The Great Vigil of Easter 2022
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 cold dark night.
This night we experience the dance of darkness and light. The communal paschal candle casts light on each of the worshippers taking from it. We have heard God’s continuing story of God’s people, made present for this gathered community.
The Gospels are silent about the events that take place between the burial of the body of Jesus in the late afternoon of Good Friday and the visit of the women to the tomb on Sunday morning. It is in this silence that the ancient celebration of the Easter Vigil fits. We wait with the followers of Jesus, remembering how women among them planned to go to the tomb and give Jesus’ body a proper cleansing and anointing, a suitable wrapping, and an appropriate burial as soon as the Sabbath ended.
The silence is broken as we begin to hear the women walking to the place where Jesus was laid. We imagine their shadows flitting in and out of the shadows of the landscape in the early morning light. When Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the other Mary arrive, they see the stone has been moved. They enter the tomb and see a young man, dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The angel told the women not to be afraid. Jesus is not here, he has risen, just as he said. The angel invited them to come and see for themselves where Jesus lay. Then they go quickly because they have news to tell the disciples – he has risen from the dead and is going ahead to Galilee. There you will see him.
The sacrament of baptism is sometimes 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. That’s why we offer the Inquirer’s class at this time in the church year. The baptismal affirmation of dying and rising with Christ is powerfully embodied in our reaffirmation of our baptismal vows.
This service has traditionally been a service of readings with little or no homily. However, our Bishop encourages us to use these special services as opportunities to teach about our liturgy and practice. The selections of readings span the Old Testament and represent the grand overall drama that foreshadows events in the Christian story. The reading from Romans links the believer’s baptism with the death and resurrection of Christ, highlighting some of the ethical implications of our co-participation in Christ’s dying and rising. The Gospel reading is Mark’s brief account of the familiar story of the women coming to the tomb on Easter morning.
The women purchased and prepared the spices on Saturday evening after the Sabbath had ended so they could go to the tomb early the next morning to anoint Jesus’ body as a sign of love, devotion, and respect. Bringing spices to the tomb was like bringing flowers to the grave today.
The angels did not roll away the stone so Jesus could get out, but so others could get in, and see for 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 death conqueror 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 women to see the miracle of the resurrection. It was rolled away so others could get in and see that Jesus was gone. So that others could see.
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. 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 power of God that brought Christ’s body back from the dead is 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 do not merely tell lessons from the life of a good teacher. We proclaim the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“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. We are all raised with Christ. 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.