EASTER VIGIL 2014 – EASTER: A FANTASTICAL STORY!
Does anyone believe in fantastical stories? Here’s one for you. Noah lived to be 900 years old. He was 600 when he and his three100-year-old sons built a boat in one day. Then they loaded thousands of animals on it, all of which lived within five miles of the boat. Could it be that the God of the universes was so upset with creation that the only way to get it right was to destroy everything and everyone and start all over again? 
Andrew Greeley wrote that Catholics come to church because they love to hear the stories. And that we did this evening and there were plenty of them. What do they teach us? How much can we believe to be true? Are they divinely inspired writings?
A new study released just this past week suggests that although many Americans are deeply engaged with the bible close to 20% are skeptical of it. Sixty-four percent between the ages of 18-39, the Millennials, do not consider it as sacred literature. Thirty-five percent claim the good book is not very helpful in learning how to live a meaningful life. 
There are good reasons to clarify what is written in the bible. John Shelby Spong writes that all the stories about Moses, for example, including the presumed crossing of the Red Sea, which we heard about tonight, and the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, were not written until some 300 years after the death of Moses! Everything we know about him in the bible passed through 15 generations of oral tradition before it was written.  Did God really drown the Egyptians?
It gets more complicated when the bible is used by some to justify their behavior today. The Israelites escaped bondage but then they placed their own children in slavery. Does that justify human trafficking today? Methodist pastor, Adam Hamilton cites the “propensity [in the bible] toward patriarchal norms that devalue women.” 
Does that patriarchy justify abuse of women today? Some biblical texts seem to prohibit same sex marriage. Does the bible justify homophobic behavior today? Hamilton continues, “some scriptures are clearly shaped by the cultural norms, the theological and social presuppositions of their authors. They do not seem to reflect the heart of God revealed in Jesus Christ.” Christians who practice radical hospitality do not praise God for the misfortunes or the destructions of people no matter who they are.
And yes the story about the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one that brings us to church this weekend. The oral recollections regarding why he died, how he rose, to whom he appeared, what he said, where he went later that day, were not formally written down until between the years 68-70 CE. Maybe, metaphorically speaking, it was not the resurrection of one man. Scripture scholar Hal Taussig describes the resurrection as a communal one, as “God’s great peace-and-reconciliation covenant with our violence scarred humanity.” 
What meanings then may be found in the biblical texts on this holy night — when our use of ancient symbols expresses our deepest beliefs and yearnings? Everything we do here in church is a rehearsal for living out there. Let’s consider transitions and relationships. For example, we traipse from the darkness of the night guided by the radiance of Christ’s light. We trudge through parched deserts to wash in baptismal waters. We anoint Olyvia, Tracey and Peter into our priesthood.  We move together, freed from want, liberated in the Spirit, to the banquet of thanksgiving.
What we heard tonight in the texts reminds us of our relationships with God and with each other, our struggles and joys. Beginning with the establishment of a Jewish people the narratives chronicle the teachings and wisdom of prophets and scribes. Jesus, a Mediterranean Jew shapes that history. He attempted to restore order to a fractured humanity. Mysteriously, he survived execution and rose up again to give each one of us hope. We now know that we, too, can rise up from the clutches of suffering and death.
Isn’t Easter a fantastical story!
1 Paraphrased from Bill Maher’s Attack on the Noah’s Ark Story. March 14, 2014
3 Spong, John Shelby. Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. NY (Harper 2011) p. 23
4 Hamilton, Adam. Making Sense of the Bible: Recovering the Power of Scripture Today. (NY: Harper, 2014) 272
5 Taussig, Hal. A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. (NY: Houghon, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2103) xiv
6 Olyvia and Tracy celebrated all of the sacraments of Christian Initiation at this Vigil. The parish welcomed Peter into full communion.