April 19, 2014, Easter Vigil – Coming to the End
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When all the men were hiding away in fear and in grief, it was the women who pulled themselves together to come and properly lay the body of the Lord to rest. I think it has often been that way in history, when the men have fought the battle or led the charge or performed the great deeds, it is up to the women to follow along quietly and despite their grief, to do what is necessary to lay the dead to rest so that somehow life can continue.
The long Sabbath day after Jesus was killed must have been the longest and darkest in all of history. I imagine there was very little real rest; I imagine the quiet of that day must have felt like the end of the world. But the last hours of that Sabbath night found Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, just waiting for the first light of dawn to break so that the Sabbath restrictions would be lifted and they could hurry to the grave with spices and oils to serve their Lord one final time, in the only way that he could now be served.
And weary and full of grief as they were, they set their minds on the task ahead, as women do, not allowing their sorrow to paralyze them because there was work to be done; worrying together how to deal with the great obstacle of the stone that had been rolled in front of the tomb – and not only because it was a great heavy thing that probably the three of them together would be unable to move, but also because Pilate had given permission to seal the stone and to set a guard at the tomb so that there would be no funny business with Jesus’s disciples trying to make off with the body and claim that he had come back to life. But despite all that, the women came, their arms full of spices and their hearts grimly determined to do what they had come to do, to make a holy and solemn end as their beloved Lord surely deserved.
And we know how the story goes. Coming to the tomb, they found no guards blocking their way, no seal on the stone, indeed no stone blocking the entrance to the tomb at all – and no body. The tomb was not quite empty, though, because entering, the women saw a young man in a white robe, just sitting there waiting to greet them, and to calm them down a little, because it was all a great shock and they didn’t know what to make of it all. Mark says trembling and astonishment seized them, and no wonder! and they ran away, unable to say anything to anyone at first. They didn’t know what to make of it all, but the truth that would soon be revealed was that they had come to the end of all things, all their hope and all that was familiar and comforting and normal, and they found that it was only the beginning.
“Let us hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how he saved his people in ages past,” we say in this Easter Vigil, and we read the story of salvation, from the moment God spoke light into being, to the deliverance at the Red Sea, and on through all the loving promises of God to bring his people back home. And we read at last the wonderful ending of our Lord’s Passion, and once again find the tomb empty and the disciples, their tears dried, scurrying around in bewildered joy. It is the happy ending to the long journey of Lent and Holy Week. But the good news for us is that we come to the end and we find, like the women at the tomb, that it is only the beginning.
There is a grim saying I have heard that at the moment of our birth we begin the process of dying, but the meaning of the resurrection of Christ is that that is no longer true. Because Christ put all condemnation and shame and death itself to death on the cross, our life is no longer shadowed by death at all. Life itself is no longer about endings; day after day, life in Christ is all about beginnings.
We come to the end of our strength and find the refreshment of the Spirit: Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
We come to the end of our wisdom and find an infinite resource in the Spirit. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. And the wisdom that comes from above is first pure, the peaceable, gentle open to reason, full and mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
We come to the end of our patience, and find, if we ask, that he shares his heart of compassion with us to see our brother or sister in a fresh and loving way. The fruits of his Spirit, that makes his home in us, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
We come to the end of our guilt and shame and find forgiveness and a clean slate to start over. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We come to the end of our life, and find the door open into the presence of God, who runs to meet us with open and loving arms, like the father of the Prodigal Son, who, while his son was still far off, saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
The life of this world is full of endings, but the mercies of God are new every single morning. In Christ the kingdom of new beginnings has broken into our world. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!