The Great Vigil of Easter & Easter Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Χριστός Ανέστη! Αληθώς ανέστη! (Christos anesti! Alithos anesti!) ¡Cristo ha resucitado! ¡En verdad, ha resucitado!

This past week we have recalled a most wondrous story of the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, having taken our flawed human nature, endured untold agony and died a shameful death to pay the price of our redemption and gain our freedom from darkness and sin and death that we might live in the fulness of God’s mercy and friendship. It sounds like a big deal, although the absence of anyone jumping up and down for joy tells me otherwise. But this happens every year. We festoon the church sanctuary in white and gold and lush greenery and Easter lilies. We sing Alleluia till our throats are parched and we’re blue in the face. But what does it mean that Jesus Christ is risen?

What does it mean for you and me right here, right now? What does it mean for his body the church in every nation, culture, people, and tongue throughout the world? What does it mean for the rest of proud and sinful humanity, fearful, rebellious, angry, searching, trapped, struggling, grieving, indifferent, oblivious? What does it mean for those who still sit in darkness and the shadow of death, those burdened with shame and guilt, those who have lost confidence in the mercy of God? What about those who have backed themselves into a corner and can find no way to reconciliation and peace? What about those who have fought long and hard yet still feel alone and trapped and helpless? What does Easter offer them? And what of those who burned their bridges in defiance, who can’t ask for help because they’re too proud? Where is their place in this Easter parade? And what of those who slammed their doors and turned their backs on their last remaining family and friends? What about them? What exactly does Jesus’ enduring untold agony, dying a shameful death, then rising mean for them … and us?

I’m afraid all this social distancing and self-quarantine has sent me off the deep end. But Good Friday is exactly that, the deep end. Still, Good Friday is the only way to Easter. In truth, we cannot partake of the new life Jesus offers unless we first journey with him to Gethsemane and Calvary, unless we offer our backs to scourging and take a cross upon our shoulder and be nailed to it and surrender our spirit and lie in a tomb for three days. There can be no rising to new life without first experiencing a decisive death to our old life. For as long as we cling to that old life, for as long as we refuse to accompany Jesus to Gethsemane and Calvary, for as long as we resist God’s healing mercy and reconciliation, Easter will remain just another day among all the others.

It’s ironic that the church proclaims new life in the midst of a global pandemic. Some people have suggested we postpone Easter until we can actually gather in church after the danger is past. But for as long as an unseen evil lurks among us picking off the weak and the vulnerable and leaving the rest of us huddled in fear uncertain about the future, it really still feels like Good Friday. But if we wait until the coast is clear, we will likely find something else to send us back to cower in fear. And Easter will be on hold indefinitely. And new life will have to wait until death and darkness quit for good.

But it was no better the first Easter when the company of Jesus’ disciples were scattered because he was arrested and tried and put to death. His death was decisive and personal and real. The whole world saw what they saw, him hanging on the cross. But when Jesus rose to new life, he did not put on a show for all to see. He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden first, then to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, then to the Eleven gathered in the upper room. They did not believe immediately. They had doubts and questions. Thomas refused to believe until he touched the wounds in his hands and in his side. But at some point, they surrendered their doubts and fears. Only then did he send them to proclaim his rising to new life to the rest of humanity.

For many of us, Good Friday is as real as it gets. We have faced the searing pain and carried the heavy burden of rejection and alienation. We have struggled and failed, but we have not given up yet. We have been disobedient, unfaithful, unchaste, greedy, jealous, vengeful, and selfish. But we cling to the assurance of God’s mercy, continuing to hope for forgiveness and renewal. Only when we have heard his voice call our name as Mary Magdalene did in the garden, only when we have touched the wounds in his hands and in his side as Thomas did in the upper room, only when we have listened to him tell of God’s action in our lives and joined him at the breaking of bread as the two disciples did on the road to Emmaus, then and only then will we know Jesus risen from the dead. And Easter will be as decisive and personal and real to us as Good Friday was. And as the early church proclaimed Jesus risen from the dead in the midst of trial and rejection and persecution, we are all entrusted the joyful news of Easter in the midst of a global pandemic and economic injustice and racial prejudice and climate change. If we have truly encountered the risen Christ, we cannot but proclaim “Alleluia! He is risen!”

And there are signs of new life all around us. Gethsemane and the scourging and the crown of thorns and the nails may have left some ugly marks on Jesus’ earthly body that he still bore on his risen body. But those marks were of little consequence in the larger scheme of things. Death no longer had power over him. Locked doors could not keep him out. And to those who encountered him he gave the assurance of his presence and his peace. “Do not be afraid,” he says yet again. “But go and tell the others.”

The schoolyear is out for all our young people. And that can be most painful considering all the lost time and missed opportunities. But they still have the rest of their lives ahead of them. Maybe all this time at home has given them opportunity to learn new skills like patience and attention to detail and advanced digital networking. The air is cleaner now because we have not been driving as much. Hopefully we learn some very important lessons without having to go through this again. Maybe we can be more appreciative of all medical professionals and first responders because they will fight to save every life, even when some suggest we give up on the elderly and those with little hope of survival. Maybe we can advocate more convincingly on behalf of our teachers, people who serve us and put food on our tables, and all essential workers who we often take for granted when they need help to care for their families and pay health insurance and make ends meet. When we encounter the risen Jesus, then Easter is decisive and personal and real. And it is up to us to go and tell the others.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Χριστός Ανέστη! Αληθώς ανέστη! (Christos anesti! Alithos anesti!) ¡Cristo ha resucitado! ¡En verdad, ha resucitado!

Rolo B Castillo © 2020