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Easter Vigil, April 19, 2003

Christ is risen!

(Mark 16:1-7)

Christ is risen! Happy Easter everyone! Tonight we celebrate the greatest day of the year, the greatest day in history, the day that changed the world and changes our lives, the day Jesus rose from the dead, rolled away the stone, and conquered death. I just want to say three little things.

First, as you recall, St. Paul writes, if Christ is not risen, if Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, if there was no empty tomb, then we are the greatest fools on the planet. All of this is baloney and we are wasting our time with church and Eucharist and life itself.

But! If Jesus is risen, if he is alive, if the tomb was empty that morning on the first day of the week, then everything is changed! Everything is different! Everything the world claims is wrong! Death has no more power over the God of life. We are liberated from death. Death does not get the last word. Our survival is guaranteed. We have nothing to fear any more. As followers of Jesus, we do what he says, love and serve one another as he did, and walk with him to the cross. The worst they can do to us is harass us, persecute us, arrest us and kill us, like the martyrs. We are followers of the risen Jesus and we too will rise with him and live on in perfect love in eternity with him, in the fullness of life, in the paradise of peace, in God's reign of love, where there will be no more tears, no more suffering, no more violence, no more injustice, no more war, no more death. Death will have no more dominion over us!

From now on, we are first and foremost, Easter people, people of the resurrection, people who look to the risen Jesus, people who know that Jesus is alive and well, people who follow him on the road to resurrection. We know that Christ is risen over death and the metaphors of death, including poverty, bombing raids, the death penalty, war, and nuclear weapons.

Second, notice that the rulers, the Roman empire, the authorities, Pilate and Herod legally executed Jesus on the cross as a victim of capital punishment. But then, it was as if Pilate and the empire sent the Roman soldiers to guard the tomb, as if the empire and the world were saying to our guy, "Now you stay in there! We've killed you and that's that. You're dead. You're supposed to stay dead. So do as you're told."

But Jesus does not follow the rules of the empire or the world, either back then or now. He breaks the law once again, disobeys Pilate and the culture of death and illegally rises from the dead. He refuses to stay put. He refuses to do what the empire of death orders. He gets up and starts causing trouble all over again. He appears to his friends and says, "Peace be with you. Now it's your turn to walk the road from Galilee to Jerusalem and to the cross and the resurrection."

Third, notice in Mark's account that the faithful women come to the tomb, discover it's empty, see the vision of the man in white and are deeply troubled and upset and perturbed. They are very afraid. "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" the man asks them, and they run away totally terrified. And Mark's Gospel actually ends right there, with the women running away. There is no appearance of the risen Jesus in Mark. Those extra verses were added centuries later. I think Mark deliberately leaves the story hanging like this. We are supposed to take up where the women left off, to enter the story, to look for the risen Jesus, to go and meet him, to believe the good news, and to finish the story, to meet Jesus in our own Galilees.

From now on, we are people who walk in the faith of resurrection, who believe Jesus is alive, who live in his spirit, who take up where he left off, loving and serving one another, resisting evil and doing good, until that great day when we see him face to face.

So I invite you to enter this wonderful fifty day season of Easter, to ask for the Easter graces of joy and peace, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as the disciples did, to let go of our worries, despair, and doubts, and let our hearts come alive again because Jesus is alive. Christ is risen. As the great twelfth century mystic Julian of Norwich said, "The worst thing that could ever happen has happened and we've been forgiven. All will be well. All will be well. Thanks be to God, all manner of things will be well. Alleluia!"

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