Sermon Easter Vigil April 15, 2017
Romans 6:3-11 Psalm 114 Matthew 28:1-10
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
In his letter to the Romans Paul tells us how the events of yesterday and tomorrow are to be understood. Paul says the events of this weekend are carried forward into the rite of baptism. Traditionally baptisms were full immersion, that is, the catechumen was completely submerged in water as if drowned, thereby symbolically dying with Christ, and when surfacing coming to new life with Christ – Resurrection. A very important point, after death we cannot sin, Death has freed us from Sin, in the resurrected life there can be no Sin. Sin is a thing of this world, although we have sinful thoughts, which remain in the soul, they are all related to our physical existence. For instance, if you want someone to have a bad accident or something to happen to them to get them out of your hair you are dealing with the physical world and the catalogue in your mind still has that thought in it, a sinful thought. As Sin is purely related to the physical, the spiritual can have nothing to do with it. So dying in baptism transports us to another realm where our sins have been washed away. But being human even after baptism, because we are still in the physical world we continue to sin and we need therefore another mechanism for absolution, because baptism into Jesus Christ is a one-time event. So we have Confession. Baptism though is the membership card we need for redemption from Sin. Having been baptised we can approach the Saviour, confess our faith and confess our sins and be forgiven. If a person doesn’t believe in Jesus why would they want to confess to Him or accept His forgiveness ? No reason whatsoever, they may as well go confess to their car and beg forgiveness from it. So the key to resurrected life is belief first then baptism. So belief and forgiveness become like the two sides of a knife blade, they inseparably go together and together separate us from our sins. Baptism is the symbolic action that makes it all clear to us.
But Jesus did die, He died a gruesome death, and by His own power came to life again, defeating Death and therefore defeating Sin, that’s why tonight we wait so anxiously for tomorrow. The key to Eternity lies in the dawn.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the wife of Clopas) desired it, they hoped for it, but they could not truly believe that Jesus could come back to life. They had seen how brutally He had been killed, flogged, nailed to a Cross and hung there in shame to die, stabbed in the heart, drained of life. How could He live again ? Only by the power of God ! Jesus had said He would rise from the grave on the third day, it must have been in their minds, but who could believe it ? It had never happened before ! It could never be done ! But that’s because we don’t believe in the power of God, if we did we would know that all things are possible with God.
God announced Jesus’ death with an earthquake and announced His Resurrection with an earthquake too – literally and figuratively these are earth shattering events. But Jesus didn’t need an earthquake to free Himself from the tomb, He was already free from Death and the Grave. The stone was rolled away so that the two Marys could see that He was not there – He had Risen !
They like the guards must have been flabbergasted, utterly dismayed at what had and was happening, until an angel explained. But take a minute to fully digest the description of the angel “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow”. I guess we all have our own images of what an angel should look like, after all there are paintings and sculptures replete with angels doing one thing or another, but this one ! Angels always appear to look like us, some are even shown with belly buttons but that is an impossibility they were not born of woman. No ! This angel is total spirit, shining like lightning and white as snow. When you mix all possible colours together they appear to be white. If you can remember back that far, to those tinny spinning tops when you were a child that were painted brightly in all colours, and when you pumped down on the central stem it started to spin and then when it got really fast it appeared white. That is the kind of activity that the spirit brings unbelievable ceaseless energy, across all known spectrums. That energy empowers the angels to go everywhere and do everything that God commands. We will get a similar body in the here-ever-after. With that kind of a body Jesus was able to move without any restriction as we know He did.
Once the women had seen the empty grave the angel told them to tell the disciples. Put yourself in their position for a moment. So much had happened in a twinkling of an eye – an earthquake, when you had to hold on to something to stop from falling, and you question “Do I run ?” But to where ? Then an otherworldly being, asks you to go and visit a grave, and it’s empty. Very quickly you understand what has happened and you run to tell your friends, when suddenly a dead person stands in your way. By now you’ve had enough excitement and your heart is racing ! Except, the Person is not dead, but very much alive ! You can do nothing but fall on your knees, collapse from too much, just too much to bear. The Person is Jesus abused and killed standing there whole and pure and compassionate. With the comforting words that every spiritual being says first “Do not be afraid” ! And so begins Redemption History. Don’t be afraid to live, to face tomorrow. If you have ever had dark thoughts about living another day, thoughts about not understanding this world at all, wondering why everyone seems to be at odds with you, those words apply to you “Do not be afraid” ! Those words apply to all of us. Jesus said them when the two Marys could probably take no more. Accept them because we are at the dawn of a new day, a day worth living in the presence of Jesus Christ our Saviour. “Do not be afraid”. Amen.