The Easter Vigil
April 10, 2004
The Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10
Sermon: "The Easter Vigil 2004"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The Easter Vigil 2004
Holy Saturday - April 10, 2004
How do we determine what we believe? How do we decide whether something is real and means something? Most of us begin by collecting information. We collect our information in two ways. We sense it or we use intuition. By sensing I mean the gathering of information by the use of the senses. People who are sensates gather information by touching, smelling, hearing, tasting, and seeing. The intuitive people have a feeling about something. They talk with someone and in their gut they sense the person is telling the truth or hiding something. We all tend to use both of these methods, but each of us tends to use one more than the other.
My early background was scientific, predominantly biology. As a biology major I was trained to use my senses. I gathered information about animals I studied by watching, by touching, and yes, in some cases by smelling. Sometimes that one became a little interesting. The point is I made determinations about animals, their growth, their needs and their conditions by using my senses. I believed the animals and their condition were real because I had gathered my information.
This type of information gathering is very different than the intuitive. My mother is more of an intuitive. I remember one day I was at Auburn University. My mother called me to see if I was all right. I said, “Why do you ask?” She said, “I had a dream last night and I thought of you. Are you OK?” “Yes, mom. I'm OK”, I replied. She said, “You didn't get hurt.” I replied, “Well, yes, I cut my chin late last night and had to get stitches." She said, “In my dream, you were hurt. I knew you were hurt.” We made light of my mother's fear calling it mother's intuition, but yet she knew somehow that I had gotten hurt.
Tonight is a special night in the church. Tonight we celebrate the wonder and majesty of God. We worship the One who created us, the One who redeems us, and the One who sustains us. And yet, we are all faced with the single question what do we believe? One of the stumbling blocks for us is the empty tomb. How can someone come back from the dead? Particularly after the intense beating and whipping, how could that tomb be empty? The sensate wants to see the tomb. The sensate wants to walk inside and see and touch and smell. The intuitive wants to sense something deep inside that tells the tomb is empty. However, both groups have missed the point. They are concentrating on the wrong object. We are not worshipers of an empty tomb. We are believers in a risen Lord.
In Matthew's Gospel the two Mary's go to the tomb. They are not going to anoint the body. They simply go to see the tomb. The tomb is opened. The guards are shaken and fearful. The two women see the angel. They are told to see where he lay and go tell the disciples. On the way back the two Mary's see Jesus. Now, the two Mary's believe Jesus rose from the dead. The soldiers do not believe. The elders refuse to believe. And yet, the tomb was empty. The disciples have a hard time believing. They follow the instructions but some still doubted. So, the empty tomb is not enough. There is something more.
As I said earlier tonight is a special night in the church. Tonight we have recounted the works of God in the world. We have heard the story of creation. We have heard the story of the Exodus. The Hebrew people were rescued from severe slavery. We have heard the prophets promising God's redemption. Finally, we have heard the story of the resurrection. All of these stories recount to us the works of God in the world. It is God whom we worship. The resurrection is not about an empty tomb. The resurrection is not another miracle of Jesus Christ. It is not Jesus' accomplishment. The resurrection is the direct action of a loving and compassionate God. God resurrects Jesus from the dead. Death is not the ending of life. Death is defeated. Eternal life is offered. When Jesus died he carried all of the sins of the world with him. He carried all of the hate and loathing any person could carry into death. When he was resurrected the sins were overcome by the love of God and Jesus rises as the way to eternal life. We witness the greatest mystery of all that God redeems the world by offering God's own self first.
The two women see Jesus and they understand, not fully, but they understand they are worshiping God and not an empty tomb. The empty tomb is a part of the story of God being with God's people. The story does not even exclude doubt. The story incorporates doubt. It actually takes the doubt into account. Doubt is not the absence of faith. Doubt is the beginning of the search for deeper understanding.
Tonight we are invited to come and worship the living God. We are invited to be with the risen Lord. We come with our senses. We come with out intuition. We come with doubts. We come with fear and awe. The important point is that we come. We come because we are drawn to the mystery. We are drawn to the mystical. We are drawn to the presence of God in the resurrected Christ. We hear the stories of God's salvation. We hear of the love of God for each of us. We are fed by God's Word. We are fed by Jesus' body and blood. We are encouraged in our faith. We are strengthened in our convictions. We are empowered to use the gifts we have been given. We leave here to go and tell the story and proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is risen.
Alleluia! The Lord is Risen.
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia.