Living the Easter story: A Sermon for the Easter Vigil, 2019

A few minutes ago, we baptized Adrian and Roland. If my math is correct, Adrian celebrated his 30thbirthday yesterday; Roland was born on January 15, so he’s just over 3 months old. Adrian has a story he tells about himself, where he came from, who he is. Roland’s story is just beginning and he isn’t able to tell it yet.

But tonight, both of them entered into another story, the story of salvation. We heard some of those highlights in the series of readings from Old Testament, beginning with Creation, the Flood, and the deliverance at the Red Sea. We heard another version of that story in Paul’s description of baptism from the letter to the Romans:

all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

The story Paul tells of our baptismal sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection is not a story we read, but a story we live.

The story from the gospel we heard, the story of the resurrection, is a story that is spare in its details and leaves much to the imagination. Women come to the tomb on the first day of the week, to complete the rituals associated with burial in first-century Judaism. Luke names the women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others. He also mentions that they have followed Jesus from Galilee. In other words, these women were among the disciples who had made the journey to Jerusalem. Two of them, Mary Magdalene and Joanna, he had mentioned much earlier in the gospel, identifying them and others as providing for the group from their resources.

They were also watching at the crucifixion, these women. They watched his burial, prepared spices and ointments, and on the Sabbath, Luke tells us, they rested.

The women came to the tomb. They were performing rituals they may have performed many times before, for parents, husbands, perhaps, very likely children. But had they ever done it with the same amount of grief and fear? After all, they were strangers here in Jerusalem. They had come down from Galilee with a leader who had been arrested and then executed by Rome. Their male companions were in hiding from the authorities, afraid that they would be arrested and executed as well. As women, it may have been less likely that they would come to the attention of the Roman occupation, but still, they must have been worried.

They came to the tomb, to mourn for their beloved teacher, to mourn their dashed hopes, to bury those hopes alongside with Jesus. They came to do their duty, to complete the obligations that their relationship with the buried one demanded. To do otherwise, not to complete the burial rituals would have been a disgrace, a denial of their relationship, a breaking of the bond of humanity and love that tied them to him.

We can imagine them telling each other the story they had lived—the story of the teacher they had met, the story of all the things he had done, the things he had told them. We can imagine the story they shared, the story of their hopes for a redeemed and renewed Israel, and the bitter, sad end that they were living that morning. It was a story like so many others throughout Israel’s history.

They came and they discovered an empty tomb. Luke doesn’t say that they were surprised to find the stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb but he does tell us that when they entered, the were perplexed, confused. Not afraid, not angry, not disappointed. They were perplexed. They didn’t know what to make of this sign; they didn’t know how to interpret the empty tomb. They didn’t know what story they would tell now.

Suddenly, they found themselves in a new story. Disoriented still, two men in dazzling clothes appeared next to them, eliciting their fear and awe. They asked the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but he is risen. Remember how he told you…”

“Remember.”

The story Jesus had been telling them, about his death and resurrection was a story they hadn’t paid attention to because of the story they had been telling themselves about him. But now, they remembered his story. Whether it made sense, we don’t know. But it was plausible enough that they went back to the other disciples and told them what they had seen and heard. They remembered the story and they wanted to help the disciples remember as well.

We remember this story tonight: the story of God’s mighty acts in history; of God freeing the Hebrews from slavery and taking them to a promised land. We remember the story of Jesus, crucified under Pontius Pilate and raised on the third day.

We remember the stories of our baptisms, dying with Christ and being raised into new life. We remember the promise of resurrection.

The Church has told this story for two thousand years. It was first told by women who went to the tomb and found it empty. It has been told throughout history, throughout all the world. Over the centuries, it has been told with varying degrees of conviction. Often, it is in telling the story that we begin to remember it; in telling the story, as we do tonight in darkness, lighting the new fire; in the flicker of candlelight; often, perhaps always, it is in telling the story, in our body’s actions as we participate in it, that the story becomes real to us, that it becomes our story.

Tonight as they were baptized, Adrian and Roland were brought into this story. It is now theirs as well. May they remember the story; may they inhabit the story, so that it becomes theirs and they enter into Christ’s death and resurrection. And in years to come, when doubts and uncertainties arise on their journey, may they remember this story of Christ’s death and resurrection and may it give them strength to continue.

As we go from this place into the night, into a dark city and world full of conflict and struggle, full of despair and fear, full of pain and suffering. As we go from this place into the dark world, may we remember the story we have told tonight, may we remember the story we have enacted tonight. May we remember and experience the resurrection of Jesus Christ and God’s victory of death, evil, and the grave. May we boldly proclaim the story we have heard, the story we have experienced, the story we live: Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

 

 

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