Easter Vigil at Mississippi Abbey

Highly respected biblical scholar Walter Bruggeman has noted that the entire bible revolves around a single question:  Is God faithful?

Faithfull to what? Faithful to who He says He is: “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in loving-kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and rebellion and sin…” That’s what He’s faithful to!

We all wonder at times, many times, about the faithfulness of God. Does He keep His promises? Can He be trusted? We tend to measure it against our prayerful wishes…and sometimes He comes off badly. We forget the Creator-creature relationship. Tonight, to remind us, we celebrate the greatest show of the fidelity of God.

Our readings tonight attest to that fidelity. The first reading tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of a self-giving God. He gave us what we most need to fulfill the Creator-creature relationship. He showed Himself “rich in loving-kindness…and continuing His kindness…” by giving us food and the mode of taking-in. We have only to be receivers.

In the second reading we see that the fidelity is reciprocal. Abraham (our father in faith) obeyed the directive to sacrifice his son and God accepted his willingness. “I swear by Myself,” God said, “that because you acted as you did in not withholding…I will bless you abundantly…and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing…”  We, God’s image, will be blessed with the capacity for self-giving. If we put our faith in it, we will be freed from the bondage of self. He shows Himself “merciful and gracious.”

The third reading, from Exodus, shows God’s fidelity when we rebel. It demonstrates not a power of destruction but of love for His people. That’s what we want. The reading from Isaiah assures us that “my love will never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken.” His fidelity remains when ours fades. Isaiah goes on to say “Why spend your money…for what fails to satisfy? …Come to me heedfully; listen, that you may have life. …turn to the Lord for mercy.” I think all of us have enough life behind us to have experienced this as true. He is “continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and rebellion and sin…”

Having that experience of our failure and His fidelity, Baruch calls us to prudence, to remembering the Creator-creature relationship. Forgetting our infidelity must be experienced as a weight we are ready to shed. We need instead Wisdom, knowing how to live well. And we need the power to do so and Baruch says, that is with the Creator. With Abraham we drop the weight and say “Here I am.” With this new wisdom we live as the Creator designed us and our world. He is again “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in loving-kindness and fidelity…” 

Ezekiel then told us that the Creator is more important than the creature. The creature will be saved for the sake of the name, the reputation, of the Creator so that all will know the source of power to live well. “I will bring you back…I will cleanse you…I will give you a new heart and spirit.” Then the nations will know of His “loving kindness and fidelity.”

And so, we see the Old Testaments long history of God’s fidelity in spite of our infidelity. And this morning we see the ultimate manifestation of His fidelity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Each of us has a lot of life experience behind us. Have we seen this fidelity and loving-kindness? Adversity often obscures it. A 12th century monk wrote that ‘Adversity is only adverse to those whose love is wrongly directed.” Jesus Christ came to call us to the kingdom of God; nothing less. This is our end in life. And because it is the end given to us by our Creator, there is a hidden justice in adversity. It is not justice as getting what we deserve for misdeeds. It is justice for attaining that end, the kingdom of God. Adversity arouses in us a desire for peace. Adversity is a knife that cuts the snare of prosperity so our love can be free for God. That freed love is one’s personal resurrection. It is then that we will know “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in loving-kindness and fidelity…”