Saturday, April 07, 2012

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Great Vigil of Easter
Romans 6.3-11; Mark 16.1-8
Saturday, April 7, 2012 – Trinity, Redlands

Tonight we travel with three women to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid following his crucifixion. For these women, this is a solemn time. Since Jesus had been killed on Friday, right before the Sabbath, they did not have adequate time to properly prepare the body for burial. The body was wrapped in a linen and placed in the tomb. But Jewish custom called for the body to be anointed with spices before being wrapped. So as soon as the Sabbath was over, they went to the tomb to complete the job. This was for them a profound act of both religious and personal loyalty. They would do this out of a sense of obligation to Jewish law, but even more so out of love for Jesus. And there was probably a deeper purpose for them – closure. Closure not only of the death of their friend and master, but also of the death of the dream he carried and taught – the fact that the kingdom he envisioned would not come to pass.

Or so they thought as they walked to the tomb.

Upon arriving at the tomb, they discover Jesus’ body missing and are told by a man “He has been raised; he is not here.” He then tells them to tell Peter and the other disciples that Jesus will see them in Galilee. Mark tells us that their response, and rightly so, is to flee the tomb “for terror and amazement had seized them,” that they were afraid. Their world had just been turned upside down. Despite Jesus having told them three times that he would die and be resurrected, they did not comprehend what he meant. Maybe even now they didn’t fully comprehend. Hence their mix of amazement and fear.

Was it because the promise might be true after all? If it were, and it sure looked like it might be, their lives would be changed. As Jesus’ followers, they would be obligated to carry on the message he had been proclaiming for three years – if they truly believed. They would be called to live with this new truth, the truth of the Resurrection, and to discover its effects in their own lives and ministries. The only response could be awed, reflective silence – silence that allows space for the voice and presence of God to break through. Anything the women would say would only serve to trivialize the experience of the empty tomb. It’s not about what they had seen. It’s about what God has done, what Christ has accomplished. He has broken the bonds of death, taken away its sting, taken away our sins, given us new life – eternal life.

From Mark’s gospel, we don’t really know what happens after the women fled in awed silence. The original text of Mark ends with the empty tomb, where today’s Gospel reading ends. This places the burden of understanding on us, the readers. The fact of the empty tomb itself does not provide conclusive proof of the Resurrection. We must trust the witness of three women and the words of a strange man in the tomb, “He has been raised; he is not here.” We are called to discover for ourselves what this means through faith and by observing the effects of the Resurrection in our own lives. In this, the abrupt original ending of Mark is an appropriate one for those of us living the effects of the Resurrection. It sends us out from the empty tomb to find our own response. This ending, as does this celebration of the Easter Vigil, expresses the sense of awe at what God has done in the life and death of Jesus Christ. No words can adequately express it. It is only in the awed silence that the truth is revealed. It is only as we continue to live with it that the truth is revealed.

The only other response that even remotely begins to capture this sense of awe is the act that will follow in a few minutes – that of baptism. The baptismal affirmation of dying and rising with Christ is at no time more powerfully embodied in the life of a worshiping community than when we do baptisms at the Easter Vigil. It is in the act of baptism, in which we go into the baptismal waters to die to self as Jesus did on the cross, and emerge from those waters, just as Christ emerged from the tomb, resurrected – cleansed, healed, forgiven, and born to the promise of new and eternal life, that is only made possible through the unbounded love and mercy of God, only made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.

In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul talks about the meaning of baptism, particularly as a sacramental sign of our sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection – our personal journey from Good Friday to Easter. Paul wants the Christians in Rome to understand that their baptism is the most important event in their lives, whereby they become a new creation, receive a new identity, and obtain new life in Jesus Christ. In this act, Paul tells his readers they are united with Christ to become part of his body – both his body the church and his resurrected life. But even more, baptism binds us to Christ and Christ to us. And in so doing, we become heirs to the promised Kingdom.

Tonight we have watched and listened as the drama of salvation history and the good news of the Resurrection have been recounted. And in mere moments, we will see both salvation history and the Resurrection reenacted through the sacrament of baptism. Tonight, Elisa, Tristan, and Thomas, mother and sons, will follow in the footsteps of countless others who have made their personal journeys from Good Friday to Easter. Tonight, this family will make the most important step in their lives. They will be bound to Christ and Christ will be bound to them. They will be made part of a much larger family, the Body of Christ. Their lives will be forever changed, leading them down a new path, continually strengthening and deepening their relationship with God and the Risen Christ. For them, Christ was resurrected this night. And so are they, as they share in the resulting promise of new life.

On this night, we join with the women at the empty tomb, standing in awed silence, as we contemplate the truth that has been revealed to us. We take in the glory of Christ’s Resurrection, as we witness while Elisa, Tristan, and Thomas enter into the joy of that Resurrection, and as we ourselves continue experiencing the effects of the Resurrection in our own lives.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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