26 March 2016
Matthew 28: 1-10
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
At the Passover Sedar, that is, the table worship of the Jewish Passover, it is traditional for the youngest child to ask four ritual questions. While each question is different they all ask; “Why is this night different from every other night?” We might well ask that question of our worship tonight. After all, tomorrow is Easter Day, so, why this celebration tonight? Are we jumping the gun somehow? I don’t think so. In fact some of you may have heard me say that this service, The Great Vigil of Easter, is the first and , arguable, primary, celebration of the Easter season. You see, this is the night of new beginnings. This night, the night when heaven meets earth, this night is filled with God’s glory. On this most holy night, our Lord Jesus passed over from death into resurrection life. This is the foundational event for the entire Christian Community. This night calls us to respond in gratitude and joy. Look back with me, for just a minute, into Holy Week. With Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Holy Saturday forms the Paschal Triduum, or Great Three Days. In a real sense the worship services of those three days form one continuous liturgy. We began on Maundy Thursday with Jesus’ new commandment to us.
“Love one another”, he said,” as I have loved you so should you love one another.” On Good Friday we stood in the shadow of the cross and saw that love acted out most fully in Jesus’ willing death. Imagine it. Having lived for us, Jesus loved each of us enough to die for us. Tonight when we light that new fire, the light of Jesus’ love shines into the darkness of our lives. Tonight when we review salvation history, we hear how God lovingly created us, and more lovingly restored us, calling us to be a new people in Jesus’ name. What else? Tonight we renewed our covenant with God made by us, or for us, at Baptism. Remember? “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever”. Tonight, as we make Eucharist, the first Eucharist of the Easter season, we proclaim Jesus’ resurrection. “Alleluia, Christ is risen”, “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.” We say it strongly. We say it with joy. We say it in the face of the darkness we see, and sometimes experience, all around us. Now I want to say, I am a firm believer in the power of story. Stories can teach us, they have, for better or worse, the power to change us. I especially love children’s stories. They often tell the truth about the best of what it is to be human in this world. And, it’s important to recognize that these stories we heard tonight, stories about God’s working in history and about Jesus’ death and resurrection are ancient stories told by ancient people. At the same time, let’s be honest, because these stories are so old and because they don’t offer fact in the way television news does, remember there were no video cameras in Jesus time, there was no CCTV to capture the action, it can be easy to relegate them to something on the level of children’s stories. I want to tell you though these stories are not just another children’s story. This story of Jesus death and resurrection holds real truth, serious truth, deep truth.
Tonight we proclaim that truth, Jesus, who was dead, is alive. We make our proclamation in the shadow of the cross. We proclaim the truth that God, out of love for us, is active and working though human history to restore all people to new life as God dreamed it at creation. In the shadow of all that is wrong in this world whether that be the horror of terror attacks or the voices of fear that declare all that is unknown and different to be dangerous, we say “Alleluia, Christ is risen” (“The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia”) Those who have been pushed off to the margins, those who weep and mourn, those who live with no hope at all need much more than another children’s story, however good. Presiding Bishop Curry, in his Easter message to the church, has some wise and wonderful things to say and I thank him for them, his message has shaped my message.
Bishop Curry quotes George McLeod, founder of the Iona Community, who says this:
“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage dump, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. It was the kind of place where cynics talk smut, thieves curse, soldiers gamble. That’s where he died. And that’s where we as Christians ought to be and what we as Christians ought to be about.” I can’t say it strongly enough. Tonight, tonight, the culmination of the Paschal Triduum and the beginning of the Easter season is not an idle children’s story. It is, as Bishop Curry says, “the revelation of ultimate reality.” And our world desperately needs to hear that truth. Here’s the thing. It’s hard, sometimes the truth hurts after all, but look squarely at Jesus. Jesus, in his life and in his death, shows us what the love of God looks like. He shows us how to do God’s love in our lives. Remember, remember this, on Good Friday it looked a lot like death won. Then something amazing happened, something incredible. Those women went to the tomb and found it empty Empty. Jesus has been raised from the dead, just as he said. Did you hear what Jesus said to those women? Did you hear it? He said: “Do not be afraid”. Then he told them to go and tell the others and he said that they would see him too. You know, it’s not just those women, Jesus is talking to us. He’s saying don’t be afraid, see, death didn’t win, not really. The truth is, it’s life and love that wins. Thanks be to God. Don’t be afraid, go and tell others so they can see Jesus too. As we live Jesus’ love, as we carry God’s love into the world around us in ways both big and small, we will follow Jesus into new life, resurrection life. Alleluia. Walk with Jesus, live as Jesus did, love as Jesus did, be partners with God to change this world from the mess we have made of it into the dream God intends for it. Amen