The Great Vigil of Easter
March 26, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10
Sermon: "Salvation History Revisited"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Salvation History Revisited
The Great Vigil of Easter - March 26, 2005
Tonight, we have been a part of an incredible service. It is one of the oldest services in existence. The flow of this liturgy brings us back to the roots of our own existence. We begin in darkness. The new fire is lit and from this new fire the Christ candle is lit signifying the light of Christ in the world. From the light of Christ the light is shared to all.
The service then moves through as recounting of our salvation history. All of the lessons teach us about the love of God for God's people. We hear about our creation. We relive the Exodus from Egypt. We hear for ourselves the prophetic words of the coming of the Messiah. We learn through these readings of the love God has for us.
As we hear about that love we feel a calling to respond. We respond by recommitting ourselves to God through the Baptismal Covenant. We renew our renunciation of evil and we proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
When we finally turn on all the lights we see the splendor of God in the newly decorated church. We experience the opening of the tomb when we hear the knock on the door and we enter to the ancient words, "Alleluia, The Lord is Risen."
The concept of this service is to move us spiritually and emotionally from the darkness into the light. We move from doubt and fear in darkness, to faith and awe in the knowledge of the risen Lord.
It is important for us to realize that we are moving in the same footsteps as the women who came to the tomb. Of course, we can't feel the exact same way they did, but we can experience a little of it. Think for a minute about what state they were in on that early Sunday morning. On Friday afternoon, they had watched and experienced some incredible events. They had watched Jesus die on that cross. They saw what agony he endured and they watched his life slip away. They saw Joseph do the minimal preparations for the burial, carry Jesus to the tomb, place the body in the tomb and seal it with Jesus' body inside.
All of their hopes were dashed with Jesus' death. They were looking for the Messiah. As he died they were lost. As he was prepared for burial they were filled with grief. As that stone sealed the tomb they were filled with despair and hopelessness. Nothing would change. Life would still be extremely hard. Daily life would have little to no hope. I don't believe we can feel exactly what they felt, but the darkness of the beginning of the service can make us uncomfortable. It can make us think seriously about the lack of hope and the feeling of despair.
Then three days later, even though they have no expectations, they return to the tomb to anoint the body. They have no idea how they will get into the tomb. There are guards and they do not know if they will help or turn them away. They are still in despair. Suddenly, the earth shakes and an angel appears to roll away the stone. The guards shake and become like dead men. Then the angel speaks to them. He gives the message he was sent to deliver. The scene becomes one of incredible awe and wonder. The light of day has broken. The angel is brilliant. All of creation shakes as the tomb is opened because creation feels the power of God as Christ is raised. The women stand speechless and afraid, yet profoundly curious about these incredible events. They are curious because they feel in their own hearts and spirits that God has done the incredible. Jesus has been raised from the dead.
Do we not feel the lightness in our own hearts and minds as the lights come on in the church? Do we not jump when the first knock hits the door which simulates the opening of the tomb? Do we not celebrate when we realize the darkness has been vanquished and the light of Christ has come into the world? Yes, we do. For in essence we feel the exact same way the women did at the tomb. We celebrate the news of the risen Christ. We revel in the news of the empty tomb. We know that God's plan of salvation has been completed. Furthermore we know one more incredible thing. The women were leaving to tell the disciples. As they were leaving Christ appeared to them and greeted them. We, too, will have that same opportunity. We will meet the One who died for us that we might live. He will greet us and we will see Him face to face. We get to be in the presence of the Risen Lord, fall down, and worship him. What an incredible promise.
Tonight, we relive the salvation history of a loving God for God's people. We see God pay the ultimate price for our salvation. We relive the entire history and the final event of sacrifice in this service. We relive the burial and the resurrection. We relive these events so that we too can experience the resurrection for ourselves. We can feel some of the same emotions and some of the mystery of the work of God. We relive it all so that we can celebrate the incredible love of God as we proclaim, Alleluia, The Lord is risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia.