“Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised.” Words form our Gospel this evening from the 24th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Tonight of course is the Easter Vigil, one of the most significant liturgies of the Church year, where we celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead. And as we come together to celebrate the resurrection, we employ several rites and many symbols in our liturgy. We light the Easter Candle reminding us that Jesus is the light that shines through the darkness of sin and death. We remember in our readings and our prayers how God has continuously rescued us and blessed us throughout our salvation history, to which we respond with a joyful alleluia. We gather around the altar table to offer ourselves to the Father with Christ and so receive the Bread of Life. But perhaps the most important symbol of the resurrection that we have as a Church is the symbol of the waters of Baptism.
Water is so powerful. On the one hand, we know that water has incredibly destructive capabilities. While in some ways we are still cleaning up from Hurricane Katrina, this past year was unusually deadly for the United States, with 688 fatalities to storm events and over $145 billion worth of damage in 2021. Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean killed 240,000 people in 2004 and tsunami Tohoku practically caused a nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011. On average 10 people die every day by drowning. Water is the leading cause of erosion, causing change in landscapes and the collapse of bridges, roads, houses, and other structures. The USS The Sullivans has taken its fair share of water damage in Buffalo’s Naval Park. When water freezes, it dumps hundreds of inches of snow on our roads and on our roofs making for hazardous conditions. Water certainly has the potential to be disruptive, destructive, and dangerous.
And yet, we know that without water, there would be no life. As we explore our universe, we are always looking for the presence of water on other planets to ascertain whether or not it can support life. Not only do most species live in bodies of water, such as fish and plankton, but water is a large percentage of the makeup of our own bodies and of all living cells, really, and it allows organisms to function. And so we need to hydrate ourselves with water. From water we make coffee, and tea, and beer. All the breweries that are popping up around here are dependent upon access to water. We use water to brush our teeth, flush our toilets, as well as to wash our bodies our dishes and our cars. We water our gardens and have irrigation systems to grow our crops like corn and grapes. As the skies open up, we go out and sing in the rain. Water helps us fight fires. Locally, we use water to generate hydro-electric power. Buffalo’s waterfront and the nearby ski resorts rely on water. Historically speaking, Buffalo sprung up along at the end of the Erie Canal having access to many connecting waterways for transportation. Living next to the Great Lakes, which comprise 20% of the world’s surface fresh water supply, it is easy for us to take the precious gift of water for granted. Indeed, water is our most precious resource. Imagine a day without water, if you can. Without a doubt, water has so, so much influence over our lives.
And for that reason, water is an apt Christian symbol as well. Our readings, our hymns, and our prayers all make reference to how God has repeatedly utilized water in his grace towards us. Our first reading references how the earth as a formless wasteland was covered with water. God’s creative Spirit descended upon these waters and with them, shaped the landscapes, watered the vegetation and brought forth creatures teeming with life. When evil and sin pervaded the earth and enslaved God’s people, it was through the great flood and the passing through the waters of the Red Sea that brought about justice and salvation as our reading from Exodus tells us. God implores us in the prophet Isaiah: “come to the water all you who are thirsty for life! Just as the waters regenerate and rejuvenate the earth, so shall my Word rain down upon you and restore life to our relationship.” In the epistle to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that through water we have been baptized into the death of Christ so that our sins may be washed away. Yet, joined with Christ in his death through the waters of Baptism, we too are joined into his resurrection from the dead. Finally, in our Gospel Jesus is risen and is no longer there at the tomb. To find him, the angels remind us of all that Jesus said and did in Galilee, that body of water where Jesus first called his disciples and that body of water from which flows the Rivers of the Jordan where Jesus himself was baptized. Mark’s Gospel on this account is even more specific, asking the disciples to go meet the risen Lord there on Galilees’ shores, and it is there that he ascends to the Father, leaving with his disciples the command to, “go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”
Indeed, tonight, amidst the light of the Paschal candle, amidst God’s word proclaimed to us, and amidst the bread of life which we share, we will also bless the life-giving water that God has given to us. This water becomes the holy symbol of God’s re-creative love towards us and the sacrament through which we effectively die to sin and through which we rise to new life in Christ. Just as it is impossible to imagine our everyday lives without water, so it is impossible to imagine our Christian lives without the waters of Baptism. Indeed, it is this water, that brings the fullness of life. Tonight, we will remain true Jesus’ command as we will celebrate along with churches all over the world, the Baptismal liturgy whereby we welcome new members into his Church while renewing the vows of our own Baptism through water and the Spirit, and so carry on his life-giving mission even today. Be prepared to get wet!
Let tonight serve as a reminder for us on the importance of water, not just in its practical use, but in its significance as Baptismal water undergirding our whole Christian livelihood. Tonight, let us draw water joyfully. This holy night, let us be baptized and renew our baptismal faith. And from this night, let the dawn of Easter come that we may rise to new life in Christ through the waters of rebirth.