Sunday, April 24, 2011

Great Vigil of Easter: Something to celebrate

We read all nine readings from the Old Testament (see BCP 288++). Our Eucharistic Lectionary included:Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia, Christ is risen! (The people respond) The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

What a great night! New fire, the Exsultet, prayer rising up as incense, and light bursting into the darkness! The 40 days of our Lenten surrender to the new life God has been growing in us has reached its fulfillment.

New life is ours today. All we have to do is choose it. All we have to do, is live like we know what we believe is true.

Tonight we read the Easter story from the Gospel of Matthew, which uses language filled with spiritual meaning meant to help his readers (including us) reach beyond our usual perceptions and embrace a larger truth. In this gospel story, Matthew is presenting a message of sight – spiritual sight, which takes us beyond what we can verify with our eyes to a greater truth we already know in our hearts.

Matthew tells us that the two Marys, Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene, went to see the tomb. Suddenly, there is an earthquake. An earthquake, in Biblical language, represents the power of God. Then a messenger from God appears in dazzling white clothes, which, you may remember from the story of the Transfiguration, represents the transcendence of God.

The tomb which held the body of the Messiah who is dead, along with the hopes (or by now hopelessness) of the people of Israel, is about to become the place where true understanding and spiritual sight will be born for Mary, the mother of Jesus, for Mary Magdalene, and for us. At the tomb, the representatives of earthly power, the soldiers, “became like dead men” – powerless in the presence of the overwhelming reality of divine Love. As one commentator said, “God out-empired the empire and rendered it lifeless.”

Next, an angelic messenger descends from heaven and rolls away the huge, heavy, earthly impediment which stands between the women and the truth of the resurrection. Heaven has created an opening, a doorway by which humanity can come to know that Jesus has freed us from the prison death once represented.

Speaking only to the women, the angel says what angels usually say, “Do not be afraid.” Sure! Earthquakes and dazzling light, the powerful made powerless, and an angel sitting on top of a huge stone which has just rolled itself away from the tomb… What’s there to be afraid of…?

I suppose it must be in the job description for angels to be masters of understatement! But this isn’t the first time the Mary’s have been in the presence of unexplainable reality – and this is not the first angel Mary, the mother of Jesus, has encountered directly.

I know why you’re here, the angel says. You’re looking for Jesus – but he isn’t here. He has been raised, just as he said he would. You already knew that though, didn’t you? Come and see, the angel says to the women. Look with your physical eyes to confirm the greater truth your spiritual eyes already know. So they did.

Then heaven commissions the first resurrection apostles (remember: an apostle is one who is sent on a mission), saying: …”go quickly and tell” the others this message: “He has been raised from the dead.” Go on to Galilee because “there you will see him.”

Surely Jesus’ mother, who pondered things in her heart, remembered that Jesus had said …”after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” (26: 31-32)

Filled with fear and joy, the women do as the angel has told them. On their way, they meet up with Jesus.

It’s interesting that in Matthew’s account, Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene have no trouble recognizing Jesus. The minute these women saw him (that is, perceived him) “…they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”

Seeing Jesus didn’t frighten the Marys. But telling the others about it did. You see, in those days, women were considered to be too emotional to be reliable witnesses – and the Marys were grieving the murder of their beloved son and rabbi. Who would believe them? Besides, what they had to tell was pretty astonishing – what would people think of them? What might happen to them if they tell this strange news?

So, Jesus tells the two Marys not to be afraid as he commissions them to be the first resurrection apostles. He tells them to go tell the others to go to Galilee where they too will verify with their eyes what they already know in their hearts: that Jesus, who was dead, now lives, and everything is changed.

By our Baptism, we too have been commissioned as resurrection apostles – tellers of the truth we know. Now we, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, are being sent to tell others to come and see Jesus. We are heaven’s opening, the doorway by which others can come to know Jesus.

But don’t be afraid. Go out and tell the Good News to those whose lives are broken and whose hope is failing.

Some people who matter to you won’t believe you (remember doubting Thomas?). Others won’t listen at all – just because you’re a woman, or you don’t have the right credentials, or you have the “wrong” kind of life-partner.

Tell it anyway. Tell the truth you know – that Jesus Christ is risen and so we are now a people who are “forgiven, healed, and renewed.” Sin and death have no power over us that we don’t give them. Love has won the victory and everyone is included in Christ’s glorious embrace.

Now that’s something to celebrate!

So let’s celebrate it in the holy food of Communion. Let’s celebrate it with prayer and song in our worship. Let’s celebrate it with champagne and chocolate after our service!

Let’s celebrate the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ – today, every Sunday, and forevermore!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen. (The people respond) The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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