Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Preacher's Study - Easter Vigil C (2019)

The Preacher’s Study

The Great Vigil of Easter, Year C

Melissa M. Hartley

Gospel: Luke 24.1-12

This year we hear Luke’s account of the resurrection, and he gives us much to celebrate and many lessons to think about.

The first lesson comes when the women go to the tomb and find the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body not present. Just as they are trying to figure out what is going on, they are greeted by two men in dazzling clothes, who will later be identified in the gospel as angels.

As you might imagine, running into a couple of angels was a big deal, even then. The women are appropriately terrified and fall to the ground. Being present in that moment must have been overwhelming.

We, of course, have become so familiar with this story that for many it has begun to flatten out over time and lose its awesomeness. Our response to this encounter should be similar to that of the women, for we must never let the resurrection lose its power, as it is the very foundation of our faith.

It is the quintessential action of God making the impossible possible. If God can raise someone from the dead, then just imagine what God might have in store for our lives.

Our next lesson comes when these angels say to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Why do we so often insist on looking for the dead among the living? How many times do we have to go back to our old ways before realizing they don’t work anymore? It is all too easy to feel so safe with our old selves, that we never push ourselves to try something new or to do something in a different way. Yes, we spend an awful lot of time looking for the dead among the living. But the resurrection calls us to seek out new life – to burst forth from our tombs and live in a new way.

Our final lesson comes when the angels tell the bewildered women to remember: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and the third day rise again. Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” The women are distraught until they remember, and once they remember, they pull themselves together and become empowered to spread the news of the resurrection. All it took was to remember Jesus’ words.

Remembering is a powerful action in the Church. To remember something or someone is literally to re-member it – to put it back together. The women are empowered through this act of remembering Jesus, and so are we. For remembering what Jesus did for us gives us hope for the future.

This is the night when memory meets hope. We generally live our lives somewhere in this in between – between memories of the past and hopes for the future. On this night, our memories of the past and our hopes for the future meet in Jesus’ resurrection. This is the night when memory meets hope - through darkness faced, fire kindled, candle extolled, narratives rehearsed, Word proclaimed, waters revisited, meal shared.

Earlier this evening, we read the great stories of our salvation history – those times when God has acted to give us life and to save us as a people: The creation story, the covenant with Abraham, the crossing of the Red Sea, the valley of dry bones, and ultimately, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Individually we all could name our own personal salvation histories – thinking of those times when God has acted in our lives. Remembering these times gives us great hope – for if God has saved us before, certainly God will again.  On this night, the past and future, memory and hope collapse in on one another – they are brought together in one moment with the words, “He is not here, but has risen. Remember…”

We who remember these words are able to rejoice in the Christian hope – If Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, so then have we who believe in him. We are no longer the people we once were – Dead, lost, and alone. For now we, too, have been given new life. We are restored; we are renewed.

We know now that with God, truly all things are possible – Light overcomes dark, life comes from death, faith replaces fear, and memory turns to hope. We have made it to Easter and are whole once again. For our Lord is alive – raised from the dead. Alleluia!

Melissa M. Hartley serves as Associate University Chaplain, Sewanee, TN. There she coordinates the worship planning for All Saints' Chapel and shares in the pastoral care of the University. A member of APLM Council, Melissa holds a Ph.D. (Liturgical Studies) from Drew University. 

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