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Easter Vigil

Easter Vigil – Matthew 28:1-10

Rev. Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain

April 8, 2023



May the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts, and the actions of our lives be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer.

Some years ago, I’m not certain exactly what year it was, we began the tradition at St. Aidan’s of telling a story at our Christmas eve service. Doris did the honors that year – and she has ever since. On that first story-telling Christmas, I was deeply touched – overwhelmed to be honest – by the power of story telling. Story telling of course is a long tradition in the human experience, but it’s also kind of a lost art, isn’t it? In a world of cell-phones and pod casts and various kinds of instant gratification, it’s easy to forget that an in-person story – told from the heart and repeated generation to generation – matters.

Our service tonight – the Easter Vigil – is all about story telling. We hear stories that are steeped in the tradition of our faith – starting with the creation, moving into Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, then the Valley of the Dry Bones, then the Exile. The stories are familiar, yet ----- each time they are told, by different people and with their unique perspectives and in their authentic voices --- these stories come alive in new ways and with new relevance for each of us. We hear the stories in new ways because of the ways in which they are told to us. And because of who is telling the story. We hear the stories in new ways because of the different points of life in which we hear them. The creation story, for example, heard by us when we were small children, feels different when we are questioning teens or wondering adults or reflective seniors. It’s the same story, but it lands in different – and interesting – ways. Our shared experience as a community in hearing stories changes too – depending on who we are as a community of faith and where we are in our journey together.

The culminating story we hear this evening is from the Gospel of Matthew, which is about Jesus’ resurrection. It’s hard to imagine a more confusing and anxiety-ridden story than this one. Particularly because it comes just after Jesus has been brutally crucified. Jesus is in the tomb and the women who have been with him, faithful and unnoticed disciples along the way, are there. They are present, as they have been always. There is a great earthquake, and an angel appears, telling the women “Do not be afraid.” It’s difficult to ponder what they must have been thinking, but the women trust the angel and leave the tomb “quickly with fear and great joy” to tell the others what they have observed. Jesus appears to them at this point, reiterating what the Angel has said – “Do not be afraid.” And go and tell the others.

I just have to wonder what the women were thinking through all of this. I have to wonder – what were their stories? What were the deserts that they had journeyed through? What were their sadnesses and challenges? What were their doubts and fears and worries? How in the world were they able to keep it together and follow the guidance of the angel and Jesus? How were they brave enough to go and tell the others what they had seen?

All of us have deserts and sadnesses and doubts, don’t we? We have moments when we wonder if we are brave enough to say what we believe. We have fears. As a colleague of mine used to say "We are, all of us, tragically human.” My Lenten practice this year was to do my level best to give up the practice of worry – a practice that I confess to you I have spent a lifetime perfecting – and what I can share with you is that attempting to give up worry was way harder than giving up Diet Coke or coffee or meat or chocolate during Lent. No comparison.

But – here’s the thing. Jesus, by his resurrection and in his words “Do not be afraid” – Jesus reminds us that God is all about grace and mercy and love and hope and justice and joy. Jesus teaches us that God is with us always, in our darkest of nights, in our deepest of doubts, in our worst moments and our saddest times. And in our joys. Do not be afraid. This is what Jesus is calling upon us to remember.

As Cameron preached on Palm Sunday, there is risk in this. Risk in believing when we aren’t sure of where we are. There is risk in choosing to believe when we experience a combination of knowing and not knowing. Like the women at the tomb, there are times when we are invited – by Jesus and by God - to love one another, to act, to not be afraid, and to share our faith with others.

Cameron described this invitation as both unsettling and consoling. That rings so true to me. It is not easy. But in our unsettled doubt, and in our fears and worries, and amidst the many tragedies of our complicated world, we have God’s constant presence and the community of one another along the way. And we have our unique and beautiful stories to share with one another. As Frederick Buechner wrote, “Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories…that God is made known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”

And so, as we make our way to the joy of Easter and as we open ourselves to the spacious miracle of God’s love, let us remember the stories of our faith, the stories we share with one another, and the story of the women at Jesus’ tomb, the women who believed and shared their belief with others and built up the beloved community.

Stephanie Spellers, in her book, Radical Welcome, wrote these words which I’ll leave us with this evening.

Be not afraid.

You are loved.

Be not afraid.

You are held.

Be not afraid.

You are God’s own.

Be not afraid.

You will face your fear and you will live.

Be not afraid.

You have been called to live as the child of a radically welcoming God, to allow your heart and mind to be broken open to make room for the other and for God.

Be not afraid.

Amen.

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