Sermons That Work

Come See the Place Where He Lay, Great Vigil of Easter (A) – 2005

March 26, 2005

There are places where time seems to disappear. Travelers know all about that feeling. It is a feeling. A “place” may be many things. Finding an old family Bible in the attic, opening it to a page where births, marriages, and deaths are recorded. You recognize the name of a great-grandmother whom you didn’t know, but who you had heard stories about, and, for a moment contact is made. Part of the mind tells us that the contact is merely emotional. Great-grandmother died years ago. We didn’t know her. Yet another part of the brain seems to reach out telling us that there’s more to know.

If the attic is in a home, a place where great-grandmother actually lived, the contact seems even more alive and vivid. Come, see the place where she lived. Perhaps there’s surviving furniture, a quilt great-grandmother made, touched, worked on so lovingly. Did she die in that old bed? Is that the place where she lay? And then we get goose bumps. The practical side of us tells us that what we feel, that extra “touching” feeling isn’t real. Perhaps it’s a mood. That table in the dining room at which great-grandmother sat, on all those Thanksgivings when the extended family gathered together—at which she gave her husband the illusion of importance—is still there to see.

Tonight our eyes are centered on a table, an altar which a few hours ago was bare, stark, almost devoid of memories. If we were there on Maundy Thursday, we watched it being stripped, physically, almost brutally deprived of meaning. Darkness seeped into the church. Part of us seemed lonely, so lonely. Now, in the darkness we return, like Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” looking for our dead loved one, looking for a place to establish contact, to bring back memories, to mourn. We may have lit candles from the great Paschal Candle. The lessons read reach back to memories of our ancestors in faith, the Jewish people, and their experiences of the Living God. Sounds like a history lesson. The trouble with history lessons is that some of us find history dreadfully boring!

Yet for all the candles we may be trying to find the place where he lay. In the words of a lovely hymn our hearts sing:

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heaven was his home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein he lay.

St. Matthew won’t let us stay there. Our Table, our altar isn’t a place where we make an emotional contact with a spiritual ancestor who said such wonderful things, did such marvelous deeds, and then died brutally at the hands of powerful people. Matthew brings us to the place where he laid but won’t leave us there. The two women called Mary, one he loved so much, one who was perhaps his mother, are taken to the place where he laid, to bring them to the place at which they discover that he is not there at all.

St. Matthew continues:

‘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.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Tonight in the surrounding darkness there’s a realization of light. We are urged to leave memories of the past and hurry to Galilee where he lives and waits to meet us. But where is Galilee for us? Galilee was where it all started. Jesus’ brothers and sisters met him in Galilee. It was there that Jesus touched them and they “touched his feet.” It was there they met someone who changed them forever. And now Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are urged to tell the same brothers and sisters to find him.

Tonight this church is no longer a place to seek him where he laid, but the place where we find him now. He waits for us to catch up with him. He waits to take us beyond finality, beyond mourning, beyond the prison of time and death. Jesus bids us come to the place where we remember that we have been changed forever. Those who are to be baptized tonight are “changed forever.” Those who remember that we are baptized are changed forever. That being changed, that being born anew, that living in him and his living in us is so much more than merely experiencing an emotion of visiting a place where he lay, or even lived.

That table, lonely, unused, in the old family home, is valuable. We could get a good price for it at auction. Great-grandmother is long gone. She feeds no one. The family is scattered. Our children have no memories of the purpose it served.

Yet our Table is Galilee, spread to serve the family meal, there to gather us together and waiting there, at that Table, is Jesus who welcomes us, feeds us and renews us. Tonight we have listened to the Mother and Mary Magdalene, and we come from the darkness of sin and death into light and Life. Jesus is here, the Risen Jesus, waiting to feed us with his love, his goodness, his mercy. We are bidden to be witnesses, “experiencers,” and life-givers to the truth, a truth beyond memory or emotion. That life- changing truth is expressed in a simple cry: He is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

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Christopher Sikkema


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