April 3, 2021 – Easter Vigil

The Gospel

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

 

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.


Matthew 27:57-66 (LectionaryPage.net)

The Offering

From Steve Evans

If you’ve ever encountered an embalmed body, and touched the hand of the deceased, then you know about the brittle, plastic-like feeling of their skin, and the finality of their hollow shell, like the abandoned exoskeleton of a cicada. The house is there, but nobody’s home.


The first time I saw a dead body was when my grandfather died. He had just passed due to congestive heart failure, and he was laid out on a hospital bed, a breathing tube still down his throat, and the warmth of his body, still present, but slowly draining. I held his hand as he lay there, and remembered the warmth of his palms when he was alive. Now he was room temperature, not hot or cold, but just ambivalently cool. I was thirteen.

The Body Of the Dead Christ In the Tomb
“Hans Holbein the younger. The Body Of the Dead Christ In the Tomb. 1520-22.”

In the painting of Hans Holbein the Younger titled “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb,” a body lay on a stone slab, eyes partly open and completely empty, mouth slightly ajar, skin turning to a cool hue, wounds gaping and bruised like dented, rotted fruit, and possibly rigor mortis. This is a painting of a Jesus that is so very, and irrevocably, dead. I can only imagine the disciples beholding their master who was to bring peace, restoration, and freedom to them and the world, in whom they placed all their hope, lying there like the Jesus in the Holbein painting, dead as doornail. What was going through their minds? Do you fix your eyes on such a one?
Do you bring me into judgment with you? (Job 14:3) What hope was there now? What had all their devotion amounted to? How stupid they must have felt, how hopeless their existence, and how confused. Hadn’t they felt that He was the one? Hadn’t they felt deep down that their hope was real, their faith true, their love sure? And now it all lay there on a stone slab, dead as can be–all hope extinguished, all faith crushed, and all love mocked and ridiculed. After all the ways they thought they saw, touched, tasted God’s kingdom, this death seemed more tangible than all of that ever did, this terrifying singularity, this wall of impassible cold stone. Had they missed something in His teachings? Had they misunderstood? Had they imagined it all? Had they ever really believed? But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? (Job 14:10) There were no answers to any of their questions – at least, not yet – and they were resigned to burying all of their faith, hope, and love in the ground. They had to bury their desires without any expectations, and live within their doubt and grief.

 

Recently, when I joined in burying a friend of mine, who was only forty, and a father of four small children, I left his funeral service with bewilderment and disbelief. There was so much talk of heaven and resurrection; but watching that box go into the ground, I thought how could there be any coming back from this? Then, getting into my car I saw something on my steering wheel that looked like a small piece of greenish moss. On further inspection, I noticed that beneath this piece of moss were tiny little legs. It was in fact an insect of some kind. I carefully took it from my car and placed it outside. I later learned that the insect was what is referred to as a “trash bug,” a larvae of the Lacewing fly, that in its adolescence covers itself with earth and debris as a disguise before it transforms into an elegant looking fly with long silken wings. It seemed profound and meaningful at the time to find this creature in my car at that moment in time, but I did not know why. Now when I think of that little insect, and my friend buried in the ground, I think of Jesus disguised in earth and death, before transforming into something else – something other – into the risen Christ, and I sit with that thought and I wait.

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