SERMON Easter Vigil 2019 4-20-19 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church
From the Ashes
I was driving home from the airport the other day, when I heard the news, “Paris’ Notre Dame engulfed in flames.” The tragedy of the loss of this ancient, and historic treasure, and the stories of hope we have heard even in the midst of its loss, gives us an idea of what it means to have faith in the hope of resurrection.
From its beginnings, Notre Dame was an edifice built on the ashes of other churches’ tragic demise. Its foundation stone was laid over eight centuries ago in 1163, and ironically on the ruins of two other churches. It is a holy place, where inside her walls, millions over the years had their lives changed, hearing and enacting the story of promise, the hope of new life in the midst of death, the story of resurrection we just heard in today’s gospel reading.
At the center of Notre Dame’s chancel before the fire engulfed her, there stood a beautiful altar adorned with a cross, and at its base was a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Jesus’ mother) holding her beloved son, who had just died on the cross. After the fire, in the midst of the ashes and smoke billowing from the extinguished fire, the cross itself, and the sculpture of Mary holding Jesus remained intact. It is ironic that the temple (Jesus Christ) who died on the hard wood of the cross, who did not succumb to the tragedy of death, rose again. Death itself can not and will not overcome the promises of God, which remind us that the stories of our lives will not end in tragedy, but in new life.
Living in Hope
Over the last several decades, if you have been watching the news at all, you have seen little glimpses of the promises of God burst forth in the midst of tragedy. Our hope in the promises of the resurrection is not mere vain optimism, but it is the hope that death is not the end and thus, our tragedies are not the end. New life emerging in the chaos and tragedy of life is real and we see it every day, if we are looking.
On 9/11 our nation suffered an unimaginable attack where death and destruction seemed our end, but the first responders, the churches in the city, the troops at the Pentagon, and the brave people of United Airlines 93 in the midst of death, gave us glimpses of hope and new life, of love, and of unbounded love, when all around was falling in ash and dust.
In the last several years, we have seen mass shootings in our country, terrorism, and unimaginable weather events where lives and property were forever changed. However, we also have stories of teachers and students who risked it all to save each other, of fellow victims of terror who set aside the choice of self preservation to save another, and neighbors who showed up to help neighbors in despair. You see, even in the midst of death, we do have glimpses of hope.
I imagine in each of our own lives, we all have faced tragedies as we walk around in frail bodies, live with uncertain financial security, and witness the changes in our world. We could merely give up on hope and remain in the tragedy of death’s grip, however we have hope in Christ, and it is hope that changes everything.
He is Risen
Mary went to the tomb of Jesus, filled with the memory of his tragic death, his frail body on that cross, and the uncertainty of the future before her and the other followers. The story did not end there, because the tomb that held death was empty. The Lord did not remain in the hold of calamity and death, but he was alive, and spoke hope to Mary, and gave her a mission to tell that story to the others. Jesus does the same for us.
“I don’t believe in the resurrection,” one of the parishioners in my first parish told me. I said, “but you come to church faithfully, you serve in so many ministries, and you seem so at peace.” He said, “I cannot get my head wrapped around the possibility that someone who died, can come back to life again.” I said, “It is mind boggling to consider isn’t it.” I continued, “Maybe we are not supposed to understand it, quantify it, or even prove it.” “Maybe that is why Mark’s gospel stops with a story of the empty tomb,” I suggested. “It may be that we are not left with proof, but with little previews into possibilities of resurrection, through new life emerging all around us,” I added. You see, the reality is this, “resurrection is, has, and will be fulfilled, whether we accept it or not, and maybe the scientific proof of it we seek removes our openness to the mystery of God’s promises, which requires us to trust God in all things.”
After sharing these thoughts with him, he thought for a moment and said, “maybe that’s all I need then is just a little hope.” I smiled and said, “If with a little hope, we can live as if God’s promises are true, then everything will change including ourselves.
For today, the beauty of Notre Dame stands no more. however Prime Minister Macron has promised, Notre Dame will rise again. God promises new life too, and maybe if we just have a little hope, and that is all we are able to muster, then we too can proclaim On this Easter, “Alleluia Christ is Risen, the Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!”
(1)Goetz, Ronald G.(Ronald George). “Mary and the Body Snatchers.” The Christian Century, vol. 107, no. 11, Apr. 1990, p. 331.