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Easter Vigil 2009

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Theme: We are promised something better

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, the darkness is broken, we are free from sin, death is vanquished; thank you for your son, who made all of this possible, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses followed Joseph of Arimathea to find out where Jesus’ body would be laid. The sabbath was near and it would be forbidden to anoint his body in the proper way. Once the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary, the mother of James, came with spices to anoint Jesus’ body. The usual spice for this purpose was myrrh.

The morning after the sabbath was a Sunday. They were now allowed by the law to do for Jesus what they could not do after his death. It was sunrise. They could have done this the night before, but it would be difficult to do in the dark.

As they walked, they forgot to do one important thing. They forget to recruit a man or two to roll back the stone at the tomb’s entrance. They asked each other who would do this task. Were they testing each other to provoke, perhaps, two of them to roll back the stone?

To their relief, when they arrived the stone was already rolled away! And it was huge! They were, obviously, expecting to find Jesus’ body in the tomb and instead, they found a young man, dressed in white, sitting there. They were amazed and struck with terror.

Many different thoughts must have been coursing through their brains. Is this a grave robber? And if so, will he do us harm now that he has been caught? Is he a Roman who might arrest us? Worse, was he sent from heaven, which would be even more frightening?

The first thing the young man did was to calm the women. Then he told them why they were there – a very clever young man! They are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. Even though he died on a cross, he isn’t here. (Which seemed very obvious.) “In case you don’t believe me, go see where they laid him.” He ain’t there.

Now the young man is giving the women their marching orders, “Go and tell Peter and the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee.” Two odd things about this remark. First, when I list someone’s name and then use the group name, I do so because the individual’s name does not belong in the group. But it may be that the young man wants to be sure that Peter is informed and then try to tell as many of the disciples as possible.

The second thing is that Galilee is a big area. Just where are they to meet Jesus? Perhaps that exact place was pre-arranged. “Oh yeah, Galilee. I know where we need to be.” Jesus did tell them that he wasn’t going to stay dead. It must not have sunk in. You know, sometimes – people don’t listen.

But what happened was not according to script. The women were dazed, scared, and confused and they probably didn’t believe a word that the young man said. “Yeah, like we are going to tell the disciples that Jesus is going to meet them in Galilee? They’re going to think we are nuts! They all know Jesus died on a cross. They’ll laugh at us and kick us out of the group.” Out of fear, they told no one anything about their encounter at the tomb. They must have been Episcopalians!

But at least the women showed up. Peter didn’t. This is how Mark’s gospel ends. It is so abrupt and so hopeless that later editors added resurrection stories to this gospel.

This is not a pretty picture. Maybe Jesus had some gaps in his training program: Jesus has a friend betray him. All but one of his disciples flee after his arrest. And the one who hung around denies he ever knew Jesus. The only ones who bothered to witness his crucifixion were a few women. And when they go to the empty tomb and are told to announce the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, they go hide and keep the good news to themselves.

How did the church ever get started by all these losers? It is truly a miracle that we are here today to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. It is also miracle that the Episcopal Church is still around, since we, like the women, are too afraid to tell others about the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.

The story got told and we are here, because God’s faithfulness has no bounds. Our failures, our unfaithfulness, our infidelity, even our interpretive schemes will not keep God from transforming us and the world. As Mark’s gospel ends, we are left in holy awe.

Robert Herhold is a west coast pastor whose brother died some time ago. Listen to his description of the ministry that went on between brothers in the final days before his brother’s death.

My brother experienced eternal life before he died. Eternity began in time for him. We laughed and kidded up to his last day in the hospital where he was also the administrator. I thought I was ministering to Wayne, but I discovered that he was ministering to me. We prayed often and in one of our last prayers, he thanked God for our being together.

God seemed to draw him closer and closer to himself, but strangely not further from us. When I would get overly religious, Wayne would puncture it with his humor. He once awoke and asked if he had said anything incriminating in his sleep. I assured him that he had. “How much did I pledge to the church?” he inquired!

In those last days - not last but beginning days - Wayne moved gracefully from the things on earth to the things above. His humor became sharper as his perspective deepened. He suffered awhile longer, stayed around long enough to let us know, without words, that we need not fear nor sorrow overmuch because he knew the Lord who would not let go.

That, finally, is where Easter leads: to the ringing, joyous, hearty, jubilant laughter and singing and celebrating of that glorious company of heaven who surround the risen Lord and sit at his table.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, thank you for the gift of grace; may your Spirit be ever present with us to remind us of your grace that we may share that grace to all around us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV)
16 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.a [1]


a  Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9-20. In most authorities verses 9-20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.

[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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