Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Great Vigil of Easter - Year A

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC
The Great Vigil of Easter – Sunday April 16, 2017

Br.  Robert Sevensky

“Do not be afraid.  I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, He has been raised from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you.” (Matt. 28:5-7)

We have been proclaiming the resurrection this morning with various symbols, each of which, in its own way, captures and expresses in very primal form the deep truth of our faith:  that Jesus Christ has passed from death to life, that he is risen and is, for us now, new life and new hope.  First with fire, then with spoken word and prophecy accompanied by that great natural symbol of sunrise; then with water and oil and the baptismal mystery and now with bells and song, and finally, and most intimately, with the Bread and Wine of new and renewed life.  Each symbol is powerful in its own way...and each symbol falls short of the fullness of the Truth. But each is also necessary and holy.

In the movement of our worship, the symbols move from the more external—from darkness and fire and light—to the more personal and internal, to the very consuming of our hope.  Yet it is one and the same proclamation made in so many different ways.

We may feel, by the end of it, having received our Easter Communion, that our work is done, that our Easter has been accomplished and that, for another year at least, we can rest comforted by the interiorized truth of Easter joy.  But Matthew's Gospel account of the Resurrection that we heard this morning leaves us, as do all the Gospel resurrection accounts, strangely unsettled.  

The work of encountering the living Lord is partial at best and never finished, even for those two lucky women who met with the angel at the tomb and grasped the Lord's feet. For the message from each is not: Stay here. Rather it is a directive, a command, to go ahead, ahead to Galilee.  It is there that Jesus will be encountered in his fullness.  And like them, we too are sent ahead, sent away, sent out.

Several years ago, our Deputy Bishop Visitor Stacy Sauls addressed our annual chapter meeting.  He talked about what might be the best name for this most intimate of ritual actions involving bread and wine that we are now embarked upon. The Lord's Supper? Holy Communion? Holy Eucharist? The Divine Liturgy?  The Synaxis? All these capture important dimensions of this central Easter act.  But, quite surprising, at least to me, Bp. Sauls said that the best name for what we are about this morning is the medieval one: the Mass. The name itself comes from the very final words of the gathering, when the faithful are dismissed with the Latin words: Ite missa est.  Go, it's finished, offered, sent up, sent out.  And like the offering, we too are sent, dismissed, pushed out into the world.  It's there that we will find Jesus:  “Tell my brothers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”

Where is Galilee for you, for me?  Where is it that we are sent today in order to see Jesus in his risen state? To be companions of Jesus? To serve with Jesus.

Yes, to the church. And yes, perhaps to the monastery. But also to the workplace, with the life partner, with family, in the political arena, among the poor and the unattractive as well as among the rich and the powerful. Among the hopeless and the failures and the successful and the lost. At the end of our desired or dreamed for destination as well as when we are lost or confused or at our wits end.  Indeed, Galilee can be anywhere—it is anywhereand  it is different for each of us and different for us at different times in our life journey. Yet it is there that we will see Jesus...and Jesus will see us.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously said:  “We are all missionaries.” We are all sent, like it or not.  Much of the time, frankly, I don't like it.  I'd rather stay put, stay comfortable and comforting—and who knows, that too may be our Galilee for a time.  But sent we are, make no mistake.  And the only hope for me and maybe for you as well is that promise that Jesus makes to us:  I am going ahead of you.  We will arrive and not find ourselves isolated or abandoned but in the mysterious company of the risen One, who has been waiting for us all along.

In his book Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, Archbishop Rowan Williams makes this observation:
“Even in the Gospels, one thing is never described. There is a central silence...about the event of resurrection.  Even Matthew, with his elaborate mythological scenery, leaves the strange impression that the stone is rolled away from a tomb that is already empty...It is an event which is not describable, because it is precisely there that occurs the transfiguring expansion of Jesus' humanity which is the heart of the resurrection encounters. It is an event on the frontier of any possible language because it is the moment in which our speech is both left behind and opened to new possibilities.”

He adds:  “...however early we run to the tomb, God has been there ahead of us.”

And so we stand in awed silence, despite our lovely liturgies. We are sent...sent to the Galilees of our lives where we will meet the Lord. This is the Lord who has gone before us and awaits us there. We are all missionaries. We have all been sent. And we need not be afraid.

Ite missa est. Alleluia, alleluia.
Deo gratias. Alleluia alleluia. 


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