Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Great Vigil of Easter, 2022-C: Believe and live

 Lectionary: Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21; Isaiah 55:1-11; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Ezekiel 37:1-14;Zephaniah 3:14-20; Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Luke 24:1-12

¡Aleluia! Cristo ha resucitado! Alleluia! Christ is risen! 
 (The people respond) The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! 

 I love the smell of spring. The whole world smells so good – have you noticed? And even the weeds here in STL are beautiful! Those little purple violets! On one of my recent neighborhood walks, I was looking up at the progress of the newly growing leaves. Have you ever noticed that as the new life forms on the trees there is no evidence of the leaves from last year? The trees are the same trees but the life on them is completely new.

It made me think of the new life we are entering into this Easter. As a Christian community, we have been waiting through the season of Lent, waiting while God cultivated new life in us. Tonight, we open our eyes and see what God has been doing in us. And like the women who went to the tomb, what we see may surprise us. It might even (and hopefully will) transform us completely.

In the gospel story from Luke, the women went to the tomb to finish the preparation of Jesus’ body his rushed burial had prevented before the Passover. When they arrived at the tomb they saw that the stone had been rolled away and the body of their beloved Rabbi, their Messiah, was gone.

Suddenly, two men in dazzling clothes were in the tomb with them. Dazzling clothes, in biblical language, indicate transcendence – the presence of heaven on earth. These two men from heaven ask the women, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

You can almost hear their thoughts… Well duh… because Jesus is dead - we saw him die on the cross. We began the preparation of his body for burial and are here now to complete it. The two men from heaven then remind the women: Remember how he told you, while he was still with you, that he must be …crucified, and on the third day rise again?

Yes! They did remember! Jesus was dead, but now he’s risen… just as he promised! Suddenly it all made sense… and the women believed the unbelievable!

In an instant, everything they knew, everything they thought was possible, was suddenly expanded, and they were transformed by it. These women were the first to experience the truth of the resurrection. They were the first ones to know and live what St. Paul called newness of life. 

The first thing the women did was run back to tell the men - who didn’t believe them. But it’s hard to blame them. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead defies all earthly explanation. The scarier part, I think, is if everything Jesus said has come true, then what about the rest of his promises? What about the promise that sin and death would no longer have power over us?

What does that mean? We still sin, and we still die.

Years ago, when I was trying to get out of my abusive first marriage, a wise person said to me: No one has any power over you that you don’t give them.

The same is true of sin and death... they have no power over us that we don’t give them. As long as we live, we will sin. That’s why in our Baptismal vows, we promise to repent and return to the Lord whenever we sin. Baptism doesn’t free us from sinning. It frees us from the power sin has over us, which is convincing us that we are un-forgivable.

Tonight we celebrate the life-giving truth that forgiveness is always available to us. All we have to do is return to God. All we have to do is look upon the face that died for us on the cross, and see that the face of Love looking back is smiling, glad for our return, reaching out to us with hands that have holes in them. All we have to do is open our hands and reach for him, open our hearts and let him in.

We have been forgiven – all of us. And we have been set free – free to love as we have been loved, free to forgive, as we have been forgiven.

This is the truth we celebrate. This is the freedom we claim.

And now we are the ones who witness to this truth that defies explanation and we do that by living as if we know it’s true, trusting that we can forgive someone else and live a new life. We witness this truth when we proclaim it by our lives. As St. Francis of Assisi is thought to have once said, “Preach the gospel always… when necessary use words.”

We witness this truth we know when we live our lives in such a way that the love of God in Christ is made known to the world through us. If, as St. Paul said, Christ died once for ALL, then who can we hate? …who can we exclude? 

(This is not a rhetorical question) The answer is: no one!

We witness this truth we know when we live like we are beloved, and so is everyone else.

We witness the unbelievable truth of our salvation when we let go of whatever separates us from the love of God and the love of neighbors, when we forgive as we have been forgiven, and when we make choices that are life-giving for us, and for those we serve in Jesus’ name.

We witness the truth that defies explanation - the truth of the empty tomb - when we persevere in times when our faith is tried and we are tired, when we strive for justice and peace in real and sacrificial ways, when we respect the dignity of all people – especially those the world loves to hate… even when the world hates us for doing so.

As we celebrate our new life in Christ, a life of freedom and peace a life of joyful abundance we sing out our song of praise, proclaiming the truth of our salvation: 

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

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