Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Sermon at the Easter Vigil 2015

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Genesis 22:1-18
Exodus 14:10-end, 15:20-21
Romans 6:3-11
Mark 16:1-8

“When the sabbath was over”, Mark tells us, “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him”
When the Sabbath was over. This statement may seem to be just a matter of fact, a signpost in the story telling us that it was now the next day, and so the women, who being observant Jews could not do such work on the Sabbath, were now able to go to the tomb.
But Mark doesn’t waste words. And the Sabbath, in his gospel, is loaded with meaning. It is mentioned eleven times, and most of them are occasions of dispute and division. Jesus heals on the Sabbath, outraging the religious authorities. His disciples, being hungry, plucked ears of corn on the Sabbath and ate them, again prompting condemnation.
But Jesus in his actions had been pointing to what the Sabbath should be, its true meaning. The Sabbath, the seventh day, is about creation completed, and God delighting in what he has made. And so it is also about our creation being completed, about us joining in God’s delight. “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath”, says Jesus.
But instead it had become an oppressive institution. People must stay sick on the Sabbath and not be healed, must stay hungry and not eat, because the Sabbath had become about forbidding things, instead of being about making space for delight in creation completed. The Sabbath had become an obstacle in the way, preventing people from entering the fullness of life that God intended for them.
But now, says Mark, the Sabbath is over. The oppressive institution is ended, the obstacle in the way has been removed.
And that is not the only obstacle. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”, ask the women. They have been following Jesus, on the way of discipleship. But it seems that way has now come to a dead end. Their journey to the tomb is only to perform the last charitable offices for a dead body, to embalm, to fix forever among the dead the end of their hopes and dreams.
But then they looked up. In the Greek it’s the same word used when Jesus heals blind people and we’re told they “saw again”. The women saw again, and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. The obstacle in the way, which nothing in their imagination could move, was gone.
Beyond all hope and imagination, the way before them lay open, where they thought it had ended in death. They saw again, and by God’s own gracious action, unthought of and unhoped for, the way of discipleship lies open before them.
In the empty tomb, they are greeted by a young man, robed in white, sitting on the right side, the side of authority. Other gospel writers talk about angels. But Mark says, a young man. There’s one other young man in Mark’s Gospel, we meet him in the Garden of Gethsemane:
All of them deserted him and fled. A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.
That young man was an image of desertion and failure. A disciple who has left the path of following Jesus, and so lost everything. But the young man in the tomb – or perhaps he is the same young man – is clothed in a white robe, the sign of martyrdom, of witness to Jesus Christ. He proclaims with confidence that Jesus is risen. He is an image of discipleship regained, of human failure overcome in God’s generous new creation.
To underline this, he delivers a message to the women: “go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him”. All the disciples had deserted Jesus and fled. Peter, above all, had denied him three times. The message is for them: the dead end they thought they had reached is not the end after all, but a new beginning.
The women flee in terror, saying nothing. This is thought to be the original ending of Mark’s Gospel. There are some accounts of resurrection appearances after this, but most scholars think they were added later. Be that as it may, the women’s action seems to leave us hanging in suspense.
But look again. Jesus has gone ahead of them, they must follow. Where? To Galilee, where Mark’s story had begun, where the disciples were first called. There, they will see him.
But we should not think that the story has come full circle, and we are just starting over again. The Sabbath is over. The seventh day has passed, and in its place is not the first day of the weekly round that repeats itself endlessly but goes nowhere. Jesus, instead, has stepped out into the eighth day, the day outside time, the day of eternity. What the Sabbath foreshadowed has arrived: God’s new creation, the perfection of delight in all he has made, which we are called to enter, following Jesus.
He has gone ahead of you to Galilee, you will see him there. Discipleship is a path that we must follow, not a way of standing still. For if we stand still, we will not see Jesus. We cannot remain where we are. Jesus always goes on ahead of the Church. If Mark’s Gospel originally had no resurrection appearances, this may be why. He has gone ahead of you. You will see him there.
Jesus is not trapped in the winding sheets of a tomb, or in the pages of a book, or within the boundaries of an institution. Yes, he speaks to us in the Scriptures, but they are our pilgrim’s guide. Yes, he is present in the Eucharist, but that is the wayfarer’s bread, to strengthen us for our journey. Yes, his church is his living body in the world, present in every time and place, but never pinning him down to our time and culture and understanding.

The Sabbath is over. The stone has been rolled away. All obstacles in the path have been removed. He has gone ahead of us into the eighth day, the day of the new creation. We must follow him; we will see him there.

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