Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sermon; Easter Vigil; Luke 24:1-12

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

I love this service.  The fire.  The incense.  The movement from dark to light.  Did I mention the fire?

The liturgy of the Great Vigil of Easter is the closing act of that single liturgical event that we call the Triduum.  We begin the liturgy on Maundy Thursday with a meal, foot-washing, and betrayal.  It continues through Good Friday with denials, a crucifixion, and death.  And it ends today, the first day of the week at early dawn, with the words, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”

This is good news.  This is something so big that we cannot, and should not, keep quiet.  After the emotional roller coaster of the last few days, after the betrayals, denials, desertions, blood, sweat, tears, pain, and death, we have come to the end of the ride.  And what an ending it is – with a man resurrected and angels proclaiming, “He's alive!”

This service is the closing act of the Triduum.  This Great Vigil of Easter is the climax of Holy Week.  This is a big deal.  Easter in general is a big deal – just look at the number of people attending services today at all the many churches around town and the world.

The Great Vigil may well be the climax of Holy Week, and Easter may be the climactic point for Christianity, the resurrection is, after all, the core doctrine of the faith; but while being the high point of the faith, we would be mistaken if we saw this climactic event as the end.  Christianity took root and formed not because Jesus healed a few people, fed a few thousand more, and changed water to wine, but because Jesus was resurrected.  It took root and formed because the tomb was empty.  We have gathered here not to celebrate a mission accomplished; we have gathered here to participate in a launch party.  Easter is not the end, it is the beginning.

Mary, Joanna, Mary, and the other unnamed women leave the tomb to go tell the disciples what they have seen.  These women, and Mary Magdalene in particular because she appears in all four resurrection stories, are the first post-resurrection evangelists.  But the story is too fantastic for the men to believe, and, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

This is the Easter story: that Jesus was resurrected, that that event had a major impact on the witnesses, that they told other people about the event, and that those other people did not believe them.  Easter is not just a once-a-year story with a happy ending.  Easter is an annual event that reminds of of how we are to begin.  And we begin by telling the story of what we have witnessed, whether or not other people believe us.

This beginning has a particularly important aspect for for us today as we participated in Phil's baptism.  Bridget promised to help Phil grow into the full stature of Christ.  You all promised to support Phil in his life in Christ.  And everybody promised to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.  Everyone here is an evangelist, following in the footsteps of those first women, and proclaiming the Good News of the risen Christ.

For those of us who have a few years under our belt, we know that we are more likely to be met with the same response given to the women – disbelief.  But that response shouldn't dissuade us from telling others about Christ, or from telling others why we choose to believe an idle tale, or from inviting people to participate in these holy mysteries.

We evangelize about all kinds of things.  I am constantly trying to recruit football officials.  We tell people what kind of car is best.  We sing the praises of the best pie (Powderhorn, if you're wondering).  We evangelize about anything and everything.  But we don't do such a good job of evangelizing our Easter story.  Why is that?

I think there are many reasons.  We don't want to be pushy.  We don't want to be lumped in with Bible thumpers and door knockers.  We think religion is too personal to talk about it.  We don't want to get into arguments.  There are all sorts of reasons we don't evangelize.

But I think the biggest reason is because we're afraid.  We're afraid of what people will think of us.  We're afraid we won't have the right words.  Maybe we're afraid they will want more information or might want to actually show up.  Or maybe we're afraid of rejection, of being accused of telling idle tales.

Following Christ, though, is risky business.  Christ risked much over the course of his ministry; he risked so much that it ended up getting him crucified.  The women, knowingly or unknowingly, took a risk in telling the disciples about the empty tomb.  The disciples eventually risked their own lives in spreading the Good News.  Phil took a risk in coming through our doors.  He took another risk in submitting to the Sacrament of Baptism.

We should not see Easter solely as the annual event of Christ’s victory over death.  It is certainly that, but it is not only that.  Easter is also the beginning.  Easter is about evangelism as much as it is about an empty tomb.  Easter is about Good News that is meant to be shared.  Easter is about taking a risk and telling the story.

Today marks the beginning of a post-resurrection life for the disciples.  They have a story to tell.

Today marks the beginning of Phil's life in Christ.  He has a story to tell.

Today we celebrate that moment when Christ passed over from death to life and our sharing in that victory.  We have a story to tell.

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

This Easter, do something risky – go and tell the story.



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