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The vigil

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Mark 16:1-3, Exodus 14:10-15:2, Isaiah 30:15-18

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?"

Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm. The Lord will fight for you; YOU NEED ONLY TO BE STILL."

And the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.

Moses and the Israelites celebrated:
"I will sing unto the Lord,
for he has triumphed gloriously:
The horse and rider hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength.
The Lord longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
Blessed are all who wait for him!"

For good reason do Christians call it the desert. There comes a time in every life, even the life of Jesus, when God doesn't show up.

Of course I question his faithfulness, or at least his commitment. He made me, He knows me, He can do what he wants with me. Why should he stick around when I'm so full of contradictions, so full of sin, so full of myself? I wouldn't.

Not many of us weather this vigil well, waiting for God. Waiting for Godot. Waiting for a rebirth of wonder. Waiting. Waiting.

There are stories in the Bible: Moses ... waiting 40 years to return to Egypt, then knowing the power of God's miracles, and then again spending 40 more years in the desert of Sinai wandering with angry, resentful, bitter people, climbing a final mountain to see the promised land of Canaan but unable to physically enter.

Jeremiah ... hearing God say his people would live in exile seventy years. How could he marry? How could he raise children? How could he live any life except the one God gave him? Jeremiah learning to wait, and say "yes". Jeremiah saying, "I am unhappy, and I am without resource, help me, Lord!" And finally Jeremiah saying, "OK, God. It is not your blessings that I crave. It is you. It is your presence. If this is what you give me, Lord ... then this is what I have. And it's OK. Thank you."

Mary and her friends thought they had lost their Jesus. Even as the angel speaks he says, "Jesus is not here."

"He is risen." And in truth, they would have him with them only a few more precious days, and then he would rise up and be gone.

Today we wait together for Jesus' return. We know the story. We've read the end of the book. But I crave like Jeremiah, to be blessed, to be comfortable, to love and give and be happy. God's gifts eclipse God's presence ... until, that is, I meet the desert, I meet the enemy, I discover that God-with-us is all I want, all I ever needed. All.

My suffering is your workshop, Lord. You will change my heart. You will make me whole. I open my arms to all you have for me, Lord God.

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