Saturday 3 April 2021: Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil)
What comes next?
Genesis 1:1-2:2; Genesis 22:1-18; Exodus 14:15-15:1; Isaiah 54:5-14; Isaiah 55:1-11; Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4; Ezekiel 36:16-28; Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 117; Mark 16:1-7
Context: Parish Easter Vigil (celebrated within whatever limitations the response to the pandemic imposes at the time)
Aim: to place the story of the last year within the Great Story of Salvation in order to help the congregation to find new hope and a sense of mission on this holy night.
Serials often end with a cliff-hanger. What will happen next? The reaction of the women who came to the tomb is recorded immediately after the last verse of tonight’s Gospel: ‘The women came out and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid’ (Mark 16:8). After the drama of Holy Week, the betrayal, the prayer in the garden, the arrest and trial, the torture, and the execution, we were looking for a tying up of loose ends rather than for a cliff-hanger. Maybe that is why the lectionary does not include this verse, but even without it, we are still left with an empty tomb and no Jesus.
I can identify with the women. I am afraid—and that is something that I have in common with them and with every person here. Even without the experience of the pandemic, we have good reason to be afraid. But the corona virus reminded us that we live in a dangerous and catastrophic world—that at any moment my health, our happiness, our lives, or the lives of those we love, can be destroyed.
However, the message of Easter is precisely a message of unfinished business. We have heard that the tomb was empty but the meaning of it all has not sunk in. It takes time for the earth-shattering wonder of it all really to hit us. And when it does, it makes all the difference. Paul says that it is like the difference between being alive and being dead: ‘Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.’
HERE IS THE PLACE WHERE THEY LAID HIM
You and I have been brought back to life in our baptism. We have been born again. But maybe not so that anyone would notice! We may not seem any more caring, any less selfish and bad tempered that anyone else. So, am I like the women? Am I still afraid? I know the tomb is empty, I hear the message that he is risen and that I must tell the others that he is going to meet them too, but I too am uncertain. The saving power of that event is still to have its full effect in my life. The angel says to the women and to me, ‘There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified: he has risen, See here is the place where they laid him.’ And I, still frightened and confused, am told to tell the good news to others. ‘He has risen as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going before you into Galilee: it is there you will see him, just as I told you.” ’
So, we have heard the wonderful good news and we are told to share it with others, but we may be too frightened to do this. The new life is what we celebrate and renew in this Eucharist and in every Eucharist. Paul tells us that, joined with Christ in his death, we have been raised to a new life. Just as the history of the children of Israel has been re-read in the light of the paschal candle in the ceremonies we shared this evening, so too all our previous struggles and failings have been given meaning in the light of the Resurrection.
By faith I can meet Jesus in the Eucharist and he says to me, ‘Do not be afraid.’ It also means that I, whoever I am, have a vocation to tell others that Jesus is alive and that he will meet them in the Galilee—in the Galilee of their everyday lives. I have the task of naming grace—of helping others to find the risen Christ in the familiar and the everyday, in their hopes and fears, in their relationships with each other and in the struggle justice and peace in our world. Christ is risen; he is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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