I preached four times this weekend, during the “Great Three Days” worship service that lasts from Thursday evening through Sunday morning. In current Evangelical Lutheran liturgical understanding, this is one long service that begins with Maundy Thursday and ends with the Vigil of Easter.
This is my Great Vigil of Easter Sermon.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
One more time. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathing is a good thing. I encourage you to continue to breathe throughout this sermon.
Do not be afraid! The angel said to the women. Do not be afraid! But they were. Who wouldn’t be afraid? Their friend, their leader, their messiah, had died. They went to the tomb to do their loyal duty.
Who wouldn’t be afraid? Their whole world had changed. The future they envisioned was wiped away.
And then the earthquake. The angel. The guards shaking as though dead.
The angel tells them good news. He is not here! He has been raised! He’s on his way to Galilee! And they are still afraid. They left the tomb with fear and great joy.
And who wouldn’t be afraid? The unknown is one of the greatest sources of fear. And so much was unknown. Perhaps they had doubts about the angel’s trustworthiness. Or perhaps they knew that even with Christ raised, this was still an uncertain future. What did it mean that Jesus was alive? What did it mean for today? For tomorrow? For everything? Who wouldn’t be afraid?
Remember to breathe. Don’t forget to breathe out. Don’t hold your breath in for too long.
When we are afraid, what do we do? We cling to things. We hold on tightly to what we have. Fear leads us to believe that there is not enough, not enough money, not enough time, not enough anything. It’s human nature to do this. And we even do the same with our breath. When we are afraid, we gasp. We hold our breath, almost as though we’re scared there isn’t enough air. But there is. Breathe.
The women were afraid, but that’s not all they were. They left the tomb with fear and great joy. Two emotions that seem surprising together. But perhaps that’s what the resurrection does. The resurrection gives life, and life is unpredictable. Unexpected. Full of surprises. So of course there is fear. But Christ is alive. And whatever surprises life has, he will be there. And neither death nor suffering have the final word anymore. So there is room there for great joy as well.
Perhaps that’s what the resurrection does. Perhaps it takes fear, and transmutes it into great joy.
The good news of the resurrection is that Christ is alive. And that means we are alive. We are full of life. Through our baptism, we are connected to Christ. Christ now lives within us, in the hidden places just beyond our thoughts, just beyond our feelings. Christ is there.
And I wonder if, deep inside, he does something kind of like what our lungs do. When we breathe in air, our lungs perform an amazing exchange, taking in the oxygen we need, and expelling the carbon dioxide we don’t. Every breath, this takes place. Over and over again. Twenty-four hours a day.
I wonder if perhaps Christ also performs an exchange. Perhaps Christ is always working to change our fear into great joy. The fear is never completely gone. Just like our bodies are constantly making carbon dioxide that must be expelled, our human nature is always building up fear. But Christ works to change that into joy. Every moment of every day, as we breathe in, and breathe out, Christ is allowing us to let go of our fear, and to receive the hope, the grace, the life, that leads to great joy.
Are you still breathing? Breathe in. Breathe in the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Breathe in the good news through your ears, as you hear the words of scripture, the words of preaching, the lyrics and tunes of the hymns. Breathe in the good news through your mouth, as you taste the presence of Christ through his body and blood. Breathe in the good news through your nose, as you smell the flowers of spring, the new life returning to the world after a long winter. Breathe in the good news through your eyes, as you see the smiles and the hope of children, the new life in their eyes. Breathe in, and feel the good news filling your lungs, filling your veins, filling your heart. Feel Christ transform all your fear into great joy.
And breathe out. Don’t hold this breath. Don’t hold it in. Just like air, we have to let this breath out, in order that we can receive more. Breathe out this good news. Breathe out by sharing the good news with others. Breathe out by treating one another with love. Breathe out by welcoming the stranger. Breathe out by sharing generously. Breathe out by speaking out for justice. Breathe out by smiling. Breathe out by letting go of the fear, letting go of the worry, letting go of the need for control. Breathe out by trusting. Trusting that God has got it.
And then breathe in again. And then breathe out again.
Because Christ is risen. Come, see the place where he lay. (Breathe in.)
Then, go and tell his disciples that he is risen. (Breathe out.)
Let’s breathe again.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!