Sermons

Essential Easter People, Rev. Dee Ledger, April 12, 2020

Dearly Beloved BUCC Church Family

and Those Who Have Found Us Today Online,

I am choosing to write you a letter as this Easter feels different from other Easters. But it isn’t the missing decorations of Easter, the inability to hang Easter banners, distribute lilies, or to experience victorious trumpet blast first-hand.  It isn’t the cancelling of anticipated Easter Egg hunts, or the noticeable void of photos showing folks donning special Easter clothing and taking various photos with the Easter Bunny at the local mall.

No, most of these things can still be creatively reinvented or re-imagined in these Covid-19 times. Even the Easter Bunny who was declared an essential worker in Maryland and other places has been driven by car to various neighborhoods heartening children of all ages.

No, instead Easter feels muted.   It feels more hesitant this year, with our holy places nearly vacant.  Hesitant, as if we were to dare shout Alleluia, we would fear hearing the echo of our words.  Easter feels different because in the customary places where we Easter people gather, the setting feels different—more private, more personal, more confining.  We miss the expansiveness that lies in the physicality of our relationships, the flowing intimacy of greeting each other in person, the deeply communal aspect of worshipping with each other by sharing physical space, as well as this sacred time.

Last night I visited our church sanctuary.  It is as empty as the tomb that Mary visited.  It is empty because you—the spirit and life of the place—are somewhere out there sheltering at home.  I want to believe that angels hover there somehow observing our absence.  Just as Mary encountered two angels in the tomb of Jesus, I believe that there are angels hovering about: the angels of our saints, the angels of our past, the angels of our better selves and the angels of our heroic ancestors.

It is from this only-seemingly empty space, that I write you a letter in these strange times.

We might remember that letters are very much a part of the Christian tradition: our New Testament is full of letters written by the Apostle Paul.  He wrote letters to various churches both as he travelled and while he was imprisoned.  The letters we have are some of the oldest material in our New Testament, even older than the gospels themselves.  So, I am writing you a letter today in the spirit of those letters to the churches.  Most of us are not truly imprisoned, but we may suddenly feel trapped by these circumstances, struck with cabin fever in our homes, sequestered away from our friends and families, while living with stay-at-home orders.

Much of Holy Week has felt different because we are not gathered together.  It can feel as if something has been taken from us, rather than a giving the gift of saving lives by not interacting in our customary ways. “Going to church” no longer feels like one of many options that we might dismiss when we have better things to do; we suddenly feel out of sorts and deeply miss what we are told we cannot do safely.  And yet, though we can’t safely congregate in person, we can congregate here and what was once an activity among many options feels very necessary in this moment.  I can’t help but to think of families gathered around computer screens like families gathered around the radio during World War I and II eager for news from the frontlines, or meaningful news to help them to make sense of their world, or simply a good word for another day.

On this Easter morning when Mary and others run to the empty tomb, we may think of the empty rooms, empty business establishments, empty workplaces, and empty churches.  When we are huddled at home wondering when this Covid pandemic will end, we may think of the mass graves of the dead, of the empty hospital rooms of the dying, of our fears of empty bank accounts and of empty prospects, of empty shelves, and empty promises by some in our government.

And yet, friends, Easter still comes, though we may vividly realize that much of Easter’s joyful message depends upon our ability to receive and to believe good news in the midst of tragic and hard circumstances, deprived of much of Easter’s flourishes and decorations.

Can we see the ones, who like Mary, are even now journeying to tombs far and wide to bring their valuable spices and the gift of their spirit to anoint those who are suffering? Can we see the ones who are working through bureaucratic red tape to obtain vital life-saving machines and building life-saving medical units? Can we see the neighbor risking herself to obtain groceries for a more vulnerable elder or the child who writes, “I love you” to the parent who breaks down in tears from the stress of managing work and childcare?  Can we see through the tears to see the compassion of the world uniting to meet this challenge head-on in seemingly unprecedented ways?

The message of Easter is that the tomb is a place where God, humanity, and angels of good-will intersect in love. Jesus is alive in places and times such as these.  The story doesn’t depend upon our adornment or flourishes. It reveals itself even when the production crew is lacking, the broadband spotty, and the sound quality faltering.  God rose Jesus just as God will rise us in whatever horrific circumstance that we find ourselves.  Jesus who was beloved, yet crucified by the powers that be, refused to stay in the tomb.  He didn’t remain among the dead but began his ascent, just as we will ascend slowly from our despair and fear about Covid to a perspective that gives hope and real help to those who feel forsaken and alone.  Sure, we may still have days where we ask, “Where is hope now?” and we may be genuinely afraid of what this pandemic will reveal to us about ourselves, like the painful way death disproportionately affects black and brown people and healthcare disparities.

Yet, we are an Easter people who together proclaim that in the midst of rising death counts and fear of contagion, life is still very much full of God.  We may not know the specifics, but God hasn’t left us bereft of meaning or purpose or our need for love and true justice.  We have been given a commission for these times.  We have been given a strong source of comfort and an antidote to the suffering and suffocating isolation of these times.  Just as Jesus was found by Mary, Peter, and the others, we can find God by peeling back the layers of this crisis and seeing what remains: the love for neighbor demonstrated by staying home and practicing love at a distance, the sharing of resources to stave off hoarding and scarcity,  the giving of our life blood to fill a desperate need, the desire to spread messages of hope and help even when we become frustrated beyond measure, the sharing of creative and life-giving solutions for daily and communal living in these circumstances, and the desire to gather through different means to improve mental well-being and to stave off loneliness.  You can add your own examples, beloved.

You need to remember that you have been preparing for this, sisters and brothers.  Perhaps not for a pandemic, no.  But you’ve been trained by the best servant and friend who suffered, died, and rose again that we might have a model of living for these times.  You got this. You do.

You are an essential Easter people, every single one of you that rises to declare praise and alleluia in a muted atmosphere, every one that comes to this moment with their humanity showing and their hearts open.  God knows we need you—each and every one of you—to proclaim that death and fear does not, will not, control our lives. For we know someone who has seen the worst of human hurt and pain and ascended.

And you will too.

Happy Easter, friends.

He is risen, risen indeed.