Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Vigil Sermon

By David H. Petersen

[Ed. Note: This sermon is from the Rev. David Petersen's book of sermons for Lent and Easter entitled Thy Kingdom Come.  You will find a Thursday in Passion Week sermon from this collection preached by Fr. Petersen in your current print issue of Gottesdienst.  Thy Kingdom Come is a must-have for daily Lenten devotions, and it continues with weekly sermons up through Pentecost.  So even if you order it now, you will find it edifying as timely devotional reading for weeks to come.  It is my privilege as an editor of GO and as sermons editor of the print journal to present it here on this glorious Holy Saturday.  +LB.]


St. Matthew 28:1-7

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

"Behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it."

The ESV obfuscates the causality of this earthquake; that is, as read from the ESV it may not be immediately clear what causes this earthquake, and I would have you know the cause.  The angel is the cause.  He does it.  The word here translated "for" means "because," as in, "I did it for a good reason."  The earth quaked for an angel of the Lord descended.  He caused it.  But this earthquake was only a show.  It did not shake the stone loose.  It is after the quake that the angel rolls the stone away.  Then he sits on it.

I would like to know this angel's name.  I like him.  This angel is a bit of a showman and a jokester, but certainly, above all, he is a high church angel.  His vestments are like lightning and white as snow.  He is a showy, ostentatious, dramatic angel, unfit for low, cerebral celebrations of the strictly Protestant kind, but quite fitting for Easter in a catholic-minded place.

I think I know the answers, but I want to ask him, "Why the quake?  Why the showy clothes?  Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?"

My favorite part is when he sits on the stone.  He is not tired.  He, while looking like lightning, with clothing as white as snow, having just shook the ground for no good reason except to be a spectacle, now sits on the stone.  He sits there to mock it.  It is a puny stone, incapable of keeping Jesus in the grave, so he sits on it, as though to show both how insignificant it is and to keep it in its place.

And then look at how he ignores the temple guards.  They are afraid.  They tremble like the ground.  But he ignores them.  That is the force of the adversative conjunction which you non-English majors know as the word "but."  "But" introduces a contrast dependent upon that which precedes it.  "But the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid."

Who knew that they were afraid?  St. Matthew doesn't say that the women were afraid.  He says the guards were afraid.  The guards were afraid, BUT the angel doesn't say anything to them.  Instead he says to the women, "Do not be afraid."  The guards, it seems, should be afraid, and they should be glad he doesn't sit on them.

"Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy," sings the Psalmist (Ps. 126:5).  But first he sings this:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
   we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
   and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the [Gentiles],
   "The Lord has done great things for them."
The Lord has done great things for us;
   we are glad.  (Ps 126:1-3)

Our sowing is complete.  Jesus lives.  Let us reap in joy, our mouths filled with laughter, as the angel sits upon that stupid, weak, and lying stone.

This Jesus, who was crucified, who went as weak as a kitten to the cross, has sapped the devil of all his strength.  The trickster has been tricked.  He ate the fruit that hung from the tree on Calvary, tempted and beguiled like Eve in the garden.  He ate and now his belly bursts.  His jaws are seared shut.  He can take no more.  He is done, finished, over.  He has no accusations left.  He hurled every last one of them at the Christ, and the Christ has answered for all of them, and there are none left for us or for anyone.  Jesus died to take them away.

Did Satan then think that a rock or a guard could keep Jesus dead?  The angels laugh at such a thought.  Can a thimble hold the ocean?  Can a dolphin swim to the moon?  They hold Satan in derision.  God is good.  He gets His way.  He won't be stolen from.  He takes back what is His.  He takes Eve, Gomer, us back out of slavery and prostitution and error.  He has bought and paid for us and the devil has no claim.  He got what he wanted.  He took a bite out of God.  He bruised His heel.  He spent all the fury of hell on Him and killed Him, put Him to death.  But Jesus crushed his head.  The devil has nothing left.  He cannot speak. He cannot lie anymore.  Jesus died, but Jesus lives.

The angel sits on the stone, looking like lightning, clothes as white as snow, laughing at the devil.  The grave is open.  It won't hold Jesus.  It won't hold your loved ones who have departed with the sign of faith.  It won't hold you.  Those who sow in tears, reap with joy.

Yes, I would like to know this angel's name.  One day, God be praised, one day I will.

In + Jesus' name.  Amen.


  1. Did you have to get permission from Emmanuel Press to reprint this on a public forum in its entirety? ;)

  2. LOL. Well, let's just put it this way, Fr. Beisel, I have friends in high places. Even higher than CPH. :-) I should acknowledge Emmanuel Press for doing wonderful work for the church. And I doubt that there are any eyebrow raising salaries being paid at EP.

  3. I don't think are any salaries, period, being paid yet at EP. ;) Pro Bona Ecclesia.

  4. Dear Paul, well, you can express that as six figures as is paid to employees of other church publishers. It just has more zeros, viz: $000,000.00. :-)

  5. I too rather like Fr. Petersen's showman of an angel. He, the unnamed, rolls back the stone and sits on it. Now Scripture doesn't say that he toppled the stone, and then carefully lowered himself onto it. Surely he could have, of course. Angels do have their dignity, after all. In servicing the affairs of madcap humans, it's best to have some ... much like stolid gentleman's gentleman Jeeves, patiently dealing with ever-bumbling Mr. Wooster.

    But the Word says the angel rolled back the stone, and he sat on it. I can picture the heavenly prankster making it easy for the ladies and the Apostles to access the empty tomb by rolling the massive stone to the side; hopping right up (or alighting) on the very top of the "barrier;" and then peering down from above at the mighty Roman squadron reduced to playing possum.

    Like the LORD in Ps 2, the high-church angel may well have laughed heartily (v.4) at the erstwhile commandos' discomfiture, then vexed them (to run) in his displeasure (v.5) with the startling news: "My LORD has set my King, His Son, upon a holy hill which will be dear to His Church (v.6); He was dead, yes, but He lives! Your sentence was a joke, but the joke's on you!"

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor


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