The Great Vigil of Easter, Year A - April 15, 2017

Preacher: 
The Rev. Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

The Great Vigil of Easter

Year A

April 15, 2017

The Rev. Amelie Wilmer Minor

 

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." (Matthew 28:1-10)

 

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Easter reminds us that God has this way of getting our attention.  Of course, the people of Israel picked up on this several thousand years ago, and made it their practice to remember the ways God got them to wake up, listen up, and look around.  The stories we read tonight from scripture – about floods and rainbows, clouds of smoke, seas that part, bones that are breathed back to life - all these remind us how God woke people up and changed their lives.

And yet, for a while it seems, God was not getting anyone’s attention.  So God went ahead and sent on a great big attention getter – the resurrection. 

God knows how to get our attention.  God knows how to begin a completely new relationship, an entirely new life.  And God knows that this cannot be done by subtle arguments or theological concepts or even friendly persuasion.  Sometimes we need to be hit on the head with a two-by-four, and that is what the resurrection does – it confronts us, it delivers a message we cannot miss.

This is what happens in the story we have from the gospel of Matthew tonight.  Two well-meaning women come to Jesus’ tomb, doing the only thing they knew they could to honor their friend’s life, bringing the spices they would bring for the body of any loved one who had died.  And yet, right away, there’s this enormous earthquake, something that would get anyone’s attention, and not only that, a lightening white angel appears, so glorious he can roll away the stone unassisted, as if to say, “See what I did?  How’s that!  And if you think that’s a great act, wait till you see what’s next! 

The guards are so afraid, they fall like dead men, but the angel doesn’t leave it at that. He tells the women, who by the way are still standing, that Jesus isn’t here, he is risen; just as he said he would…and goes before you. So spread the good news, you’ve got nothing to fear.  Go on!  Get on with it!

And that, it seems, is exactly what they did. And life began.

Life begins when God gets our attention, and for some of us it takes the rolling away of a giant stone or angelic voices to do that.  And life begins when we can hear what God has to say and we can act upon it and live upon it. 

Now there are a variety of ways God does this, and some of those ways are sudden and dramatic – a brilliant flash of insight, one of those light bulb moments of revelation when we say, Aha, “I understand.  I see what it all means.”  There is an inbreaking of peace, or serenity, or understanding - where time stands still and we see things as they are and ourselves as we are.  Moments such as these are to be treasured and they are certainly hard to anticipate, or evoke, or even to define, but we know them when we have them.  And I think we’ve all had them.

But God gets our attention other ways as well.  God gets our attention through times of tragedy, loss and fear, and each of us has had our share of these, too.  Yet in and through these times, at least in my own experience, we are led to ask important questions and we are just more responsive to hearing the truth, more acute and aware - we are placed on edge. 

And while I believe God does not send us tragic and frightful things to do this, I do believe that God uses them, and even the death of God himself on the cross, just as God uses things that are awe-inspiring and beautiful, mysterious or rational.  All of these things are used to get our attention, to get through to us.

Life begins when God gets our attention and yet, we must be in a position to hear what God has to say.  And life began for those women at Jesus’ tomb, those earliest witnesses of the risen Lord, our first apostles, not simply when they heard the message of the angel, but when they acted upon it, when – fearful and terrified as they were – they took what had been given to them, and ran with it.  They went out and told the others what they had seen, perplexed perhaps, but with joy and courage.

Life began for them when they stopped being afraid.  When they stopped being afraid of what they did know and what they did not know and dared to believe that the risen Christ would make a difference in their lives, even if they could neither explain it nor understand it.

And life begins for us, this way, as well.  It begins when we see our life, not as a bit of limited time with a balance remaining in our savings account of danger, chance, loss, and luck, each taking their part.  It begins when we realize that by removing the fear of death, Christ has given us all, for the first time, full possession of our lives.  What we always had, we now own.  See the difference? What you’ve always had is now yours, free, full and clear.

When I talk to some of my psychologist friends or my medical and clerical friends, and even the assorted legal friends that I have, one thing I discover is that the basic and fundamental thing lying at the root of all the issues we deal with – with clients or parishioners or colleagues – is not sin, but fear.  Everyone, it seems, is fearful of something – of some public or private demon, or some unnamed fear that gnaws away at us even in the midst of joy, or some cloud that hangs over our head or in the recesses of our hearts.  This fear not only holds us all together, we all have it in common, but keeps us from being whole. Fear, it seems, not sin, is the great curse.

During his lifetime, Jesus had very few “do nots” to share with those who followed him.  Like a good parent or teacher, he focused on affirmative things to do, not so much on behaviors to avoid.  And yet he did have two, very powerful “do nots” which he repeated again and again.  One was “be not anxious.”  And the other was “do not fear.”

Some people we know fear death.  They are terrified of it.  And this we can all understand.  But the greater curse, I believe, and I’ve said this before, is to fear life.  To resist the dare to embrace the fullness of our opportunities for life, to fear to live because we fear to fail...or fear to succeed, or fear to move anywhere outside of our circle of fear.  This kind of defensive living is not the stuff of which Easter faith is made!  It is not what the angel at the tomb that morning in Jerusalem set out to accomplish!  “Be not afraid,” Jesus said to the women. And having gotten our attention in the resurrection…that is what God has to say to you and me.

Because Jesus lives, we too may live, with as much time as God gives us, free from fear of the past, free from fear of the future.  Christ always goes before us, blazing a path for us to follow, and where Christ has gone, both in life and in death, we need not fear.  Christ went to the cross; we need not fear the cross or any of the crosses we bear.  Christ went to the grave; we need not fear the grave.  Christ has gone into the future, and we don’t have to fear that either.  Christ inhabits all of life; and we need not fear life.

God gets our attention – at long last.  Whether by removing boulders or by a still small voice.  God tells us that he has come in Jesus Christ so that we may have life, and have it more abundantly.  Because he lives, so too, may we. 

And life begins, for each one of us, when we discover this truth for ourselves, and act upon it.

 

Alleluia, Christ has Risen!

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluiah!

Amen

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