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

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Sermon at the Easter Vigil 2016

Women at the Tomb of Christ, very early in the morning on the first day of the week.
Photo: Matthew Duckett

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Genesis 22:1-18
Exodus 14:10-end, 15:20-21
Romans 6:3-11
Luke 24.1-12

“On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had accompanied Jesus came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.”
If you would like a private devotion for Easter week, may I suggest that you do something that the Lectionary doesn’t do, and read the last chapter of St Luke’s Gospel, chapter 24, all in one go.
We have just heard the first part of that chapter. A new day has begun, it is first light, early dawn. But what becomes apparent as you read through the last chapter of Luke is that this new day just goes on, and on, and on. It is a day that never ends, and all the resurrection events that are related in the last chapter happen on that one same day.
The angels speak to the women, and they to the apostles, who don’t believe them. That same day two disciples are walking to Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem; the risen Lord walks with them, but they do not know it. As they get near to Emmaus they remark that it is almost evening and the day is nearly over; they invite the stranger in, and suddenly he is revealed to them in the breaking of the bread.
And then, suddenly, it is as though time stops. That same hour they returned to Jerusalem – seven miles, on foot, that same hour. They tell the others how they have met the Lord, and hear from them that he has, meantime, appeared to Simon. Then the Lord himself stands among them, speaks to them, eats, opens their minds to the scriptures, leads them out to Bethany, and ascends into heaven.
And all this happens in this one day that never ends.
Now we may well be thinking, hang on a minute, doesn’t Luke tell us in Acts, his second book, that forty days passed between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus? Indeed he does. So why, in his Gospel, does he tell us that it happened the same day?
I don’t think this is a mistake. Luke is too good a storyteller to have have failed to spot such a basic continuity error. What I think he is doing is telling us about two different kinds of time.
Firstly, there is the time of history, the time we are used to in this world, time marked by the clock, that passes and is gone, through which we live our limited span of life. In the book of Acts Luke begins the story of the Church, which then carries on through history. So, naturally, he tells that story as it unfolds through historical time, beginning with the forty days between the resurrection and the ascension.
But at the end of his Gospel he is telling us about something different. Historical time gives way to resurrection time. The endless cycle of days that pass and are gone is broken open. In his resurrection Jesus has stepped out of the seven days of time that repeat and repeat but go nowhere, and has stepped into the eighth day, the day of resurrection, the day of God’s eternity that is without limit.
The last chapter of Luke’s Gospel then becomes the story of what happens when the disciples encounter this new kind of time, what happens when God’s eternity erupts into history, what happens when God’s limitless life bursts in to the world where, up until now, life’s brief span has been measured out and is gone.
So the new day with which this chapter opens is something completely different: God’s eternity rising on the world of history, the resurrection exploding into the world as we know it and changing everything.
The people to whom this news is entrusted are women. They are named, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the Mother of James, named not only here but also in Chapter 8. Luke was not an eyewitness of the Gospel events so his naming them strongly suggests that these women were the sources of some of his information. This in itself is startling, for in the patriarchal society of the day women could not give evidence in court, but in the Gospel the testimony of these women becomes the rock solid foundation for the faith of the Church. Things are shifting already. The boundaries that Jesus was continually crossing in his life, the outsiders he was always bringing in, become central in this new life of the resurrection.
The other disciples don’t yet believe. Their minds just aren’t big enough to grasp the enormity of the triumph of Jesus Christ, his resurrection something they never imagined. They need to be opened to the new life that Jesus has entered, they too need to step into resurrection time in which life is God and God is without limit. And they will; Jesus will open their minds and send them out to change the world. The Book of Acts tells the story of that, the story of the Church, a people who live both in time and in eternity, walking with Jesus in the resurrection day that never ends whilst at the same time carrying on their mission through history.
And this is what the church does still. There are 28 chapters in Acts in the Bible, but the story of the Church is continuous; we are probably now living through something like Acts chapter 600. And, at the same time, we are still in Luke chapter 24, in the day that never ends, walking with Jesus to Emmaus, recognising him in the breaking of the bread as he opens our minds to his word.
God’s eternity is present in every moment of the time that passes and is gone. The Church is the concrete living reality that joins the two together in mission and service, in prayer and sacrament; walking through history whilst living with the Spirit of Christ, risen from the dead. In the words of an Easter hymn, now is eternal life, if risen with Christ we stand.

As we remember our baptisms and celebrate the Eucharist tonight God’s eternity once more bursts in on the time that passes and is gone. The Resurrection of Christ opens to us eternal life, here and now, and throughout our lives as we follow him along the road, meet him in the breaking of bread and hear him speaking to us in the words of scripture.

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