Easter is a little different this year, but is it?
Sermon for Easter Sunday live-stream, by Pastor Will Rose
April 12, 2020
Read Matthew 28:1-10
(In the name of the Father, +Son, and Holy Spirit)
When my youngest daughter was 3, we went out to eat after a Good Friday worship service at the church I served in South Carolina.
We know that at age 3 it’s hard to sit at the dinner table for long, so when she got fidgety, I took both Ella and Hannah and we went out and took a walk around outside of the restaurant.
While we walked, I wanted to help Ella and Hannah understand what church was about that night, what they just experience, and what was leading us to Easter…
And so I said… “Hey girls do you know what today is?
It’s Good Friday, it’s the day we remember that Jesus died…
…at that moment Ella turned her head quickly to me and asked, “Jesus died?”
“Yes he did…” and before I could even begin to explain the full story, Ella shook her 3 year old head and said, “Man, I sure am going to miss that guy.”
My temptation was to try and explain right away what was going to happen next in the story, to try and fix this little ball of grief that was walking two steps ahead of me.
But I paused and let it sit for a bit.
“Yea, I’m going to miss him too.”
Today is a different kind of Easter isn’t it?
Man, I miss you guys.
I miss seeing your faces, I miss our Easter brunch together, I miss the children’s Easter egg hunt, I miss hearing the trumpets and having this room filled with Easter joy…
And my temptation this morning is to try and fix it.
To quickly move to the alleluia’s and say everything is going to be all right.
And we will get there, the alleluias are here and more are coming, and I do believe we will be ok…
But it is also OK to sit with our grief and our uncertainty, to sit with our questions, and with our fear of what’s going to happen next.
It’s ok to pause and to catch our breath, to do a simpler Easter this year…
And to perhaps take our time to consider the lilies.
A few years ago Easter fell on April 1st, so all the preacher jokes and meme’s were like, “Jesus died… April fools, the tomb is empty. The joke is on us.”
This year there are similar collective reflections and ideas, jokes and meme’s flowing around preachers that share… “hey, this isn’t the first Easter that the followers of Jesus were scared behind locked and shut doors in their homes.”
This isn’t the first time at Easter, followers of Jesus were grieving and didn’t know what the future would be like.
Yea, perhaps this Easter we can get a taste of what that first Easter was like without all the cultural trappings and distractions around us.
Our Easter story from Matthew starts early in the morning, as a new week was dawning, quietly and with stealth two women walked to a graveyard and a tomb to finish the burial traditions for their Rabbi who had been executed by an Empire. These women, these first disciples of Jesus, were heavy with grief and uncertainty.
Easter is rooted, and birthed out of fear, grief, loss and emptiness.
These are a part of the human condition, and we are right there with these early disciples here and now.
Perhaps we are experiencing emptiness, inwardly and outwardly, we are experiencing empty churches, fear, grief, loss and uncertainty of what is going to happen next.
And I’ll be honest with you.
This virus and pandemic, this time of social isolation and social distancing, has forced me to reconsider the big questions.
To sit with my own breath…
...to consider the lilies in new ways.
All of this has forced me to once again reflect upon and reconsider, and think deeper, on the nature and the nurture of community and relationships.
Our relationship with God, our relationship with our neighbors, and our relationship with creation and the environment that God calls us to be good stewards of.
With the disciples walking to that tomb that first Easter morning we too experience loss and grief…
Perhaps the loss of a job,
The loss of something we were really looking forward to this spring,
The loss of a last semester at college or high school,
The loss of a loved one who has passed away,
The loss of being with family and friends gathered around a full table of Easter brunch or dinner.
And yet, for me this has been an earthquake that has shaken me out of complacency and reminded me of those things that I have taken for granted.
I by no means believe this is some Divine test sent by God to teach us all a lesson…
And yet within the emptiness, with the chance to slow down and catch my breath, God shows up and fills the emptiness and loss with something new and holy.
Mary and Mary went to the tomb expecting to find a dead body, and yet the unexpected happened.
Matthew shares that on that first Easter morning, while Mary and Mary were on their way to the tomb, there was an earthquake.
The Greek word is “seismos”, which literally means “earth shaking”.
It’s hard to imagine Easter as a dangerous event but St. Matthew wants to be clear, this resurrection event is “earth shaking”, “earth shattering”, it turns the world upside down and inside out.
With the resurrection of Christ a new creation is exploding into our midst, a new big bang, a new creation that we are called into, invited to be a part of, a new creation that we have been baptized into.
Easter, encountering the Risen Christ, is for the earth to move and shake beneath our feet, to set our vision in a new direction, to give us a new and renewed foundation, new ground to stand on, to shake up who we are to our core.
In Christ there has been a disturbance in the forces and powers that undermine God’s love and grace.
In the resurrection of Christ we hear loud and clear that God wins, that God’s love and grace has the final word in our lives.
You see Christianity isn’t that Jesus gave us a new idea about life, or some new ethic to live by, or some new morality code we have to live up to, or even to prove that there is life after death.
Christianity isn’t about being perfect to impress God so that we can be zipped off to heaven one day.
It’s not even about having all the right answers or understanding all there is to know about God.
The good news of Easter is that because of what God has done in Christ, death and the grave, did not and will not have the final word.
My favorite image and picture of Easter is an Icon of the Resurrection.
(see the image above)
What do you notice?
What do you see going on here? You will notice Jesus is right there front and center.
He’s grabbing the hands of a man and a woman on both sides of him.
Can you guess who the man and the woman are in this image?
It’s Adam and Eve.
Here in this icon of the resurrection, Jesus is grabbing the hands of Adam and Eve and pulling them out of their graves.
This Icon is traditionally called “the Harrowing of Hell”.
In the creeds we confess, “Jesus died, descended unto the dead/hell, and on the third day he rose again…”
I’ve been sharing Kate Bowler’s Instagram posts all week and she spoke beautifully to this on Holy Saturday.
This icon reveals to us that in the resurrection of Christ, the earth shakes, the graves are opened and Jesus grabs all of humanity by the hands, all of creation by its hand, and pulls them/us out of the grave.
This shares with us that there is no place God will not go to find us. That God is willing to go to hell for us.
There are no limits, or limitations, to God’s love and grace.
There is no place where God’s love will not find us and pull us out of the depths of emptiness, loss, grief, fear, and the grave.
Most of you know I’m a big geek who loves comic books and sci-fi, and I love the “apocalyptic” genre.
Stories about any kind of apocalypse fascinate me; Zombies, aliens, robots and other end of the world scenarios. Of course, apocalyptic stories in pop-culture focus on the spectacle of it all, and that’s entertaining, but what draws me into these stories is the looming question of what I would do in that situation.
These stories force us to reflect on the human condition and to reflect on our own about what we value and what is worth living for.
Biblically the word for apocalypse, literally means to “unveil”, or “to reveal”.
It’s not necessarily an end of the world scenario, rather it’s a vision and a challenge for us to reflect upon, and to reveal to us what powers and systems are really in control.
They reveal the human condition and what true Divine powers are at work in our lives and in the cosmos.
This virus is apocalyptic.
No, it’s not the end of the world.
But it is revealing a lot about the human condition, how we are called to love and serve our neighbor, and what systems and powers are in control of our lives.
And yet here on Easter Sunday, the resurrection of Christ is this ultimate apocalyptic revelation that God not only shows solidarity with creation in our suffering and the reality of death, but also that God is shaking the ground beneath us and a new creation is emerging in the Risen Christ. That God grabs us by the hand and pulls us into the triune dance and rhythm of God’s love and grace.
And so, with this earth shattering revealed good news…
Where do we go from here? What happens next?
I love that the Bible is honest about what was going on with Mary and Mary when they encountered this good news.
Notice Jesus didn’t start over with a brand new set of disciples, he didn’t abandon the ones who turned their back on him, or denied him, or who were scared and behind locked doors.
He told Mary and Mary to go and share this good news with those who have been a part of Jesus story, and he is inviting all of them to continue with him in the journey ahead.
And then the Bible is honest that with this news Mary and Mary had both “fear and joy”.
Mary and Mary were called to reenter a scary and uncertain world, so of course they were afraid, and yet they reentered the world with a renewed sense of joy and security that the Risen Christ is with them and going on ahead of them to where ever they were headed to.
We have permission to not deny our fear but to embrace it, to come to terms with it, and to have joy accompany it in the journey ahead.
I don’t know what’s next.
I don’t know when we will be able to fill this room again.
That’s scary and it stresses me out.
And yet, as I consider the Easter lilies and the good news of this apocalyptic revelation of God’s love and grace in the resurrection of Christ, I have a new since of Joy walking along side of me.
So, what’s next?
What’s going to happen in the days and weeks and months ahead?
I don’t know.
But as a baptized child of God, as a disciple, as someone called to be a part of an Easter people… I do hear the call to continue my baptismal journey of resisting and transforming systems and powers that undermine the dignity of all human life, to resist and battle against systems and power that undermine God’s relentless and boundless love and grace.
You have permission to head in that direction with fear AND joy. We can head in that direction hearing the Risen Christ say to each of us,
“Do not be afraid, I’m going head of you.”
Wherever we are headed, we can know that the Risen Christ is already there to meet us.
Perhaps with more earthquakes.
Perhaps at a meal where he shares his own body and blood with us.
Perhaps when we consider and smell the lilies around us.
What we proclaim today is the good news we proclaim gather around and gives us hope and joy every Sunday…
The tomb is empty,
God’s love and grace wins.
Let’s continue on in this Easter journey together.