The Great Vigil of Easter, April 15, 2017
Let’s play a game. I’m thinking of a number between one and 300,000,000. Any guesses? How about 299,792,458 (meters/sec/sec)? Does that specific number ring any bells for anyone? (Hints: warp drive, deep space, meters/sec). What was God the Creator thinking or doing – if those categories even make sense here – when the universe was put together with that scientific principle at its core? Now lay that next to tombs, death, a great earthquake, angels, appearance like lightning, shaking/trembling guards, an empty tomb. And then! The one executed as a criminal is found to be alive while offering greetings, amidst admonitions not to be afraid (yea right), and directions to go and tell. See you a little later in Galilee.
Matthew the Gospel writer wants us to see something here, and his intent is that in these events we are to discover the intersection of heaven and earth. That’s the confluence that happens for me when I gaze into a clear night sky and feel very small. That’s what happens for me when I look at points of light from stars and realize that they are so far away that even the speed of the light coming from them at 299,792,458 meters/second may have come from a star that no longer exists, having burnt out its solar furnace of hydrogen thousands even millions of years ago. It’s mystical. It is a place where earthly things, heavenly things, godly things, come together and intertwine.
Perhaps all of us are familiar with the phrase “all hell broke loose.” Usually not a good thing. Why is it that we don’t say more often, “all heaven broke loose?” That’s what happens when the two Mary’s approach the sealed tomb. An earthquake occurs, not as a means of opening the tomb but as a result of the angel of the Lord breaking in on the scene, rolling back the stone that separated Jesus from the life he lived, and sitting upon it in an obvious sign of divine triumph.
All of the action here, including the reaction of the guards and the appearance of the angel like lightning and clothing as white as snow, is Matthew’s way of asserting that God is erupting into the world in a new and decisive manner. God’s new reign, even with evidence to the contrary, is now established and changes the Creation’s trajectory from death to life, brokenness to wholeness, despair to joy, hatred to love. This is the trajectory on which we are placing Abigail, Casey and Reese this night as they are baptized. Our response, and perhaps our most appropriate response if we are paying attention, is like that of the guards who are shocked into a frozen state of amazement.
Matthew’s core point then is that there is no naturalistic way of speaking of the resurrection. It is not about human capacities or possibilities any more than the speed of light is about the human possibility to create it. It is entirely about God’s capacity and determination. If death is the final conclusion to even the most beautifully lived life, and if death is to be defeated, it is not just because human goodness somehow just lives on. It is not merely an episode of Star Wars where human good triumphs over evil, as fun as that is. Jesus’ resurrection is God acting at the boundary of life we call death and God doing something altogether new. Angels and earthquakes, references to lightning and snow, fear and tombs and yes new life are the only ways Matthew can make clear that we are being confronted by God’s possibilities and not merely our own.
God can restore ANYTHING. We see this in the Matthew account when the angel tells the women not to be afraid. They were looking for their fallen leader and the reason they need not fear according to the angel is because “he is not here, for he has been raised as he said.” To drive the point home the angel says almost offhandedly, “Come. See the place where he lay.”
The tomb is empty! This is important so that we humans don’t again think everything in life hinges upon you and me getting it right and that somehow human goodness, on its own, will triumph. The empty tomb says that notwithstanding all the sad evidence in the history of the human story that manifests hurt and harm, God has acted to overcome the hurt and harm to Jesus, which is of course our hurt and harm. That first Easter and this celebration of Easter is a promise that in the divine reign fully realized, the same is true for all of us and the entire creation. Because “he is not here” there is deep hope for the world. The baptism of Abigail, Casey and Reese is a sign of this truth and hope. Because Jesus is raised, they are raised with him, to new hope, new possibility, and new love. Parents and Godparents are saying that they will do everything in their power to help these three precious children know that and God’s love for them.
You cannot go anywhere that God is not. Just as Jesus goes ahead of the disciples into Galilee, he calls us to our own Galilees, the places where we live, with the families we have, our workplaces, our country, our world. This is where we meet and see the Christ. It is done and accomplished in community, in the midst of the mission God has inaugurated and pursues even now. He invites us to join. 299,792,458 meters/sec/sec. The Light is among us. The Light is showing the way. The Risen One, who is Resurrection Light, is our hope.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.