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The Great Vigil of Easter – Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 24:1-12

Easter Day is called the Day of Resurrection, which may give us comfort, and courage, and confusion.  Confusion, not about Jesus’ resurrection, nor confusion about the resurrection of those who have died.  I’m thinking about the confusion this may present to us while we are still alive on this earth.  The church uses the language of “resurrection power” in the here and now. Saint Paul talks about the daily dying and rising with Christ.  What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make for us here, who are still alive?  What difference does it make to you personally, now, really?

I would say that if Jesus’ resurrection has an immediacy to you, in your own life in the here-and-now, it’s because you understand something about death.  Life, as we know it, is full dying.  Everything we can see and touch, taste and smell, every person, every animal, every living thing has a life span, whether or not we consent to it.  In the course of our own lifespan, we will lose many things that have been dear to us.  Especially grievous are the losses of people whom we have loved deeply.  And then there’s lost opportunities, and the dwining of our life’s energies, and many other forms of dying.  And that’s life.  When we as Christians embrace the church’s notion of “resurrection power” in the here-and-now, this is much more than simply saying, “Chin up! Get on with it!”   It’s much more than that.  Resurrection for the here-and-now is our living with the awareness that life comes out of death.  The life cycle includes death, many times over.  Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it will not bear fruit.”  He’s not just talking about the principles of gardening; he’s talking about the ground of our being.  This is the way it is.  I don’t think that this notion of resurrection power in the here-and-now is anything that can be taught.  It’s counter-intuitive; it’s even confusing… unless you’ve experienced it.  I would say, that it is only when you have experienced how it is that life does come out of death – what could seem to just kill you proves to be, in the fullness of time, to be the gateway to life – it’s only when you’ve experienced this reality can you understand resurrection in the here-and-now.

You might find it meaningful to look backwards in your own life, to the many deaths you’ve experienced, big and small, to see where what had seemed to be your breaking has actually been your making.  This is a wonderful way to claim some of this resurrection power.  Look backwards to remember what has led up to this present moment, which has likely included many, many deaths… and likely many risings, nothing short of a miracle.  Extending that memory into the future is called “hope.”  Extending the memory of your miracle-past into your anticipation of the future is called “hope,” which is such a help when you’re traveling in uncharted waters.  Out of death comes life.  And that’s life.  You may not be able to explain how this works; but once you’ve experienced it, you cannot deny that it happens.  Where there is dying, there is rising.  Presume there will be rising in this life, in your own life.  Nothing in this world – nothing that ends – is the end.

The church has also come to speak about the “hope of heaven.”  This is when those who have died will rise in some real way which brings ultimate healing from the wounds and diminishments of this life.  The hope of heaven is also about reunion with those who belong to one another, who love one another, those who have already passed from this life to the next.  The Scriptures give us a kind of impressionistic picture of heaven, which includes streets of gold and pearly gates and other things of great ornamental value.  You can keep all that, so far as I’m concerned.  This other picture of heaven, about reunion, is what I find most compelling.  I want to sit on my Grandmother Anna’s lap again.  Maybe you wish something of the same from your own lineage.  I’m not sure how all that works, because we talk about the resurrection of the body, of our in some way being given new bodies, whole bodies, healed bodies.  My Grandmother Anna always seemed old to me; I cannot imagine her with a young body, a whole body, a new body.  And yet, in God’s economy, we are all children of God.  Somehow – no matter our generation – we will know one another and be fully known to one another, and yet be made new and whole.

We are given a picture of this in the Book of Revelation, where we hear that those who have passed through the ordeal of this life will be given an eternal sheltering by God.  “…They will hunger no more, and thirst no more… and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”i This hope of heaven may be an enormous source of comfort to you in this life.  So many people in this world die in unexpected, sometimes tragic ways, or by the slow stealing of their lives by disease and diminishment. So many people – those who are unknown to us, whom we only see on the pages of the newspaper, along with the people whom we hold in our hearts and love for all our lives – so many people die with a measure of tragedy.  You may find enormous comfort in praying to Jesus for those who have died, praying that Jesus complete in them his work as their Messiah, their Christ.  The English word “Messiah” comes from the Hebrew, meaning “the anointed one.”  The English word “Christ” comes from the Greek, meaning “the anointed one”: Jesus anointed as priest, and prophet, and physician.  Pray for these souls, for Jesus’ anointing healing ministry to salve them as their savior – to bring healing to them, the ultimate healing that death brings.

The prayer we offered here at the outset of our liturgy names one other dimension about resurrection.  We prayed, “Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism.”  We are reminded of our own adoption in Christ as we witness Robert’s Baptism this morning, and as we renew our own Baptismal Promises.  But what about the rest of the world?  So many people – including our neighbors here in Harvard Square and those who live in far places around this world – there are so many people who may not know God’s light and life and love in the here-and-now.  When we pray, “Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption,” we become the adoption agency.  We become God’s agent to this world, so much of which lives in poverty, with death as a daily companion and with little or no experience of the miracle of resurrection.  If our poor world is to know the resurrection power, it is because we are the agents of that power and provision.  The prayer we prayed at the outset is, “Stir up in your church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth.ii Resurrection includes the renewal of both body and mind in the here-and-now.  You probably have within the resurrection power to be someone’s miracle.

Many of you will know that we brothers have been sharing in ministry in eastern Africa, working mostly with priests and seminarians and those whom they serve.  Beautiful people, with so much to teach us, so many of whom live in abject poverty.  We are also providing financial help for some of the people whom we’ve come to know, and for some specific projects which will make a world of difference to them, a matter of life and death.  We have heard from some of these dear people that they call what we are doing a miracle.  It’s what they have been praying for.   – It’s actually not a miracle.  It’s not a miracle to us brothers.  These needs we witness are, to us, very clear and very compelling, and we feel called to do all we possibly can to help.  To our African friends, this is a miracle; to us brothers, this is simply a clear, compelling call on our own lives to be God’s agency.  But we brothers do understand miracles.  To us brothers, the miracle is that we receive help from so many people in so many forms, including money to help us pay our bills at home and to help our brothers and sisters in Africa and elsewhere.  We brothers witness miracles coming our way every day, which is staggering.  And I would say the same for you.

All of us here are walking miracles.  All of us here have the power and potential to be an agency of Christ’s resurrection power – to bring life out of death – in some way, somewhere, each of us in our own way.  Where we get in touch with the miraculous is on the receiving end, I would say.  Take account of the miracles of your own life.  Look back, remember how it is you’ve come to be who you are – probably nothing short of a miracle given how many times you have already died in this life.  Then co-operate with God.  Grasp what is a clear, compelling call on your life to be a channel of Christ’s resurrection power in the here-and-now and co-operate with God as God’s agent, a miracle-maker in someone else’s eyes: bringing life out of death, the resurrection power.

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i See Revelation 7:9-17.
ii The Book of Common Prayer, p. 295.
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