Easter Vigil (sermon)


Exodus 12:21-28      Colossians 3:1-11      John 20:1-10


This is from a homily by Pseudo-Chrysostom, an early Church Father:

After the mockings and scourgings,
after the mingled draughts of vinegar and gall,
the pains of the cross, and the wounds,
and finally after death itself and Hades,
there rose again from the grave… a renewed flesh,
there returned from obstruction… a hidden life,
health chained up in death… broke forth, with fresh beauty from its ruin.      

                  (Pseudo-Chrys., Hom. de Resur., iii)

Like Mary Magdalene, out of love for our Lord, we have come here early, while it was still dark

We have waited forty days to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead.  Strangely this morning we begin our Easter celebrations not with a Gospel account of the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples, but instead, with this ancient choice of the Gospel account that is full of uncertainty, of doubt, of Mary Magdalene going to anoint Jesus’ dead body but finding the tomb empty.  She runs to tell the disciples what she has not seen, and then Peter and John also run to find not the risen Lord, but the empty tomb.

It is given to us, I think, because it is how we first hear of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We have not seen his body, we have not seen him point out his wounds, we have not heard his clear words spoken face to face to us to reassure us.  But next Sunday we will have that more clear resurrection Gospel account, and Jean-Luc will open it up to us.

In Matthew’s Gospel (28:1-7) the evangelist describes the women who followed Jesus going to the tomb to do what was always done with the dead – to anoint the body with spices, an act of loving devotion to the departed loved one.  The Sabbath was over, and they were freed up, for the first time since his death, to anoint him.

It was the message of an angel that first told them the truth…

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb…suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightening, and his clothing white as snow.  “He is not here; for he has been raised from the dead, as he said.” 

And then it would be confirmed by these chosen women seeing that he was not there with their own eyes.
Come and see the place where he lay.

The tomb was opened by the angel, not to let Jesus out, as if he had somehow revived and now could come forth.  The tomb was opened so that they could witness that inside it was empty.  The Venerable Bede says, “He who entered into the world through the closed womb of the Virgin…was able to depart out of the world by rising from a sealed sepulcher.

This morning we heard in John’s account of what was seen inside that tomb when Peter and John ran and looked in – John first,

stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.

The body was not stolen – why would the linen cloth still be there?   Did they just fall in their place, when Jesus rose from the dead?  How it happened precisely, we don’t know.

The Resurrection of Jesus is a bodily resurrection, but the Resurrection body is beyond what we know.  It is a body that can appear and disappear, can be recognized or not recognized, pass through walls, and yet is not just a spirit, but an embodied spiritual life.  God has come to save us body and soul – and somehow nothing less than this complete salvation can satisfy our hope for eternal life.

Hope is kindled or rekindled in us every time we recall this, hope about the life to come – we can have great comfort in the face of the death of a loved one and in the face of our own failing health – we can have a godly joy in the midst of our greatest sorrows.  God has a plan for each of us beyond the grave – it is a plan of the greatest freedom and of glory.

On the cover of our service sheet, and the image above us, is a photo I took when I visited Chora Church in Istanbul many years ago –– it shows the risen Christ grasping one person with each hand – it is Adam and Eve! Representing all of humanity who die in hope.


But the Resurrection that is promised at Easter, is not only something at the end of this life, but it is about a new life promised to each one of us by Jesus…now! – a risen life in Christ…now!

Eternal life, the life of heaven, is something that is breaking into our lives as followers of Jesus here and now.  We’ve been forgiven the past completely by the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, so we’re not worried about condemnation. But it is more than that.  By faith, by baptism, we are joined spiritually, mystically, truly, to Jesus Christ, and so we live in Him and He in us.  And so the kingdom of heaven is within us.

But strangely, we also see the ways of death still within us.  We are this strange unsteady mix of eternal life and mortal death.

St Paul acknowledges this in today’s reading from Colossians -

He says, if you have been raised with Christ [that is, raised from death], seek the things that are above [the heavenly], where Christ is…Set you minds on things that are above… Then he says, Put to death…what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  So we have the possibility of heaven and the reality of earth within us!

The salvation that Jesus brings is all by his grace, but, strangely, he calls on us to be fully engaged in the work.

Put our minds to things that are above – will it!  Choose it!  Seek it out, and we will find it.

Put to death what is earthly in you – will it!  Crucify it! with the help of the spiritual disciplines, and the means Christ gives us – and, trusting all the while in His grace.

If we wait after that kind of crucifixion, in a kind of Holy Saturday vigil, like we waited between Friday and today, if we wait patiently with faith – the risen Christ comes to us, rises up in us.

That vigil, that waiting, is like Mary Magdalene in search of her Lord, waiting at the tomb.

It is like the bride’s search for the bridegroom, in the Song of Solomon:

By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loves: I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now, … I will seek him whom my soul loves.

We hear this search also in the prophet Isaiah:

With my soul have I desired you in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek you early. [Is 26.9]

The response of risen Jesus to Mary’s search, the response of the risen Jesus to our search, is offered in the book of Proverbs: 

I love those that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. [8.17]

But where can we go to find him?

In St Matthew’s Gospel account, the angel tells Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to tell the men that Jesus is going to Galilee before them, and that they are to go there and they will see him.  Galilee is where the disciples came from, where they started their whole wild journey with Jesus.

And we read that later they did go to Galilee.  It was in returning to their daily routine, fishing, that Jesus appeared to them again in a very clear way – replicating the easy catch of fish that first brought them to leave all and follow him.  Jesus was on the beach and they ran to him – he had barbecued some fish for them for breakfast!

I suspect part of what is being said here is that we don’t need to run away to some exotic place to find the risen Lord, but that he will meet us in whatever life we are living now.  Our call is simply to search Jesus out, that is, to look up and to be waiting in a kind of vigil daily in expectation and in hope of seeing Him.

Our Ancient Collect or Prayer for Easter is found in your bulletin – it is about how Jesus’ resurrection affects us right now in this life – it is about recognizing the grace of the risen Christ in our lives as good desires that come into our minds (that is how God touches us most profoundly! inwardly, individually) and the prayer asks further for the grace to act on those good desires: that we may bring the same to good effect – that is, to live the resurrection life, body and soul. (This is the Trinitarian psychology we are looking at in catechism class – KNOWING what is good, that is the Son, AND WILLING the good, that’s the Spirit, AND SO BECOMING the good, that is the Father.)

Let us pray that prayer together…

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ has overcome death, and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech you, that as by your special grace you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.


Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2