Saturday, April 15, 2017

Earthshaking News

Great Vigil of Easter
Genesis 22.1-18; Exodus 14.10-31, 15.20-21; Ezekiel 36.24-28; Romans 6.3-11; Matthew 28.1-10
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

“Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (Mt 28.2).

In Matthew’s account, the resurrection is heralded by an earthquake. And if you remember back to our Passion narrative on Palm Sunday, at the moment of Jesus’ death, “the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Mt 27.51b). Coincidence? Of course not. In the Hebrew scriptures earthquakes are often interpreted as a signs or manifestations of God’s power and authority. We see this reflected by the response of witnesses at the crucifixion – “when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Mt 27.54).

And now, on the third day, another earthquake. We might call it an aftershock. And in a theological sense, it certainly was. But in this seismic event, there is no doubt that God’s power is being revealed. For the earthquake is accompanied by the appearance of an angel. In biblical symbolism, angels are messengers of God, extensions of the power of God. The earthquakes at Jesus’ death and then again at his resurrection, mean to convey that the entire world is shaken by God’s actions at the tomb.

And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are witnesses to this earth shaking event. They are unique in that they are the only ones on the entire planet who have witnessed both Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. And their experience of those two events is informed by the time they spent with Jesus and the other disciples, when he told them no less than three times that he would be killed and then on the third day he would be raised. So here, on the third day, they have come to see the tomb.

Often, in scripture, “to see” denotes understanding of or insight into God’s purposes. Trusting in what Jesus had told them about his death and resurrection, they wanted to be there, to see, to encounter, their risen Lord. They go in hope, to witness his resurrection first-hand. The angel confirms the fulfillment of God’s purposes. “Don’t be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay” (Mt 28.5-6).

The angel commissions the women to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection – “Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him’” (Mt 28.7). When they start to leave, to go and proclaim Christ’s resurrection, they encounter the Risen Christ directly. They now have firsthand experience of the resurrection. And again, Christ reiterates the commission, to go out and proclaim Christ’s resurrection.

Those who witness his death are also the first to witness his resurrection. They are the first to worship the Risen One. And they become the first to bear witness to the fact that Jesus has indeed been resurrected.

This is earthshaking, not just because of the resurrection, but because of what has been accomplished in and through the resurrection. What has been accomplished has actually been in the works from the beginning of salvation history. Each of the vigil readings we heard this evening gives us a piece, an aspect, of what has been accomplished.

The story of the sacrifice of Isaac, while a difficult, unpleasant story, does end well, by the grace of God. Pointing to the redemption ultimately achieved for us. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are saved from sacrifice. Jesus is the sacrifice that is offered for us.

The story of Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea is the story of the liberation of God’s people from an oppressive enemy. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see ourselves as being liberated from the oppressive enemy that is sin and death. That this is accomplished by us being brought through the waters of baptism. Going into the waters of baptism, we share in share in Christ’s death. Rising out of the waters of baptism, we share in his resurrection and new life. Just as the story of the Passover and deliverance at the Red Sea is central to Jewish identity, the image of baptism, of which deliverance at the Red Sea is one icon, is central to our Christian identity.

Nowhere is this emphasized more than in the passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans we just heard read. In this seminal expression of Pauline theology, the death and resurrection of Christ are not just viewed as historical events, but are present realities for believers, who now are dead to sin and alive in Christ.

The result of this identity is prefigured in the image of a new heart and a new spirit prophesied by Ezekiel. We see in the resurrection of Jesus Christ the inauguration of the new creation that Ezekiel describes. The clean water, the image of baptism, cleansing us and making us new in heart and spirit, making us the people of God.

The resurrection isn’t merely the culmination of the three days following Jesus’ crucifixion. It is the culmination of the entirety of salvation history. The third day is the center of history. As Christians, this day is what gives meaning to our lives of faith. This day is what gives meaning to our lives, period. The past, present, and future all coming together. The stories of salvation history – the events not just of Holy Week but of God’s actions from the beginning of creation to be in relationship with his people – coming together with where we are now in our own individual lives of faith, coming together with the present and future fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. In God’s time, all these events, all time, converge in this one day. In this focal point in history, sin and death are defeated. We are redeemed and sanctified. We are given eternal life. Now that’s earthshaking news!

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

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