20 April 2010

Easter Vigil

Sermon for Easter Vigil 3 April 2010

The Exultet

By Sharyn Hall

“Rejoice heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!

Exult, all creation around God’s throne!

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!

Sound the trumpet of salvation!”

This service on the evening before Easter is the night we welcome again the new fire of Christ into our world, into Christ’s church, and into our own everyday lives. The darkness of death has been overcome by the light of the risen Christ. His resurrection brings the promise of new life beyond death in the light of God’s everlasting presence.

A unique feature of this service is the long text called the Exultet, which is sung when the light of the Paschal candle has dispelled the darkness around us. The name ‘Exultet’ is derived from the original Latin word, which was the first word of the text, now translated as ‘Rejoice!’ This hymn-like text is also called the Paschal Proclamation and it can be traced back to Easter Vigil liturgies of the seventh century. About thirty surviving medieval manuscripts of the proclamation are beautifully illuminated with pictures appropriate to each section of the text.

The Exultet is a song of joy and praise. It calls all creation to rejoice because Jesus has been raised from the dead. The Exultet also is a song of salvation. The text describes God’s salvation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. The miracle of the parting of the Red Sea and the pillar of fire which guided the people in the desert are remembered as signs of God’s great love for all people.

On this night, the people have been saved from the power of death by the glorious resurrection of Jesus. The song proclaims, “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.” This hymn of praise reminds us what the resurrection of Jesus means for each one of us and for all of humanity.

“The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.” This holy night of resurrection dispels what draws us away from God – evil, guilt, hatred and pride, and restores what brings us closer to God – innocence, joy and peace in our lives.

The resurrection of Jesus affects not only humanity, but also all creation, because our reconciliation with God will mean our reconciliation with God’s place for us in God’s whole creation.

“Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour!”

“Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth!”

The Exultet rejoices that on this night the broken relationships between God and humanity and creation are healed.

It is a cosmic vision of Christ’s resurrection, which reminds us that the Easter message is both the promise of eternal life and the promise of renewed life on earth. The mission of Jesus was to bring the people to God, and to restore the broken relationships among the peoples of the world. He established his mission in his life, in his death and in his resurrection, and he also urged his disciples to continue his mission with the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

The mission of Jesus seemed dead with his death on the cross, but with his resurrection, faith in God’s eternal love was re-born. From that faith grew the Christian church, a community of people with human faults and weaknesses, but with the desire to continually renew itself in the mission of Jesus.

“Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!

The risen Saviour shines upon you!”

The light of Christ is our guide as we strive to live God’s way in this world. The risen Christ is God’s promise to us that life with God is everlasting.

“May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning:

Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed peaceful light on all mankind, Your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever.” Amen.

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