April 12, 2020

Easter Sunday 2020

Passage: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10
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Bible Text: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10 | Easter Sunday 2020
For over 112 years, the people of our congregation have gathered together to celebrate, to mourn, to worship and proclaim Christ’s resurrection every Sunday.  In our early years we watched in horror as our young men left to fight in a great World War. Their future was uncertain, and death impacted us all very deeply.  We were then plunged into a deep social and financial crisis with the Great Depression. Once again, we gathered together in community to support each other, comfort each other, and place our faith in Jesus, in very public ways. Just a few years after, the drums of war sounded across our world again and we found ourselves dragged into another great World War. This time we were sending our men and women overseas, and welcoming new people into our community to build the aircraft and bombers that would be needed for the war. Generations later, our nation and the world watched in horror as planes flew into buildings in New York and Washington, and into the ground in Pennsylvania.  We did what the church does in these times; we came together, to pray, to mourn, to simply be a community that could hold each other through these difficult times. Throughout these challenging times our congregation met to contemplate and ponder God at work in our world; to try to make sense of what was going on. One fact remained true throughout all this history, all the pain and suffering, all our national tragedies; we met at the church building as a community. We assembled early every Easter morning to celebrate an empty tomb, a risen savior, Jesus’ victory which in turn is our victory.

Today is Easter Sunday, the resurrection of our Lord, it is also a time when uncertainty and fear have us captive.  For the first time in our church’s history we are not meeting at the church for Easter Sunday. The lilies still line the altar and the handbells lay silent. Banners will not process, and the Eucharistic elements will remain in the sacristy. Our sanctuary will remain silent and the echoes of alleluias will not be heard there.  While for most of us this is a strange and heartbreaking reality, this is not the first time Christians have been kept apart from one another.  In fact the earliest Christians were in mortal danger of practicing their faith.  In 1 Peter 4:16, the writer states “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

In our current time there are countries that prohibit Christian worship.  According to the non-profit organization Open Doors, “260 million Christians live in places where they experience high levels of persecution, just for following Jesus. That’s 1 in 8 believers, worldwide.” [1] In some countries you can be sent to forced labor camps, or even executed on the spot for your faith.  So, in so many countries church happens in secret, in dark windowless rooms, with very small groups.  We will gather again soon, yet they will remain in hiding.  Let us remember those who will not be free to worship like we have, and we will again.  Let us be in solidarity with our siblings in persecution and use this time in distancing to be reminded of their stories.

It is in this time that I am reminded of the reality of Easter Sunday for the disciples. It is the paradoxical reality that Paul writes of in Colossians, setting our minds on things that are above, while still in fear of the reality of things below, things that were very real for them. It had been a long week and painful week for them, as it has been for so many of us.  In a time when sickness and death edge closer to our own doors, we are desperate for the lamb’s blood on the doorposts, to symbolize our faith in God, to ward off the invisible death lurking in our world.  We are sheltering in our homes and worshiping around screens, because sickness and death lurk outside.  The disciples knew that pain and death would greet them if they stepped outside the safety of hiding in those days following the trial, torture and crucifixion of Jesus.
Like that first resurrection morning, as we read in our gospel lesson, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go about their business of tending to the body.  There are people in our community today who are going about their work of tending to others. With fear and uncertainty in their hearts; their minds set on the earthly tasks below. However, it is also a call to be servants of others as an answer to the call to set our minds on things above, to love the neighbor and serve them.  Like the disciples that first Easter morning we are sheltering. We are invited into a taste of the fear and anxiety of the disciples. Those faithful but fear filled followers, who just days earlier had witnessed the reality of the passion of Christ, and the new reality of life lived as a Christian.  Remember the resurrection was unknown to them, even though Jesus has told them the outcome.  Eventually they would hear from the first evangelists, the women who came back from the empty tomb.  Yet they would remain in confinement even after this news had reached them. So even after the first Easter, they sheltered in place a little longer.  Like all Christians of every time and place since that first Easter, we are looking for the resurrection hope in our time.   It is a hope that defies logic, the resurrection is a reality that defies logic. Yet, it is the core of who we are as a resurrection people; to proclaim and believe in the life-giving reality of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The reality of the Holy Week, of Easter Sunday, is that Jesus Christ took on your sickness, sins, and death; took them to the cross and laid down his life for you. When that should have been enough victory for you, to be sin free and blameless, Jesus went further. On Easter Sunday he arose victorious over the grave, over death itself, so that you would be victorious over death and have eternal life. As Paul states in Colossians 3:4, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”  You will be in glory, that is the promise and reality of what was accomplished for you at the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is a challenging time for us, especially in the reality of separation from each other on this Easter Sunday. But let us look to the meaning of this celebration and not to earthly things. We still celebrate, we still proclaim, we still cling to the promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Like that first Easter Sunday, the resurrection appeared hidden to the world, life in Jerusalem continued on as usual for almost everyone. However, it forever changed the world, it forever changed you.  You are not at the church to celebrate and raise your voices in song, but you are still with Jesus Christ and he is very much within you.  You are at the empty tomb looking in, but he is risen, and you are promised everlasting life.  You are welcomed into glory with Jesus Christ. You are made whole and righteous and you are raised with Jesus Christ.

So this in Easter Sunday. Remember that like the first Easter Sunday for the disciples, the reality of what happened will forever change them as it forever changes us. Let us lift up our voices where we are and proclaim the mystery of the faith; Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Alleluia!

Happy Easter dear church!

 

[1] https://www.opendoorsusa.org/2020-world-watch-list-report/

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