a Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter C
Text: Luke 24:1-12
Our Bible study group that started last fall has slowly been working its way through Genesis. For many of us, it has been a pretty eye-opening experience. We are currently wrestling with Jacob and his return home. I admitted to
the group that I personally have a hard time with Jacob because he isn’t all that good. (In a different setting, I might use a more colorful descriptor.) Jacob steals, cheats, and takes advantage of other people. He matures through the story arc, but some of these traits are still there.
And still, GOD is with him.
It is one of the most amazing things about these stories. What GOD is willing to do.
GOD created the world and everything in it and declared that it was good.
GOD promised death to the first humans and their son, but shows mercy, instead.
GOD finds a friend in Abram and promises him a son and a mighty nation. And delivers.
When that nation strays, GOD stays with them.
When they are imprisoned, GOD stays with them.
When it is time, GOD liberates them.
And even as they wander in Egypt, complaining that GOD has abandoned them, GOD is with them.
GOD keeps the promise to a man that long ago died.
Then GOD came to not only be with us, but to live and love and work and hurt and die as one of us. That GOD might know the feel, the fear, the anger, the sadness, the hope, the love of being human.
GOD in Jesus pushed us. Revealed Himself to us. Helped us to see what GOD most desired, what GOD dreamed for humanity. Taught us to share and to love one another. Opened our eyes to the mockery of creation we had made. Demanded we do something about it. Then gave us a tool to transform our lives and best embody that dream.
GOD gave us baptism. Even GOD in Jesus was baptized, by a human hand, in a river; water washing over his body, dripping from his skin, streaming back to the source as Jesus stood up from the river: a new creation.
In baptism we declare our old selves dead. We reject our past and turn ourselves to a new life. A better life. Eternal Life: that vibrant, abundant, truly alive life.
But to get there, we have to die.
GOD is still with us
In some ways, Christianity is a death cult. One of the reasons ancient Romans condemned the proto-Christians was because they thought they were cannibals. They ran around talking about eating flesh and drinking blood. How much Jesus tells us to die to ourselves, to give up this life for a better one, to face death in this life for a true one. It is what we are about. Accepting the need to die so that we might become something else, we are like human caterpillars weaving cocoons.
For the first few centuries, we made sense of this with conviction. We faced persecution. We were hunted and killed. Not because we believed we were one religion and the state sponsored another. But because our faith taught us to reject the dominant values of Roman culture. To be different. To live different. To love different. To kiss each other. To hold each other in suffering. But also to reject violence. To refuse to hurt another. To swear allegiance to Jesus and not Rome.
When our patron Paul wrote that we claim for ourselves that “Jesus is Lord,” he was doing so with political intention. For Rome demanded that the conquered people declare that “Caesar is Lord.” Paul took the phrase to poke Rome in the proverbial eye and say No, there is no earthly Lord. We pledge our allegiance only to Jesus.
And in Jesus, we face the very death of GOD.
That our great and powerful GOD was killed by humans. And we face the incredible humbling experience that we, as followers of Christ, are not conquerors and rulers and warriors, but are vulnerable, meek, and killable. That the way of the world is powerful and most likely will defeat us. But we are supposed to be different anyway.
We face that we have been the ones to oppress and hurt and despise.
That we have shamed and spat on and sent death daggers with our eyes and lips.
That we have cursed one another and condemned them with our words and gossip.
With our eyes and minds and hearts and fingers.
That we haven’t done enough, not nearly enough, to make GOD’s dream a reality. A dream of radical equality and peace. A dream that every child born into this world will die old and gray and happy. A dream in which our weapons would be destroyed and turned into tools. That we, even through our baptisms and confirmations and ordinations still are also sinners.
In spite of all of this, GOD is with us.
Even when we are like Peter, who doesn’t listen to Mary Magdelene and has to see for himself. When we ignore the women, the poor, the weak, the disabled, the different simply because they aren’t us; when we think we know better than the rest; when we have to experience Easter for ourselves and we place our heads in our hands and weep, GOD is with us.
Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. GOD is with us.
In our love, our anxiety, and in our rebirths. GOD is with us.
GOD is always with us.