Easter Vigil Sermon 2017–The Rev. Cameron O’Riley

It was the Deacon’s first Easter post-ordination. He had pulled out his favorite blue and white seersucker suit just for the occasion. Paired with his freshly pressed clergy shirt, a collar starched to perfection, and his Oxford’s polished to a high shine, he was looking ever so stylish and smart. He got to church, donned his Alb almost white as snow, pulled his cincture tight, kissed the cross at the neck of his stole, and secured it across his chest. Lifting his arms, he slid into the dalmatic that Mary, the head of the Altar Guild, had searched out from the back of an old cedar closet and hung with care, just for him. Nervously he paced the sacristy. He didn’t want to mess this up. He went through a mental checklist of all the things he was supposed to do during the service. Where he was to stand, how the priest celebrating that day liked the table to be set, and perhaps most importantly what he was supposed to say when. It was He who was to read the Gospel lesson, and announce to all those present that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The service was soon to start, so he went to the Altar to retrieve the Gospel book for the procession.

As he walked to the back of the church, politely smiling at parishioners as he passed, he thought, “You know, I better check to see if the readings are marked.” Sure enough the ribbon was placed to the Gospel of John, but the bulletin said Matthew. So he moved the ribbon to the appropriate reading. The service started, the streamers swirled, the music swelled, stations were taken, and prayers were said. The readings began, and finally it was his turn. He walked reverently to the Altar, picked up the Gospel book and turned around to face the congregation. Pausing for the crucifer and the torch bearers to begin their descent down the stairs, he then followed them out into the midst of the people and said… “The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.” The Rector, cocked his head, surely not. The Deacon began reading… “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake.” It was at about this point that the Rector began to visibly squirm from his chair. You see, there was only one Mary, and NO earthquake in the reading he was fixing to preach on. He became increasingly fitful as the oblivious Deacon continued. “That’s not the reading!” he gritted through his teeth.

Now from where the Rector stood, the Organist was to his immediate right, and apparently, she had had quite enough of his display, because in not so much of a whisper she informed him “It’s STILL GOOD NEWS!”
The reading concluded, and those in the the Gospel procession returned to their seats. The Deacon perplexed by the glare directed at him by the Rector, who had now ascended into the pulpit, sat down, as the Assistant leaned over. “Not to worry baby,” she said, “It’s all ok” hoping to assuage his fear. “What?” he replied as the Rector began with a comment about the “Good News” not being exactly the “News” he had expected. It was the Deacon’s turn to want to crawl into the tomb, yet the stone had been rolled away and Good News had been proclaimed. God vanquished the power of death, raising Jesus, and drawing all to new life to Him.
Sometimes we go into something thinking we know what the good news is, but someone tells the story a little differently. And other times, the stories don’t work out the way we think they will, and the Good News comes from unexpected places and people. So prepare yourselves to see the Good news with new eyes, even when it’s difficult to do.

Today the Good News is that the veil of death has been lifted. Christ is Risen and while there is work yet to be done, we are reminded that death has not had the last word. There is Hope in the Risen Christ. And with this Good News, we are strengthened to go forth in the name of Christ, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, spreading peace and being a reflection of God’s love to others.
And that’s the key, right there, to doing what the Angel and Jesus instruct the Mary’s to do, and by extension us, to Go and tell, to make the announcement, but to do so in Love. “Love is a matter of telling the truth, being faithful in sharing the word of God, continuing to act for those who may not be responsive, and, if need be, to give one’s life. If love is understood as acting toward one another as God has acted toward the world and as Christ has acted toward his disciples, then love is not simply a feeling. Love is a way of speaking and doing and being for one another.”

Without love, our actions gain nothing. The real proof we are Christians is visible in our actions of love towards others, especially towards those within the fellowship of faith. God first loved us, and so the initial step is to recognize and remember Jesus as the one who is with us in our deepest joys and sustains us through our times of greatest fear and loss. If as Christians we first persevere in the memory of God’s gracious love that he would lay down his life for us, then in turn can we enact that same type of love for one another.
The Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock once told an Easter congregation he had one job for that particular service, and it was to make an announcement. “I know it’s difficult to hear,” he said. “Announcements are always difficult to hear. Nobody pays attention to announcements. The announcements about the church’s life put in the bulletin midweek, printed on the back of the Sunday bulletin, read to you as though you couldn’t read by the worship leader or minister. And then included in the benediction, “Lord help the people to remember the fellowship dinner Wednesday night….but you will have to make of the announcement what you will…My assignment is simply to announce to you that” sometime after sunset, “God raised from among the dead, Jesus of Nazareth.”

So in a way that is what I have done today, I have made an Announcement. And now it’s up to you to go and do likewise. Having heard the good news of Jesus, delighted in the Holy Spirit which resides within each of you, and having come to this place, seen the tomb empty and encountered the Risen Lord….Go quickly, and do not be afraid, seek the unexpected Good News, for it is STILL GOOD NEWS, and Announce boldly, loudly, happily, and publicly with great exuberance and passion the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is Risen Indeed!