O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s Resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and the Truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
On Easter Vigil, we celebrate the Passover of the Lord, the night in which Jesus Christ passed over from death to life. In this celebration, we remember how God’s saving works throughout history serve as signs to us of Christ’s salvation of all nations by the water of Baptism. In other words, we do not read these long Old Testament accounts every year just to test who stays awake and who falls asleep! No, we read them as reminders that God is in the business of saving his people from slavery and exile. Every time the LORD saves his Chosen People in the Old Testament, it points to the future fulfillment of His promise to save them once and for all, by His saving Grace freely received through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, sealed by the waters of Baptism. As Saint Augustine famously said, “The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.”
The New Passover
In the book of Exodus, we read the account of the first Passover, where God led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. God spared the firstborn of the Jews by the blood of the Passover lamb, which was painted on their doorposts, and by this final plague Pharaoh allowed the people of Israel to go free from the land of Egypt. Yet once the LORD led the Israelites through the wilderness toward the Red Sea, Pharaoh was angered at his defeat, and the Egyptian army marched after them. The tiny convoy of former slaves, pinned between the mighty Red Sea and the most formidable army on the planet, was saved by the LORD then a second time. For the LORD instructed Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, and God parted the waters, so that the people of Israel could cross on dry ground. And when the Egyptians chased after them, the LORD brought the waters down upon them; and so, the Israelites were set free.
Jesus, by his perfect life, death, and resurrection, became for us the new Passover lamb. At the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the Passover meal into a feast of His Body and Blood, which he sacrificed for us on the cross as the new Passover Lamb. Just as the blood of the lamb saved the Israelites from God’s wrath, so too does God save His People now through faith in the blood of the Perfect Lamb, Jesus Christ. And just as God parted the waters of the Red Sea to save His People, so too does God in Christ bring those who believe through the waters of Baptism into everlasting life.
“So what?” you may be asking. “I have everything I need,” you tell yourself. In fact, the prophet Isaiah answers these questions with a question of his own, a question as relevant for us today as it was back then: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2)? This is a question we should all keep in mind and answer honestly.
Isaiah was speaking words of comfort to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity, prophesying a new Exodus out of Babylon but more importantly, calling the people out of spiritual captivity. The great irony of their situation was that for all the desire to return back to the Promised Land, the Israelites would never truly be free unless they turned to the LORD! And so, it is with us.
You may think, or you may hear, that Christianity is an oppressive, patriarchal religion full of rules designed to make you miserable! That you can be truly happy if you just find your “authentic self.” Sisters and brothers, while the Christian life does indeed require self-sacrifice, the religion of American culture is a far more oppressive master than any conception of so-called Christianity. And a religion it is, indeed.
The religion of American culture promises everything and delivers nothing. The promise? Just cast aside the oppression of social norms, and family values, and gender roles, and hard work; free yourself from everything restricting you and live your most authentic life!
The reality? You get the impossible task of defining who you are by staring into the void.
You get the burden of trying to summon happiness out of nothing, without any of the duty or responsibility that makes true happiness possible.
You get endless virtue signaling about race, sexuality, politics, and the environment, with your hopes and dreams tied to the next election, the next Supreme Court vote, the next law passed, or the next demonstration.
You get to spend your days trying to earn the approval of people who do not care about you on social media.
You get to work more to earn more money to take out loans to buy things you do not need (and do not really want in the first place) with money you do not have to impress people you do not like.
Think about it this way: we belong to the wealthiest generation of people in all of human history. We have a standard of living that far surpasses that of the most powerful people even one hundred years ago. We have nicer cars, bigger televisions, better phones, and better birth control – but do we look any happier because of it? Everyone agrees the answer is “no.” Sure, we successfully got rid of the moral demands of Christianity, but we replaced them with the even greater demands of a God-less culture, struggling to do good without knowing what “good” is; struggling to cleanse ourselves of sin without forgiveness; struggling to love each other without grace; and struggling to find salvation without a savior. All the while the prophet asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2)? Both Christians and non-Christians alike must answer that question.
What we need constant reminding of (as have God’s people throughout history) is that the things of this world will never truly satisfy the desires of our heart. Yes, we hunger and thirst, but we look for satisfaction in all the wrong places. Our innermost desire is to be fully known and yet fully loved, and that can only be satisfied by the eternal love of God. The Psalmist sums up this desire in the beautiful Psalm 42: “As the deer longs for the water brook, so longs my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1-7).
Fully Known, and Fully Loved
No one can know you more fully, and love you more perfectly, than God can. You are not a creature of your own self-definition; rather, you are a being made in the perfect image of God, and therefore deserving of dignity from conception to final breath.
And because of His deep love for His people, God offers salvation freely to all through His Son Jesus Christ – not because you have the most woke stickers on your laptop, or because you recycle more than anyone else, or because you always vote for the “right” person in an election, or because you definitely did 51% good deeds in your life. No, it is because God knows you fully and wants to adopt you into His family and spend eternity with you! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God is offering us an abundant feast, and yet we keep turning back to eat mud and rocks! “Listen diligently to me,” Isaiah tells us, “and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:2-3). The LORD’s invitation is urgent, and it is a matter of eternal survival.
The prophet therefore gives us a warning with the invitation: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Indeed, there are at least two things in this life that are absolutely true: we are born, and we are going to die. So, of all the things we love to procrastinate: doing homework, doing taxes, doing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, writing sermons – the decision to call upon the Lord is not one of them. God freely extends His invitation to us, but our time to decide is short.
If you have ever had a short airport layover on a trip, you know exactly what this reality feels like. Your plane touches down, but you have got a connecting flight that leaves in 15 minutes from the terminal at the opposite end of the airport, which is half a mile long. You know that once you hit the time on your ticket, they will not let you on the plane. And once that plane takes off, it is not turning back around for you! So, what do you do? You do not sit back and contemplate whether or not you want to take that flight. You grab your stuff and you run across the airport like a crazy person!
Seek the Lord While He May Be Found
God’s people did not have opportunity to procrastinate at the first Passover, either. The LORD warned the Israelites that they MUST sacrifice the lamb, place its blood on the doorposts, and wait inside, because at midnight that night all the firstborn would be killed. That decision to trust the LORD and leave Egypt had to be made quickly – God commanded them even to eat with their belts fastened and sandals on their feet. The same is true for us: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Yes, the decision is urgent, and repentance is required, for we cannot reach out and grasp the Lord’s outstretched hand until we drop the weights we cling to. But our great comfort is that our God will abundantly pardon. There is no sin too ugly, nor too frequent, nor too large, that God cannot forgive in Christ. In fact, Christ knew every one of those sins when he went to bear them on the cross. And the good food which He offers us – His Body and Blood – give us fresh grace every week and wipe us clean of all the dirt and grime we picked up the week before. Beloved, Christ has prepared a table for us, a place at the eternal feast, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Jesus invites us because he loves us and earnestly wants to share this meal with us, just as he did with his disciples on Maundy Thursday. “Why do [we] spend [our] money for that which is not bread, and [our] labor for that which does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2)?
If you watch the news for even five minutes, you know that things appear pretty hopeless in the world around us. So why do we keep turning back to that dumpster while hoping to find treasure? We know that our hope is found in Christ alone. People will fail you; politicians will fail you; jobs will fail you; possessions will fail you; but Christ will never fail you. And we have the empty tomb to prove it: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). Amen.
Image: Rafael, The Transfiguration (1516-1520), detail