Sermon for Easter April 12, 2020
Several weeks ago, our bishop sent out an announcement that the churches would be closed until at least April 20th. I remember at the time thinking to myself how can she close the churches for Easter and what will Easter be like without having our big service. It turns out she was right. Our world has been taken over by this pandemic. We spend our time alone in our own homes, away from others. Our news is consumed with sad stories. We listen to the rising count of people who have contracted the disease and the number of people who have died. We hear about shortages of medical supplies. Medical Professionals, emergency responders and police are catching this disease. The economy is not doing well. Scammers are taking advantage of others using the disease as a way to trick them. How can it be Easter with so much going on?
There is so much about Easter that we will not experience. There will be no Easter Egg Hunt. We won’t see others wearing bright pastel colors, colors which we connect with Easter. We will have to eat our Easter candy by ourselves. We won’t be wishing each other a Happy Easter in person. Most of us will miss having a big Easter dinner with all of our friends, family, and neighbors.
But in the midst of all of this there is good news as well. People are reaching out to others in ways that we have not seen before. The anger that many have for those who don’t agree with them has quieted down. People are helping others who are less fortunate. And medical workers are being cheered by those who care and are thankful. And I am personally thankful that I see so few political ads on TV.
Today is Easter. There is so much we miss. I am thankful for technology which has brought us together in a different way. But I get discouraged by the problems that we experience with technology in our services. I have been in online services where people have dropped off unexpectedly. I don’t like it when multiple people try to say prayers together but their words are not synced. I find my mind wandering when I watch a service online and I feel guilty. Technology is not as good for me as seeing each of you in church. But we don’t need to have all of those wonderful things that we enjoy. We only need to remember that today is Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. We still celebrate and say the words Jesus is risen. It has meaning to us despite the fact that we don’t share it in person with the rest of our church community. It is as if something wonderful has happened in our lives but we are not able to share it with others. We can be happy inside and just wait until we are able to see others to share our joy.
I have always felt a strong connection to the first followers of Jesus at Easter. They were just normal people trying to understand the amazing thing that had happened. Given our current situation, I am reminded that they didn’t have chocolate bunnies or Easter eggs or bright clothes. In fact, they didn’t call this day Easter. That didn’t come until much later. But they did spend time with other faithful people sharing a meal, praying and being thankful.
The oldest written words about the resurrection of Jesus that we still have come from Paul. Today we hear his thoughts. Through the resurrection of Jesus, we too have been raised up. We have been lifted out of the depths of sin. And we are encouraged to "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
I find it helpful to consider the impact that the resurrection had on the apostles. Paul wrote about the disciples in his letter to the Corinthians. He said that Jesus appeared to the others as witnesses. Our first thought may be that these people were especially blessed, they were so fortunate that they got to see the resurrected Jesus. But with their gift, they also received a responsibility. For they received the job to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection. And as we know, the proclamation that Jesus was raised from the dead caused many of them to be killed. I find great encouragement from the experience of the apostles. It helps me when I have questions. These folks were afraid and doubtful yet came to realize the glory of God in the resurrection of Jesus. I hope that you reach that same place. Yes, we may be called to be witnesses as well.
On Tuesday, I attended a service called the renewal of vows. All the clergy in the diocese of Arizona joined. Of course, we did it remotely through Youtube. I was touched by the gospel reading which comes from John chapter 12. Jesus said “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Jesus thought of us throughout his ministry and I believe Jesus reaches out to us today.
In the reading from Acts today, we hear Peter proclaim the resurrection, himself. Each time that we encounter this miracle, this victory over sin and death, this love of God, we have the opportunity to experience something new. Peter proclaimed the story of the resurrection to Cornelius and to other Gentiles who were with him. And in that retelling, lives were changed. First, Peter’s life was changed for he finally understood and proclaimed that the gospel of Jesus was not just for Jews but for all people. God shows no partiality, he says. Later he adds, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Cornelius, the centurion, was also changed, feeling part of this community of believers, knowing God’s love. Jesus is the Messiah for every nation and every person. We don’t have to wonder if God loves us.
I share these words from professor Matt Skinner, “Throughout the sermon Peter emphasizes God as the agent behind all aspects of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Because God was active through Jesus, Jesus' story attests God as welcoming of all, as refusing to make distinctions among people. Peter sees in Jesus' story evidence that confirms what he has come to learn about God." The resurrection of Jesus is for each of us.
Let’s reflect for a moment on the resurrection story. Mary Magdalene arrived first and when she saw the empty tomb she ran to get Peter and the other disciple. The two men see the empty tomb and even go inside but strangely they do not encounter Jesus.
If you find it difficult today to feel the joy and hope of the resurrection then you are not alone. Because someone as faithful and well known as Peter was uncertain as well. We don’t know how Peter felt. We are only told that he did not yet understand. I imagine that Peter struggled. Is it possible that he thought the authorities took the body of Jesus? Was he afraid that something would happen to him if he shouted excitedly about Jesus being raised from the dead? Was he like Thomas, waiting to see Jesus for himself before he came to a conclusion? We just don’t know. All that we are told is that the two men simply went home.
The story might have ended there but Mary stuck around. Mary encountered Jesus and she was the first to go out and proclaim that Jesus was resurrected. Every one of the gospel stories reports that it was the women who told what had happened. Doesn’t it help you to appreciate the role of the women followers? I know that the role of women was different in those days. They had the responsibility to go and anoint the body with oils. And I know that the women might have been able to move around more freely because the authorities would not have worried about what the women were going to do. Despite all of this, I would bring your attention to the fact that the women are the ones who go and tell everyone what had happened. They were the ones who got everyone excited. Without their witness, the story would have been different. It is one more example that the resurrection of Jesus is for everyone.
Today, we are joyful. Jesus defeated death and through his actions we have also been lifted up. But it is also a day for hope. Some have said that this is the lentiest Lent they have ever experienced. Let us hope that Easter will be the greatest Easter of our lives. Jesus told us that he is the resurrection and the life. He has gone before us to prepare a place for us. In these difficult times we hope for the resurrection, we hope for the return of Jesus and we hope that God will help us to put an end to this pandemic. Amen.
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