The Great Vigil of Easter – April 19, 2014
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21; Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Psalms 42 and 43; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 98:1-4, 6-9; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10
Preacher: The Rev. Samuel J. Smith, Assistant Priest, St. Michael’s Church
Every morning is Easter morning from now on.
Every day’s resurrection day, the past is over and gone.
Good-bye guilt, good-bye fear, good riddance!
Hello, Lord! Hello, sun!
I am one of the Easter people, my new life has begun.
I grew up in Central Texas. As many of you recall, my father is a United Methodist minister, so a lot of my identity as a child was tied up in the church. And I remember learning about that identity as a Christian through songs. Songs like that one – Every Morning is Easter Morning – and others you might know, like Deep and Wide, or Jesus Loves Me, or I am the Church.
These were all simple songs, written for children, with good simple messages, and they helped me build my identity as a Christian.
I loved to sing – I still do. And I was given the gift of song by my father. Often in the evening he would go into his bedroom and start playing the guitar, and I would stop whatever I was doing to come and sit beside him and sing. Even my favorite TV show didn’t keep me from doing what I enjoyed even more—singing with my Dad.
I think I formed other parts of my identity in that singing as well. I understood my identity as a Texan singing I hail from Texas, Beautiful, Beautiful Texas, and even through cowboy songs like Blood on the Saddle.
I filled out my identity as a Smith by learning from my Dad the songs his parents sang with him: Detour, The Orphan Child, The Grumbler, Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy—I understood who I was, and felt connected to my family, through these songs.
Family stories can do the same thing—they connect us to one another, and help us understand the values of our clan.
Tonight we welcome in Easter with the Vigil. We began by kindling a new fire and lighting the paschal candle, the symbol of the light of Christ coming into the world. Then, lit only by candles, we heard some of the family stories: The ancient tale of creation; the perils of the escape of the Israelites through Red Sea; the wise words of the prophets. These are the stories of our family – Yahweh’s People. As one of the collects says, they are “the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how he saved his people in ages past.”
As I think about the Disciples gathered on this evening somewhere in Jerusalem – the day after the crucifixion, I imagine they were completely bereft and disconsolate. I’m sure they thought that all was lost, that everything they had believed in had completely fallen apart. In those dark hours before the resurrection, I would like to think that they told each other these stories to remind them of the faithfulness of God. I’d like to think they found comfort and assurance in these tales.
These stories can be a comfort to us too, in our low moments. They remind us of the faithfulness of God. And they can also be our prayer, as the collect says, “that our God will bring each of us to the fullness of redemption.”
But remembering these stories is particularly important tonight. We remember these stories, and the ways that they have shaped us a people, as we come to our most important story—the story of the resurrection of Christ.
In the gospel passage that we will read in just a bit, the women come to the tomb. While Matthew doesn’t explain why they go to the tomb, Mark and Luke both explain that they come with a purpose—to anoint Jesus’ body, following the customs of their people. This was a comforting act – as one commentator has said, “It was a last act of personal and religious loyalty, no doubt undertaken as one more step by which they might work through the obvious pain and loss Jesus’ crucifixion had brought upon them.”[i]
The women are looking for closure, and the anointing provides that opportunity. But of course they are looking for closure not only for this important personal relationship but also for the dream they had for their world. This man was supposed to have been the savior of the world, but it seems clear to them at this point that he was not quite who they imagined him to be. Through this act of anointing, “they were making peace not only with the death of [their friend and teacher] but with the death of Jesus’ claim to embody the reign of God for the well-being of the world.”[ii]
And what happens is clearly not what any of them expected. First there is an earthquake; and then we are told an angel descends from heaven, frightening the guards – the only men in the story – almost to death. And the angel, whose “appearance was like lightning,” and whose clothing was “white as snow,” explains what has transpired, and the scriptures tell us that the women leave the tomb with fear and great joy.
It is not hard to understand these emotions—fear and joy. But I wonder if their fear is not just because of the extraordinary things they have witnessed, but also because they begin to understand that the story is only just beginning.
The women come to the tomb thinking they are ending a chapter – closing a book. But they discover that this is only the beginning. Jesus’ resurrection is nothing less than the issuing of marching orders. Their lives, and ours, will never be the same.
Now I know most of you are stalwarts of the church. Most of you will be here again tomorrow morning. (But of course, if you aren’t that’s OK.) No doubt we’ll talk more about those marching orders tomorrow as, in the daylight we celebrate Easter morning, recognizing (as that song I sang says), that every morning is Easter morning from now on.
For now, we rest assured that God has equipped us for the work put before us. We claim that preparedness at our baptisms, which take on special meaning in this service. Tonight we have the joy of witnessing a baptism—that of William Oborn, as we also renew our own baptisms. During this baptism, I invite each of you to remember again—or perhaps really take in for the first time—that you are God’s beloved, and that God’s presence with us make all things possible.
That’s the ultimate Good News of Easter—that we belong to a God who proved with the crucifixion and resurrection that he would do anything for us.
With that God on our side, there is no limit to us, or in fact to our very lives.
And so we proclaim this evening and always:
Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!