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The Great Vigil of Easter 2018

Romans 6:3-11 Psalm 114 Mark 16:1-8

The Easter Vigil draws on all of our senses and invites us to fully enter into the paschal drama. We began in darkness. A fire, the new fire is lighted, and we, the worshipping community have the opportunity to experience the sound of crackling wood, the smell of smoke and ash, the warmth of the fire cutting into the cool dark night. This night we experience the dance of darkness and light. The communal paschal candle casts light on each of us taking warmth from it. We take that light and share that light with each other and the world. We have heard God’s continuing story of God’s people, made present for this gathered community. The light of Christ…Thanks be to God.

The sacrament of baptism is frequently a part of the Vigil. This practice has its beginning in the early church, when catechumens prepared throughout all of Lent for baptism at the Easter Vigil or at Easter. The baptismal affirmation of dying and rising with Christ is powerfully embodied in our reaffirmation of our baptismal vows. In a few minutes, we will welcome three folks into the body of Christ – Landon, Mason and Brody. We will stand and say that we will support them in their lives in Christ - support them with our prayers, our hopes, our dreams, our love. Support them to enable them to know who and whose they are – beloved children of God. But first, we must know who we are. We must embrace that we are all children of God. We are all gifted with God’s gifts and it is in community that those gifts are lived out.

Augustine call the Vigil the Mother of all Vigils. The Great Vigil of Easter has traditionally been a service of readings with little or no homily. Don’t get your hopes up. Our Bishop encourages us to use these special services as opportunities to teach about our liturgy, worship, and practice. The selections of readings span the Old Testament and represent the grand overall drama that foreshadows events in the Christian story. We can hear as many as nine and as few as two. The reading from Romans links the believer’s baptism with the death and resurrection of Christ, seeing our co-participation in Christ’s dying and rising. The Gospel reading is Mark’s recount of the familiar story of the women coming to the tomb on Easter morning.

As the day is dawning on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome are going to see the tomb. We realize that seeingis an important theme in today’s reading. The two Marys go to see the tomb. They are worried about how they will get into the tomb, how the stone will be moved. The stone is already rolled away when they arrive. The stone was not rolled away so Jesus could get out, but so others could get in, and seefor themselves that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, just as he said. Why was the stone moved? For whom did he roll away the rock? For Jesus? That’s what I always thought. I just assumed that the stone was moved so that Jesus could come out. Like when Jesus called Lazarus to come out of the tomb. But think about it. Did the stone have to be removed for Jesus to exit? Did God have to have help? Was the conqueror of death so weak that he couldn’t push away the rock? I don’t think so. The text gives the impression that Jesus was already out before the stone was moved. The stone was moved – not for Jesus – but for Mary Magdalene, and the others, so that they could see in. The stone was rolled away so others could get in and see- to witness that Jesus was gone. So that others could see.

People who hear about the resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like Mary and the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief. At first, they may think the story is made up, impossible to believe. They may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened. When we encounter Jesus personally, we are better able to accept the fact of the resurrection. Then, as we commit ourselves to the risen Lord and devote our lives to serving him, we begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with us.

Jesus’ resurrection is the key to the Christian faith. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see that death is not the end for Jesus or for us. In Mark, one angel met the women at the tomb, while in Luke, two angels. In Matthew, an angel from heaven came down and rolled away the stone. These accounts are not contradictory. Each Gospel writer chose to highlight different details as he explained the same story, just as eyewitnesses to a news story each may highlight a different aspect of the event. Matthew probably emphasized only the angel who spoke. The unique emphasis of each Gospel shows that the four accounts were written independently. This should give us confidence that all four are true and reliable.

The resurrection is vitally important because Jesus kept his promise to rise from the dead and the resurrection ensures that the living Christ will be ruler of God’s eternal kingdom. Christ’s resurrection gives us the assurance that we also will be resurrected. The power of God that brought Christ’s body back from the dead is available to us - available to us - to bring our morally and spiritually dead selves back to life so that we can change and grow. The resurrection provides the substance of the church’s witness to the world. We don’t just tell lessons from the life of a good teacher. We proclaim the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We find hope for eternal life in the resurrection.

“He has been raised; he is not here.” The words of the unworldly messenger are a challenge to us to stop hanging onto the dead and to move into new life. They are reminders that the Holy One dwells wherever new life bursts forth. We celebrate life, we celebrate possibilities for Landon, Mason and Brody, who are raised with Christ and for all of us. Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection and his glory is our glory. Jesus is not standing in the tomb, but here with us to love us, guide us, comfort us and inspire us. Can you see him- he’s here in plain view. Amen.

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