The “Easteriest” Easter
April 12, 2020, Easter Sunday – Parkminster United Church
Rev. Heather Power
This is not the Easter we imagined celebrating this morning. There isn’t the brilliant display of Easter flowers in the sanctuary. The swell of the organ, the burst of voices from the choir. The giggles of children ready to take part in our annual Easter egg hunt. The joy of being gathered together in the church to celebrate and rejoice this most sacred and special of days.
Laura Cudworth sent me the greatest email from something she saw on Facebook in reference to Lent 2020 that said: “This has been the Lentiest Lent we’ve ever Lented.” That’s for sure!
But what if I told you, this is the Easteriest Easter we’ve ever Eastered?
It’s true. According to the gospels, the first Easter didn’t happen in a church. It happened outside of an empty tomb, while all of the disciples were sequestered in a home, grief-stricken and wondering what was going on in their world. So really, we are keeping things pretty biblical this Easter of 2020.
Of all the biblical accounts of the Easter story, the one that we’ve just heard from the Gospel of Mark has got to be the most anticlimactic of the four Gospels.
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels; it is thought to have been written first and also used as a spine for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as they were written. The original resurrection narrative in Mark is the shortest and least-involved of the four Gospels. It ends where this morning’s reading ended, which, when you read it, is kind of abrupt:
So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
Jesus did not actually appear to anyone in this narrative. The women did not run with great joy to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty and Jesus had risen. Jesus did not walk along the road to Emmaus or break bread with his disciples when they arrived or show them the marks on his hands and in his side. The disciples were not commissioned. There is no ascension. This narrative ends with the women fleeing the empty tomb, terrified.
I’ll be honest, I usually avoid this particular gospel account for Easter Sunday. It doesn’t preach with the same kind oomph that the other gospel accounts offer. But as I read through the various gospel stories this year, in this time, this is the one that stood out to me most.
I found a new love for this terse account, precisely because it is so plain and unadorned. Its simplicity is in stark contrast to all the power invested in this day; it tells us the truth about our faith and reminds us of our very human responses to the Big Stuff of our lives. It’s real.
The women, the first witnesses to the resurrection were terrified, surprised and stunned into silence. As Mark describes the scene, the disciples have already run out of steam and are nowhere to be found. The women don’t really get it either. They arrive at the tomb, expecting to find a body that they can anoint. When the young man in white tells them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee, they run away and hunker down in silence, too afraid to move or speak.
What Easter brings up for us is that deep place in our spirits where we decide who we will be, how we will live, what and whom we will be able to trust. As Chad Meyers comments on this passage, “Will we flee or will we follow? …That is the hardest thing about the ending of Mark; not tragedy, not victory, but the ending challenge to follow anew.” Transformation in our lives is not a one-time event, but an endless series of moments where we get decide who we are and who we are following.
The first Christians were not expecting the resurrection. They came at first light, arriving quietly at the tomb just as the sun came over the hills. As they walked along, they must have felt many emotions, anger, fear, shock and deep grief. This was a time in Israel’s history of great violence and domination, what must they have been thinking as they crept through the night? The women came to the tomb to anoint the body with oil. They were expecting to have life go on as usual, even in the midst of death. Can you imagine how their lives were changed when days later this new reality sunk in?
At the end of the Lentiest Lent we’ve ever Lented, we find ourselves at the foot of the cross. There is no easy explanation for all that is happening in this time of pandemic, no pat answers for our myriad of emotions; neither is there any soft comfort to be had in such a time as this. We are only reminded of how raw and fragile the gift of life is and how random death, too, can be.
This past month feels unlike any other we have experienced. Life in this time of Covid-19 is overwhelming, exhausting, consuming, while still speckled with moments of great beauty, joy, and yes, hope. We witness the hope that is Easter in creation finding renewal in ways that both surprise and inspire quiet awe. We witness Easter hope in healthcare and grocery workers, in truck drivers, in the individuals who embody all that is essential for us. We witness Easter hope in the voices who still cry out against injustice – those standing alongside the isolated, the homeless, and the vulnerable. We witness Easter hope in the banging of pots and pans to celebrate those on the frontlines and in the wounded faces of all wearing masks for countless hours.
As we hold this time of pandemic and all the big and small tragedies of life on this Easter Sunday, we can look toward the women at the tomb on that first Sunday. They were certainly full of sorrow and frightened, but they somehow managed to remain present. Throughout this Holy Week, the women stayed at the cross, it was the women who quietly watched as they laid him in the tomb and it was the women who came early in the morning to anoint him. Somehow, amidst the confusing events of those days, there were those who maintained a quiet and stubborn presence. It took a stranger sitting atop a stone and a missing body to send them fleeing, but we know they will find a way to move forward into the rest of their lives and the world.
The first words that were spoken to the women amaze us even today; “Do not be alarmed – or in some translations – Do not be afraid.” Over and over again in the Gospels we hear these words spoken to ordinary people, victims, cowards, sinners and saints alike. “Do not be afraid.” Your life is going to change in ways you never dreamed of. “Do not be afraid.” The world will come to new hope. “Do not be afraid, in grief, sorrow, pain, I will be with you.” And each person finds a way to move forward into newness of life.
On this day, this Easter, in this time, God is present in our lives. God is present and persists in speechlessness and fear; God persists, bringing hope out of emptiness, helping us to go forth, even when we are clutched by terror and grief. God persists when we are broken by uncertainty and utterly spent by the sheer force of the power of death. Friends, if you take one thing out of this service, let it be this: God persists in Love and by love and for Love. This is grace beyond chance, love’s braided dance, covering the world.
Jesus is risen! Love lives!
Thanks be to God. Amen.