A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan at the Easter Vigil, Saturday, April 7, 2012
Christ Church Andover
Easter Vigil, Year B
April 7, 2012
(The readings for The Great Vigil of Easter can be found here.)
Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen Indeed. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
A child climbs up into her parents, or loved adults’ lap, curls up, looks up at them and says, ‘Tell me a story.’ The adult starts to tell them one, perhaps of their birth, or of a well worn tale. They might even try to start from where they left off the time before, but the child, realizing what’s going on says, ‘No. Start at the very beginning. The VERY beginning.’
This is the night when we tell our story from beginning to end to beginning.
In the midst of our journey from Good Friday to Easter, we have time to pause. Time to reflect, in the midst of our heartache. We look backwards in crisis sometimes, because at least we knew what happened then, re-living a sort of control of the outcome. Looking forward is too frightening, too uncertain. But in looking back, telling the stories which made us who we are, which, in this case told the story of our God and us, together, we find solace. And perhaps not just solace, strength. We gird ourselves tonight in the stories which made us, and continue to make us, the people of our God. We walk through history, reaffirming that God’s salvation for us was not a remote possibility, but a promise made throughout time, throughout the stories we tell. We start at the very beginning, knowing that those first words of scripture in Genesis lodge us, from inception, deep, deep into the heart of God.
The stories we heard this evening are not only for us. Imagine, between the sighs of the women coming to anoint Jesus’ body, that those were the stories which were also lodged in their hearts. They were the scriptures which reminded them of God’s presence back then, here now, and to come. Perhaps there was a snippet of Isaiah going through their heads, reminding them that our ways are not God’s ways; them recalling the valley of dried bones in Ezekiel, wondering if those dried bones, now so desolate, can live once more. Perhaps if they too, dried out from the events of the past few days, can live once more as well.
And how do all those stories we heard tonight end? They end in hope. They end in life. They end in God’s voice calling out to us that we are gathered together, that God is our God and we are God’s people, and that dry bones can live once more if we but trust and let our God be our God. The final part of the story we hear tonight asks that same question—can dry bones live? We find our three women, walking through the shadows of dawn, jugs of oil on their heads, tired, sorrowful, even resigned—there is a body to care for. There is a rock to be moved. Jesus is dead. The disciples have fled days ago. We must move on.
But instead of a rock to be moved, they find a man, dressed in white, sitting in the tomb. Jesus is not here, he says. He has been raised. Go tell the others, and they will see him in Galilee, just as he said he would. The women start running away, their fear, their terror at the apparition and the news silences them. And the news of Jesus’ resurrection is cut short. Actually, in this gospel, the news of Jesus’ resurrection never gets told: “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
This is not the story we remember from our childhood. This is the time when the child sitting in our lap looks up, indignantly, and scolds, just as the grandson does to the Grandfather in the Princess Bride, ‘You aren’t telling it right. It doesn’t happen that way. Tell it the RIGHT way.’
We are not given the satisfaction of an easy ending this Easter. We are given the reality of having to sit in that darkness, parsing out for our own selves, and together, what we truly believe. Just as the women, huddled together that dawn, breathless from their escape, had to reexamine what had just happened to them, we too sit here listening to a Gospel which sounds unfamiliar. Easter, in the Gospel of Mark, is not saved by a bunny or by the ending we have come to know and love and expect in the other gospels—Jesus resurrected proclaimed far and wide by obedient disciples. Instead, Mark tells us a discipleship story. What is Easter without the Good Friday before, telling us of the visceral fear and betrayal and heralding our own complicity in it? What is Easter without the silence of Holy Saturday—the tomb closed, the women and disciples nursing their puffy eyes, red from crying, deflated hearts, no words able to convey the very sense of the day. And now this. This streak of gray dawn above the horizon. The fear. The new story about to commence. The questions. The silence.
He is raised. Go and tell the others. He is waiting for you, just as he promised.
Do you believe this story?
Tonight is the night where we don’t just tell the story, we enact it. We live it. We move from darkness to light, from death to life and in the midst of that, of all the stories of God’s mercy, we end with this one, which doesn’t proclaim anything on its own, but leaves it to us, the readers, the faithful, to be the proclamation. This gospel demands that we proclaim it ourselves. Will you tell out the good news of Jesus risen? Will you wait for him, having listened to all that he proclaimed throughout his ministry? Will you continue to search for him, knowing that you are on the same path as others? Will you continue in all that he taught us, to break bread together, to wash each other’s wounds, to forgive the betrayer, to reconcile the denier? Will you trust in a God that defies death, defies shame, and yes, defies and conquers the fear which even those faithful women, standing there ready to tend the dead body, were prone to? Would you put bet your life on that that happened?
The good news of the gospel is up to you, like it was up to the women. We know what happened with them, even though the scripture itself gets hazy at the end. We know that they told the disciples, because we read these gospels, these scriptures, now. The fact that we proclaim Christ risen tonight is a testament to that those women told out the story. The news of the risen Lord trumped even the most insidious sin we encounter—fear. The women ended up telling the story, and the story we read tonight is the testament to their faith; their willingness to believe in the stories of the past, the stories of God calling God’s people to Godself again and again, defying again and again all that the powers and evil could muster. They told the story because at some point during that day, they too had died to fear; they had died to the shame and terror that the cross originally held, and that Easter day, they proclaimed that cross redeemed because it could be a harbinger of death and fear no longer. And because they had died to death, they were risen with Christ too.
Jesus is raised. Go and tell the others. He is waiting for you, just as he promised.
How will you proclaim the good news? What fears do you have to die to to finish this story yourself?
Christ is risen. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.