Easter Vigil & Easter Sunday

31 March & 1 April 2018

On this joyful night [day] as our Alleluia once again rings out we are drawn to consider the premiere evidence of the resurrection: namely, the emptiness of Christ’s tomb, where no stone, no matter how large, and where not even death could keep our Lord bound.  As the gospel of St. Mark tells us, for Mary Magdalene, for Mary, the mother of James, and for Salome, the sight of the empty tomb and the announcement by the young man sitting in the tomb that Christ had risen was something that caused in them utter amazement.  They were not expecting what they saw that day. 

What might we say about what was going on in the minds, hearts, and lives of Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome?  These women had been very busy and keeping a hectic pace.  It had been the high holy days.  Originally two distinct religious observances, by Jesus’ time, the Passover and the seven day-long Feast of Unleavened Bread had been joined together so that the Passover happened on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  That seven day-long feast also required a pilgrimage to a holy site on the seventh day, and that pilgrimage was quickly arriving.  There were many preparations that had to be in place ahead of time for the Passover, and these women certainly would have had much work to do.  To add to this hectic atmosphere, their dear friend Jesus had been executed on a Friday such that they had to quickly bury him without the customary anointing, due to the impending start of the Sabbath, sundown that day he died, since no work was allowed on the sabbath.  All of these things came colliding together in a few brief days.  They were busy about holy preparations and religious ceremonies…sound familiar?

These women were likely very tired.  Offering no rest for the weary, after all the work leading up to Passover, and its requirements, and a Sabbath right on its heels, now the ladies are up very early the day after the Sabbath – up early enough such that they were already on their way to the tomb when the sun had just risen.  Overrun with work and activities and up early again the next morning…sound familiar?

They are preoccupied with the details of how they will accomplish the anointing meant to honor their friend’s body and prepare him, this time, for proper burial.  They somehow need to get to his body, yet there is that very large stone awaiting them and they don’t know what they will do.  How will they accomplish this necessary work?  The obstacles seem too great, yet the task must be done.  The stress and preoccupation of work that has to be done…sound familiar?

And I haven’t even acknowledged perhaps the most significant factor in the minds, hearts, and lives of these ladies – the emotional trauma, exhaustion, and sadness of the death of a loved one.  The hectic pace of holy days and necessary preparations, overrun with work and up early again the next day, stress and preoccupation – all of these distractions perhaps helped the ladies keep their grief at a distance, to talk about who will roll back the stone, rather than talk about the heavier stone on their hearts.  They keep their heads down to avoid as long as possible the site they are coming to visit.  They focus on the spices and conversing about practicalities regarding entering the tomb, and maybe this helped them keep closed just a bit longer the floodgates of emotion and the wound of a terrible death.  When someone dies we frequently hear a survivor say, “it’s good if I can keep myself busy.”  The sadness of death and trying to keep sadness at bay, putting up a good front…sound familiar?

And then they look up and see the stone already rolled back.  They enter the tomb.  And they are amazed!  In the midst of all that was going in their lives and in those days, through the hectic pace and through the many layers of distraction, God breaks through and breaks in!  The young man sitting in the empty tomb delivers an astounding message: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.”  The young man goes on to tell them, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.”  That second phrase may not seem very important, compared to the first one announcing Jesus’ resurrection.  But earlier in the gospel it is recorded that Jesus, in predicting his passion, said to his apostles, “After I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee” (Mk. 14:28).

What is so significant about Jesus going to Galilee?  What is so important that the disciples need to know not only that Jesus is risen, but that he is going to Galilee and that there they should go to see him?  Galilee, the Scriptures indicate, is where Jesus began his public ministry.  It is where he first announced the Good News.  Galilee is where Jesus first called his disciples to follow him and to have life with him.  Galilee is sort of disciple ground zero for them.  To go to Galilee is to return to their origins, to get back to their roots with Jesus.  Galilee is an important place for them, a significant site in their lives and experience.  Galilee would have the attraction and sentimental value for them that we would experience going back to the place of our birth or visiting a significant landmark in our personal history, like walking the halls of our grade school now as an adult or walking the field or court where our team won the championship so many years ago.  Galilee was familiar ground and it was a calling home.

My friends, what is going on in your life?  What in the life of the women in the gospel sounds all too familiar to you?  What pace and distractions and stress keep you occupied, head down, not expecting to encounter God?  You’re here tonight [today].  But we are all likely very different.  Some of you may be here out of a deep love for God and a sense of his presence.  Some of you may be here out of some felt obligation you can’t seem to shake, at least not on Easter.  Some of you, feeling run down in life, may still be waiting for your moment of amazement.  The gospel shows us that God can break through these things and break into our lives.  But you know what?  While we won’t limit God’s ability or power, I don’t think He wants us to normally so organize our days that He can only choose to compete with our distractions, breaking in much to our surprise.  And I say that because of that curious line from the young man in the tomb: “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.”  Can you honestly say of yourself, as was said about the women in the gospel: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified?”  Are you really seeking Jesus, and all that it means to belong to him?  In whatever frame of mind and state of soul you find yourself in, Jesus is going before you to Galilee.  That is, Jesus is calling you back to disciple ground zero.  He is calling you back to your origins, to your roots.  Jesus is calling you to return and to consider how you first became his disciple and to recommit yourself to his life right now.  Jesus is telling you this Easter that you need to consider what following him means and what it demands.  He is telling you to consider what your life must look like if you are truly responding to his call to follow him.  Jesus is asking you to get back to basics, to give him more time than you give your distractions, and to develop a zeal in being committed to him.  Jesus can break through whatever heavy, large stone we put in his way, whatever barrier physical, spiritual, mental, or dare I say, digital.  But it seems to me he doesn’t want us to test this ability of his.  Rather, he wants us to respond now to an invitation to return to our roots and to be renewed in our commitment to him.  He calls us to our roots not so that we simply remain there, in our Galilee, for the disciples also could not simply stay in Galilee.  Rather, like the disciples called to go out to the whole world, we are called to go forth so that the next day, and the next Sunday, and the next Easter, we are ready to go tell others the Good News, to help others encounter the risen Christ, and to hear his call: follow me!