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3/27/1997
WORD OF FAITH
Finding a new life
REV. ROGER KARBAN




The Easter Vigil's entire liturgy revolves around life: the life of God introduced to the universe at the beginning of time, the life Yahweh gave to the Israelites when they were liberated from Egypt, the life Jesus attained on this night, and the life we receive through our faith in Jesus.

Yet, it's important to notice the obvious: In each of these four cases, the life achieve is a new life, a new creation, not just a return to a life which was present before, lost, then restored. That's why we must understand the Semitic concept of creation.

For Jews, creation isn't the making of something out of nothing, the definition most of us learned as children. Our ancestors in the faith were a little more intellectually honest than we; they couldn't conceive of nothing. But they could conceive of chaos, a state of disorder and confusion. Turmoil was as close to nothing as they came. That's why Semites define creation as the "ordering of chaos." Wherever and whenever we have order, we have creation. Wherever and whenever we bring order into our existence, we create.

Order out of chaos

The author of Genesis describes the situation perfectly (Gen 1:1-2:2). "The earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters." Before "God created the heavens and the earth," God had something to work with: chaos. For the next six days, God will be occupied with ordering chaos.

The Israelites confront a parallel chaos at the sea (Ex 14:15-15:1). Completely hemmed in by water and Egyptians, Yahweh's people are in danger of being reduced to nothing. But when they call out to Yahweh, Yahweh leads them into "the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left." They walk through the forces of chaos into the order of freedom.

The women who bravely go to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning also find an unexpected ordering of the turmoil in their lives (Mk 16:1-8). Expecting to anoint a dead body, they're greeted by an angel's reassuring message: "You need not be amazed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He has been raised up; He is not here."

In the same way, Paul believes our chaotic, sinful lives are countered and ordered by Jesus' death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-11). "If we have died with Christ," the Apostle writes, "we believe that we are also to live with Him....His death was death to sin, once for all; His life is life for God....You must consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus."

Why differences?

Scripture scholars always point out that we have two contradictory stories of creation in Genesis and four contradictory accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb in the Gospels. Though some elements are similar in both events, the narratives differ enough that we legitimately could doubt the Sacred Authors' words - if we seek proof of those events only through their words.

That's why these same scholars remind us that the ancient Jews first understood Yahweh's ordering power in their lives through their Exodus experience. Then they worked their way back to an understanding of Yahweh's creation of the universe. In similar fashion, Jesus' earliest followers first experienced His risen presence among them in the eradication of the chaos of sin from their lives. Then they worked their way back to an understanding of the empty tomb.

Because both the Jewish experience of freedom from slavery and the Christian experience of freedom from sin are so individually felt, it's easy to see why people who believe in both express the world's creation and Jesus' resurrection in often individual, contradictory terms.

Only after we reflect on the order which our faith in Jesus brings to our daily lives, will we truly be able to celebrate the newly created life which Jesus received on this night.

(03-27-97)

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