Easter Vigil (C): The Bottom Line
By: The Rev. Lauren Carlson
I cannot tell you how many times I have had a conversation with my husband where I have said with complete irritation, “Don’t you remember when I told you….?” Although he usually claims he does not remember, one day he responded, “But you just say SO MUCH.” To which I responded, “Yes, but some things are important enough that I need you to actually listen and remember them.”
I feel like Jesus might have thought this more than once along the way. Sure, Jesus had so much to say, certainly more than we have recorded, and his disciples were constantly trying to keep up. And it is no surprise that their heads were left spinning at times, trying to comprehend the parables and metaphors; the signs and miracles. But wouldn’t you think that these faithful followers would remember such an essential highlight as their beloved Messiah telling them he would be handed over, killed, and then rise again from the dead? In fact, it was important enough that he said this, in perfectly clear terms, several times in the gospel of Luke alone. Jesus wanted them to listen and to remember it. I do not believe that he was looking for any sort of “wow factor” from them. Rather, he was caring for those whom he loved, as they were headed toward great grief. He was offering hope and expectation in the midst of what seemed bleak and final. And yet, despite great efforts on Jesus’ part, we arrive at the empty tomb on Easter morning, angels waiting to tell them (again) the good news.
So, although we have a resurrection text before us here, this is an Easter Vigil reflection: the time that moves us between the grief of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter Sunday. A time that is not accounted for in the scriptures. It leaves me wondering what happened during that time. I wonder if there was silence for the disciples on the first Holy Saturday. I wonder if any saw it as a time of waiting and watching, or if they were all consumed with feelings of grief and despair. I wonder if anyone remembered, and more importantly believed, some of those key things Jesus had told them, or if this was when they forgot or lost faith. I wonder if, perhaps, there was storytelling and recalling of scripture for comfort as well as hope. I wonder many things about this time, and yet we have nothing but speculation and wonderings to go on.
This is where our ancient celebration of the Easter Vigil falls: in the in-between silence of our gospel story. However, at the end of a long and reflective Lenten journey, the Easter Vigil is not a night of silence. It is a night filled with story and song, filled with hope and anticipation. It is a wakefulness and awareness, as we submerge ourselves in the essential aspects of our life of faith, and await the passing from death to life. It is a time of coming together as we seek God in the hope and promise of scripture, song, prayer, baptism, and Eucharist. It is a time when we reminded over and again of the depth of God’s love for us (there is that important stuff again!)
We are an Easter people and we know the rest of the story. Unlike the disciples, we are no longer surprised by the empty tomb. We often criticize the disciples (at least the men) for being so obtuse and not hearing and believing what we know to be true about the resurrection of Jesus. And yet, there are so many unknowns even for us today. We know the promises we have been given, and yet we often find ourselves in this same place of waiting to see; waiting to believe. We still need Jesus to show up and remind us again and again of the truth; to give meaning in the chaos of the newsflashes and harsh realities we face every day.
We are in an age of information overload. News stories from pop culture to medical and technological breakthroughs to our presidential race flash in front of us on TV, email, and social media at an unbelievable rate. How does one begin to filter these things—to remember what is important and to find truth in it all? What is the strongest voice for us? How do we remember the important stuff when we are left with our heads spinning as we search for meaning and understanding?
My 5 year old son seems to have inherited his father’s gift of hearing me from time to time. I tell him all the time that I love him and I am proud of him. I tell him how smart and kind and creative he is, and how much joy that brings me. Yet there are still moments when he is upset or down on himself for something that happened at school or soccer, or perhaps he feels he has disappointed us in some way. I try to talk through it with him as best I can, but in the end, I worry that I may be saying “so much” that he needs to just hear it clearly and simply. So I finish our conversations by getting him to look me in the eyes as I remind him, “Mommy loves you so much, no matter what.” Because in the end, that is what he needs to know above all else.
Jesus had a lot to say, but that is the bottom line for him as well: he loves us above all else. He loves us so much that he will step right into the dizziness and chaos of our world to walk with us through it all. He loves us so much that he was willing to suffer and die and then defeat death! He loves us so much that he will repeat the important stuff over and over until we get it. And so, we join together with the women at the tomb where our story picks back up on Easter morning, where the silence is broken and we hear the good news. I will always wonder what went on for them on that Holy Saturday, and I am grateful to know that mine will be filled with the wonder and promise of God’s great love for me and for you. And I pray that I will go out, like those women, and break my own silence to speak the truth that has been revealed to me.
This is the beauty of the movement of the Easter Vigil, and it is the beauty of our life of faith. Despite our own confusion and stumbling, our own doubt and despair, Easter comes and life prevails. And if you can remember nothing else of all that “stuff” Jesus said, if you get lost in the inundation of information overload in our world today, remember this: Jesus is life and love—for his confused, bumbling disciples and even for you and me.
*I’m grateful for Nancy Claire Pittman’s insights, found here: Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C: Lent through Eastertide, Volume 2. pg.349
The Rev. Lauren Carlson is a Lutheran pastor (ELCA) currently serving in a call with her husband, Paul, at Calvary Lutheran Church in Morganton, North Carolina. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Appalachian State University in 2004, served a year of Young Adults in Global Mission through the ELCA in Edinburgh Scotland, and then headed to Dubuque, Iowa where she earned her Masters of Divinity at Wartburg Theological Seminary. If ministry were not enough to keep her busy, her two young, spirited children are! In her “spare time” she enjoys catching up with friends, breathing fresh air, continuing her involvement with camping ministry, and brewing beer (and has great dreams of learning to play guitar, sew, and actually conquer her reading list!)