Easter Vigil Reflection

Given April 16, 2022

But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 

We’ve just read a lot. A friend once quipped that we read the whole Old Testament at this service, at least it can feel that way. And there are nine Old Testament readings for this service, so we didn’t even read them all. One might wonder, “Why do we start with Genesis when we’re celebrating Jesus?” “Why do we read so much of the Old Testament when the resurrection is part of the New?” 

We do so for a very good reason: salvation didn’t begin with Jesus. It began the moment God created. God said, “Let there be light” and God saw it was good. God saw that all of our planet, all that God made was good. God delighted in it and still does. Life is good. God always desired life and goodness for us. That is salvation: having life in abundance. 

But suffering also exists in this world. We have encountered tragedy upon tragedy. Israel was saved from oppression under Pharaoh. Pharaoh oppressed and enslaved the people. That was a tragedy. God saved, but it came with the costs of any war. It cost lives. The crossing through the Red Sea was a miracle and also a graveyard. The Egyptian army was drowned. Those working for the oppressive system lost much more than the one controlling it. While Pharaoh suffered some, his people and the Israelites suffered much more, all because of Pharaoh’s lust for power and control. 

We find that story repeating over and over again in the Old Testament. Sometimes Israel even became the oppressor, Israel was in the wrong. So much suffering for power, for wealth, for control of other people. All of it breaks God’s heart. 

God consistently shares the desire for a new way, a way where we listen to God first, where we care for the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden, where their needs come first. It’s a way I’m know I’m not great at, our world hasn’t lived into it fully, but it’s God’s way. 

My favorite image from our Old Testament readings tonight is that of the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel is brought to a valley where war had left its devastation. There were bones everywhere, a mass grave. Looking at such loss and suffering, Ezekiel had to have been taken aback. Then God asked him, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Is it possible for healing, even from such brutality? God says yes. God makes the impossible possible. The bones gain sinews, then flesh, then breath. They are able to live. Then God promises to open the graves, to bring up the people from the graves and to give them God’s Spirit. It is possible. If we open ourselves up to the truth, if we tell it, if we turn and follow God’s way, healing is possible. 

But healing requires that we believe that God’s way is more than an idle tale. When Jesus was crucified and laid in a tomb, there was no reason for anyone to expect to ever see him alive again. That’s not how death works, we all know this. The body is given back to the earth. It does not gain life again, certainly not after three days. 

But God promised to open the graves, to bring life out of death. God looked at how we treat each other, how we inflict pain on one another, how we try to control each other, and God asked, “Mortal, can these bones live?” God breathed our air, felt our needs, our desires, God became flesh, and said, “Yes, I will bring you up from your graves, O my people, I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” God promised a new way, new life to all, and God is faithful. 

God looked at all the suffering, all that breaks God’s heart. God looked at war, at mass graves, at the devastation that we cause to one another and what did God do? 

God took it all upon God’s own self. Jesus, God’s son, chose solidarity with the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden. It meant being misunderstood. It meant being accused of treason. It meant death on a cross. Jesus took it all. Jesus didn’t take it to be a blood sacrifice to God. God didn’t need to die a painful death in order to save us. The salvation offered through Christ comes through the empty tomb, it only starts at the cross. Yes, we need the cross to get there, but it’s what happens at the grave that truly changed the world. If he never rose, we would not know who Jesus was today. 

God died alongside us and then God rose. God declared that all could be healed, all could be cleansed, that even the foulest punishments would someday cease and be no more. Life wins. Love wins. The powers and principalities of evil are doomed because Jesus rose from the grave. 

We know that is not the world we live in. Evil still has its way. Death still looms over us. It often feels like there is little we can do as individuals to change these ways. But what happens if we live believing that death is not the end, that these bones can live? There is an energy, a power that comes with that. We find strength to stare evil in the face and call it what it is. We find strength to push back against it, to hold it to account, to say, in the famous words of Bianca del Rio, “Not today, Satan, not today.” 

If we tell the truth, if we stare death in the face and name it, we can reclaim its power. We can work together to build a better way. When the women went to the tomb, they did not understand what they were seeing, but they kept their eyes wide open. That’s how they saw the way forward, the men in dazzling clothes sharing the power of resurrection over their lives. 

Except for Peter, the apostles didn’t come to see. They blinded themselves to the possibilities by brushing it all off. Surely Jesus hadn’t actually risen. They called it an idle tale, something the women made up in their grief. They refused to believe the evidence given them. But Peter decided to examine, to see what the truth was. He studied the facts, he looked at it from all angles. There’s nothing in the gospel saying he believed at that point, but he was certainly closer to the truth than the others who hung back. 

Salvation comes when we examine and explore what the truth is, when we stare it in the face, when we come to God and ask with God, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Jesus promises us that it is possible, that sinews and flesh can come upon bone, that the Spirit can come upon us, and that we can live. One day this world can look like what God dreams. God made it and called it good. We have the power of resurrection, we have God’s Spirit coming alongside us to help it reclaim its goodness. After all the suffering, all the heartache, God can open the grave, release the power of resurrection, and bring us salvation. Amen.