Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter, April 3, 2021 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Genesis 1:1-2:4(a)+Psalm 36:5-10+Exodus 14:10-15:1+Canticle 8+Ezekiel 37:1-14+Psalm 31
Romans 6:3-11+Psalm 114+Mark 16:1-8

Twice each year, at least in non-COVID times, we gather here in this space as evening falls, candles flickering, lights dimmed, and read the story of our salvation. For Advent Lessons and Carols, we hear those parts of the Hebrew scriptures, our Old Testament, that Christians have come to believe point the way to the messiah. At the Easter Vigil, the readings are those that foretell of the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both of these retellings of our story begin in the beginning, in creation, and end with the prophet Zephaniah:

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem! (3:14)

There are, among clergy and other believers, debates about which of these events is central to our faith. The incarnation, the coming of God as one of us? Or is it the resurrection, when death is vanquished and we are set free from the bondage of sin and death? It is hugely important to our identity as Christians that Jesus was fully human and fully God, that God chose to empty God’s self in complete humility and to take on flesh and blood. And yet. And yet, if this Jesus had simply lived and performed signs and wonders and even raised people from the dead but had not then also risen from the grave and ascended into heaven, it would have been easy to dismiss him. Would we still be gathering to proclaim him as the Son of God these two-thousand years later? I don’t think so.

Resurrection is both the most important belief that we confess and the most challenging. Humans simply do not come back to life once they have died. We believe in science, right? Resurrection just isn’t how it works! We have grown so accustomed to saying “he was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day, he rose again” that the stupendously jaw-dropping outrageousness of it all has ceased to shock us.

But when we gather, in person or online, and listen to the story – our story – again, we have another chance to be shocked. To be amazed. To be terrified as the women in Mark were. They may not have known the science behind it, but they certainly knew it was not possible that this Jesus whom they had followed for three years and whom they had witnessed suffering on the cross, it was simply not possible that he had been come back from the dead.

And yet it was not only possible, it was real. This is what the young man dressed in white had told them.  Jesus was not there. He had been raised from the dead.

And it isn’t just Jesus who came back to life. The Apostle Paul says that we who are baptized have also died with Christ and have been given new life. We usually hold baptisms on this night for that particular reason, to acknowledge that “our old self was crucified with him,” that “if we have died with Christ, we will also live with him” (Romans 6: 6,8). We are people of the resurrection precisely because the impossible, improbable, earth-shattering happened. Christ rose from the dead, and we are alive in him, forever. And we live that resurrection life in this world, bringing Good News to the poor, liberation to the oppressed, and the cup of salvation to all who are thirsty.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

ASEPSermon for the Great Vigil of Easter, April 3, 2021 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas