Sermons That Work

We Have Been on a Journey, Great Vigil of Easter (B) – 1997

March 29, 1997

We have been on a journey this night. The scripture, prophecies, psalms, canticles, and stories have brought us through the long journey, the history of God’s intervention in the lives of his people. And the message that came through loud and clear in all this history is clear. Even through the darkness of death we have not been abandoned; we have not been left orphaned.

We have been loved with a steadfast love. (I hope this came through clearly as we have observed this Paschal Vigil together.)

We started with the story of Creation, the clarion call that it is God who created heaven and earth and all that is within it and yes, even us his children.

We have watched with Abraham as he obeyed and agonized, believing that the ultimate sacrifice was the slaying of his own son and, despite his great sorrow, being willing to do so because he was faithful. And from that despair, God released him.

We have come through the waters of the Red Sea dry and safe. We have not drowned in the throbbing blood of our own fear.

We have listened to the words of Isaiah and the psalmists reassuring themselves and us over and over again that the love of God is steadfast.

What a wonderful word that is. In a world where everything is transitory, where we lose youth and looks and energy, where our children grow up too fast and leave us, where jobs are suddenly taken from us, where even the amazing technology of the computers is constantly changing leaving us breathless, we are assured of one unchanging reality: God’s love is steadfast.

It is this same love that brings us through the terrible days and nights that are captured in the words of the creed: “he was crucified, dead, and buried.”

Have you ever felt fear? Have you known the rush of blood that almost chokes you and then its drop that makes you feel as though everything within you has fallen to the ground and you cannot move?

There is enormous fear in these stories. It is the release from fear that causes the psalmist to sing for joy; to dance and sing to the Lord a new song, for the Lord has delivered his people. Throughout history, over and over again, God’s children forget him and become terribly afraid. And then He has compassion upon them because of this steadfast love and comes and releases them from fear.

So here, in the dawning light of the first day, the sabbath, Our Easter Sunday, after the terrible hours of the vigil at the foot of the cross, after the burial and the loneliness of the death of the Beloved, come the women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the writer of Matthew tells us, and they are afraid. They are afraid because they have been abandoned by him who had given them hope and life. Death feels like abandonment. But they are women, and even in death, they love him. They must go to see the tomb and to do what women do. Wash the body and anoint it with oil.

But there, at the mouth of the cave, they are met by a wondrous sight. It is a fearful sight because they are confronted by the unknown: the familiar body is gone. In its place there is a being so infused with light that every time it is encountered by a human being, throughout the stories of Scripture, the human being is filled with awe. Appearance “like lightning” is pretty hard for human eyes to take in without trembling.

But notice what happens. It depends on who possesses the eyes of faith and who possesses the eyes of unbelief.

Both the women and the guards of the tomb see this being. The guards “shook and became like dead men.” But the angel said to the women, not to the guards, but the women who loved him whom they were seeking; “Do not be afraid,” were the first words said.

The women listened to the wondrous words of promise fulfilled and ran to tell the others. Still, they ran “with fear and great joy.” That’s the important part. There is always a little fear in our great joy. We are so used to losing joy. We want to hold on to it, so we are always a bit afraid that it will not last.

But because of that great joy, because of the love that had brought them there, because they believed and ran to tell the others, Jesus appears to them suddenly and makes it clear that their joy would last, that they no longer needed to be afraid.

The holy presence becomes tangible to them, they bow down and take hold of his feet and worship him. And that makes them strong enough to continue. To go tell the others, “We have seen the Lord!”

What comforting words! What energizing words! We have seen the Lord! Remember what we said at the beginning. The message that comes through to us in all the readings of this Easter Vigil is this: We have not been abandoned. We are loved with a steadfast love.

The crowning of this reality came with the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the joy that never leaves, regardless of how much goes wrong in the world, comes from the assurance that he has been raised from the dead. This is the meaning of this day.

Thanks be to God.

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Christopher Sikkema