This is not the Easter we expected to have.
This is an Easter where sanctuaries are closed, cold and empty and silent. There are no Easter flowers strewn around the altar, given in memory of loved ones who have gone before us or shared in honor of those still with us. There are no glorious choirs belting out Alleluias. There are no filled pews with people decked out in their Easter finest. There are no extended family Easter dinners, all crammed around the table with a huge ham or shanks of lamb to share. There are no kids crawling around community parks in search of Easter Eggs hidden in tree limbs or nestled among patches of newly budded flowers.
This is certainly an Easter like no other.
Well – perhaps like one other Easter.
I’m reminded in many ways how much this Easter might have some things in common with that very first Easter nearly two thousand years ago. After all, that first Easter found the disciples hidden away in their homes, overcome with fear and anxiety…and when Mary realizes she’s talking to Jesus in the garden, he tells her not to touch him. Talk about social distancing before it was a thing. Here we are, all tucked away in our homes, sheltering in place – many of us facing more than a little anxiety when we have to go get groceries or conduct essential business. We wear masks to hide our faces to protect others from the germs we may or may not carry and wear gloves to keep the germs off our hands…and the thought of touching other people – even as we long to give our friends hugs – it’s so difficult.
I think about that first Easter and those first disciples – their world had come crashing to an end over the course of a week. They had paraded into Jerusalem expecting this to be the beginning of a new era of Jesus as King, a rejection and subversion of Empire, a glorious triumph of God’s reign. And while those things were – in fact – about to become true, it was not in the way they had anticipated. Jesus was arrested, beaten, flogged and crucified as a revolutionary – and the disciples, as his closest and known associates, thought the government was coming for them next. To them, it was over. The new era they had yearned and hoped for had turned into a new era of fear and exile. There wasn’t just grief over the loss of their teacher, their rabbi – there was grief about losing this new world they were to build together.
And haven’t we, too, grieved over plans and hopes and dreams? Graduations of seniors canceled, funerals indefinitely put on hold, long-awaited vacations or weekend getaways refunded, coffee dates, weddings – no more. We grieve over lost jobs, the upending of plans and our daily routines and rhythms, how this disruption will affect the most vulnerable among us. We grieve not being able to gather on this, one of the holiest days of the Christian year. And we wonder what Easter even means when there is so much hurting and suffering and pain in the world right now.
But, I think, that is precisely the point – and it is one that goes overlooked so often. We’re in this new era – not one we would have expected, or even wanted – but this pandemic has been an apocalyptic unveiling of just how broken our world is – from our economic system that primarily benefits those who have means and not those living paycheck to paycheck, from our healthcare system that has been overwhelmed, to our global climate crisis created by our frantic need for more – and this unveiling has left so many people wondering how to take care of themselves and their families, unable to say goodbye to loved ones as they pass, trapped in homes with their abusers or in the cycles of addiction, fearing infection because of weakened immune systems, or risking themselves at work.
And so, let me remind you, that the first Easter came to a bunch of frightened, grief-striken disciples huddled in a house…to a woman out for a nature walk who dared to believe that Jesus was alive.
This was the first Easter – and these were the first Easter people – a people slowly but surely finding their way to hope out of the shattered pieces of their lives – the ruined plans and the buried dreams.
Let me read for you so you can hear again the verses that Ben wrote for Christ the Lord is Risen today.
Sanctuaries dark as night, empty pews and dust mote light, do God’s people sing alone? Do we wander with no home?
Given life: a second birth, made Christ’s body o’er the Earth, not a building, not a place, but Your people: voices raised!
The promise of Easter isn’t that resurrection brings us back to normal. It’s not about the strength and courage we need to keep on keeping on until one day we can get back to business as usual or life as we knew it before. It isn’t about living in hope that one day things might be restored to the way things were. The promise of Easter is that the resurrection brings a new normal to the world – that through death we are offered new life, that Christ draws near to us in our grief and suffering and shows us hope that life can be different – that the world can be different. The promise of Easter gives us strength and courage to acknowledge the fears within us and to let God bring the broken pieces of our lives together in a way we never dared thought possible. The resurrection is an invitation to hope in a world beyond our wildest imaginings…and to be a people scattered throughout the earth to live the good news that Jesus is alive – to be the body of Christ over all the earth.
Our church buildings may be empty – they may look and feel much like the tomb on that very first Easter. But that just means that Jesus is out and about in the world. Jesus is alive – the church is alive – in all the ways we reach out to one another and share hope and love together despite the social distance. Our church is alive in every donation made to the food pantry and in every gift of food received by people here on the island. Our church is alive in every phone call, email, and text message sent…and received. Our church is alive when we share words of hope and encouragement on social media – or when we remind others to be loving and kind. It’s also alive when we’re the ones needing to be reminded. Our church is alive when we meet to share prayer over Zoom, or when we need to rely on each other to help ground ourselves again in God’s presence. Our church is alive when we share our fears, confess our failings, express our gratitude for each other.
As we journey through these pandemic days, we don’t know yet what the new normal will be. I do believe that our shared life together as a country cannot go back to what it was and there will be a great temptation to go back to business as usual. But here is too much at stake for the most vulnerable in our country and our world, and that there is too much at stake for our planet earth. And I believe that we – as Easter people – as people who have sat in the ashes of our lives and dared to let God bring us into a resurrection life – can be a sign and witness to this new way of living in the world. And I believe that this is a moment where we can choose as individuals and as a people together to live life differently.
There may be no choirs…our Easter finest this morning may be sweatpants and a t-shirt….and yet we still proclaim the Easter promise – that Christ is risen; Christ is risen indeed – and so will we, into Jesus’ resurrection life. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.