Friday, March 25, 2016

Watching with Christ: Reflections on Luke 24.1-14 (RCL Easter Vigil C, 26 March 2016)

Watching with Christ
Reflections on Luke 24.1-12

RCL Easter Vigil C
26 March 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
            In the summer of 2005 David and I travelled to England and France.  The trip was a belated graduation gift from his grandparents and parents.  On our first full day in France I suddenly fell ill.  At the time I was afraid that I was having a heart attack.  I spent five days in hospital in Bayeux, right across the street from the museum that houses the Bayeux tapestry and just on the edge of the cathedral square.  I never saw the tapestry, but the bells of the cathedral kept time for me.
            As you can imagine, it was an anxious time.  I had never been hospitalized before and four of my five days were spent in the cardiac care unit.  One relief was the generosity and compassion of the other people on our tour.  They quickly adopted David and made sure that at the end of the tour he was safely delivered to his great-aunt and great-uncle in Bristol.
            Before he continued on the tour, David was able to bring me a bag with the things that I needed the most.  Fortunately we had been travelling light and had left most things with my aunt and uncle.  Among the items David brought to me was a small daily prayer book.  Each day I recited morning prayer, prayer at mid-day, evening prayer and night prayer.  They kept me centred even when I was most unsure about what was happening.
            In night prayer there is an antiphon that reaches back into antiquity.  Before saying or singing ‘The Song of Simeon’ --- ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace . . . ‘ --- I would recite, ‘Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.’  That one sentence with its four phrases was my life-line, recited morning, noon, evening and night.
            The women came to the tomb in the early hours of the first day of the week.  According to Luke’s account of the burial of Jesus, his body was placed in the tomb without any of the usual spices and ointments.  The women had marked the place before sundown on Friday and, unaccompanied by any of Jesus’ male disciples, they made their way back to do what was only right for their teacher.  We do not know how they planned to roll away the stone to gain access to the body.  But they came to make sure that he would sleep in peace with God.
            All of us know what happened next.  Each of the gospels has a slightly different take on this part of the story, but all agree that sleeping in death was not what God had in mind for Jesus nor what God had in mind for Jesus’ disciples.  The time had come for them to be fully awake.  Their prayer and the prayer of the generations of disciples who have followed was simple:  ‘Guide us waking, O Lord, so that awake we may watch with Christ.’
            Every year we come to this moment when we are reminded that our vocation is to watch with Christ.  But what are we watching for?  We are watching for the signs of Christ’s risen life in the world around us.  The resurrection that we give thanks for this night is not only the resurrection of Jesus; it is the resurrection of human beings in the face of evil and death.  When we are asked whether we believe Christ has been raised from the dead, what proof we have, we have only to give the same answer that Jesus gave to John’s disciples:

[Jesus] answered [John’s disciples], “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”  (Luke 7.22)

            We cannot deny that there are still those who are blind, physically and spiritually.  There are still those who cannot walk and others who are thought of as lepers.  Our world is filled with those who are deaf to the cries of those in need and the poor are still among us.  But those of us who, like the women at the tomb, are watching with Christ, know that resurrection is all around us.
            To watch with Christ is to look at the world through the resurrection perspective of God.  In one of the great prayers of the Christian tradition, we say, “Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had gown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection . . . “  (BAS, 313).  Do we still want to be guarded through the night of doubt and fear?  Yes.  Do we want to rest in peace?  Assuredly.  But this may only be possible by watching with Christ, looking at the world through the lens of resurrection, knowing that God’s last word is never death but life, never fear but courage, never dismay but hope.

            Guide us waking, O Lord, so that we may watch with Christ and point our friends and neighbours towards the signs of the new life that is among us.  Guard us sleeping, O Lord, so that we may rest in peace, renewed and strengthened in the hope you have set before us, so that we and all your children may be free.

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