Sermon for the Great Easter Vigil - April 15 2017

Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter, Year A
April 15, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

So, the darkness has been conquered. This angel, whose very presence unsettles the earth itself, is sitting in triumph on the stone that was placed to seal the tomb.  Look, see where he lay.  Not where he is, but where his body was; he’s gone.

Where does Matthew show us angels?

Before and after the Incarnation:

Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.[1]

Joseph, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.[2]

Joseph, get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel….[3]

After the temptations:  “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”[4]

And tonight – the angel who came and opened the tomb – not because Jesus needed a rescue, for the tomb was already empty – but because the women needed to see.

D. Cameron Murchison[5] notes that these angelic visitations came at crucial points in the Gospel story, and they give us a crucial reminder that there are some things we simply cannot accomplish. 

I know, just saying that sounds so obvious.  Murchison writes: “By this use of angelic actors and signs and portents, Matthew asserts that God is irrupting” [that is, entering forcibly or suddenly] “into the world in a new and decisive manner.” The “core theological point,” he says, “is that there is no merely naturalistic way of speaking of the resurrection.” [6]

Or, by extension, the incarnation.  These are new, unprecedented, unheard of, and they are “wholly about God’s capacity and determination.”[7]

Murchison goes on: “If goodness and mercy are to withstand the onslaught of religiously based self-righteousness and control… If death is a final conclusion to even the most finely lived human life … it is because God acts at that boundary of life we call death and does something altogether new.”[8]

What terrifies the guards at the tomb reassures the women who followed Jesus.   The very absence of Jesus is a promise that what would hold him could not hold him, and what would hold us cannot hold us, either. 

And finally, the women are to tell the disciples to gather in Galilee.

And, oddly enough, the men believe them, unlike in other Gospels where they have to out check the story for themselves, and they head for Galilee, where they do indeed meet Jesus.  But when they meet, Matthew says, “When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.”[9] 

The women’s response, and that of all, but not some, of the other disciples, is the same – they worship.  Matthew is so matter-of-fact about it all – the Jesus he describes seems not to be worried about those who doubted.

Eugene Boring, whom I’ve mentioned before as one of the commentators on this Gospel, has pointed out that the translation of that sentence – “They worshiped, but some doubted” could as accurately be translated as “they worshiped but they doubted” – implying that doubt was a part of their faith.[10]  Belief and trust, even in God – or maybe especially in God – is risky, and this remains true even in this moment when the Messiah is right in front of them.

Another odd thing – this time about Matthew – is that he pretty much drops the tale at this point.  There’s an aside about the guards reporting back to the religious authorities who tell them to spread word that the disciples stole the body, and that’s pretty much it.

Perhaps we are left to finish the story. 

Perhaps we are left to acknowledge that there are things we do not and cannot do; things we do and do not understand, things we trust and things we’re not so sure about.

But God can, God does, and God knows.

It’s not all on us.  Perhaps, knowing this, we can trust that God, who broke into our world even so long ago, may still break into our hearts today.

The disciples, after being harrowed by Jesus’ death, took on trust the words the women brought them and went “back to the beginning,” and met the risen Lord.  From there, they were sent out into the world to continue his mission of healing, reconciling, sharing, and hope.

Even if some of them doubted.

I find that thought comforting.  Don’t you?



[1] Matthew 1:20-21.

[2] Matthew 2:13.

[3] Matthew 2:19-20.

[4] Matthew 4:11.

[5] Dean and Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary.

[6] Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2. Kindle Location 12617.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Op. cit., Kindle Location 12623.  Emphasis added.

[9] Matthew 28:17.

[10] Matthew, New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, pg 502

  January 2018  
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