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Easter Vigil and Easter Day

Easter Vigil and Easter Day
April 4, 2021
Passage: Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21; Romans 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-8; John 20:1-18
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The liturgy of the Great Three Days ends this morning with the Easter Vigil. Over the course of this liturgy, we have been invited to dwell on pivotal disclosures of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. On Thursday, we were given a new command to love – not as a way of demonstrating our affection or attraction but as both evidence and a declaration of our identification with Christ. Mark Taylor reminded us that in washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus set before them and us an example of loving feet-first, a kind of love that has no boundaries or limits, which is unhindered by properness, by custom, by norm.

On Friday, we bore witness to the various stages of Jesus’ trial and execution and to the horror that engulfed his disciples as they betrayed, denied, and abandoned him. Mother Mary reminded us that the crucifixion was not part of the divine plan but was the inevitable outcome of Jesus’ life and ministry, a life and ministry that disrupted and challenged the religious and political status quo. His execution was meant to quash the momentum  of the Jesus movement, and it stands (today as it did then) as an indictment against humanity’s quest for power and control, and the violence through which we seek to grasp and maintain it. But the story doesn’t end here; the cross is the object of God’s judgment but also the site of God’s forgiveness.

On this day, Easter Day, we proclaim as a gathered community, that death could not extinguish the True Light that enlightens all people, and that by his resurrection Jesus broke open the finality of death and proclaimed that life would indeed have the last word. We exclaim with Mary that we have seen the Lord and we testify along with the angel that Christ who was crucified has been raised. The hope that Jesus elicited in his followers, which had been devastated by the crucifixion, has been ignited anew in the resurrection of Jesus.

In this present moment, I wonder if it is possible to feel the shudder of hope deep in our bones from that proclamation. I wonder if it is possible to feel the twinge of awe and bewilderment that comes from being enfolded in this mystery. I wonder if it is possible to imagine the new creation that is coming into being because of Jesus’ resurrection.

We come to this celebration today over a year into a global pandemic that has killed more than half a million people in our country alone and nearly three million world-wide. We come to this celebration today in a society where division and difference are negotiated from a place of violent fear. We come to this celebration today in a country that has birthed a national religion under the guise of Christianity, but which is steeped in racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy. We come to this celebration today after an intense year of the dominant culture being jarred out of the ignorant bliss of privilege by the tortured cries of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color. I wonder if the weight of all these death stories has trapped us in them confusion and cruelty of Good Friday or the numbness of Holy Saturday.  Are we able to experience the joyful (albeit, terrifying) promise of hope and renewal this Easter Morning? Are we able to recognize the empty tomb as the womb of new life, life no longer tethered to death’s claim to be the inevitable end of created life but tethered instead to the very life of God, the source of all that is, seen and unseen?

If you are struggling this morning to make sense of Jesus’ resurrection, if you find yourself caught up in mental debates about the plausibility and possibility of resurrected life, if the signs of death that surround us have beaten down your conviction and faith, if you’ve never experienced the transformative power of God-with-us through the love of Jesus, I invite you to hear anew the promises of resurrected life.

Resurrected life is marked by difference – it is not resuscitated life but radically transformed life. The resurrected Jesus is not simply a resuscitated Jesus. As we will hear in the coming weeks, there is something different about the Resurrected Christ – he appears and disappears; the laws of nature do not seem to hinder him as they do us. And yet, there is continuity between the Resurrected Jesus who shows himself to his disciples and the one who just days before had been laid to rest in the now empty tomb. There is recognition, albeit delayed, that the body that stands  before them, which still bears the signs of his torture, remains tangible as the crucified one. But it is the difference in the Resurrected Jesus that offers us the clue that the life he offers us is not life as normal but radically altered because it is no longer bound to the finality of death; instead, we see in the Resurrected Jesus a life that flows immediately from the Source of all created life.

The story of Jesus’ resurrection, then, is about much more than what happens after death. The resurrection life is a kind of life to which we now  have access. When Paul speaks about being baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, he is not offering a figure of speech. He is not spiritualizing or sentimentalizing the resurrected life. He means what he says – in baptism, we not only recall Jesus’ death and resurrection but we are caught up into it; it is made present to us in this moment, in the here and now, and we receive the benefits of God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. The new life that is forged in resurrection is a present reality signified by baptism and renewed every time we gather in eucharist, in thanksgiving. It unfolds within us as we strive to follow Jesus to the cross, as we ourselves become disruptions to the status quo, as we align our lives to the feet-first love that Jesus commanded us to practice. It is a false dichotomy that makes earthly life and resurrected life a binary, as if one had nothing to do with the other. Rather, the resurrected life is both about the kind of life that is possible now, in the becoming of the new creation. And, it is about the expectation of God’s faithfulness to bring about the completion, the fullness, of resurrected life, when we will finally be united to the love that creates and sustains all that was and is and is to come.

Resurrected life opens us up to new possibilities. It frees us from the tyranny of death’s shadow, from the domination of the world’s violence, so that we might become bearers of new life.
The transformation we experience in the resurrected life becomes transformational in the world. As we obey Jesus’ command to love as he did, as we care for the poor and the marginalized, as we feed the hungry, as we strive mutuality and equity, as we foster communities of healing, the resurrected life is made tangible in our world.

The crucified and risen Christ is standing before us today, just as he stood before his first disciples then. He is extending us the invitation to a different way, a different life, a risen life. He is calling your name and my name – do we recognize his voice? Can we feel his loving gaze upon our tear-soaked faces under the weight of the grief caused by so much of our collective trauma? Will we take the risk to hope in the One who promises life – not just beyond death – but here and now?

Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal Priest who lived in in the 19th-century, once preached: “Let every person count themself immortal. Let them catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let them say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I shall rise.’” And, we could add, not merely that “I shall rise,” but that “I am risen.” This is the hope of the resurrection, the seeds of new life that burst forth in the new creation in Jesus Christ. Today, as we celebrate and experience anew Christ’s Passover from death to life, let us boldly accept the invitation to the resurrected life.