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The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter
April 21, 2019
Passage: ;Romans 6:3-11; Luke 24:1-12
Service Type:

It was early in the morning on the first day of the week. The sun was
still coming up, and a small and tired group made their way through
Jerusalem to the tomb.

That group was Father Jason Prati, Kierstin, and Brother Paul. We
walked that morning to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

So here’s the thing about the Church of the Holy Sepulcher—it’s not
like other churches.

When I go into a church I haven’t been in before, I like to check out
the familiar things: What the font looks like, the altar, the ambo or
lectern or pulpit, the tabernacle, and so on.

But the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is different from other
churches. There isn’t a font that I could find. And there are many,
many altars. And the main altar in the Catholicon isn’t really the most
important altar, nor the most visible.

But the Church of the Holy Sepulcher also has features you don’t see
in other churches—like cavalry/Golgotha, and the tomb. Yes, that
cavalry. That Golgotha. That tomb.

If you enter through the main door and turn right there are stairs that
take you to the top of the hill (now inside the church) and you see the
place where Jesus was nailed to the cross, and near it you can see and
venerate—actually touch—the place on which the cross stood in the
rock of Golgotha.

And then, if you go down the next set of stairs you pass by a slab on
the spot on which Christ was anointed. And it always, always smells of
myrrh. And people wipe scarves and other items to bless them and
soak up the smell of the myrrh.

And then, around the corner, to the right you find—under a great
rotunda called the Anastasis—what looks like a tiny, free-standing
church within the church. This is called the Edicule.

That’s where our small group went that morning. There are two
chambers in the Edicule. The first holds a piece of the stone that
sealed the tomb, and it’s a very small room. There were around ten or
twelve of us in it that morning and maybe we could have stuffed a
few more in, but not many.

At the back of that room was a small door with soft, warm
candlelight pouring out of it. In the room beyond that door was a
priest of the Latin Rite and two other people. That room is the tomb of

The Mass began at 5am and it was pretty short. Before we knew it,
the living Christ emerged from the tomb in the form of the
Sacrament carried in the priest’s hands.

The living Christ emerged from the tomb in the form of the Sacrament carried in the priest’s hands.

After Mass we stayed for a bit, looking around, savoring what had
just happened. And Father Jason said, “We just celebrated Easter where
Easter happened.”


Father Jason and I went back the next day and spent the night in the
Church. And while we were there, I got to spend some time praying
in the tomb itself.

Do you know what’s in the tomb? Nothing.

Sure, there are a couple of icons and candles. But! There is no body! The
tomb is empty!

Empire—which now acts in things like burning black churches in the
South, or church bombings in Sri-Lanka, but at that time took the
form of the cruel violence of Rome—did its worst. It killed the only
one ever to REALLY threaten it. But—and I have seen it with my own
eyes—it wasn’t enough. The tomb is empty.

This is why Eastern Christians don’t call it the Church of the Holy
Sepulcher. They call it the Church of the Anastasis. The Church of
the Resurrection.


I think anyone who can go should.

But you know… if you can’t, it’s okay. We’ve all been to the tomb.
This morning, probably tired, we all made our way here.

And when we arrived, we found ourselves not just outside the tomb,
but in the darkness of the tomb itself. And after a long time in the
darkness we witnessed Christ’s death and resurrection at the font.

And as we left the darkness and entered the light, the living Christ
emerged from the tomb in the person of the newly baptized—Aman.

Because that’s the truth of our baptism. In Baptism we die and are
raised with Christ. We even become Christ.

Saint Paul writes,

…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.
And in an ancient Holy Saturday homily that we heard in the chapel
yesterday morning we hear Jesus himself say:


I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be
held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life
of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were
created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are
in me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be


On that Sunday morning that small group of us saw the living Christ
emerge from the tomb in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Tonight we
saw the living Christ emerge from the tomb in the person of Aman.

But all who have been baptized—all of us—have died and been
raised with him. We have all been anointed as Christ. We all have the
Holy Spirit living in us.

So what if, when we leave this place—when we go out those
doors—we, in our lives, bear witness to the victory of Christ over
Empire and Death, and reveal in some way that the tomb is empty?

What if, when we go out those doors, we, too, could, for the world
out there, be the Sacrament of the living Christ, emerging from the
empty tomb?