Sermons That Work

Details, Details, Details, Great Vigil of Easter (B) – 2003

April 19, 2003

They say the devil is in the details. But don’t believe it. That is just propaganda on the part of the Evil One: Satan, the Devil himself, the Prince of Darkness. He would have us believe that he is in the details. At least that is what he was hoping we would believe yesterday, Good Friday.

The Devil knows that our lives are terribly complicated affairs, encumbered with details, weighed down every step of the way with some detail impeding our progress; that some days we cannot see the forest for the details!

So just as he did back in the Garden where he propagated the lie that if we ate the fruit of the one tree we would become like God, so he has spread this notion that the devil is in the details. Hoping, of course, that we will believe that more and more, and by thinking the Devil is in the details we will become more and more convinced that he really is the one who rules the world.

Just as he wanted us to believe that lie in the garden about becoming like God, he was hoping we would actually forget that we are already like God. Created in God’s image we are! Whenever we forget this, however, the Devil really does get into the details.

The same is true with the story of Easter: the story of the empty tomb; the story of resurrection; the story of new life. When we miss or forget the details, we lose sight of what this story is really about, which is not just that the dead one is on the loose! At the heart of this story, in fact at the heart of the whole history of God’s work in the world, is new life for all of us. As in ALL of us: the living and the dead.

So it is way back in the story of the Flood that we are given the gift of the Rainbow and a promise of life for all people and every living creature. Every detail of creation will reflect the goodness of God.

And in the story of the Exodus, the promise of new life for the people of God outside the Egyptian empire with its endless production of bricks made without straw. Escape from bondage to a new life of freedom in a covenant that is to be a blessing to all the peoples of the world. God will be in the details of each and every person’s life whether Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, believer or non-believer.

And there is the poet Isaiah’s vision of new life nourished by real bread, real wine, real milk, all given for no price so that we might eat what is good, delight in fatness, and hearken to the Lord. God will be in the details of every sip we take, every mouthful we chew.

And there is the poet Ezekiel’s vision of God’s breath bringing our tired old bones back to life, and not just life but new life. God’s own spirit will be placed in our hearts, and we shall live, really live in a whole new way. God will be in every breath we take!

Sometimes, we forget the details of our story. When we forget them we forget about God. And sometimes the details are hidden, and so we miss those places where God is hard at work in our lives continuing to bring all this newness and fatness and spiritedness into being-into the very core of our being.

Tonight’s story of the Resurrection is like that. Matthew and the editors of our lectionary have conspired to help us to forget or overlook some of the details. One of the most compelling details of how Matthew remembers the story of the tomb is that when Jesus is raised from the dead, Matthew reports that millions of dead people start wandering into the streets of Jerusalem appearing to people all over the city!

Yet, when we read the story as the lectionary gives it to us tonight, we don’t get that. That detail is hidden, because Matthew gave us that detail a few verses before, in the final details of the Good Friday story. So due to an editorial choice by Matthew, and another editorial choice by the lectionary committee, and the church’s tradition of spreading this story out over three days, we miss that detail. That detail is hidden. We can forget how incredibly awesome that event must have been.

Imagine walking the ramparts on top of the wall that surrounds and protects the Old City of Jerusalem. As one walks along the top of that ancient wall, one comes around a bend and can see the Mount of Olives. The very place, we are told, where Jesus prayed the night before his death and crucifixion. And when one looks out on the Mount of Olives, one sees something like two million graves. One sees two million graves, because Jewish tradition holds that when Messiah comes, it will be through the city gate one sees from the Mount of Olives. So these graves are like the box seats or sky-boxes for the coming Day of the Lord. People want to be buried there so they can be on hand for the big event.

Now these graves are really vaults above ground: two million vaults on a hillside above the Kidron Valley. From atop the ramparts it is a powerful thing to behold. So try to imagine being a Roman soldier on top of the ramparts defending and keeping peace over the occupied city. Somewhere across town, some criminals of the state are being executed by crucifixion. Nothing new in that: but suddenly, says the text, at the moment Jesus cried loudly and breathed his last, there is an earthquake, and all those tombs on the Mount of Olives are opened, and those thought to have been dead and gone began milling around on the hillside saying, “Hey, the time is near! Wake up sleepy heads! Get ready! Time to watch and see!”

Even the text says, “The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, ‘This has to be the Son of God!'” And it is also here that it says that after the Resurrection all those millions of bodies flooded into the gates of the city.

Standing atop the ramparts, imagine yourself to be a Roman soldier on the day of Resurrection. The very thought is breathtaking. And one suspects that instead of saying this must be the Son of God, one might turn to a fellow soldier companion and say, “That’s enough for me in this man’s army! Let’s get back to Italy and away from all this madness! It’s time to relax with some pasta and chianti classico!”

So as Matthew tells the story, God really goes to work on Good Friday getting all the dead on their feet and ready to stream into the city on Easter morning!

God, not the Devil, is in the details. And if God is in the details of this story, we can be assured that God is in the details of our lives.

Which brings us to this night. This night is when we first see the light of Christ in the darkness — even though since Friday it would seem to the casual observer that the darkness had, in fact, won out; that the Devil was in fact in the details. Suddenly, there is a flicker of light on this one candle. And this light shines in the darkness. And this light is passed to each of us, a gift of God’s light that we can hold in our own hands: a reminder to us all that we are in fact made in the image of God. And God’s image is light, and life, and love, and it is good. And if it is good, so are we.

These are the details of life that we often overlook or simply cannot see because of all the details of our lives. Because we begin to believe that the darkness is winning. Because we believe that the Devil is in the details.

It may be that sometimes we can only see this light in the darkness. Now that all the lights are on in this church, it is harder to see its flame. It may be that sometimes we need to go deeper into the darkness to see, to find, to rediscover this light of Christ that God has placed inside of us in our Baptism.

Other times we have only to notice and pay attention to the details to see, to know, to realize that God is at work in us. And sometimes God gives us a precious gift like a little baby to baptize, or even an adult, to help us focus on the details that really matter. So that we can remember that there was a time when the breath of God blew on us and filled us with God’s spirit. So that we can remember that some of the fire from this holy candle was placed in our hearts the day of our baptism. So that we can remember that this light has shined since it first was spoken into being by God’s thundering command, “Let there be light!” So that we remember that this light has shined in the darkness and that the darkness has never, ever, not once, overcome it.

And so we can remember that the Sign of the Cross has been traced on our foreheads sealing us as Christ’s own forever: the Cross we are asked to carry; the Cross that leads us wherever we go; the Cross we are meant to honor in every person we meet. To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

This light of Christ is in every living creature. It is the very light of life itself. It is a little detail like this that can change the life of the whole world. Because when we realize that it is in fact God who is in the details that we remember that God is with us day and night.

And as Paul Harvey says, “that’s the rest of the story!”

For Matthew’s account of the Resurrection ends with the words, “And Lo! I am with you always to the end of the age!” For those who pay attention to the details, it is God who is there.

May we be like those women as they fled the tomb with a mixture of fear and joy. The one who was dead, they were told, is on the loose. And sure enough, as they ran through the streets of the Old City, there he was. And they fell at his feet and held on for dear life, just as a child holds on to the legs of her mother or father.

Tonight, may we throw ourselves at his feet and hold on for dear life. Hold on to Jesus. Never let go. Do not be afraid. Like the disciples, we will see him. And he will be with us in all the details of our lives now and forever to the end of the age.


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Christopher Sikkema


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