Monday, April 05, 2010

The Great Vigil of Easter: Sermon, Year C

Let's begin in Matthew. If you want to open your Bible,
its Matthew 28.
Its before dawn.
I would imagine that Mary Magdalene,
the other Mary,
who is probably Mary the mother of James,
Salome and Joanna and one other woman--
that is all the women listed in all the gospels-
-probably haven't gotten very much sleep
between Friday night and Sunday morning.

If you remember,
Jesus died on Friday around three o'clock,
and Joseph of Aramathea
and Nicodemus
had rushed to take his body down,
wash and wrap him as best they could
and get him into the tomb before sun down,
marking the beginning of the sabbath.
The women had had to watch unable to participate.
It is very likely that Joseph didn't know what exactly to do,
or that there just hadn't been time to do anything properly. Traditionally,
in the absence of many high tech funeral parlors and homes,
the women of the family
would have had the task of coping with those who had died--
anointing with oil and spices,
wrapping the body.
They would have known what to do
and how to do it.
It is very unlikely that Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus
knew what to do
or how to do it.

But they might have also been anxious
about the two men themselves.
Remember, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night
and we have no indication that Joseph of Arimathea
was known to the the disciples as a follower of Jesus.
They were both part of the Sanhedrin
and therefore wielding some sort of power.
They displayed incredible courage
in associating themselves with Jesus in his death,
but their motives were more than likely hidden
from Jesus' hiding friends.

I imagine the women looking on
in desperate helplessness while Jesus is wrapped and buried.

Then everyone would have hurried away
before the encroaching sunset so as not to break the Sabbath.
Under normal circumstances the women
would have had Friday to spend preparing for the Sabbath--
cooking, cleaning, putting everything in order for a day of rest.
But they weren't home,
they were all in Jerusalem gathered together,
and the whole of Friday
had been taken up with the horrific and sudden death
of their beloved friend.

I imagine imagine the resulting Sabbath
would have been unbearable.
They couldn't do any work,
they couldn't create any order in the absence of order.
They couldn't clean,
they couldn't cook food all day,
they couldn't go anywhere.
Some of them were probably very far away from their homes,
making do in Jerusalem over the Passover.
The solace of work was forbidden to them.

I don't like to generalize,
but I think this may be hard for men to understand.
Lately I've gotten it into my head
that we should really try to do Sabbathy things on Sunday,
the day of our Lord,
and so I get worked into a frenzy on Saturday
getting ready for Sunday--
cooking as much as I can,
laying out Sunday clothes,
bathing the children,
having my Sunday school lesson ready,
and a pretty table cloth on the table,
and I'm beat by Saturday evening.
When I don't accomplish everything
on my list I am very unhappy.
Often when Saturdays are overrun by other priorities,
Matt starts saying at 11am,
'I forbid you to clean the whole house today, do you hear me?
I forbid you'.
Today was one of those days.

Overlay intense unexpected life shattering grief
over exhaustion
and I imagine that Saturday was a rough day.

But at sun down on Saturday
everyone was allowed to work and go places again.
I bet the house,
perhaps the house with the upper room,
where ever it was that they were all staying,
received a thorough and complete cleaning,
and probably some food was prepared
and some of them managed to eat,
and the rest of the night
would have been taken up
preparing the spices and burial linens
needed to deal with the body of Jesus
in a way that would satisfy them.
At least they could do that much.

They set out in faith for the tomb,
knowing there is an unmovable stone,
sealed no less,
as if that would make any difference.
They wouldn't have known about the guards posted.
You might remember that the Pharisees broke Sabbath,
going after the sun had already set,
and Jesus was already in the tomb to ask for a guard.
And it would have had to be a Roman guard
because Jewish temple guards
wouldn't have wanted to break sabbath.

The women go without any real plans.
They're going to have to convince someone to roll the stone away.
We know from John that they think maybe a gardener will help them because of Mary Magdalene's confusion.

If you look at your text in Matthew,
it looks like they might be there for the earthquake,
but we know from the other gospels,
that this is not the case.
Matthew wants us to know how the stone was moved
and so he puts it here.
Certainly, they probably felt it as they were walking.
Its the second earthquake in a matter of days,
the first one occurring when Jesus breathes his last.
don't know if Palestine is given over to earthquakes
in a normal way,
but certainly,
as the God of the heavens and the earth,
as the controller of all weather,
an angel descending from heaven
and rolling the stone away is excellent cause
for a second earthquake.

And certainly,
seeing an Angel descend from heaven and push away the stone
is reason enough for any red blooded Roman guard
to pass out from sheer fright.
This is important,
as I'm sure you know,
because the guards were not allowed to go to sleep while on duty, and should it have been found out that the seal was broken,
the stone was rolled away,
and the body gone,
they would have been summarily executed.
However, as you can see in verse 11,
as soon as they regain consciousness,
they hustle off,
not to their commanding Roman officer to be killed,
but to the Chief Priests who pay them money to lie
and give them cover for the lie.
This little plot is the first of many many many attempts
to deal with the fact that Jesus is not in the tomb
when the women arrive.
He just plum isn't there.
Big tomb, no body.

The angel tells them that Jesus is risen.
The tense here is so important--
not has risen,
or will rise,
but is risen.
That's what we say Sunday after Sunday--
Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.
Risen is present.
That's what he is,
not dead, but risen.

They're supposed to quickly absorb this information
and go tell the disciples
but before they get there,
Jesus meets them.
And they take hold of his feet
and worship him.

Zephaniah the prophet wrote hundreds of years earlier,

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;

On this quiet dark night,
while all the world runs crazy
buying ham and Easter eggs
without knowledge and without purpose,
grab hold of your beloved's feet,
worship him,
let him quiet you with his love.
sing aloud.
The Holy One,
the King of Kings,
the Lord of Lords is alive,
he is risen,
he will never die again.
And at the last day,
he will raise you up,
in your body.
In your flesh you shall see your God,
your King
whom you yourself will see
and not another.

Alleluia, He is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

1 comment:

Pat Kashtock said...

Anne -- this is delightful. Did you use it as a sermon or is that its title? It seems more like beautifully written poetry.