Welcome friends. This is the night. This is the night we gather as God’s people to hear the stories that matter most to us, the stories that teach us who we are. What we believe. What we long for. What our hopes and dreams are. These stories teach us what our God is like.
Just for a moment, please close your eyes. Imagine that this Paschal candle is a campfire. We are God’s tribe, seeking light in the darkness, comfort in the wilderness. This is the night when we gather with God’s people from all over the world and tell once more the story of our deliverance. Are these stories Good News for you? What do they tell us about our tribe? What do they teach us about our God?
It started with a burning bush. When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, he heard God’s voice. God spoke to him. God revealed his name to Moses on that day: God said that his name was “I am.” And in that encounter at the burning bush, God also revealed his character – God showed Moses, and us, what he cares about.
God said to Moses at the bush:
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Our God hears the cry of the poor and the oppressed. And our God is the God of freedom.
Moses did as God asked that day. He journeyed back to Egypt, to Pharaoh’s palace where he and been brought up as an adopted prince of Egypt. Moses confronted Pharaoh as God instructed, saying to Pharaoh: “Let my people go.”
Pharaoh said no when Moses and the Hebrew people cried for freedom; but God said yes.
Are we in bondage? Do we have eyes to see the powers of this world oppressing God’s people? If God’s people are suffering, take heart! Our God will lead us from slavery to freedom, from bondage to liberty. That is who our God is.
So God stretched out his hand to save the Israelites from Pharaoh. Even when things seemed desperate, when there was no way out, God made a way. Standing between the armies of Egypt and the sea, Moses stretched out his hand, and led the Hebrew children through on dry land. God led them through with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.
Our God will find a way when there is no way. Even when we are blind and can’t see a way forward, God brings us new hope, helps us see in a new way. Our God is the God of exiles, leading us home through the wilderness, guiding our way, day and night.
The people of Israel – our ancestors in faith – finally made it out of the wilderness, into the good land that God had promised. But the powers of this world did not stop trying to take away the freedom and abundance that God had given them. First Babylon. Then Syria. And finally, Rome.
Let’s hear the next part of the story. Jesus grew up under the oppression of Rome. He saw how Rome broke the backs of the poor – all those fishermen and laborers that were the focus of Jesus’ ministry. But Jesus brought these poor women and men Good News! God’s kingdom is at hand! In God’s kingdom, there will be enough bread for every day. No one will be hungry. God’s kingdom means justice for the poor.
We have journeyed with Jesus through Lent, watching him heal the sick and bring hope to the hopeless. And we have seen his turn toward Jerusalem through this Holy Week: how he entered the city on Palm Sunday, to cries of Hosanna. When Jesus entered the Holy City that week, he went to the Temple, where he overturned the tables of those who were buying and selling, confronting the people who were controlling access to God’s love and grace represented by the Temple.
As Jesus taught in Jerusalem that week before Passover, he kept confronting the authorities, challenging the way they made life hard for the poor. The religious authorities had a lock on God’s grace and forgiveness. And the religious authorities worked with the secular authorities to impose taxes that kept the poor people poor and lined the pockets of the comfortable. Jesus confronted both, challenging them with his vision of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom where all would have enough and peace would prevail.
Rome was always quick to put down any sign of rebellion. Roman justice was swift and brutal, and it usually kept the provinces, such as Jerusalem, in line. And so they put this zealot named Jesus to death. They didn’t like what he had to say, so they killed him, as they killed thousands of others, nailing him to a cross on the outskirts of the city, as a public example of what happens to those who cry for justice.
Just as Pharaoh said no to Moses’ call for freedom, Rome said no to Jesus’ call for justice.
But God said yes. Our God is the one who leads us from oppression to justice.
Now Rome thought it could silence Jesus by putting him to death. Killing Jesus would be their final solution.
But God would not let anything on earth silence the Good News. Not even death. So even though they killed Jesus, nailed him to a cross and tried to forget about him, now he lives. Tonight, he lives. This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.
Our God is the God who leads us from death into life. Not even death can stop God’s love, God’s peace, God’s justice, God’s abundance.
Because now, God’s kingdom has taken root in us. Now, Jesus lives in us.
Every time we reach out in love to help someone in need, Jesus rises victorious again. Every time we share the abundance God has given us, God’s kingdom grows. And it will grow and grow until it reaches the ends of the earth.
This night, and every night, and every day, Jesus lives. He lives now in us.