Updated: Jul 31, 2021
Well. We almost made it inside the church! And we are a little closer to what we once considered “normal” worship. We are here together, looking at half of one another’s faces, and, only moments ago, we shared the incomparable joy of welcoming new members into our parish family. If you think about it, that is so much more that we had last year – and it is much, much more than many of our ancient predecessors ever experienced in some of their attempts to faithfully worship the Lord our God and remain a family of believers.
We heard some of those stories tonight. We listened to the tale of how God created the world and all that is in it and blessed that creation, voicing the intention to care for it and to be in relationship with it forever. We retold the story of how God led the Israelites out slavery, saved them from the pursuing Egyptians and led them into the promised land. We took note that we are not the first to have fallen into the trap of thinking that wealth and power were more valuable than wisdom and fidelity. And we were fiercely reminded that it is God and God alone who can take what is dead and restore it to life.
We tell our stories each week as part of our Sunday worship, but once a year on this day we share history from the beginning of time all the way through the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. We do this to remind us of one simple fact: God is with us. God held humanity in his heart and in her mind before we existed, through our evolution, despite our rejection, and alongside every biological and historical transition that has befallen us – and God remains beside us now. Every story we tell imparts the same moral again and again and again – no matter we do, God will send help, relief, comfort, and new life – even in the face of death. We, of course, have our own stories, some just as compelling as those found in our Holy Scriptures – and tonight I want to share just one more story with you. It is a Grace story, and it is near to my heart tonight of all nights.
Amelia, Nate and Sondre Brooks arrived at Grace already a complete and beautiful family, but still, they hoped their family would grow and, in the fall of 2018 the received news that they would be adding to it. The church family eagerly awaited the birth of Frederick Brooks, expected in early 2019. Unfortunately, Frederick had severe challenges and was born early. Despite the best efforts of all involved, he passed from my arms into the arms of God in December. The pain of his loss was tremendous, and he was mourned by the entire congregation and all who know the Brooks family – and yet, throughout, God was present. God was present on the day he was born and on the day he died. God was present to his parents, his grandparents, and his brother. God is present in Frederick’s spirit, whom I feel visiting Grace often.
It was no surprise then when God made her presence known in a new way almost two years to the week when I received a text from Amelia telling me that a birth mother had chosen the Brooks family to adopt her child – and then a week or so later when we discovered that that child was, in fact, twin girls. Nor was it a surprise that those girls did not wish to wait for Epiphany to arrive. Two years after Frederick’s death, Amelia, Nate, Sondre and I were once again frantically texting one another – this time preparing for birth rather than death – and just as before, God was present.
The Easter Vigil begins in darkness, just as God’s creation did, just as we, made of the ground we now so arrogantly walk on, did as well. We move into the light not through our own ingeniousness, but through the saving illumination of God’s attention and forgiveness. The last story we tell tonight is the greatest miracle of all, the one in which God sends the light of Godself into the darkness in which human beings constantly find ourselves in order that we may live. When Jesus’s friends go to the tomb, expecting death, they instead find life, and the wonder of it frightens them.
When we are baptized, we accept both the awe of Jesus’s sacrifice for us and the terror that goes with it. We recognize that we are letting go of our human desires for power, privilege, and self-interest in order to be part of something bigger – to be part of a community of believers. Baptism unites us not to Christ, but to one another in Christ. Through baptism we die to our individual selves so that we can live as a community of one people, with one history, sharing our stories, our lives, and our love. AMEN.