Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Vigil Sermon--April 23-24

This was preached on the Vigil readings, focusing mostly on the Gospel of John.

This morning is transforming. This morning we started in the dark, with Genesis, at the beginning of time and dawn of creation. We started in the dark, but we do not end there. We have kept watch for daylight to come, and, with it, the promise of new life.

During our waiting and watching we have been retelling the stories of our Christian heritage—connecting with it and remembering how we are in fact a part of it. We've read Scripture and sung hymns to remind ourselves of all that has happened not just this week, but through the course of human history. We've read about our heritage through the stories of the Israelites Exodus from slavery to freedom. We've heard the hope of Isaiah and the faithful confession of the foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar. We've remembered the promises of our baptism through the writings of Paul to the early Christians, and we close our readings with the gospel.

This is the day of good news, the reason we gather. We have lived through the night—through the wait—and day has come at last.

Dawn breaks, and we find we are living in the first day of the week—the day when heavens and earth are created…the day light enters the world. In our reading from John, we again have a story of creation—new creation—on the day when Christ makes all things new. There is an entirely different reality, a glimpse of the Dominion of God.

Three disciples come to the tomb, each with a different message about living in this new reality.

Beginning with the last one mentioned, we have the other disciple—the unnamed one. This person so seemingly vague he is not even named, is the one whom Jesus loved. The marginalized, unrecognized, blend-into-the-crowd disciple is loved by Jesus. He reaches the tomb ahead of Peter, but does not go in. This unnamed one, however, is the first of all to believe. The minor character who has been in the background of almost every scene in this gospel believes first. The extent of his belief is unclear, as it says that he didn’t understand the full meaning of the scriptures quite yet.

Peter stays true to his character throughout the book of John. Peter is the one who tends to honestly make honest mistakes, even when it seems the answer is right there in front of him. Peter is the first one to walk into the empty tomb—he goes and sees, but cannot understand.

Then there is Mary. She is not of the twelve, but she goes to the tomb before any of them. She is first to discover the empty tomb, and will stay the longest. Peter and the other disciple have to be told by her—a woman—that the tomb is even empty. She is the one to discover, and the one to recognize.

Mary is strangely practical in guessing that someone has moved Jesus, but that is not the case. Jesus comes to her after the others leave, but she does not know him until he calls to her by name. When she hears her own name, she is able to turn and see who it is. We then have possibly the most heartbreaking yet symbolic scenes of this story. Jesus tells her that she cannot hold on to him. This person she watched die in the most painful and grotesque way then known, and she cannot reach out to hold him.

In the same breath that Jesus delivers this seemingly heartbreaking news, though, he also tells her why. Jesus has risen—and everything has changed. Nothing is as it was before—from the one-to-one private relationships with the disciples to the conquering of death. Jesus must be shared with the world, not hoarded and kept to the self.

Jesus tells Mary not to hang on to him, but to go and tell the others what has happened. Mary’s responses echo this shift as she calls him “Teacher,” upon recognizing him, and then “Lord,” once she understands.

And so we are here, learning what it means to be connected to this story. We, like the other disciple, are loved by Jesus, no matter how small of a part we may feel we are playing. Like Peter, we may not always understand even when the answer or explanation is right in front of us. Like Mary, we are invited to discover, called by name, but reminded that everything is different now. The tomb is empty, and death is conquered. This is the victory of our God.

Everything is different. We cannot relive what once was—we cannot dwell in the past. We remember it, yes, and try to understand it, but we cannot live it over again, and we would be mistaken to try. We are told that Jesus isn’t someone we can hold onto or hide away for ourselves. He is the risen Lord, the Savior of the World, to be shared with everyone.

We have lived through the night, and light has come back into the world. Good Friday was not the end, but neither is Easter Sunday. Mary is told to go and share the good news, and becomes the first proclaimer of all that this day means—and so the story goes on. Romans records part of it, so do Acts and the rest of the Epistles. Some of it shows up in other letters and history books, and some of it is being lived out right now.

We are connected to this story. This story that stretches back in time and continues through the present to the future—always progressing, always inviting us to look ahead, reminding us that we cannot cling to what was as all has been made new. And this story isn’t just my story or your story, it’s our story, and we live our part together, empowered by the Holy Spirit to say that Jesus is Risen. Alleluia. Amen.

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