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4/11/09 - The Great Vigil of Easter - Alexander Webb

posted May 21, 2010, 6:26 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:26 PM by Terry Brady ]
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

Today, Christ has burst the prison of death. Today, our Lord lives again. Today, the gates of hell are slammed shut. We have nothing more to fear. Alleluia!

Picture yourself as one of the two women who arrive at the tomb on that first Easter morning:
You go to the garden at first light. The sky is painted a beautiful shade of red by the sun that is just peeking above the horizon. Little blades of grass poke up between your toes, and the dew dampens the bottoms of your feet. Butterflies dance on daisies, and squirrels skitter around playfully as they welcome the new day. This garden might as well be Eden.

Just then, the earth begins to rumble, and an angel descends from heaven in radiant brightness. The tomb guards are petrified, but the angel looks into your eyes and says, “Do not be afraid,” for Jesus has been raised from the dead. A little while later, the resurrected Jesus appears to you personally and says the same thing: tenderly, lovingly, “Do not be afraid.”

Yet, even amidst our Easter celebrations, fear is close at hand. The world is a scarier place now than it was a year ago. There has been new violence in Mumbai, Zimbabwe, and Gaza. There were natural disasters in Italy, China, and Burma. The war in the Persian Gulf has continued, global warming has advanced, and the economy has tanked. Our homes, our jobs, and our retirements are all at risk. It’s a scary time, yet into this melee comes the resurrected Jesus: “Do not be afraid.”

There’s a lovely hymn that I can almost hear Jesus singing to Mary Magdalene and also to us:

Be not afraid.
I go before you always.
Come follow me,
and I will give you rest.

We began tonight with a reading from Genesis. Step-by-step, day-by-day, God methodically knit the world together, and each day’s work was good. First light and sky, then the land and sun, then all the living creatures, and it was all good. Then, God stepped back. God looked at creation as a whole, and all together “it was very good.”

Fear was nowhere to be found in those first moments of creation; everything was good and perfect, just as God is good and perfect. But, the pure goodness of creation didn’t last for long. When human beings started trusting in themselves instead of God, they came to know the sting of fear. Those who trust that God will provide for them have nothing to fear. Those who rely on themselves have everything to fear.

The problems facing the world today are bigger than human beings are able to handle, but they are not too big for God. The only way to escape fear is to put our trust back where it belongs. Fear is the consequence of doubting God.

Our Old Testament lessons for this evening show us that our ancestors were unable to put their trust back in God. During the Exodus, God led the Israelites with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Yet, they refused to trust that God would provide for their needs. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid…” The prophet Zephaniah said the same thing to the Israelites hundreds of years after they had arrived in the Promised Land: “…The LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion...”

Jesus’ words, “do not be afraid,” ring through eternity. God wants the resurrection garden to be a new Eden. Everything is being made new and there is no room for fear. In the presence of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the scriptures are being fulfilled, sins are being forgiven, and for the first time since the sin of Adam, the world is being made beautiful and righteous in God’s eyes.

Nothing is left unchanged. The whole history of creation – past, present, and yet to come – looks to this one moment, in which God reenters creation and restores its goodness. Easter marks the feast of Christ’s resurrection, and the revival of the whole world.

In the agony of betrayal and broken hearts, Jesus says: “Do not be afraid.” In the midst of hardship and war, Jesus says: “Do not be afraid.” In the face of cancer and disease, Jesus says: “Do not be afraid.”

While the things that define our earthly lives may indeed pass away, the faithfulness and love that define our God will remain ever true.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!