Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Vigil, Year B, Sunday April 12, 2009

Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

Preached by The Rev. Ellen Francis, OSH

All people of the earth, everywhere and in every age, have asked the questions, who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Why have we succeeded (when all goes well) and why have we failed (when things are going not so well)? All peoples, throughout history, have attempted to answer these questions by telling their stories: of how they were created, of how they grew and struggled and loved and sinned, and of how they have searched for God.

At the Easter Vigil, we have the opportunity to hear the whole sweep of our sacred story. We hear of the creation, of falling away from God and from each other, of searching for God, and even more importantly – of God’s faithful and persistent efforts to draw us home. And in today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew we hear of Jesus and of the empty tomb on the first day of the week and at the beginning of the new creation.

In hearing our whole sacred story, we get the big picture, as if we were flying at 30,000 feet, looking down on all nations and peoples and all history. We could, each one of us, read these lessons alone. But by reading them together, we affirm that this is OUR story. Across time and space and many differences, we can still feel that there is an unbreakable web connecting each of us to God and to each other and to peoples of ages past, present, and yet to come. We are all intimately part of this story as Christ is intimately a part of us.

I have heard that when the first international teams of astronauts circled the earth in a space ship, on the first day in space they were eager to point out their own countries to each other. On the second day in space, they pointed out to each other the region or continent each of them came from. Then, on the third day, there was a dramatic shift and they saw no boundaries, but only one spectacular and beautiful planet, with rivers and mountains and deserts and forests and plains and oceans.

We are one in our common heritage and in our life in Christ. As we listen to these readings and let the words wash over us, and as the expanse of our spiritual story is laid out before us, we may come to realize how much we need our shared story and how much we need each other, and how much we need to recognize and welcome Jesus among us, our crucified and risen Lord. We need those who share our heritage and common story of faith.

We also need those who share a wider common story, of our faith journey in Christ. We even need the stranger and foreigner and the one who is so different from us, and who is still our neighbor. We all need each other as fellow travelers and listeners to God’s revelation. In a world of darkness and division and suffering, we do need to see the neighbor in all faithful people, and to see in them the light of Christ.

St. Paul wrote in the letter to Philippians: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection”. To know Christ is the life-long work of every Christian. Matthew’s Gospel tells us where we will not find him: “He is not here” in the empty tomb. He does not stay in the place of death. He is alive with God, drawing us out of death and darkness, despair and fear, and he is with us always. He is the One who chose to die in innocence. He turned away from fear, and tells us also “do not be afraid”. And so we are called to “make disciples of all nations” and to extend the invitation to all peoples to know of God’s reconciling and faithful love.

When we ask the eternal questions: who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? What is our purpose? – answers flow through faith in the risen Christ to define our common identity, purpose, and destination in God.

Jesus’ resurrection draws us also into life without fear and without the darkness of death. Jesus offers us the possibility of life without end in the embrace of a loving God. The power of Christ’s resurrection gives us this promise: I am with you always; I love you always; I sustain you always. Do not be afraid, but trust and hope and rejoice.

Imagine the power of God to transform fear and death and separation, into love and hope and joy. Because he died to sin, we are alive to God in Christ Jesus. This is God’s gift to us in the risen Christ.

Thanks be to God! Alleluia!

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