a sermon for remembering

Resurrection of Our Lord | Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is one of the highlights of the liturgical year. A new fire is struck, and the church gathers around with candles lit to hear story after story of God’s promises and God’s saving action. Later in the liturgy, we will welcome new members by baptism and affirmation of faith, and share bread and wine at God’s table.

On this night, St. Luke’s has heard the stories of creation, Abraham and Isaac, the deliverance at the Red Sea, the promise of abundant life to the prophet Isaiah, the valley of the dry bones, the deliverance of Jonah, and the escape from the fiery furnace. Now, after 40 long days of Lent, the church sings alleluia for the first time as we stand to welcome the gospel – the story of Christ’s resurrection.

detail-of-empty-tomb-anne-cameron-cutri.jpg
Detail Of Empty Tomb by Anne Cameron Cutri (2010).

The holy gospel according to John.
Glory to you, O Lord.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one who Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in the tomb and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for they did not yet understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over and looked in the tomb and saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary said, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said his, she turned and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. He said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, so that I may take him away.” He said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold onto me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the discipled, “I have seen the Lord!” And told them that Jesus had said these things to her.

The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

This is a night for remembering. We remember our origin stories: the stories of God, for the people of God. And these are dangerous memories.

They are dangerous because they won’t leave us alone. These memories are powerful because they have given us a taste of the promises of God,
and we are hungry for a full meal.

When we remember the wild and fiery and powerful love of God, we are transformed. And just like any rich dish, or great story, or contagious virus,
we are about ready to share it.

Because when we hear that the earth is being degraded and land exploited beyond repair for the sake of corporate profit — we remember that from the very beginning, the whole creation is God’s creative work of love. And it is very good.

And when we see children suffering, or families torn apart, or sons in danger of meeting violent ends — we remember that ram that saved Isaac. Not even God’s project of salvation was so important to be worth the cost of a child’s life.

And when we become aware, more aware every day that God’s people are enslaved to oppressors: people that would rob us of our dignity, or tell us to keep our heads down, or insist that we really couldn’t hope for much better anyway — we remember that God liberated God’s people from slavery in Egypt. And no army or any force of violence can stand in God’s way.

And when we become apathetic or discouraged, and start to believe what they tell us, that it is right and natural that some people can’t afford what we need to live. Or that if you can’t afford it, you might not deserve quality healthcare, or education, or decent housing — we remember God’s promise: Everyone who is thirsty, come to the water! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

And when we feel dead or numb, or despairing. Like our bones are barely holding together — we remember God’s promise: You. shall. live. I will bring you up from your graves, and put my spirit within you, and you shall LIVE.

And even when we mess up and fail to do our part in this beautiful project that God is doing. When we try to run the other way and escape because this whole thing is as terrifying as it is beautiful — we remember that even from the belly of the fish! That fish of avoidance and failure – You, O God, heard Jonah’s cry.

And. When. We are asked to bow down before any false idol, bow to a gold statue or a military parade, or a constitution or a nationalism, or a consumerism, or a dollar sign, or a political party WE. REMEMBER. That in whatever fiery furnace we find ourselves in, the guards will look in and wonder, who is that extra person in there! Because we thought these people were alone in their resistance. But it turns out that the divine was with them all along.

We remember when Jesus calls us by our names. And we remember that God’s promises aren’t for holding onto with closed fists, but for going.

To remember has consequences. Because when we baptize a baby, or welcome a new person into this family of God, we are promising to help them remember too. With the stories we tell, and the songs we sing, yes, and also with our actions and the way we transform the world around us towards life, and restoration, and justice —

Until God’s future becomes the present, and the resurrection is so alive all around us that the only remembering left to do, is the recalling of these nights of fire and water. Way back when the empty tomb was a story of resistance we told one another around the table. In those days, when the people of God remembered the resurrection into being.

Alleluia.

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