Sermon Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Reading

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The Sermon

Obviously, this is the strangest Easter ever. Usually, we pull out all the stops with choirs, all kinds of special music, an overabundance of flowers, an Easter egg hunt. Many have plans for get-togethers after the service. It is a very festive and nice day – normally. Today is very much a toned-down version of what we are used to.

In a strange way, however, we may be closer to the original Easter than normally. Because this first Easter was not marked by an all-out celebration, with flowers and music and a big meal. Quite the contrary, there was a deep sense of loss and mourning. Life as the disciples knew it was upended, hopes crushed. It was a time of great uncertainty and questions how the future would be shaped from there on.

Every gospel has a different version of this Easter morning, but the bottom-line is that women approached the grave and realized that it was empty, and then there was in some way or another the appearance of angels or Jesus himself, followed a mix of fear, chaos, confusion, doubt and downright fear, but also joy and awe. Men dismissed the women’s words as idle talk, some men went home, others into hiding, some actually understood what happened, others did not.

This first Easter was a far cry from a straightforward, joyful, well-organized, well-decorated celebration. It was a mess. But the thing is, Jesus came into the world and died for exactly this reason: because it was and still is a messy, and at times, frightening world.

We are in the midst of mourning, fear, uncertainty and a sense of hopelessness. The death toll of corona virus victims affects all of us, even if we don’t know a victim personally. It is a terrible thing to know that every day so many people around us are dying, and our hearts go out to them and their loved ones; there is fear that we or a loved one might catch the virus; there is uncertainty for all who already have lost their jobs and those who fear to lose it; the hopes of young people coming out of college are crushed, the future is completely uncertain. Older people are isolated at home and younger grandchildren don’t understand why they cannot see their grandparents. We share the feelings of mourning, fear and uncertainty with the early disciples on their first Easter morning – only for different reasons.

The disciples’ pain was still raw and their understanding of the resurrection not developed at all, yet Jesus didn’t give his disciples time to dwell on their fear or mourning. First of all, he assured them that they didn’t need to be afraid and then he put them to work. He asked them to spread the word, he sent them to Galilee in order to find him there. Even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, in this imperfect world with its daily challenges, they were not to be spectators or merely bystanders, because there was new life right in their midst. They had to learn to see it. They had to learn to move towards that new life.

While we move from update to update about the virus, we share the same message those disciples heard, namely that God is here, that he didn’t leave for good when Jesus died on the cross, but that death is a temporary thing. Ultimately, God comes through, brings new life out of death and tells us to keep moving forward. There is a future, we have the hope of new life right where we need it most: in the midst of our messy and unpredictable world. The question is whether we can see it.

The empty tomb gives us a lens through which we can see all these truly difficult things.

We no longer look at life only through the lens of misery – we view it in the bright light of resurrection. We learn to look to the teachings and works of Jesus and see what resurrection power looks like. It isn’t just feeling better about things. But we look to the things that bring life, because this is what God has ultimately lined up for us. Death does not have the final word. Love and life are stronger than fear and death.

But Easter is not only a time of celebrating what Christ has accomplished for us through the cross and the empty tomb, but also a time to celebrate and grasp what God wants to do through us in our world today. The Easter story isn’t one that we set away on a shelf after giving it a yearly reading. The disciples were asked to go to Galilee. We are also asked to move forward in our new life, to find our own Galilee in this time and place. That way the Easter story becomes our story, as we affirm the great gift God has given us in the new life Jesus received, and offers to us. Through this story in our lives, in the face of the worst that life can offer, we can affirm God’s goodness and power.

We are charged to go forth in daily life and proclaim with our words and deeds that God is here. This is why we celebrate today. This is why, with all the saints on earth, and in heaven above, we proclaim: Christ is risen; Christ is risen, indeed! Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.