Saturday, April 7, 2012

Homily for the Easter Vigil

          The stillness of Holy Saturday is cracking open. Silence reverently honors what Jesus is doing for us. We pay our respects without words, without movement - for without him, life is out of balance. Our mourning is real; grief isolates us and sends us scurrying inwards. We are more easily a Good Friday people than an Easter people. To sort through our ambiguous feelings, we stay in the tomb. Sorrow is like an old familiar friend who comes to visit and does not know when to leave. The tomb is comfortable as a place where we can say all those things we couldn't express when he was alive. We cling to hope while it is shrouded in darkness. We yearn for a world restored to its original harmony. We wait in vigil - hoping against hope that Jesus will hear and console us - even from death. We wait for him to come for us. Our waiting is an expectant one - more akin to Advent's hope - because we know God remembers.

          It is a marvel that Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome arise from their sorrow and head for the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus with spices. Though the anointing brings closure and allows them to say goodbye, it takes incredible energy to muster enough strength to get out of bed early when feeling bereft. They have to wait for someone stronger to roll the large tombstone away. The next events are amazing. They enter the empty tomb, see the place where his body was laid, notice how the garments are cared for, and they believe. They remember something personal in the tomb. It is enough for them to know something beyond belief is occurring. They don't need to see the risen Lord's body. The young man clothed in a white robe confirms what they already know: Jesus of Nazareth is raised from the dead. He has come back for them. He will meet his disciples and Peter in Galilee. The women too will see him, just as he told them. He returns for us too.

          We approach Easter differently from the first disciples. We remember these events through the Risen Christ who is alive to us and present in our memories. Though we know the rest of the story, we relive with Christ the events of his Passion because he has something more to reveal - something personal. His ministry of saving and freeing us is still at work. His actions give meaning to our bewildering suffering. He consoles so we can share joyously in his victory over sin and death. These tyrants can never have the last word. He asks us to share in his joy - not that suffering and death are absent from us, but to show us that we belong to a greater realm that includes our resurrection and everlasting happiness. The risen Jesus of Nazareth still labors extensively for our benefit.

          We unlikely will have a dramatic Easter moment the way the three Gospel women did. We aren't meant to. Christ and his Father speaks to us in the familiar ways we are accustomed. Their communication is continuous - in a way we can hear and know and experience their presence in a uniquely private manner. No. For us, Easter comes in tiny, nearly-insignificant, personal moments - ones that testify that God is at work taking some burdens off our shoulders or giving us fresh reassurance or just to say, "I am" here for you. Just as Jesus was born into the world largely unnoticed, we experience his "rebirth" in equally obscured ways. We know these moments are real and intimate because his heart unmistakably communicates with ours.

          Tonight, we gather in stilled darkness; we wait with a reverent, grateful hope. We focus upon the steadfast God who remembers us and watches our hearts be moved once again by his story of salvation and friendship. This God creates and recreates us, brings life out of chaos and death, passes over us during plagues of death and destruction; and raises us to new life. God wants us to live fully - free from all constraints and burdens. God cares about our tiniest and weightiest concerns. God is always active in our history and promises to be so. We pray that God will open our hearts ever more widely to his goodness. God calls us forth into a bright new life governed by his intimate affection for us.

          This is God's moment - the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the creator of the world. We cry: "How wonderful your care for us! How limitless your love!" The power of this night vanquishes all evil, cleanses away guilt, restores our true selves, brings the Beatitudes to life; it casts out hatred and violence, brings us a tranquil peace, and humbles earthly pride. This is God's moment - to celebrate our restoration to grace so we can grow together in holiness. This is God's moment - to remember that his Son broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from grave. This is God's moment - when earth and heaven are united - through his gentle touch that reconciles all people, all things to himself. Christ who is our light sheds his grace and light on everyone. May we carry his light within us with a fire that kindles other fires. Let our lights mingle with the lights of heaven in gratitude to the one who remains steadfast. This is truly God's moment. I pray our heartfelt responses and songs of joy pleases God and brings him exultant joy. I hope our celebration brings great delight and happiness to God. I want to know God is smiling and laughing tonight.

          God raised Jesus from the grave so we can be drawn closer to God's self. Wow! He will raise us too. Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Alleluia.