Matthew 28:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
May God add a blessing to our understanding of these words.
Calendar date says it’s Easter – so Happy Easter. Calendars, however, do not reflect the reality of Easters in most of our lives. This year is no exception. And although you will be celebrating Easter with Bethany at some time in the future when you can regather safely, we can also celebrate this non-Easter, Easter, because the hope of the resurrection is with us each and every day.
I am actually thankful for this day happening in this quiet way this year, because we are not caught up in the celebration of Easter and maybe we can really dive deeper into the sense of what this event means in our lives. And like you I too am in grief over the loss of being with you and also having day to day activities curtailed.
Perhaps the blessing is that we actually are continuing to live into the Lenten season and Holy Week because the reality is that we are always living in that in-between time, aren’t we? The not quite, but yet living our lives whether there is a pandemic or not. Last week I named that as this in between period, from birth to death, from crucifixion to resurrection, from fear to faith.
We are always called to be in the now of the moment – not living in the past with regrets or a desire for the back then, neither are we called to live only in the planning for the future. We live in the now and are able to forgive the past and as we live in the now we can hold hope for the future. And for so many years many of us have rushed through Lent, we have skipped through the drama and pain of Holy Week and all the while we want to hold onto the celebration of the Easter message. But. . .
But, this year Easter Sunday falls during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a time when we are secluded in our homes and told to wrap our faces in cloth if we dare to go out for groceries or supplies. We walk into the grocery store, and we see people wandering quietly through the aisles with gloved hands and masked faces. Get too close, and you’ll register a wide-eyed look of alarm on the face of that person passing by. I’ve said hello to some folk I see when I’m out walking and they look like I’ve just delivered a death threat to them.
This has been one of the most unusual Lenten, Holy Week and Easters I have ever experienced. When we planned to postpone the Easter celebration a few weeks ago, there was a sense that Easter could be celebrated when the stay at home order was lifted – most of us thinking that would be in the next week or two. We were wrong. We joked recently that we might be lucky to be together by Pentecost. We thank God for humor because COVID-19 is in so many ways a “breath-taking” virus. It strikes suddenly leaving us frightened and breathless. With no cure in sight, the only thing we can do is hide away, covering our noses and faces with cloth, hoping to keep the aggressive virus away from our lives and the lives of those we love and care for.
Craig Barnes wrote in a recent Christian Century article that “COVID-19 is a death threat that has already made good on many lives. This brutal virus makes us feel that we are locked up in a dark tomb for an impossibly long duration, as though the darkness of ‘Good Friday’ might go on forever with little hope in sight. And yet all around us, we see signs of spring, signs of awakening, signs of hope, signs of resurrection. We know life as we know it may be dampened down for now, covered in what feels like ‘funeral clothing.’ And yet, spring blooms eternal. All around us: Birds still sing, the sun still bursts out from the clouds, trees still bud, flowers still unfurl, the ground comes alive, and God unwraps an entirely new landscape of color and life. But for now, we wait.” (sermons.com,Craig Barns, Savior at Large, Christian Century, March 13-20 2020 p. 16
During Holy Week we observe three days of darkness. Three days of stillness. Three days of finding ways of how to be in this world today. It is hard for most of us to live in these days of darkness in this liminal space and to sit in this moment that stretches out before us. This is a time to be – maybe a learning time on how to be, rather than a time to do. The words from Ecclesiastes comes to mind: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” This is the season to be.
It is significant and important in our lives to connect with one another. I’m so happy for Facebook and Zoom and email and texting and the ability to pick up the phone and check in with my son and my sister. I’m glad for postage stamps, too. All of these ways help us to stay connected. And it is significant as well that in our lives we also find purpose. So, how do we find purpose in this season? How do we fight or overcome this situational depression we may be facing to the disintegration of our mental health? Or our physical health? Or our spiritual health? Our well-being is important to God and to us.
During this time of pausing we can reflect on opportunities of reaching out that would not have occurred to us without being still. We can write letters of thanks to healthcare workers, police, firefighters, EMTS, pharmacies and grocery stores and their employees as well as truckers and chaplains and hospice workers and so many more who are on the frontlines and in harm’s way providing essential services so we can live the best lives we can right now. We, too, can sign the many Facebook support letters that come our way and post things we find that speak to our hearts these days. You get the idea. Finding new ways to be. New ways to find purpose. Oh, and, let’s not forget – prayer. Your prayers and intentions matter.
I came across Jeff Foster’s posting LET YOURSELF REST significant (www.lifewithoutacentre.com) and reposted it on Thursday and share it with you this morning. “If you’re exhausted, rest. If you don’t feel like starting a new project, don’t. If you don’t feel the urge to make something new, just rest in the beauty of the old, the familiar, the known. If you don’t feel like talking, stay silent. If you’re fed up with the news, turn it off. If you want to postpone something until tomorrow, do it. If you want to do nothing, let yourself do nothing today. Feel the fullness of the emptiness, the vastness of the silence, the sheer life in your unproductive moments. Time does not always need to be filled. You are enough, simply in your being.”
Through this time we too can come to a new and restored life. Certainly not the same people. Certainly not the same life. But a restored, and resurrected life. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said. “Do not be afraid.”
Today, as we celebrate this non-Easter Easter morning, we’re reminded that: “Resurrection means so much more to us than it did before. For we have been living in darkness, confined to a kind of tomblike existence. Life as we have known it has stopped. But only for a time. In this in-between time there is waiting, and there is expectation and a new day will dawn. No one is ever ready to encounter Easter until he or she has spent time in the dark place where hope cannot be seen. And that is why it terrifies us. Easter is the last thing we are expecting. Walking through this Lenten season to Easter is not so much about the symbols of spring that bring messages of hope in a world returning to life as it is about more hope than we can handle. (Craig Barnes, Savior at Large, article in The Christian Century, March 13-20, 2002 p. 16.)
“In the face of all that is dead and dying, in the shadow of lost hope, lingering anger, long held resentments, broken dreams we proclaim Easter hope, renewed forgiveness poured out and see in our midst new life.” (sermon.com)
Christine Caine (Ananchara Books)
wrote: “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but
you’ve actually been planted.”
On this non-Easter Easter may the Mother of all life embrace you, may the Father of all love encourage you, may the parent of all time hold you now as you sprout where you’ve been planted. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2020