C Easter Vigil 2013

Alleluia! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

If, in the Genesis first reading by the third Day of Creation, we have not demonstrated clearly that this great liturgy is different from all others, surely that tonight’s Sermon is listed on page 18 should be a definitive clue. This liturgy is not designed around a balance between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table. This Liturgy is more like a family reunion party after not seeing each other for a while. Everyone needs to hear our grandparent’s, our ancestors’ family stories, enough of them to recognize themselves as part of the family. We want to push those old voices along too, but the stories remind us, who we are, where we came from, what makes us a community, and to where we’re traveling together. That story, one made of so many stories, takes time and listening, time and feelings, time and mystery, time and beauty.

The stories are familiar, and yet we don’t hear them often. Some we’ve almost forgotten, and some are deeply imbedded into our consciousnesses. Doesn’t “In the beginning” set off both Genesis and John and link them together? Chunks of many of the readings set off “Messiah” in my head, like “The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea, into the sea…” and whatever reading is being done, I’m off, lost in several choruses in my head before I cycle back to what’s being presented here. It’s that kind of liturgy; that’s supposed to happen. Memories and stories, personal, literary, and biblical are all supposed to be set off, like bright fireworks, so that we engage, participate, listen, join in, with more than our slightly walled off Sunday morning church selves. More than understanding meaning, happens at this service. We hear about our forebears, and we hear the language that shaped them and now us. “So says the Lord, ‘shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’” There’s the less familiar promise, or ode to knowledge from Baruch, words and sentiment to be learned in our time. “This is our God to whom none other can be compared. God found the whole way to knowledge and gave her to his servant Jacob and Israel, whom he loved. Afterward she appeared on earth and lived with humankind. She is the book of the commandments of God, the law that endures forever…. Turn, O Jacob, and take her; walk toward the shining of her light…” That seems like an eminently worthy communal, national, ultimate goal: to value and hold fast to knowledge.

Then we reaffirm our knowledge in truth for us, that Jesus, died and rose again. We reaffirm our baptism vows, in the dark, in this community, along with myriad other communities of Christians everywhere. Then, when we have said together, even in darkness, what we believe and the way we plan to live out those beliefs, we feel the newly blessed water remind us in heart, head, and hands of our own baptisms, and we fill the holy water stoop by the door for our regular reminder of that too. We claim all of this straggled out, partly alone, but also communally in the scary darkness. Once the water is blessed, we shout with joy that “Christ is risen indeed,” and all the lights and more happen in riotous (but so well planned and orchestrated) fashion.

After all this, and finally at the seventh reading, we hear the great Easter narrative. Instead of being an old-time story or treatise, it’s as close to “just the facts, just the facts” journalism. When, where, and who came? “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” Early Saturday morning, just as light was beginning, they, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who had gone to the tomb, the account says later, these women went to tell the eleven what they’d seen. The stone had been rolled away, and when they went in they did not find Jesus’s body. “While they were perplexed about this” — what do you think this means? They gasped, they looked around and around, they looked at each other, they began to talk, make excuses, blame even someone for why it wasn’t the way they’d expected— here “perplexed” is used almost as an active verb. They were perplexing together—it’s not a word, but we sure know what it means and what they were doing. “Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still …’” and then I’ll bet they stopped “perplexing” and listening, and began to move, and squeal, and talk, and shout, and chatter, and cry, and hug each other, and weave in and out of each other’s arms, hearing what the dazzling figures were saying and meaning, but leaping around, once their words began to sink in even a little…”that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” They raced off to tell the eleven men, and I’d imagine they were breathless, and flushed, and talking at once, and to those men, “these words seemed an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  Peter at least went to check out the tomb, and “looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” What might he have said to the eleven and to the women? “Maybe they were right? Maybe I should have believed you? I too now know what’s happened.” Did he say any of these things?

We’re so there already. We’re so ready to “raise the strain of triumphal gladness.” Whether we feel our feet and spirits with the women who went to the tomb, or whether we still feel ourselves with the ten who didn’t believe them, or whether we’re inclined to go with Peter to “just check it out,” and come to amazement of what had happened, we’ve gone literally from darkness to light. We have traveled from antiquity to the time of Jesus, right to remembering our own baptisms. We’ve experienced our history and are brought to reclaiming our beliefs, and feeling anew our excitement in our Lord’s rising to new life again.

We say Christ is risen in deed. Christ is risen in truth. We claim together both a historical reality and a deep mystery of truth as well, that Christ is risen, Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia ! ! ! Good news. Alleluia !

© Katharine C. Black        C Easter Vigil    30 March 2013

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