April 12, 2020: Easter Sunday
The Day Everything Changed
I always said that I planned to make my last Easter service memorable. No one is ever going to forget this day or season! My, what a different world we live in than we anticipated. Because of the COVID 19 virus, everything has been turned upside down.
You are viewing this service from your living rooms and I put my part of the service together in an empty church! I can’t help thinking about how, in some ways, what we are experiencing is a bit like that first Easter. The women went to the tomb with certain expectations. They were going to finish the burial process for their friend and teacher as they mourned his death. Upon arriving, they found that everything had changed. We, as a people of faith, have been living into that new reality ever since. I started planning for this Lent/Easter season back in January. I had certain expectations and then the virus changed everything. We have been living in that new reality ever since. We have been figuring out how to stay connected when we cannot get together. We are worshipping from home; I have my own YouTube Channel; and so much more. How do you embrace the “new” that life sometimes unexpectedly gives us? That is my question as we celebrate the great news of Easter.
During the season of Lent, we have been looking at the last week of Jesus’ life. During that time, we have seen how Jesus continued to confront a corrupt temple leadership and challenge the oppressive Roman occupation. We saw the clash of ideas and how it became evident that those in power would want to do away with this troublesome preacher from Nazareth. We learned how all of his disciples failed him, Judas betraying, Peter denying, and the rest running away. The crucifixion on Friday was the world’s answer to Jesus’ message of love and transformation. Power always reacts violently when challenged to change. Kill the messenger and you most likely kill the message. The stone rolled across the mouth of the tomb was, or so it seemed, the final word. Might triumphs over goodness and hate wins over love and forgiveness. This seems to be what the stone says as it seals the tomb. It has always been that way. The world proclaims that might, wealth and power win.
We gather today because we know the stone was wrong. We gather today because we know the world’s view is wrong. We gather today to hear that Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness is the correct one and cannot be denied.
Easter is the story not of death but resurrection, not crucifixion and endings but of vindication and new beginnings. Easter’s message is the path to being transformed. It is the path Jesus said all of us must follow, of dying and rising, of being born again. Easter is God’s “yes” to Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness and God’s “no” to the powers that executed him. Think about where we let the world’s view dominate our thinking. We often hear an “us vs. them” view of people. This can cause us to become afraid of any who are different from us. Just recently we have heard of people victimizing those of Chinese heritage, blaming them for the virus. Easter is God’s reminder that Jesus’ words of love for all are how we are supposed to act. The world glorifies wealth while Easter reminds us that God says Jesus’ words of self-giving are our goal. Think about who we are lifting up on the news. It isn’t the billionaires of the world. It is nurses, delivery people, store clerks and families sharing and caring. The world wants us to embrace the idea that there are endings and we should fear them. So often we hear laments about what the virus has taken from us. God is saying that there is always a new beginning.
I want you to hear an Easter moment. It was shared on Facebook by a friend. She is a professor and needs to work from home. Her children are out of school. After several postings lamenting how hard all of this was her tone changed. She began to celebrate all the good things that are occurring. She is spending more time with her children than ever. Her busy work that had her often at the university for long hours and traveling around the country has come to a halt. Her husband’s work has stopped as well. They are simplifying, helping the kids with homework, doing things together and, all of a sudden, she is realizing how much she has gained during the crisis. She is beginning to celebrate what is, instead of bemoaning what is not. She has pledged to keep this new identity going even after things return to normal, even if it means giving up some opportunities at work. That is what Easter calls us to do. To celebrate what we have, to understand that, even when everything changes, God is present and new life and new possibilities await.
We are here today saying we believe that there will be new beginnings past this time of limitation caused by the virus. We will worship together again. Ministry will happen, that is not saying it isn’t happening now, but some of our shuttered ministries will begin anew. We live in the hope of the new. It likely will be a new and different reality. The world has changed and continues to change. Easter is a reminder to embrace the new in life-giving ways. Easter says that even when the world is turned upside down God is with us.
We are challenged to live this Easter message, but it is so easy for us to get sucked into the world’s values. It is hard not to give in to the fear that we all feel. Will we get sick, will we have enough money, will our children and grandchildren keep their jobs? Easter faith reminds us to not give in to the fear but instead stay hopeful, stay positive and celebrate what an awesome God we serve who is with us no matter what is happening. It is easy to begin to forget about the needs of the less fortunate when we have so many needs of our own. Easter reminds us that we are all of worth, that God loves all and we are challenged to reach out to the least of these.
It is hard to stay positive and hope-filled when it feels like everything in life is crashing down around us. The world view unintentionally feeds those negative feelings. Easter says, step back and listen to the voice of Jesus. It might seem to be but a whisper in a world shouting a different understanding. But the whisper is God’s yes and we need to pay attention to it. We need to figure out how to follow faithfully Jesus’ words of love, forgiveness, care, hope, and positivity. We can do it, for the stone has been rolled away.
There is a second message of Easter. It is that Jesus lives, and he continues to be experienced after his death, though in a radically new way. In the Bible, following the resurrection Jesus is no longer a figure of flesh and blood, confined to time and space, but a reality who can enter locked rooms, journey with followers without being recognized, be experienced in both Galilee and Jerusalem, vanish in the moment of recognition, and abide with his followers always, “to the end of the age.”
Jesus is a figure of the present, not simply of the past. The truth of the affirmation “Jesus lives” is grounded in the experience of Christians throughout the centuries. Think of the hymn, “I Serve a Risen Savior,” The chorus is “He Lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today.” This is the message of Easter. Christians, to the present day, have experienced Jesus as a living reality. Remembering Jesus lives and offers us life and is Lord of life gives one incredible power.
Without it, Desmond Tutu could not have opposed apartheid with such courage, infectious joy, and a reconciling spirit. Without it, Martin Luther King Jr. could not have walked in Selma, Alabama. Without it, some people could not get up in the morning and face anew with grace and joy the caregiving that life has given them. Without it, some of our doctors and nurses could not go to work with joy and positivity.
Good Friday discloses how powerful the forces arrayed against the Kingdom of God are. Easter affirms Jesus is Lord. Easter’s message of life is a reminder that new possibilities are always an option. Because Jesus lives, we do not have to accept endings but instead, ask; “Where are these new beginnings?” I know we say this at Easter, but do we really believe it? None of us knows what the next few weeks are going to bring in our lives. But we need to remember “that the worst thing is never the last thing.”
So hear the challenge to not be sucked into the world’s view of life and reality.
Jesus calls us to love God fully and love our neighbor as ourselves. It is a life that leads to joy and abundance. Allow yourself to die to old patterns of thinking and living and be transformed. And always believe in the possibilities of new beginnings, new life. There are no endings with God. Easter is God’s affirmative “yes.” Yes, to new beginnings. Yes, to a different world view. Yes to hope as reality. Yes, to life beyond death.
May you, like the women, hurry to your tombs where you have let fear seal away hope and possibilities. You might find that the stone has been rolled away because Jesus is alive, has been vindicated and, even though the world has been turned upside down, we have life. Do I believe this, I have bet my eternal life on it.