The Great Vigil of Easter is the most solemn and ancient liturgy of the entire year. It is the culmination of Lent and Holy Week, and the Triduum.
Ring the bells!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The sermon of the Brother
It's Easter! Alleluia! Today is the glorious culmination of these days of Holy Week. Today, our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead: Alleluia.
It was still very early in the morning, Matthew tells us, with just the first streaks of dawn, when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. They had been there, in that garden, on Friday Evening. They had witnessed Joseph of Arimathea wrapping their beloved Jesus' body in a clean linen cloth. They saw him lay the body in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. And they watched as he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb. The two women had seen it all, perhaps through tear-stained eyes. Matthew tells us that on that dark Friday the two of them, the two Marys, were sitting there, opposite the tomb. They had seen it all, remembered every detail. And now two days later, as the first day of the week dawned, they returned. But what they saw now was beyond their wildest dreams. Their world was turned upside down. In one literally earth-shattering moment, they saw – they saw the angel of the Lord rolling back that great stone which Joseph had placed there. And with fear and trembling they were invited to look in, and to see for themselves, and they saw – they saw that the tomb was empty.
Where was their Lord? What had happened to him? And then those wonderful words, which changed their lives, and have changed our lives, and mended our broken hearts: “He is not here: for he has been raised.” By an extraordinary act of power, God had raised Jesus to life, never to die again.
During these past hours we have heard again the story of our salvation. They story of our first disobedience and experience of sin and death and alienation, and of how God, through acts of power has sought to heal us and redeem us, and restore our broken relationship. How God has acted through Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and the prophets, to reconcile us to himself.
Yet no act of power throughout that whole history of salvation can compare to this night. As Br. David sang in our opening Exultet, “This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.” “How blessed is this night, when lost innocence is restored, when earth and heaven are joined, and man is reconciled to God.”
Because God has raised Jesus to life, we can now have a new relationship of intimacy with God. Because Jesus has forgiven our sins on the cross, we can now know our holy God and call him Abba, Father.
And that reality shines out in one word in our Gospel reading from Matthew – one word, which is extraordinary, and we sometimes miss it. In verse 10 the risen Lord says to the two women, “Don't be afraid, go and tell my brothers…” My adelphoi. He's never called them brothers before. “Disciples”, yes. Even, in John, “friends”, but never brothers.
But now brothers. For after the resurrection a new relationship of intimacy has been made possible. Because of Jesus' victory over sin and death, through the cross and resurrection, you and I are not just his followers, or his disciples, or even his friends. More than that, we are now his brothers and sisters. We're of one flesh! And that is quite stunning good news.
And it is a cause for great joy. This Easter Gospel is infused with joy. Relationships have been mended. Men and women have been made brothers and sisters with one another and with Jesus – no wonder Matthew tells us the two women were filled with great joy.
And that joy is for each one of us. The Easter Gospel is not just something to read and reflect on. We are each invited, like the two Marys, to go ourselves to that garden, and to see for ourselves – to meet the risen Lord for ourselves, and to hear his invitation to each of us to become his brother or sister.
But first we have to let him restore us, and forgive us, and wash us in his risen life. As the fifth century church father Peter Chrysologus put it, “To behold the resurrection, the stone must first be rolled away from our hearts.” Jesus is calling us to enter into his joy, but first we may need to acknowledge whatever there might be in our lives which, like a great stone, is blocking the life God longs to give us. Is there something, some until now unacknowledged sin or activity which is damaging your relationship with Jesus, who longs to call you “my brother, my sister?” Jesus longs to roll it away.
Easter is the greatest, most joyful day of the year because God in Jesus has overcome sin and death, and restored our broken relationship with him, and called us his brothers and sisters. So when you make the journey to meet the Risen Jesus in the bread and wine, make the journey in your heart to that garden, and meet Jesus there. As you put out your hand to receive his body and blood, ask him to roll away the stone from your heart, to free you from all that may be burdening you – and then to raise you with him to eternal life, and fill you with Easter joy.
For today is a day for rejoicing.
“Rejoice now heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation
for the victory of our mighty King.”
“Christ is Risen and the demons have fallen.
Christ is Risen and the angels rejoice.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.”
Open your eyes and see that resurrection is written into the very fabric of life. The whole of creation has been transformed by Christ's victory over death – if we but have eyes to see it. - Br Geoffrey Tristram
“Easter is a feast of hope. Not because the resurrection is a nice idea for wishful thinkers, but because God's promise of life and liberty to all who believe is real. We know that God will keep the Divine Promise and grant us life, liberty and healing, even as we live in the shadow of death.” – Br. James Koester
Take a moment to treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart (cf Luke 2,19)
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Col 4:6