In addition to everything else, Holy Week and Easter are all about memories for me. Memories of family and childhood, memories of the church I grew up in, memories of college and young adulthood. But the most vivid memories are of the Holy Weeks I spent with Episcopal congregations, first as a worshiper, then as a participant and finally as celebrant. The Triduum, the Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter are as powerful experiences for me now as they were the first time I witnessed them.
I remember the first Easter Vigil I attended, and I remember most of the ones that followed. I probably missed a couple of years for various reasons, but ever since that first time, The Great Vigil of Easter has been an important part of my life of faith. That’s not to say that they’ve all been the same or equally magnificent. I’ve worshiped in small town churches with tiny choirs and electric organs as well as cathedrals and university chapels but wherever I’ve been on this night, I have witnessed the miracle of our faith, the miracle of the resurrection.
We are all remembering tonight, even if this is the first time some of us have been at a Vigil. We are all remembering the great story of our salvation. We heard the familiar words of creation, the story of the flood, and the Red Sea, stories of God’s mighty acts in history and God’s continued promises to save God’s people. We heard too once again the story of the women coming to the empty tomb, a story most of us have heard many times before. In a few minutes we will do some more remembering.. As we baptize Walt, we will remember and reaffirm the vows we all make at baptism, we will remember our own baptisms and recommit our faith.
Remembering is not just an act of nostalgia. It is also an act of faith. The women who come to the tomb remember, and proclaim the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
The women who came to the tomb had been with Jesus throughout his ministry. We have seen them before, early in his ministry, when Luke mentions that Jesus was travelling around the villages of Galilee with the twelve, and with some women, including Mary Magdalene, who provided for the group from their resources. We saw them again on Sunday, in the Passion Narrative, when Luke tells us that they were there, watching Jesus’ death from afar. They watched as he was crucified and they watched as he was buried. Unlike his male disciples, unlike Peter who denied him and ran away, they remained steadfast, watching, remembering. They were witnesses.
After the burial, they went away, prepared spices and ointments for the body, and waited for the end of the Sabbath. They had followed him all the way from Galilee. They had heard his teaching, seen the miracles he performed, shared their resources with Jesus and the others in the little group. They were his disciples, his followers. They were full of grief and pain. All of their hopes dashed, their faith that Jesus was the Messiah had died as he died on the cross.
But still they came to the tomb. Now, just as they had ministered to him in life, they had come to the tomb to minister to his body after its death. They came to the tomb, to minister to their friend. They came to the tomb, saw that it was empty, and were perplexed.
They were perplexed, not afraid. We might imagine them trying to make sense of what they were seeing, trying to understand. And suddenly, help arrives. But when they see the two men, they become fearful, they bow down in homage. Then comes the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
It’s something of a rebuke, something like saying “you should have known better; you should have been expecting Jesus to be raised.” Then they explain and they reminded the women of what Jesus had told them. Now the women remembered. They take initiative on their own—the two men didn’t give them instructions—and return to the eleven and tell them what happened. Only now do we learn who the women were: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others. Their naming at this point is significant—up to now, they have been disciples, but after they remembered, they wanted to share the good news, to proclaim the gospel. It is only then that Luke names them. They are disciples, witnesses, preachers.
Can we imagine their joy? Can we feel with them the hope that filled their hearts? They were so bursting with it that they had to share the news. Can the Easter message that Christ is Risen fill our hearts, heal our pain, give us the assurance that our sins are forgiven? If we believe, it will do all that and more.
We, too, are called to remember. We’ve been doing that this evening, but we’ve been doing more than that. When Margaret chanted, “This is the night” she was asking us to do more than remember what happened at Easter two thousand years ago. Our liturgy is not simply a memorial, a costumed reenactment. As we participate in the liturgy, we are making the past present. “This is the night” is not just the night 2000 years ago; it is also tonight. The Eucharistic feast is not a reenactment of the Last Supper; it is participation in the heavenly banquet; it makes Christ present among us. When we remember, we are also proclaiming, as the Eucharistic Prayer we are using this evening says.
We are experiencing again the Risen Christ even as we remember those events 2000 years ago. We are experiencing again the miracle of resurrection. We are participating in the joy of Jesus’ first disciples when they learned he had broken the bonds of death. We are participating in the joy of all of Jesus’ disciples throughout history who have also experienced that new life in Christ.
But remembering is not enough. The women remembered and on their own, without prompt or command, went and told the others what they had heard and learned. And so must we. Walt will not remember his baptism. As his parents, Rob and Bethany have the responsibility of helping him come to know the love of Jesus Christ and with that love, to teach him the faith. We all have that obligation as well, as long as the three of them live among us, of sharing in the responsibility of helping Walt remember. And what good news it is that we have to give him—that in his baptism, he is marked as Christ’s own forever.
We are remembering, we are rejoicing, we are celebrating, but that isn’t enough. We must also share the good news that Christ has risen from the dead. We must share the joy of new life in Christ. And in that respect, we are, this night, very much like those women two thousand years ago. They proclaimed the good news, but the other disciples heard it as an idle tale. Our joy, our cries “He is Risen”, our music and bells may be met with disbelief and disinterest; but there will be some who may want to hear more, who may want, like Peter, to come and see for themselves. As we go from this place, full of joy and love, celebrating the resurrection, may we also be witnesses of the Risen Christ’s love to a dark world. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!