Easter Vigil Sermon, 2013, Gethsemane
Sometimes it’s easier to find death.
It’s what they went to the tomb to find.
To anoint and care for, to mourn,
To shout angry curses at the sky perhaps.
Or merely to weep.
To be broken and torn by the inability to stop it.
That wave that overtook them all,
That caught up a former friend in betrayal
And, led to lies, too many lies.
Before that awful truth.
They had seen it of course,
That piercing, sky ripping moment.
When the last breath soared
And sour wine was all that was left
So, to the full tomb they went.
Mary the constant, always and faithful,
Prepared for the miasma of death
The pungent smell of rotten meat
And the crawl of worms.
Ready, she prepared herself,
For the holy work of anointing and shrouding
Unwrapping and gazing, once more
On the vestiges of her friend.
And yet, at the tomb
There was no way to prepare herself
For what was
And is to come
Beyond the emptiness of the rock hewn cave
Yet, in that nothing
And she cried out
And she witnessed
And she ran
And she spoke
So tonight I ask you, what will you cry out, how will you witness, to whom will you run? Carrying the news that Jesus has risen...that the salvation promises have come true and that we can embrace
Knowing that our weeping has turned to rejoicing
Knowing that death has been conquered
Knowing that somehow
Beyond the truth we expect
Is a greater and impossible truth
And, tonight is a night of embracing the impossible possibility as Reinhold Neihbur would phrase it...that possibility we will declare as truth, that salvation has come and will come for us. That truth that we are part and parcel, product and outcome, of a history of God’s salvation.
And, this is a constant truth, and has been proclaimed again and again through the ages. One of the traditions in the Eastern Orthodox church is the proclamation of the Easter sermon of St. John Chrysostom written around 400 AD--so 1,613 years of proclaiming this truth, this truth that overturns all of our expectations...a truth that we cannot stop, a truth that sweeps us up and upsets the world with its glory!
And, as I hear his words, in my mind’s eye I can see them--the surprise of fireworks, the glory of the first flowers of spring, the explosion of creation, the glory of love. His words are as fire on a cold night and the vision of the hope that we thought lost. So tonight, I wish to share them with all of you.
If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.
If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.
If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.
If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.
If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.
For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.
He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.
He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.
O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!
O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!
The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!
He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: "Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions".
It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and came upon God!
It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!
It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.
To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.