Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter, April 16, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Vigil Readings:
Genesis 1:1-2, 26-27, 2:1-4; Canticle of the Three Young Men
Exodus 14:26-29, 15:20-21; The Song of Miriam
Judges 4:1-10, 23; Canticle of Deborah

Acts 16:13-15+Matthew 28:1-10 

Like many of you, I am sure, every year Easter rolls around with its story of resurrection and new life and the trampling down of death, and I look around me at death and violence and fear everywhere I turn and can’t help wondering what it’s really all about. What does resurrection mean in such times as this?

These days particularly are filled with worry about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the uncertainty of what kind of outcome can actually feel or look like peace when thousands upon thousands of Ukrainians have died and millions have been displaced. But then, I try to put myself in their place, imagining what Easter looks like in Kyiv this year.

As I understand it, 80% – that’s eight-zero percent – of Ukrainians identify as Ukrainian Orthodox. Because we calculate the date of Easter differently, the Orthodox Church will observe Easter next week, rather than this one. So, these millions of Ukrainian Orthodox will make their way to church next Saturday night, well after dark, for the beginning of an all-night Vigil service. They carry with them a basket of food, especially dyed eggs and Easter cake, or paska. Or maybe this year, there is no basket and no feast because such luxuries are impossible in time of war.

They enter the church. St. Sophia’s Cathedral or St. Michael’s or St. Andrew’s or one of the churches in the Monastery of the Caves or any other of the more than 800 churches in Kyiv. The fragrance of flowers fills the air. But this fragrance is not from Easter lilies; it is from the hundreds of funerals that have been performed in these sacred spaces since Russia invaded on February 24. They are in shock. They are mourning. Even if their family is safe, they know families who are not. Death and destruction surround them.

And yet still, they come. They come to hear a story of resurrection because God hears the cries of the brokenhearted. Like the women who came to the tomb that first Easter day, they come because where else would they go?

In our Vigil readings, we hear the story of the times when all seemed lost, and yet the people of Israel triumphed by the might of God. God who created the heavens and the earth and led the people out of bondage in Egypt and sent mighty judges like Deborah to triumph over Israel’s foes, this same God shook the foundations of the world when no one was looking. The two Mary’s arrive at the tomb expecting to anoint a corpse, but what they get instead is a messenger of God telling them not to be afraid. He is not here. He is risen. Go and tell.

And as they are running with fear and great joy, Jesus meets them along the way. It’s a great image for us. They weren’t trying to find Jesus, they weren’t deep in prayer, they weren’t doing high and holy things (not that there is anything wrong with prayer or high and holy things!). No, they were running in fear and great joy. And there, Jesus met them.

Just as Jesus meets us when we least expect it. When we can hardly see through our tears of sorrow. When we cannot explain what we have experienced that causes us such joy-filled fear. When we are running to share news with our friends, there he is.

Jesus meets us in the waters of baptism. Jesus meets us on the subway, at the market, in school, most assuredly on the baseball field, and he tells us to go and tell. And when we go and tell, Jesus promises that the others will see him, too.

Resurrection happens even when the world is at its worst. Maybe especially when the world is at its worst. The last thing those grieving women expected to find at the tomb was Jesus risen and gone. When the people of Ukraine take their heavy hearts into their churches on Easter Eve, they are probably not expecting to find a risen Jesus there, either. But the assurance of the resurrection is that Jesus will meet us there. Every time.

So go and tell.

Take your sorrows and your joys and go and tell.

Take your worry and your anxiety and go and tell.

Take all of who you are – the parts you love and the parts you hide – and go and tell.

Jesus will meet you there. That’s a promise.

Alleluia. Christ is Risen.

Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.


ASEPSermon for the Great Vigil of Easter, April 16, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas