The stone is rolled away

Sunday Evening

Matthew 28

Carl.Easter 2014.small.IMG_2835-S2An angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone.

I don’t know what it was like for the people in the congregation, but rolling that huge “stone” down the aisle and out the front door with the assistance of all the children in worship on Easter Sunday morning was fun. It was a delightful way to begin our Easter service. The “stone” blocked entirely our view of the altar – the table around which we gather with the risen Christ in the meal that remembers his death, declares his living presence among us, and anticipates the healing of all creation.

Hopefully the children – and adults – will remember the image that whatever stands between us and God, whatever stands between us and fellowship with one another, whatever stands between us and the true, eternal life God intends for us, has been rolled away.

The original stone was certainly not that big – but it had the same effect. The one they loved was gone. The light in his eyes, the sound of his voice, the joy of his laughter, the tenderness of his touch, the intensity of his passion, the depth of his peace – none of that was accessible to them. Their vital connection to the living God perished with his last breath. The stone sealed it. All they had was fading memory – and his puzzling statement that he would rise.

There is much that seems to shut the door between ourselves and the living God. Indeed, for many, I suspect, that door has never seemed open. They visit the altar like I visit my daughter’s grave – I talk, but she does not answer. I come to be close to her – yet it reminds me how far away she is.

But the stone has been rolled away. The barriers of sin and guilt are gone, if we will let them go with the stone. If we will let ourselves stand there as before the empty tomb. If we will let ourselves hear the voice call our name. If we will bow down to worship and serve. If we will let ourselves see that at the altar we stand at the edge of the dawning world where every debt is lifted.

Wherever life takes us in the week, that door remains open. Eternally open. The stone is rolled away. The light of the new day shines. And the living Christ is present.

Rejoice

Saturday

Matthew 28

File:Notre-Dame de Paris, relief of holy women.jpg

Relief of holy women in Notre-Dame de Paris

9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

The word ‘greetings’ could just as easily be translated ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’. I get a charge out of the idea of Jesus meeting these terrified, confused women, running from an encounter with angels and Roman soldiers, possessed of a message that the unthinkable has happened, with a “Yo!” or “Hey!” The Greek word is the customary greeting of the time.

But the word has a literal meaning: ‘rejoice’. We have forgotten that ‘goodbye’ comes from “God be with ye.” It no longer echoes with a sense of blessing. And perhaps this word here translated “greetings” is nothing more than that. But can it be that in the mouth of Jesus, in this first morning of the new world, it means no more than “Hello”?! Does it not require that we hear him say to us “Rejoice”? What other word will work on this day when the breach between heaven and earth is overcome, declaring once and for all that we were made for life and not death? What other word will work in this moment when every word and deed of Jesus, rejected by the world, has been vindicated by God? Can it mean anything less than “rejoice”?

Why should we who also live in the light of the resurrection settle for a mere “Hi” when we greet each other? It is tradition throughout the Easter season for the faithful to greet each other with the words “Christ is Risen.” “He is Risen indeed!” We rarely hear that now outside the formal context of the worship service, but it should be our greeting. Or, at the very least, “Rejoice!”

Imagine this message spreading like wildfire beginning that first Sunday morning as people went forth into their daily lives after the Sabbath. For fear of the authorities it was probably more of an excited whisper than a shout – but imagine the energy and excitement as the news spreads: “Christ is Risen!” And if the one greeted has already heard, then the response won’t be a mere “Yeah, I heard” for this is world shaking news. It can only be “He is risen!”

The word, the only word, is “Rejoice!” And we should live each day in the warmth of that joy.

The new year

Wednesday

Exodus 12 (A Maundy Thursday text)

File:PikiWiki Israel 14865 Jewish holidays.jpg2This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.

God commanded Israel to make the month of Passover the first month of the year. At the full moon came the sacrifice of the lambs and the meal when the ancient story was told: they had been slaves in Egypt and God had set them free. I don’t know when Canaanite culture around them – or Egyptian culture, for that matter – had celebrated the new year other than that it was associated with the natural world and the cycle of the seasons (Baal was the God of the storm and the new year came with the return of the rains). But God has placed his people out of step with the society around them.

The New Year is for us, too, the time of new beginnings, the time of starting over, the time of leaving the past behind and embracing a future that we all hope will be better. There is no small measure of irony in the fact that our culture seems to celebrate such a day of new beginnings with behaviors that are rarely ennobling. I suspect that getting drunk and hoping to get lucky are indicative of our fear of time rather than our trust in the future, our fear of our mortality and the fleetingness of our days.

For Israel, their feet still wet from the waters of the Red Sea, God declares that Passover will be the beginning of their year. It is an act of Lordship: God is giving his people a new calendar than the one given by their slave masters. This day of new beginnings is not linked to the return of the sun or the fertility of the fields but to God’s act in time when he led them through the sea out from bondage. This day leads all the rest. This day defines all the days to come.

We have not made Easter the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, but these are still the days that define all the rest. Every Sunday is a festival of the resurrection; every morning the dawning of the new creation. We live now in the realm of light and life. We live now in the realm of grace and truth. We are defined by an empty grave. We are freed from shame and the fear of death. . “The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of our God stands forever.” “(Isaiah 40:7-8) “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) “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.” (Romans 6:3-4)

We still get up and go to work. We still worry about the future and our children. We “marry and are given in marriage.” We still struggle with our inner thoughts and desires, our aches and angsts. But we are sons and daughters of the Most High, emissaries of heaven, agents of blessing, the heart and hands of Christ. We are inheritors of the kingdom – and participants even now. We are children of the resurrection.

All our days are defined by these days, all our hours by these hours – by the new commandment, by the redeeming sacrifice, by the empty tomb, by the commission to go and tell.

From death into life

Watching for Easter Morning

Year A

Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / The Vigil of Easter / Easter Sunday

File:StrasbourgCath BasCoteS 13b.jpg

The risen Jesus appears to his disciples, Strasbourg, Cathédrale Notre-Dame

We watch, this week, for that early morning on the first day of the week when the women go to the tomb. But before that sunrise, comes the drama of the Paschal Triduum, our three day observance of the cross and resurrection. So we look towards Easter, but before us is also the sight of water splashed upon feet, the sight of bread broken, the sight of an altar stripped bare. Before us also is that barren sanctuary, the prophet’s voice about a suffering servant, the words of the passion from John, and the prayers of the people that the work of Christ may bear its fruit in all the world. Before us is the large wooden cross that echoes with the sound of nails and the last words of Jesus and the sight of creeping darkness. And then the image of a new fire and a new candle and a great procession through the darkness into the light of Easter.

The week is full of profound images, actions and texts that combine for our Passover, a deliverance from Egypt and an entering of the promised land, a deliverance from death and an entry into life, the crossing of a boundary between old and new, a new birth into Christ. As written in 1 Peter: “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people.”

The waters of baptism are our Red Sea. Behind us lies the broken world of slaveries great and small. Before us lies the new creation and the true freedom of the children of God. And each year, in the paschal Triduum, we walk that journey so that Easter morning is not just eggs and bunnies and the possibilities of new beginnings, it is the first morning of the new creation and all existence shimmers with the radiance of light and life. It is not Jesus who emerges from the realm of the dead on Easter morning; we do.

The prayers and texts for this week

Maundy Thursday:

Gracious God,
by the witness of your Son Jesus
who bent to wash the feet of his disciples,
you point us yet again toward the path of life:
Grant that we may live as your servants
bound not by the bonds of slavery
but by the bonds of an incomprehensible love.

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14 (The Passover)
Psalmody: Psalm 116:12-19 (I will lift up the cup of salvation)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (In the night in which he was betrayed…)
Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (A give you a new commandment)

Good Friday

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal,
Source of all goodness and life, our Eternal Father:
all earth falls silent before the crucifixion of your Son.
We can say nothing; you alone may speak –
and you choose to speak forgiveness and love.
Make us ever mindful of your mercy,
and shape our lives by your Spirit
that we may walk in your love.

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (He was bounded for our transgressions)
Passion Reading: John 18:1-19:42 (The passion according to John)

Good Friday Evening Prayer – Tenebrae

Eternal Father,
in the shadows of the night we hear the echo of your voice.
Beyond the hammer and the nails,
beyond the jeering and the cries,
beyond the anger and the hardness of heart,
we hear the voice “Father, forgive them.”
Help us hear the prayer, trust its promise, and know its healing.

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6 (He was wounded for our transgressions)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:21b-25 (He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross)
Seven Last Words:
Luke 23:33-34: (Father forgive them)
Luke 23:39-43: (Today you will be with me in paradise)
John 19:23-27: (Woman behold your son)
Matthew 27:45-46: (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?)
John 19:28-29: (I Thirst)
John 19:30: (It is finished)
Luke 23:46: (Father, into you hands I commend my Spirit)

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil

Almighty God, creator and redeemer of the world,
before whom the grave lies shattered and gates of hell torn down,
help us to hear and trust the message that Christ is risen,
and to live our lives in you for the sake of the world.

First Reading: Genesis 1.1-2.2 (The Story of Creation)
Second Reading: Selections from Genesis 6-9 (The Flood) [whole text, Genesis 6:5-9:15]
Third Reading: Genesis 22.1-14 (The Binding of Isaac)
Fourth Reading: Exodus 14.5-14:30 (The Exodus)
Fifth Reading: Ezekiel 37.1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones)
Sixth Reading: Selections from Exodus 11 and 12 (The Passover)
Seventh Reading: Daniel 3.1-29 (The Fiery Furnace)
Epistle: Romans 6:3-5 (We have been buried with him in baptism)
Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10 (The angel opens the tomb)

Easter Sunday Morning

Almighty God, creator and redeemer of all,
who through the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus
broke down the gates of hell to set all its prisoners free,
delivering us from the dominion of death
and bringing us into the reign of your Spirit and life:
set us free from all that binds us,
that we may serve you with joy
and live your grace towards all.

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43 (Peter’s message to Cornelius about Jesus)
Psalmody: Psalm 118:1, 14-15, 17, 22-24 (The stone that the builders rejected)
Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4 (If raised with Christ, seek the things above)
Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10 (The angel rolls back the stone)