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Easter Vigil

Introduction and Call to Worship

On this Easter Eve in anticipation of the new dawn light of the risen Lord we gather virtually to witness light overcoming darkness. Alleluia! Christ is risen.

Tonight’s Readings

First Reading Genesis 1:1 - 2:4a

An account of the Creation – God saw everything that he had made and it was very good.

Second Reading Exodus 14: 10-31; 15: 20-21

God tells Moses to instruct the people of Israel to march on, out of Egypt and through the seas to dry ground.

Third Reading Ezekiel 36: 24-28

God promises the people, through His Word to the prophet Ezekiel, that he will pour clean water over Israel and grant the nation a new heart.

New Testament Reading Romans 6: 3-11

God’s forgiveness is big enough to deal with any amount of human sin. The resurrection offers the ultimate forgiveness of sins, for our salvation. Baptism recognises this truth.

Gospel Luke 24:1-12

The women disciples find the tomb empty.

Homily

April Fool’s Day was not so many days ago, and although many didn’t feel like it this year, one joke that I did see shared on Twitter, was that the bishops had collectively decided during the coronavirus pandemic to postpone Easter by 6 weeks. The darker thought underlying this attempt at levity is that for many, until this is over, there is no joy, no light, not much hope, and great sorrow and pain will be with us for some time. How can we celebrate, how can we be joyful, how can we even engage in the frivolities of secular celebrations like Easter egg hunts, or decorate anything with chicks or bunnies? We can’t even meet up with family or friends to share some roast lamb. Although our gospel today is from the 20th chapter of John, as is John’s style, it echoes and reflects other themes and parts of his gospel, and at this point it seems wise to remember that right in the very first chapter he notes – the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

As we endure this time of social distancing, isolation, restraint, uncertainty, pain and stress, and fear, I suspect, and humbly submit to rejoicing, that for many of us we are appreciating anew the daily experience of those who have to celebrate their faith underground, we are finding solidarity with the disabled and the invalids who cannot come to church weekly, we are starting to understand how it is for those who are just normally lonely and isolated, we are truly seeing at last how essential and needed so many previously unnoticed, seemingly unimportant basic jobs are actually essential to the smooth running of our society. Our compassion, our empathy is being forced to confront the pain and suffering of many of our Christian family, and also those from the family of humanity, that we have often too quickly not lingered with, have paused with all too briefly, as we may have prayed or given a little time or money to them, but then quickly moved on and back to our comfortable lives. But they have much to teach us. What is it to know that Christ is risen, if you remain in pain or darkness? We need to remember that after the experience of Christ’s resurrection, the disciples still collected in fear in the upper room, and Christians were persecuted and/or socially distrusted for the first 4 centuries of the faith. As the links between church and state, of power and influence came into Christianity 1600 years ago, we have maybe been a little too comfortable at all, and not challenged enough and inspired enough, and transformed enough by the message of Christ’s defeat of sin and death, that is a message to hold onto even whilst we still undergo these things, and why the faith has actually always flourished amongst the impoverished and the suffering, despite its adaption and co-option so often by the rich and powerful.

Fear was an understandable feeling for the disciples. As Mary arrives she finds the stone to the tomb rolled away. It’s dark. If you got home in the dark, towards the end of night and you saw your front door wide open, would you go straight in or go back for support and reinforcements? Peter and the Beloved Disciple on hearing the news rush to the tomb. Peter ploughs in – the body is gone – but the linens are neatly folded. Unlikely signs of a robbery. The Beloved Disciple realised something important has happened, but exactly what we’re not clear, as we’re told it’s not that he fully understands the resurrection. And then they’re gone again and Mary is left alone. Braving the tomb inside she starts to see. She sees two angels – two individuals is a reliable sign of witnesses, as two can attest or corroborate – and they attest he is not there. They also sit at head and foot of where he would have lain. They mark the previous space taken by the divine presence. She heads out, confused, bereft, not able to see clearly. The man she bumps into asks her who she seeks.

Who she seeks. Jesus first question in the gospel of John is: what do you seek? Disciples are seekers. But we’re about to find out even more. She answers in her confusion with the focus of her quest. She has yet to realise who asks the question. And then he says it. He says her name. Mary. The good shepherd calls his own sheep by name and they know his voice. This voice, this recognition, this relationship is key. Let’s quickly recap, how Mary comes to know her Lord has risen. It is not implication (she saw the empty tomb), it is not sight (she encounters the figure of Jesus), it is not words (he speaks to her), rather, it is saying her name – that when he calls, when he recognises her, when the relationship is recognised and entered into, it is that which brings faith in the resurrection. We need to hear and take this to heart today. Our circumstances, our experiences, our head knowledge, our reading, these things do not make us believers, they do not create our faith, even if sometimes they support and enhance it. What gives us faith is encounter with Christ and coming into loving relationship with him.

Christ, this night, says your name too. Will you seek him? Will you be open to the new relationship he offers? Because what happens next is he reformulates how they belong to each other. She says teacher – the affectionate respectful term she no doubt used before, but his response is don’t cling to me. Jesus tells Mary not to hold onto him and try to keep him. She cannot possess him or hold him back. He is not hers to possess and build a shrine around, and keep as things were for her own benefit. No, having seen and believed, she is now called to witness to him, and she is to share that information first with his kin.

Previously in John, Jesus’ kin are his blood relatives, his immediate family, but in the light of the cross and resurrection, all relationships have changed and realigned. Just before he died, Jesus put his mother Mary and the Beloved Disciple into a kinship relationship, but even more so he now states this wider policy, understanding, reorientation of human relating. He declares that the disciples are his kin, and that they share with him the same heavenly parent. This is the relationship we too are called into. This is the relationship we are seeking to express, establish, deepen and encourage during this pandemic. All this online worship, telephone calling, seeking out how best to support the vulnerable – this is being each other’s family. This is loving as Jesus did, because we are all children of the same heavenly Father. Who know and have experienced Christ risen, that sin and death are defeated. During this strange and difficult, painful and separated time, we are called to seek Jesus, to recognise his love for us and know that he calls each of us by name, and therein discover the joy and truth of his resurrection. We are then called to share that with each other and the world.

Whether in darkness or light, in poverty or prosperity, whether in community or loneliness, sickness or health – let us know our Lord and Saviour is risen, and we are children of the same heavenly Father, and we follow him to share this sustaining joy, whatever happens. Happy Easter, Amen, Alleluia.

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