Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Great Vigil of Easter, 2012 B: Proclaimers of a new creation

Lectionary:Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Mark 16:1-8

Our gospel story from Mark tell us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb to finish the burial ceremony they had been unable to complete due to the Sabbath, a ceremony that, in the end, wouldn’t be necessary. It seems they forgot that Jesus had mentioned at their last supper that he had already been anointed for his burial by the woman with the alabaster jar.

As they approached the tomb, the women wondered how they would move the heavy rock blocking the entrance – only to find it had already been moved.

When I was about six years old, my mother, my sisters and I went out after dinner to get some ice cream. That was a real treat for us – something we rarely did on a weekday! When we returned, all of the doors to our house were standing open and all the lights inside were on.

My Dad was away on business, as he usually was on weekdays. I enjoyed our feminine weekday household. I also enjoyed the weekends when Dad was there with us – he always made us parfaits after dinner and cooked up the best Sunday brunch ever!

But that night, when our house was so strangely opened after we had left it locked, was the first time I ever remember feeling unsafe and wishing my Dad wasn’t away. It was such a queasy feeling seeing the house like that. I remember the agitation I felt, the surge of heightened awareness and confusion.

I imagine that Mary, Mary, and Salome were in a similar state of mind when they saw the opened tomb. Expecting to see the body of Jesus, they instead encounter a young man in a white robe who tells them ‘Jesus is risen - come and see for yourself.’ So they went in, cautiously trying to make sense of the strangeness of it all.

Then the messenger says, ‘Go and tell the other disciples and Peter that Jesus will meet them in Galilee, just like he said he would.’ The messenger is sending these women out with a message of fulfillment and reconciliation.

Remember, the women are being sent to the men who fled the garden in fear at Jesus’ arrest and went into hiding when Jesus was killed. They’re being sent to Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus would build the church, who denied even knowing Jesus, fearful for his own life.

Imagine the state of mind of these men, who in their hiding places would have remembered Jesus’ prediction that they would “all become deserters.” (14:13) Imagine how¬ Peter’s heart would have been aching knowing he betrayed his friend and Messiah three times (14:30), just as Jesus said he would.

I wonder if they talked to one another, reviewing the recent events, trying to make sense of them. Would they even remember that Jesus told them that after he was “raised up” he “would go before them to Galilee”…?

The gospel writer never really addressed this point, because Peter got all insulted when Jesus said he would deny him, and they argued about that instead. So this powerful prediction of a post-resurrection encounter with Jesus got totally overlooked.

But now they are in hiding, going over these events in their thoughts. I can just picture them thinking, “Why does he say stuff like that? I never understand what he means when he does that. I can’t look stupid though, so I’ll just shut up and hope someone else explains it.”

And someone else did – Mary, and Mary, and Salome. These women, sent by the messenger of God in the empty tomb, came to tell the disciples that their relationship with Jesus is still a loving one, and that they are needed once more by their Master. It isn’t over yet.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… So the women leave the tomb in a state of great agitation – a mixture of amazement and fear – and Mark says they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.

This is believed to be the original ending of the Gospel of Mark. An additional ending was added sometime later, and there isn’t a lot of agreement as to why this longer ending was added.

Perhaps, the open-endedness of this shorter ending left the hearers uncomfortable. Perhaps people didn’t like that the Good News according to Mark ended with the word “afraid.”

Theologian Marie Sabin says that the word we translate there as “afraid” is a word associated, in Jewish Scripture, with a form of prophecy that happens when one is powerfully overshadowed by God's spirit. According to Sabin, this word is used twice in Genesis: once when God put 'adam into a “deep sleep” in order to make a helper and partner so 'adam wouldn’t be alone (Gen 2:18), and the other refers to the "deep sleep" of Abraham at the making of the covenant (Gen. 15:12).(10)

Sabin says that Mark is “deliberately choosing a word which [shows] God in the process of a new creation.”

Mary, Mary, and Salome weren’t silenced by fear. And that isn’t the end of the Good News according to Mark. These women were being made prophets, proclaimers of a new creation, of life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It’s significant that the good news of the resurrection was recorded in all four gospels as being first witnessed and proclaimed by Mary Magdalene and the other women, because in this new creation, in this new covenant begun in Jesus Christ, those who were excluded or marginalized in the world, are now included, respected, even honored in the household of God.

The other thing about these women is that they were what we would call lay people. The privileged hierarchy of the established church was brought low and leveled out by the proclamation of these first prophets of the resurrection. Anyone, even someone the world might not find suitable, can be chosen by God to proclaim the good news.

It’s up to us to stay awake and keep watch for the prophets in our time. It’s up to us to welcome in all who would come and be co-creators with God and with them in the building of the kingdom of God on earth.

And tonight God is giving us the opportunity to do just that. Tonight we mark the beginning of a new life for one of our own, Michael Laymance, and through him, new life for the Church of the Redeemer, and the body of Christ in the world.

In a moment, we will process to the font and baptize Michael, welcoming him into the household of God. We will renew our own baptismal vows, reclaiming our promise to enter fully – together – into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior.

We will promise – together – to uphold Michael in his new life in Christ, praying that he will have an inquiring and discerning heart and be open to the joy and wonder in all God’s works.

Notice, we aren’t called upon to tell Michael what he should know about God or how he should live that out. We are called upon to show Michael, by our words and our actions, what we believe, and partner with him in living that out together.

We are also called upon to maintain ourselves as a household of prayer so that Michael, and anyone whom God chooses to send here, may have a place to encounter the living God, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, and strengthened for service in the world in Jesus’ name.

Now I invite Michael and his sponsor to process with me to the font. I also invite others here to join us there – so you can see. As we process we will sing together hymn # 296 (in your service booklet).

(Source: Marie Sabin,

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