Holy Saturday: Romans 6:3-11 & John 20:1-18

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me.
John 7:37
(Kristen Malcolm Berry)
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

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.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Early on the first day of the week, Mary came to the tomb. In the middle of the night, with the darkness surrounding her, Mary came to the tomb. Knowing the old, familiar feel of darkness, feeling the old, familiar darkness of grief, Mary came to the tomb.

Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus began in the darkness, and tonight, so has ours.

“This is the night,” we sang. This is the night. This is the long night of faith between the cross and the empty tomb. This is the night that begins where Good Friday left off, with the candles all snuffed out, with the cross plainly in view, with silence and uncertainty.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.

She walked as a person of old hopes, defeated dreams, lost expectations. And yet...and yet. Under cover of dark, she came to the tomb. Something in her wasn’t content with the old world. Something in her knew that there was still newness to be found, and whatever flicker of promise or curiosity that was left in her soul led her back to the garden.

This is the night.

This is the night that we ourselves gathered in the holy darkness to seek God’s promise that our old condemnation to death could be vanquished by new life; hoping that the the old brokenness in our bones could be transformed into the new wholeness that we ache for. This is the night that we rebelled against old news of the cross and death, hoping against all hope that here, we’d see the strange, unexpected glory of resurrection.

In the darkness, we comforted ourselves with old stories of faith. We took comfort in stories that assured us of God’s faithfulness throughout the ages. We were reminded, over and over again, that God pulls new life out of old places.

Out of the old chaos, the old swirling of the tohu vavohu, the face of the deep, God pulled out the newness of creation, the fresh beauty of order and life.

Out of the old life of weary slavery, God pulled forth the Israelites, passing them safely through the waters toward the new land promised to them, the land flowing with milk and honey.

Out of old Abraham’s faithful heart, a heart so faithful to God that he would bring Isaac to the edge of sacrifice, out of the old promise God brought forth the new promise of ancestors as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

From old bones, lying in dust and grief, wasting away in the dry heat, God pulled together sinews and muscles and breathed into them the breath of new life. The new answer to the old question, “Can these bones live?” is a resounding “Yes!”

Over and against this world’s “old news” of hunger, thirst, pain, and weariness, God promises a new world overflowing with mercy, a place of promise at the edge of saving waters.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood up up to the old regime, to the old rule, to an old life of blind allegiance to human lordship, and, passing unharmed through the fire, God used them to bring new faith to the King and all the land.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.

And it was empty!

“Whom are you looking for?” the man asked, this man who might as well have been the gardener, this man who could not possibly have been Jesus, because death is as old as the beginning of time, and as final as the end of time.

“They have taken away my Lord,” Mary says, crushed with defeat, grieving a friend and teacher, grieving the hope she had that the world could ever be new.

Jesus said to her, “Mary,” calling her by name, and her eyes were opened. Off she runs to the other disciples, to the villages, to the corners of the earth, shouting “I have seen the Lord!”

Tonight, through fire and water, bread and wine, old stories and new stories, we join Mary and the disciples as they run through the garden, peeking into the empty tomb, finding their friends, overwhelmed with the sheer power of coming face-to-face with the impossible-come-true.

Their empty tomb is our empty tomb, the corner of the garden where the old story of death and defeat passed away into the rising brightness of God’s new morning.

N.T. Wright, in an Easter sermon entitled “God’s Future in Person,” says this:
Jesus has gone through death and out into God’s new world, God’s new creation, and to our astonishment he’s come forwards into our world, which is still in Old Time, to tell us that the day has in fact dawned and that even though we feel sleepy and it still seems dark out there the new world has begun and we’d better wake up and get busy.

That, of course, is part of what the gospel writers were trying to tell us with their stories about very early morning, and people running to and fro, and discovering that something had happened which they weren’t expecting, for which they weren’t ready, and which both fulfilled their wildest dreams and turned those same dreams inside out and upside down in the process. And unless you’re prepared to have something like that happen to you, you’d be better off staying in bed instead of coming here...to have the water of Jesus’ victory over death splashed over you, to watch God’s new fire and to pray for that fire to be lit by the Spirit inside you. (N.T. Wright, “God’s Future in Person,” Easter Vigil 2007)
Christ’s resurrection is not for his own sake. It is one hundred percent for our sake, and for the sake of the whole creation. Christ died, was buried, and rose again that we, too, might have the power to die to the old and rise with the new.

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, die to the old creation that lingers in our souls. But we rise from those waters as people cleansed and claimed, people very much alive and full of new 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.”

Christ has vanquished death so that we, too, may defy death. Christ is the firstborn of God’s new creation so that we, too, can be made new.

This is the night.

This is the night in which the darkness has been transformed into holy brightness. This is the night in which death has died and life has risen.

This is the night when all the old has been made new.

Rejoice, therefore, choirs of angels! Rejoice, therefore, you dry bones and you waters of the flood! Rejoice, therefore, children of Abraham and Isaac, all those who have passed through the fire and water and remain yet unscathed! Rejoice, all creation! For Jesus Christ is risen.

Alleluia! Amen.

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