Updated: Jul 31, 2022
The Rev. Cameron Partridge
April 16, 2022
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Good evening, friends. It’s wonderful to see you here in person and via Zoom for our first hybrid Easter Vigil. It is inspiring to have heard the renditions of God’s saving deeds in history offered by Doris, Elaina, and Janet. With gratitude for the ability to keep this tradition going solely via recordings and Zoom over the last two years, I am glad to be able to have heard and seen them here at 101 Gold Mine Drive even as we continue to share them digitally this evening. Thank you for sharing the good news of these stories in your own words, through your own eyes.
At the heart of our Gospel passage from Luke this evening is the personal witness offered to and by the women who had come to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body with the ointments and spices they had prepared. They had been watching from afar all along the way of the cross, as Barbara emphasized in her reflection last night. “They saw the tomb and how his body was laid,” Luke says (Lk 24:55). They had rested on the Sabbath and now at dawn they had returned to the place they knew the body had been placed. The intensity of their pre-Sabbath watching and dawn return, as Luke evokes it, is as if they were walking a confusing, densely wooded path, as if they might have said to one another, remember what this looks like. It may be hard to find again. Don’t lose him. But then upon their return with its intent focus, the body is gone. I imagine grief now laid upon grief: a missing body, no longer able to be lovingly handed over to God’s care and rest, followed by the startling appearance of two “dazzling” strangers (24:4). We’ve met them before— as recently as Transfiguration Sunday, just before the start of Lent. A glowing Moses and Elijah, we heard uniquely in Luke’s version of this iconic story, had been talking with Jesus about the “exodus” he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem (9:31). And now here the women were at the tomb, and there had indeed been an exodus. But as they struggled to wrap their heads and hearts around what was had departed, the two dazzling figures reframed the scene. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen” (Luke 24:5).
This would not be the last time disciples of Jesus would hear a similar turn of phrase. At the Ascension, as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, it is the “men of Galilee” who are asked, again by two glowing figures, “why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:11). The men needed to be addressed in this way because, unlike the women in Luke’s story, they had a history of refusing the reframing of their expectations. As we heard, the women at the tomb shared with the other disciples what the two mysterious strangers had declared to them, but the men had not believed them. “These words [had] seemed to them an idle tale,” we heard (Luke 24:11). Even in a story just after our passage, as two male disciples walk the road to Emmaus (which comes up on the Wednesday of Easter Week and on the third Sunday of Easter in Year A), they sorrowfully relay to Jesus himself, “some women of our group astounded us… [and] told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive” (Luke 24:23). How foolish they were, the risen-stranger-Jesus responded to them, before giving them a new way to interpret and stitch together their sacred stories, a new way to see possibility in their world, a new way to invert their most basic expectations. Resurrection life emerges from out of death, from out of suffering, from out of grievous injustice and cruelty. Resurrection life cannot be contained. It breaks free, it liberates, it turns the world upside down. Can we not perceive it? And if at first we cannot, can we come to believe it when someone else shares it with us in their own words, in their own unique way?
Several years ago, not long after we had moved back to the Bay Area and became part of this beloved community of St. Aidan’s, Kateri and I took G & B to the Academy of Sciences. Neither of us had ever been before. The Exploratorium, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and even the Monterey Bay Aquarium were somewhat familiar to me from growing up across the Bay, as well as to Kateri, but for some reason this was new. Gavin had recently visited on a field trip, however, so he eagerly showed us around. When we reached a beautiful wrought iron railing toward the back of the building, surrounding a pool, I looked down and wondered why they had made such an elegant enclosure for a large plastic alligator. It had the same distinctly green tinted, off-white color of a squishy plastic glow-in-the-dark ball I remember from my childhood. I bet it looks super spooky at night, I remember thinking. But as we stared at it for a few moments, Gavin casually referenced how it was alive. For a moment I wondered if that could possibly be true. I stared, hard. The alligator was absolutely motionless. “There! See?!” Gavin pointed. But we hadn’t seen. It’s probably animatronic, one or both of us responded, recalling a huge plastic dinosaur we’d seen at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City a few years earlier. Gavin was not pleased with us. It is alive, he declared. I felt badly—he clearly believed it. I even wanted to believe it—but it just seemed so off the wall. Eventually we wandered off to other exhibits, but Gavin would not leave the topic alone. No amount of gorgeous backlit jellyfish could dissuade him from wanting to return. So we split up, with Kateri and B continuing below while G and I returned to the tank.
And then it happened. Of course you know where I’m going. I saw the creature blink. I kept watching. I saw it ever so slowly move a foot. See?! G was saying. SEE?! I texted Kateri. “I think G’s right.” By the time she replied incredulously I had actually read the informational signs that had been all around the enclosure the whole time. His name was – is – Claude. He’s an alligator with albinism, born in Louisiana in 1995 and taken in by the Academy of Sciences in 2008, too vulnerable to remain outdoors. He even had a companion for a while, a green alligator named Bonnie who was given another home after biting one of Claude’s feet. Needless to say, Kateri and I felt terrible for not having believed G, and we sincerely apologized. Even if we were in danger of forgetting this episode, I’m not sure G would let us – nor should he!
All week long we have made our way into what our ancient and living tradition calls the Paschal Mystery, the unfathomably good news of resurrection life emerging from out of death. It is the ultimate example of the unexpected bursting forth of life from a world gone cold and rote, a world of dominance falsely claiming victory through might. But as the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” God’s victory in Jesus Christ is an exodus, an emptying out of worldly power, an opening up of possibility, a bursting of the bonds of oppression. Can we not perceive it? Can we not carry forth its banner? Can we not rest in its power? Can we not open our eyes and ears, our hearts to beat with God’s own irrepressible life? Thanks be to God for all those in our lives who invite us to see through their eyes, who reach out and take our hands when we feel lost and afraid, who refuse to let us persist in our misperceptions. Thanks be to God for those who listen to us when we need to be heard, to uphold what we may uniquely see. Thanks be to God for the power of resurrection life to render us afresh in community, to connect and change us beyond our wildest imaginings. May we all share in and be changed by the stories of God’s saving deeds, ancient and ever new.
 Fred Craddock makes this connection between the glowing figures in “Luke,” in The HarperCollins Bible Commentary (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 941.  https://secretsanfrancisco.com/albino-alligator-academy-of-sciences/ Accessed 4/16/2022