Vigil of Easter (March 31, 2018)

Part Three. We’ve done a great deal. The liturgy tonight is unlike any other we do, and it is only part three of something long and involved. Yet for all the stories we’ve read and all the songs we’ve sung, we’ve covered no Bible stories that narrate the events of this day. The events of Holy Saturday are not recorded. There are events. This is the night. Tomorrow morning, we get Mark’s resurrection story, and it’s all over. Jesus is on the loose, and there’s just a guy at the empty tomb waiting to tell us that we missed anything interesting. What happens tonight?

The resurrection was understood as a vindication of the righteous persecuted. Hebrew tradition said that God would vindicate the righteous and persecuted. Some thought this would happen before death. Think of our story from Daniel. The three men are persecuted for their faith yet righteous before God, Nebuchadnezzar tries to execute them, and instead God keeps them cool in a blast furnace. Nice if it happens to you. It doesn’t, always, so the Hebrews developed a tradition that God would vindicate the righteous after death. Many Hebrews—including, it seems, Jesus’ circle—believed that the day would come when God would free the world from evil, injustice, violence, and oppression. God would raise the dead. The righteous would live no longer subject to evil, injustice, violence, and oppression.

We Christians say that this work happens symbolically tonight, between cross and resurrection. Depending on the Gospel you’re reading, that work may have begun already in Jesus’ life. Certainly, in Mark—the Gospel we read in most of this “Year B”—Jesus is liberating people from the outset. The events of this night make clear that this liberation is for all time. Jesus didn’t just liberate some people who happened to interact with him over the course of a few months in Palestine in the first century. Jesus liberates all, at all times and in all places.

Now, you’ve probably noticed that evil, injustice, violence, and oppression remain. This’ll be my 39th Easter, and while I’d gladly celebrate evil’s demise if it happens tomorrow I long ago gave up expecting it to happen just because the church read the resurrection account that morning. Our faith confesses that this work is not yet fulfilled. The resurrection of Christ happens. The resurrection of you and me has not yet happened.

This may be the holiest thing about tonight. Tonight is the one night of the year that, liturgically speaking, stands between cross and resurrection, which is precisely where we stand. We are not yet what we shall be; we are no longer what we were. The kingdom of God has already begun. The Son of Man who will judge the world in righteousness has already come. The bodily resurrection in which God destroys the power of evil, injustice, violence, and oppression, has already started. God is not done with any of these things, and God is not done with us. God wants us along for the ride. Our stories and our actions tonight—from celebrating the light of Christ through God’s creation of the world and solidarity with the world and culminating in the meal that is the sign of the world to come—proclaim a God who, in the words of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, wants “a joint operation between God and ourselves.” God has done all the hard work. Now, God walks with us while we figure that out, and try to live by it. And God promises: the resurrection will come, just as sure as tomorrow is Easter.