Easter, the Vigil

I have risen, and I am with you still, alleluia. You have laid your hand upon me, alleluia. Too wonderful for, this knowledge, alleluia, alleluia (cf. Psalm 139:18, 5-6).

O God, Who make this most sacred night radiant
with the glory of the Lord's Resurrection,
stir up in Your Church a spirit of adoption,
so that, renewed in body and mind,
we may render You undivided service.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! (Psalm 118).

According to the Ordo, this Gospel text may also be proclaimed on Easter Sunday.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying (ἔλεγον, elegon) to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed (ἐξεθαμβήθησαν, exethambethesan). He said to them, “Do not be amazed (ἐκθαμβεῖσθε, ekthambeisthe)! You seek (ζητεῖτε, zeteite) Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised (ἠγέρθη, egerthe); he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’ (Mark 16:1-7)”

Questions consume the life of 3 women: “who will roll back the stone for us?” and ‘are we to be amazed, or not amazed?’

No doubt their hearts were heavy, filled with sadness and grief over the tragically savage death of their beloved friend, Jesus. Without enough time to give Him a proper burial, friends now return to offer Him one last loving gesture: the proper preparation of His Sacred body. Yet looming over this task is the reality of a large stone sealing the entrance into the tomb. The text is clear: “they were saying (ἔλεγον, elegon) to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” The verb ἔλεγον, (elegon, “saying”) is imperfect tense, meaning that the present action is ongoing. In other words, they kept conversing about the stone blocking entrance to the tomb. They constantly reminded one another that the stone is large. They repeatedly asked one another where help would come to move the stone. They kept talking about these and perhaps other concerns. Yet still they continued trekking to the tomb, not deterred by reasonable obstacles known to them. They trekked because they sought the Person, Jesus.

When the women arrived at the tomb, strange happenings flooded their senses. The stone: rolled back! Drawn into the tomb: a young man clothed in a white robe! The English text proclaims: “they were utterly amazed (ἐξεθαμβήθησαν, exethambethesan)” and then told by the young man clothed in a white robe: “do not be amazed (ἐκθαμβεῖσθε, ekthambeisthe)!” So why are they amazed only to be told not to be amazed? Both the women’s response and the young man’s response are grounded in the Greek root θαμβέω (thambeo). Originally, θαμβέω (thambeo) meant “to be astounded” followed later to mean, “to be astonished at” or “alarmed by.” Notice that both “astonished” and “alarmed” are followed by a preposition, suggesting an external reality is the cause for one to be “astonished” or “alarmed.” This becomes even more interesting when examining the use of θαμβέω (thambeo) in the Sacred Scriptures. While its use in the Old Testament is not as prevalent as in the New Testament, θαμβέω (thambeo) is a response to someone/something seen. A particular sight or sense-expereince causes astonishment or alarm. Yet in the Gospels, θαμβέω (thambeo) suggests sights that are revelatory, sense-experiences that are epiphanies – Divine Showings. In essence, when the ‘young man’ tells the women “do not be amazed,” he counsels them that the sights flooding their senses are not a cause for alarm. What they see about them is an occasion for Divine Revelation – to experience Him Who they seek, to be astonished that Jesus is indeed raised up.

It is no wonder that this lesson of the 3 women is so vital for the celebration of Easter. Sights, sounds and smells flood our senses this night, the Mother of all Vigils. The many sense-experiences do place us at a crossroads this Night and the 50 days of Easter. Do I/we shrug-off the sights, sounds and smells of this “Night [and Season] truly blessed?” What does the sight and warmth of a blazing fire do to us? Where does the fragrance of billowing incense lead us? What does the sight of a lone candle in a space of darkness say? What do the words of the Exsultet and of the Sacred Scriptures offer us? Does the music of Alleluia penetrate the cynicism and pessimism of our hearts? Is the renewal of Baptismal promises more than words voiced robotically? How does the water of Baptism, the perfume of Confirmation and the bread and wine of the Most Holy Eucharist form us as disciples like the 3 women? Sights, sounds and smells abound in richness tonight and throughout the 50 days of Easter: are they just another thing or do I allow them to be an occasion of Divine Revelation leading me to the One Whom I seek: Jesus of Nazareth, risen and alive, Alleluia!

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