The Great Vigil of Easter is my very favorite service of the Christian calendar. We go from the darkness, death, sorrow, and gloom of Good Friday and find ourselves, literally and figuratively, in the light, life, rejoicing and brilliance of Resurrection. We recount salvation history with God’s people in the Hebrew Scriptures and experience its culmination in the journey through Holy Week, with the sentencing, the death, and the resurrection of the God-Man Jesus, the Christ of God, the Messiah.
Jesus’ journey and ministry on this earth was fraught with controversy and misunderstanding. And then, his resurrection broke all the rules. For the religious institution this was uncharted territory. Even his disciples didn’t really expect it to happen, even though Jesus had told them. Why else would the women go to the tomb to anoint his dead body? Why were his disciples in hiding, despondent, discouraged, and disillusioned? The wonderful hope they had for Jesus as the Messiah seemed shattered. They are without their teacher, their Master, their Lord.
So, you can imagine the women’s surprise when they encounter first the angel who is bigger than life and then Jesus himself, alive and talking to them. By the way, take a look at the Resurrection window—the first one coming into the church—for a visual of the women encountering the angel. The women are shocked and clearly shaken to see the very much alive Jesus. And what does he tell them? “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Jesus plans to reveal himself to them before he ascends.
The message for us today has not changed. Jesus still tells us, “Do not be afraid!”
Regardless of all of the wars we are in and the threat of terrorism,
Regardless of the forces of nature that seemingly are going crazy with
earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and horrible storms,
Regardless of political leadership in constant turmoil,
Regardless of how bleak your personal future looks,
Regardless of the fact that you are getting older and your body and even
your mind are betraying you,
Regardless of your financial position, your work environment or stability,
Regardless of problems in your marriage, or problems with your children or
When we throw ourselves at the foot of the cross, or kneel before Jesus, and tell him of all that life has thrown at us, or is throwing at us, he is all compassion, mercy and love. We can trust in him because he goes before us. Nothing can happen to us, without his loving, healing, assuring presence. When we celebrate life, he celebrates with us. When we grieve and are full of sorrow, or are despondent and sad, he suffers with us.
Jesus conquered everything life could throw at him: hunger, temptation, betrayal, abandonment by loved ones, torture, being stripped of everything he had, and finally a violent, brutal death. He overcomes all of it through perfect love. And because he overcame all of it, we are able to have faith in him to help us overcome. As the Apostle Paul tells us in this evening’s Romans passage, “…we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore we have been
buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so we too might rise up out of the waters of baptism, and walk in newness of life.”
Our old self is gone and we are new creatures—forgiven, cleansed, and made new. Death does not have the last word about us. Despair and darkness do not have to overtake us. Life has purpose, even when we can’t see it. We know that because we believe and are baptized into Jesus’ death, we will also experience a resurrection like his, and in this life, now, we are new creatures.
And, as Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans, 8:28 (I shared this verse with you a few weeks ago), “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to God’s purpose.”
All things—the good, the bad, and the ugly—work together for good for the people of God when they put their trust in, and follow, Jesus. We live new lives as God’s beloved children, fed by God’s Word, sustained by Jesus’ Body and Blood, and empowered by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.
And because Jesus has overcome our sins—past, present, and future—and has taken them to the grave and to hell where they belong, we do not despair when we fall. Jesus is always ready and able to lift us up again, when he have confessed, repented, and turned away from our sins. Then, we can give thanks to God and rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection, which gives us new life in him.
That is why we are able to rejoice, regardless of our circumstances, and praise and glorify our Risen Christ by saying, Alleluia! Alleluia! The Lord is Risen ! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.