By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
I speak to you in the name of the Good Shepherd whose great love brings us over into new life.
I fainted at the first Easter Vigil service I attended. This would in any circumstance be a problem, but I was also acolyting and holding a torch. My friend, Patrick, and I were standing on either side of the priest as he read by candlelight these stories of our faith we have just heard told by some of our parishioners. I locked my knees at some point. That was my mistake. Thankfully the whole thing wasn’t too dramatic, and no hair was burned. And thankfully this memory has not colored my love for this service.
This ancient service is so beautiful. In the early church this is the night that those who wished to become Christians were baptized. There are several more readings that can be included in this service, each of them telling of God’s saving love for humanity and all of creation. And although we are experiencing this service differently tonight these stories of our faith stand firm and solid and true. Their truth has knees that do not lock. The truth they tell has spoken to many generations of believers before us who relied upon God’s never-failing love. They spoke to the believers in times of want and in times of plenty. And they speak to us.
Tonight, I find myself hearing to these stories with a “listening heart” as my younger learners and I would say. Although I don’t think I had fully recognized it, I had become agile at least attempting to avoid the fragility and tenuousness of this life through the notions of invincibility and self-sufficiency. But, in these last few weeks as the world has so rapidly changed around us, my heart too has had to change.
And I suppose others before me have struggled with the same attempts at trying to control what is not ours to control. Because for centuries people like you and me have come on this night to sit in darkened rooms or churches to hear all over the arc of God’s persistent love for us. We keep coming with listening hearts to hear the Good News…
To hear that…
God created us in God’s image. It was and is good. And it is so.
To hear that…
God is faithful. When it does not seem possible God will make a way. It may not be what we expected but God will make a way, even if it is through parted waters.
To hear that…
We need the spirit of God constantly with us to help us and our own dry bones stand up, have hope and fully live.
To hear that…
God can take our hearts of stone and give us new ones ready to give and receive love.
In all of these stories, God shows the depth and breadth love he has for us.
But, our hearts of stone needed more.
So God sent us Jesus to show us again the promise that He intends to keep with us. The promise that Love really does begin and end our whole story.
That brings us to the Gospel reading from tonight. When we are told to Not be Afraid. That Jesus has triumphed over the grave. Mary Magdelene and the other Mary show up to the tomb expecting to find Jesus’ broken, dead body. But instead they find an Angel announcing the Good News to them and telling them Not to Be Afraid. When they are rushing back to tell the others, Jesus meets them. Can you imagine? And they fell to his feet and took hold of them. Do not be afraid He tells them. I’m not sure how it was humanly possible for them to not be afraid. I am certain my knees would lock up. But theirs do not. And they do go and tell the others.
And for generations the Mary Magadelene’s and other Mary’s and Disciples of this world have been telling this story out for us to hear. And God has continued to create and make ways and breathe life and restore hearts. And we keep growing to learn that Jesus’s suffering and death did not end our human suffering. Jesus’s suffering the death and resurrection mean that that we know that God stands squarely in the middle of it all with us.
As I have been moving through this Holy Week, two things in particular, I hold dear have carried me through.
One is my love of Aretha Franklin. Y’all might have heard me talk about this before. I want with everything I have to be able to sing like her, but I can’t and so I listen and love her. I’ve had one song on repeat for a while now. It’s an old hymn, How I Got Over.
How I got over, How I got over
My soul looks back and wonder how I got over
Just as soon as I see Jesus
The man who made me free
He was the man that bled and suffered
Who died for you and for me
I want to thank him because he brought me
because he taught me
because he kept me
because he never left me
I want to sing (hallelujah)
I might shout this evening – troubles over
I’m going to thank Jesus for all He’s done for me
She’s singing the stories we heard tonight. She’s singing our praise for what was and what is and what it to come.
The other thing that has gotten me through these days, is something my daughter said when she was three years old. This memory has been turning over in my head for weeks. She asked my mother and me a question, a hard one. She asked where my grandfather was. I told her that Poppy had died a long time ago. Well where is he now, she wanted to know. I told her that his body was gone but that he lived with God now. Then she cocked her head at me and said, “Oh, so he went back to normal.” And she waltzed out of the room. There is no need to speculate on what her little brain and heart had processed. Being with God was what she reckoned normal looks like. I hope she always does.
My idea of what is normal has been forever changed in these last weeks. I will no longer take for granted so many things I once thought of as normal everyday life. I hope I can remember the kind of normal my baby girl taught me. Not the normal I think I can control, but the normal that only God’s infinite love manages. I wonder if I could just remember that love, I might be able to keep my knees from locking quite as often. That I would be able to bend into the stories of God’s love that have brought so many through.
I hope I can remember we are an Easter people. Jesus is the one who gets us over. His Love is the bedrock of our normal.
I know for certain that normal means Jesus is there. I know that while we are getting over whatever this is we are smack in the middle of, Jesus is standing with us. In the dark before creation He was there and in times that seem dark still Jesus is there. In the times we feel trapped and there are enemies at our heels, and we do not know where to go Jesus is there. When our hearts are as hard as stone, Jesus is still there. Loving us through. In the times when we think there is simply nothing but dry bones and no hope, Jesus is there.
And I know where Jesus is not. He is not the in the tomb. His suffering, our suffering is never and will never be the end of the story.
Normal, whatever is looks like, is all wrapped up in God’s love.
So tonight we will sing Alleluia.
Thank you Jesus, because you bring us,
Thank you Jesus because you teach us,
Thank you Jesus because you keep us and you never leave us.
We sing because our souls wonder in love at how Jesus is bringing us over.