The Pas Easter Vigil
13 April 2017
Psalm 114 pg 862
O God of glory,
in the Easter dawn
you raised Jesus from death to life.
As we are united with him in death,
unite us with him in resurrection,
so that we might walk in newness of life. Amen.
This morning we are greeted by momentous events. Events heralded by the words “Don’t be afraid.” (Mt 28:5)
This morning the tomb is opened, not by human hands, but by divine purpose.
This morning the one who died on the cross greets his closest friends and urges them to be strong in their faith, in their determination to carry the angels message to those who haven’t come to the tomb, to those who don’t see the discarded grave clothes.
He says “Greetings. Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Mt 28:9-10)
Today we encounter the angel at the door of the tomb, we encounter our Lord and Saviour in the Garden. We face the miracle of the resurrection.
At the same time, we witness the squadron of soldiers so overcome by the glory of God that they fall down like dead men (Mt 28:4)
And in the face of the fear that has the ability to fell battle hardened soldiers, we find a pair of women who come, out of love, to do for one whom they love the last earthly act they can imagine.
An act of love that God’s own act of love trumps.
On Friday, we watched as Jesus died on the cross. In this death, we saw God’s act of love, God’s actions begin to remove the unmovable barrier between humanity and God begin.
We saw Jesus die for you, and for me so that we can have a relationship with God that before today, before the resurrection only God could fully envision.
So, what we see, here, today is a continuation of that same act of love.
Here, we are able to witness that God committed an act of love through Jesus death on the cross. But this action isn’t complete until this morning when Jesus rises from the grave. When Jesus breaks the bonds of sin and death. When the stone is rolled back and the only evidence that the tomb has been occupied in any way is the discarded grave clothes and wrappings
On Friday, Jesus committed an act of love when he went to the cross bearing the burden of our sins. And we might look at this only as Jesus fulfilling God’s will, but John’s gospel, on Maundy Thursday reminds us that Jesus knew what was to come, and still he walked to that cross.
On Thursday, John points out that knowing what he knew, Jesus still he took off his outer robe and washed the feet of his disciples, to set us the example of how we should serve each other, in love.
On that same night, Jesus still blessed and broke the bread and blessed the wine to teach us that even now when Jesus has gone to where we are not yet prepared to follow, we continue to be loved, and supported in our journey, here on earth.
He reminds us, as we remember him, that we are filled up with God’s spirit, and sent out by the one who is and whose every action shows us an act of love.
Those who followed Jesus, even from afar, felt that Friday marked the end of Jesus ministry amongst us, but that’s only because they don’t yet recognize God’s actions in the world around us, today. Not until the women encounter the angel, the unconscious soldiers, and the discarded grave clothes do they realize that God is in fact still working to commit this ultimate act of love that brings us closer to the love of God, every day.
And, so, today we see the women go to the tomb to do for Christ what they couldn’t do on Friday before the sun set; and along the way they encounter God in action.
They encounter the angel, at the tomb, who I’m sure sits on the removed stone with a grin to rival that of the cat who ate the canary.
The women encounter the felled soldiers, outside the tomb, not dead, but so overcome by the love of God that they are unconscious.
And they encounter the resurrected Christ, in the garden.
They cling to his feet. In their brief time with him, they express their loss, their sorrow, and their newfound joy that God has fulfilled God’s act of love on behalf of all of humanity, for all who believe.
And the other readings for this morning reinforces the degree of love that God has for us and for all of humanity since the creation of the world.
In Exodus, we heard: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today … The Lord will fight for you, and you only have to keep still.” (Ex 14:13-14)
In this passage, the Israelites are newly freed from Pharaohs grip, and yet gripped by his own sorrow and grief, Pharaoh wishes to change his mind, once more. So God, stands between the Israelites and their foe.
God opens the seas to the Israelites so they can cross over on dry land, and God defeats Egypt in a way that means Israel is free to become the people of God.
Isaiah tells us “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” (Isa 55:6)
Isaiah writes to those exiled from Israel and sold into slavery, reminding us that we need to seek God in the world around us. Isaiah reminds us that there are times in our lives when it feels that the one we love and the one who loves us is not close at hand.
From Zephaniah we’re told “Sing … shout aloud … Be glad and rejoice with all your heart … The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. … Do not fear, … do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you the Mighty Warrior who saves.” (Zeph3:14-17)
What beautiful language: “Sing, Shout, be glad, rejoice, the Mighty Warrior … saves.” This is language that evokes visions of celebration at God’s magnanimity; visions of God’s forgiveness of the errors of our ways, the errors of our days.
And Paul tells us, in the letter to the Romans, “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united to him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom 6:5)
Paul reminds us that our life, our death, our journey of faith is so tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus that God’s act over these days is inseparable from God’s acts in our lives and in our lives of faith.
We are surrounded by reminders of the resurrection, of the love that God has for all of humanity in both the Old and New Testament readings for today. We are reminded that is a gift, an act of love for which God has prepared for many generations.
A gift that we in no way have deserved, except for the fact that we believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and that he dies for our sins.
We find our assurances in the evidence that stands before us. We find it in the words of our creeds. We find it in the faith of two women, who out of love went out to perform a last act of love for Christ, and were instead shown an act of love by God.
So, here we stand. The tomb is empty, Jesus is alive and goes on before us, leading us from death into life, from the darkness into light.
Here we stand before the love of God, not only manifest in the actions that led to the cross, but through the boundaries of death and the grave to new life, today.
It begins, here, before the empty tomb.
It begins with the garden encounter.
It begins, for these two women, and for each one of us, in the dawn light, with the words “Don’t be afraid.”