The Easter Vigil, Year A, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, April 8, 2023

“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9).

There are times when the future arrives suddenly: an inflection point when the face of things changes, and the shape of what lies ahead becomes clear. They say that the attacks on 9/11 twenty years ago were such a moment, when a national narrative shifted and a new chapter was begun. Sometimes the arrival of the future as “future” isn’t recognized until afterwards. It gradually overtakes the present, like the ubiquitous computing machines disguised as phones that so many carry. When did that future arrive? The answer is, at different times in the consciousness of different people. Still, it’s the future, with a “before” and then an “after.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is just such an inflection point: the arrival of the future, changing things in ways that are fundamental. We’ve heard the story tonight, from St. Matthew’s Gospel. At the dawn of the new day, the women go to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid after his execution. There’s an earthquake, and the stone is rolled away by an angel; the guards set at the tomb are rendered unconscious. The angel tells the women that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Then, before they leave the tomb, Jesus himself appears to them. “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (Matt. 28:10).

Nothing like this has ever happened before; it’s actually so astonishing that many people didn’t believe it then and don’t believe it now that it happened at all. But that’s the nature of such an event: the intervention of God in history, in our human time, is almost impossible to grasp fully. It’s bigger and more extensive than anything ever encountered before. The future arrives with a bang. Even the women at the tomb can scarcely take it in. As it says in the Gospel, “So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy” (Matt. 28:8).

What’s happened with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is that the future has come barreling over the horizon and broken into the world as we know it. It’s run smack dab into the women at the tomb, and the ripple effect has begun to spread. The disciples hear the news and then encounter Jesus themselves. Now there’s a “before” and an “after,” not just for them but for the human race. With the dawn of that new day, in Jesus Christ, we get a glimpse of what lies ahead for the world.

St. Paul writes in our reading from Romans, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9). There’s a new order at work in the world, a new code, a new schedule for life. By its very occurrence, Jesus’ resurrection has begun to restructure reality, overwriting the present narrative and forcing a new one. This reality is experienced through faith, belief and trust in what God has done in Jesus Christ. By baptism, as Paul says, we are now caught up in that narrative, in that story of the future that is now breaking in through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We now share in new life.

The future is now present; but the old order of things has not disappeared. Bits of the old archeology are still lying around. The ancient narrative of sin and death that goes back to Adam and Eve still runs on, catching up whomever it will. The code of Cain and Abel is still being played out on the battlefields of Ukraine, and elsewhere in the world. The shootings at Covenant School and other schools across our country are a reminder that the voice of Rachel, weeping for her children (Jer. 31:13), as the prophet Jeremiah says, is still heard wherever death asserts its dominion.

Yet faith proclaims that Christ has been raised from the dead. Tonight, “the same old story” of destruction is being rewritten as the future breaks into our present. A new chapter has begun. In the second century, St. Irenaeus wrote, “In bringing himself, Jesus brought all newness” (Adv. Haer. 3.34.1). Something new is happening. The reality of that newness is breaking out all over: in the earth’s spring renewal, and in the new life we witness in the presence of the newly baptized and the newly confirmed this evening. New life itself in Jesus Christ is on offer to those who have faith.

The power of his immortal life is now present. As St. Paul wrote, death no longer has dominion over him, or over those who believe in him. As the ancient prayer says, in him, things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee