hidden under the forms of bread and wine. Here Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us so that we may keep the feast of feast. Here our way and our truth and our life rises us up and gives us new life.
Glory to Christ forever and ever! Amen. Alleluia!