Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Great Vigil of Easter Year C

The Great Vigil of Easter Year C

(See The Great Vigil of Easter Year A,B,C for all other readings and previous years' gospel)

Luke 24:1-12

Luke has meticulously recorded that the women who followed the body of Jesus to the tomb of the stranger Joseph of Aramathea on Friday evening did not complete preparation of the corpse for burial because the Sabbath was beginning.  On the morning after the Sabbath, "the first day of the week," they went to the tomb with the appropriate spices in hand.  "[B]ut when they went in, they did not find the body."  At first, they were merely "perplexed."  But then, suddenly, "Two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them."  Now they were "terrified."  The dazzling figures announce that Jesus is "risen."  Recall, they tell the women, how while still back in Galilee Jesus said "that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners to be crucified and on the third day rise again," (cf 9:22,44; 18:31-33).  The women return to tell the eleven men and "all the rest" their news.  Only now Luke reveals three names of the group of women who went to the tomb.    The men dismiss the women and their "idle tale."  Except one.  "Peter gets up and runs to the tomb...."  He saw the burial cloths in a pile and returned "amazed at what had happened."

Details always serve Luke's larger narrative purposes, which in this excerpt we infer that acceptance of the Risen Lord-- and all that acceptance entails!-- takes no prescribed path.  Consider his treatment of the women in this crucial section of his narrative.  They are carefully depicted as observant of contemporary religious customs.  They dutifully perform 'woman's work'.  It is these women whom Luke privileges as the first to hear the announcement "he has been raised."  Paralleling another unlikely class to whom was made the first announcement of the birth of Jesus, Luke writes that the natural reaction of the women, like the shepherds, (2:9), is commonsense fear.  But they recover and quickly swing into action, racing back to tell the men, who are dismissive.  Only Peter rushes to the tomb to see for himself if it can be true.  So far, the only news he has is the news of them women and his own discovery of the burial garments left behind.  He is "amazed," but still has reached no conclusions.  Only later (24:34) is Peter honored with a personal announcement.  But the friend whose behavior just two nights earlier had been so cowardly and then moved to tears by the glance of  Jesus was at least curious enough to investigate these claims for himself.  

Luke's scheme becomes clearer:  this claim of the complete reversal of the pessimistic picture of the real evil of which humans beings, individually and corporately, are quite capable seen on Friday can be reversed does not always take a direct route, can begin with quite sketchy evidence from unlikely sources that can be easily dismissed at first.  Even the first attempts to verify such an outrageous claim for oneself may not be conclusive.  Repeated attempts --(Luke writes that the women "kept telling" [24:10] the men, who remained skeptical of the womens chatter)-- may be necessary.

 Given the audacity of the claim, our inconsistent acceptance with all kinds of odd twists and turns and near-misses should not be all that surprising.  Afterall, it flies direcly against 'common sense' and asks nothing less than we bet out lives on it!

Citing frequently from Paul Ricoeur's essay "Freedom in the Light of Hope," Dan Stiver reaches these conclusions:   "the twofold dynamic of the Christian hope is hope 'in spite of', offering 'how much more'."  And the freedom to accept that  hope "'must henceforth cross through, not only the night of knowing, with its crisis of transcendental illusion, but also the night of power, with its crisis of radical evil.  Real freedom can spring only as hope beyond the speculative and practical Good Friday'" (p. 223)  "We hope that the future and perhaps even the eschaton will bear us out.  In the meantime, we live in risk and in hope.  This is why truth claims are a kind of testimony that we act with our lives, even our sacrifices and suffering."  (p. 222)

At the climax of the Great Vigil liturgy in Orthodox Churches (Byzantine Rite) is read this homily of John Chrysostom:

Let everyone who loves God rejoice in this festival of light!
Let the faithful servant gladly enter into the joy of is Lord!
Let those who have borne the burden of fasting come now to reap their reward!
Let those who have worked since the first hour receive now their just wage!
Let those who came after the third hour keep this festival with gratitude!
Let those who arrived only after the sixth hour approach with no fear: they will not be defrauded!
If someone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him come without hesitation.
And let not the workman of the eleventh hour be ashamed: the Lord is gnenerous.
He welcomes the last no less than the first.
He welcomes into his peace the workman of the eleventh hour as kindly as the one who has worked since dawn.
The first he fills to overflowing: on the last he has compassion.
to the one he grants his favor: to the other pardon.
He does not only look at the work: he sees into the intention of the heart.

Enter then all of you into the joy of your Master.
First and last, receive your reward...
Abstinent and slothful celebrate this feast.
You have fasted, rejoice today.
The table is laid: come all of you without misgivings.
The fatted calf is served, let us all take our fill.
All of you, share in the banquet of faith: all of you draw on the wealth of his mercy....