Easter Vigil: John 20:1-18

Sadao Watanabe, "Mary Magdalene announces the resurrection", 1966
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

This is the night in which heaven and earth are joined—things human and things divine. This is the night in which we find ourselves in God’s beginning and God’s end, our alpha and our omega. This is the night in which we watch and wait, and find the living where we had expected only to find the dead. This is the night in which we claim our own place in God’s story of salvation. And this is the night in which we pass from death to new life.

We spent the first part of our evening telling stories of faith. Each of these stories recounted examples of passing through or passing into.

By God’s creative hand, the world passed from chaos into order, and from darkness into light.

By God’s sustaining hand, Noah and his family passed through the 40 days of the flood, and passed into a new covenant with God: the promise of the rainbow that God would never again destroy the earth.

By God’s triumphant hand, Moses and the Israelites passed through the parted waters of the Red Sea, passing from slavery into freedom, and passing from a land of oppression to a land of promise.

By God’s gracious hand, Isaiah promised the Israelites that they would pass from being thirsty to being quenched, from being hungry to being satisfied, from being needy to being fulfilled.

By God’s restoring hand, Ezekiel promised the people passage from uncleanliness into cleanliness, from hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, and we from the wilderness into the promised land.

By God’s saving hand, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego passed through the fiery furnace without suffering any harm.

At the heart of God’s ongoing story of salvation, we embrace this idea of passing into or passing through, and never more significantly and symbolically than here, in this vigil, when we watch and wait together.  We come here to bridge the long night of faith between the cross and the empty tomb. We come here knowing only the cross and death, and we come here hoping and trusting in the promise of the resurrection. We come here as people who need to hear again God’s promise that we ourselves have passed through from death to life and from brokenness into wholeness.

Paul asks, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”  Our baptism is our burial. In the waters of baptism, we die to sin, die to brokenness, die to fear and condemnation. But we rise from those waters as people cleansed and claimed, people very much alive and full of life, and full of the promise of resurrection. “For,” as Paul says, “if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Peter and the other disciple left the tomb, confused, scared, and not yet understanding. But Mary remained. She kept vigil at the tomb that first Easter morning, weeping for him who had died, weeping for him who could not be found. And it was there, as she watched and waited and wept, that she came face to face with the risen Christ.

We, too, are people of the resurrection. We are people who, through baptism, have passed from death to life. We are people who, in our weeping, have seen Jesus. And we are people who, like all the faithful people who have gone before us, have seen God’s salvation face-to-face.

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we see God in fire – in the candles that have burned around us, and the Paschal candle that brings to us the light of Christ.

Like Noah and like the Israelites, we see God in water – in the font that is before us, full of the water of life.

Like the Israelites to whom Isaiah prophesied, we see God in food and drink – in the table and in our feast of bread and wine, the body and blood of the living Christ.

So this, brothers and sisters, is the night, when we take our place in God’s saving story. This is the night when we rejoice, for life has conquered death, once for all.  In the words of St. John Chrysostom:

“O death, where is your sting? O death, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are thrown down.
Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom.
Christ is risen, and no one is left dead in the grave.
For Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. To him be glory and dominion now and for ever.”


1 comment:

  1. Your Holy Week reflections are great. You should get them published, or self-publish them. They could be part of a little devotional booklet. Perhaps the rights could be secured to use the artwork as well. Thanks for them. I appreciated them. Happy Easter. Christos Aneste. Alethos Aneste.