In Silence . . . Awe and Wonder: Easter Vigil

Sermon offered at the Great Vigil of Easter, April 7, 2012
St. Clements Episcopal Church, NYC
Mark 16:1-8
Triduum: Act III

In the name of the One Living God – who creates, sanctifies and redeems.  Amen.


Alleluia, Christ is risen!  (And you say?)  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia . . . . .

Do you use that greeting around here when Easter arrives?  It’s a custom – especially in Eastern Orthodox churches  – that instead of saying hello during the Easter season, you say to your Christian brother or sister “Christ is risen!” – and she or he says “Christ is risen indeed!” And maybe you even exchange a triple kiss on alternating cheeks!

So . . . Alleluia, Christ is risen!  (Response: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia . . .)  Let’s celebrate!!  Let’s talk it up!!

But according to Mark’s gospel that’s NOT what happened at the first Easter Vigil – when the two Mary’s left the empty tomb on the first Easter morning.  There were no ecstatic, joyful greetings.  That morning the women “ran away in terror and amazement and said nothing to anyone.”   Why?  “Because they were afraid.”  And so Mark’s Gospel ends with silence rather than Alleluia.  When we hear the story, this ending leaves us wondering . . . it leaves us longing for more . . . and it leaves us in silence.


The four gospel accounts of the crucifixion and the morning visit to the tomb are different in the details they give.  In Mark’s gospel – in the verses that come right before what we heard tonight – Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome watched from a distance as Jesus died on the cross.  Peter and James and all the rest of Jesus’ friends and followers were nowhere to be found at this point. Were they afraid to hang around?  Were they so devastated that they couldn’t take any more?  Were they perhaps even angry because the trust and hope they had invested in Jesus were misplaced?  Did they feel abandoned and betrayed?  For whatever reason – they’ve totally dropped out of the picture.

But the women stuck it out and actually saw Jesus’ body being laid in the tomb . . . and they saw a huge rock being rolled into place at the entrance to the tomb.  Throughout the entire scene Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Salome stayed  . . . they waited . . . and they longed for something more.  I wonder what were they seeking?

And what did they think they might find when they got up early a day later . . .  when, with ointments in hand, they set off to go to the tomb.  On the way they even wondered about how they were going to deal with the boulder blocking the entrance.  In any case, it seems that some deep-seated curiosity – call it love, call it desire or hope or longing – something extraordinary drew them back to the tomb that morning.

They found that the boulder had already been rolled back.  They walked into the tomb.  But Jesus’ body was not there . . . and after encountering the angelic young man who told them that Jesus has been raised to life from death – after this incredible experience –  – they said nothing.

And so Mark’s gospel ends –  in silence.  And Jesus never appears.


But it’s pretty obvious that somewhere along the line, someone DID start talking.  Otherwise that might have been the end of the story:  Jesus could have just appeared on the earth with some great ideas about how we should be living and loving.  He did a good job of teaching a lot of people about his ideas – but then he got into trouble with the powers-that-be who killed him.  That could have been the end of story.

Actually it didn’t take long for new endings to Mark’s story to surface – undoubtedly added by others who were seeking the whole story – seeking answers – seeking to fill the silence with some kind of meaning.  They were not satisfied.  They were all still looking for Jesus.

But I think the original ending, the ending in silence, serves some significant purposes.  First of all, it’s virtually impossible to put the miraculous into words.  Mark’s gospel says that the women were seized with terror and amazement when they fled the tomb.  A more faithful translation of the original Greek says that trauma and ecstasy seized them.  It’s impossible to put ecstasy into words – it’s impossible to verbally express true holiness.  Silence, on the other hand – silence waits for understanding and further revelation.  Silence acknowledges holiness.  Silence honors holiness.

And beyond that, silence leaves room for wonder . . . silence makes space for seeking . . . silence invites longing . . .


In the Maundy Thursday homily, I suggested that the story of the Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday including the Easter Vigil – is like a theatrical play in three acts.  That means that tonight is Act III – the final act.  We’ve come to the end of the play.  And Mark – the playwright – has left us hanging in silence.  He’s left us wondering, left us longing for something more – left us seeking.

As believers in Jesus Christ and seekers of Jesus’ truth, we grow in faith when we continue to seek – we grow more deeply in our relationship with Christ when we keep wondering  and longing.  And we continue to seek because, in some way, we’ve already encountered the Holy Other – we’ve already seen Jesus.  In our baptism we have been buried with Jesus in his death and we know that we will live with him in his resurrection.


The silence at the end of Mark’s gospel is still always waiting to be filled . . . now it waits for you and me.  How will we tell this story?

And Mark’s three-act drama?  You and I are continuing to write the ending – you and I are living the sequel!


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