Easter Vigil 2003

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on April 19, 2003. 
Based on Mathew 28:1-10  (Easter Vigil, Year B).

Fear and joy. They don’t usually go together. Fear and trembling maybe. Comfort and joy perhaps. But fear and joy don’t usually end up in the same phrase. They aren’t natural partners. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Fear and joy are seemingly opposites. And yet that’s exactly what John tells us the women experienced at the entrance to the empty tomb. Fear and joy. This combination doesn’t seem to make much sense.

But then on the surface of things, the whole Christian faith doesn’t seem to make much sense either. Light and dark, death and resurrection, sin and forgiveness. Like fear and joy, they just don’t seem to go together. If something is so full of joy, how could you be fearful? If something frightens you, how could also make you joyful? Time and again, the Christian Gospel tosses out our preconceived notions about what should or should not go together. If the cross itself can be both an instrument of death and the source of our salvation, why can’t fear and joy go together?

Tonight, with countless others throughout the world and throughout the great span of all time, we have kept vigil. And when we keep vigil, we watch. We are vigilant in our prayers and in our anticipation. We keep vigil because we are people of hope. And as Christians our entire lives are, in a very real sense, vigils. We wait, we watch, we anticipate relationship and reunion with the risen Christ. We keep this lifelong vigil fearfully at times, joyfully at others. But in fear and joy we do keep it. 

There is fear in the unknown. The women at the tomb, and the disciples themselves, were entering into a new relationship with Jesus, an unknown relationship based firmly upon the mystery of the resurrection. And Jesus himself recognizes and anticipates this fear. His first words to the two Marys are “Do not be afraid.” Yet despite their fear, Jesus is also the very source of their great and utter joy. He is risen. The relationship they had had with Jesus is forever changed. But the magnificent possibilities and wonder of this new relationship are most joyful.

Vigil also involves journey. And tonight we have experienced a great journey. We have traveled through darkness to light, from creation to redemption, from grave to resurrection, from death to life. We have moved a great distance, together, as companions on the way with Jesus as our guide. We have moved from the wilderness of darkness into the promised land of light. Literally, figuratively, and joyfully. 

We have walked with Jesus, with the women at the tomb, with Christians throughout the ages, and with one another. The exsultet, the ancient hymn that began our liturgy, sings time and again about “this holy night.” Christ is raised from the dead on this very night. We’re not merely remembering something that took place 2000 years ago. We are actually passing with Christ through death to life. How, exactly, I’m not sure. But our participation here on this holy night with one another in the presence of Christ contributes to the mystery that is Christ’s death and resurrection. We are active participants, not passive observers. And thanks be to God for drawing us into this most holy mystery on this most holy night.

Fear and joy do go together. We’ll find out after the service if champagne and jelly beans actually go together as well. (We’re either starting a tradition tonight or we’re in the market for a new one). As with death and resurrection, God takes over our limited human perspective and replaces it with the divine one, a view from above that always keeps us guessing but never ceases to amaze. May God grant us the eyes to see and the ears to hear this most joyful news: He is risen.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2003

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