Luke 24: 1-12
Happy Easter! And it is a happy day! For the first time in a year some folk will be coming back into the sanctuary today to celebrate Easter, the day of resurrection, the day of new life. Others will be at home, waiting for it to be safer, waiting a little longer but still celebrating this glorious day with us! Some came in for the Easter sunrise service, worshiping outside at the break of dawn as the sun peeked over the horizon and day came. It is a day of new beginnings. And it is a day when the life that we knew resurrects in this place.
And yet, as you look around, you know that it is different. So many of us are still at home. The choir is not here singing with us for the in-person service. And we will have no singing in the in-person service at all! Those who sang for the pre-recorded service were fewer. People are still wearing their masks. Some of us have not been able to get vaccinated yet, and a few are choosing not to. We are divided: some watching from home, some in person. Our coffee hour is still mostly through Zoom. People are not hugging, not even shaking hands. Things remain different. Things are not what they were. The glorious entry back has not come to pass in the way we might have envisioned it a year ago! Things are different. And we may be wondering if they will ever “return to normal”.
But the truth is that there is no “normal”. As we’ve talked about many times before, the only thing we can absolutely count on is change. And while we may hope that change comes more slowly than it certainly has this year, that is often not how life presents. Change is inevitable. And all we have is to decide what we will do with the time that we are given.
But today on Easter, I find, just as I found last year, that there is more similarity in our strange Easter with that first Easter than most Easters we have celebrated together. For while we love to celebrate easter with trumpet and singing and large groups of gatherings, with eating and praise and beautiful clothing and decorations, we are reminded by today’s scripture readings that this is not what happened that first Easter. A group had come to the tomb. But it was not a joyful, loud, big group. Instead, it was a group of a few, very sad, very disappointed, very scared, but faithful women who came to the tomb. They were told by “two men in clothes that gleamed like lighting” that Jesus had risen. But this did not lead to praise and singing. This did not lead to great celebration and gathering and feasting. No. They heard the news, and then they ran away and told the disciples. And this, too, then, did not spur or inspire the disciples to gather in a large joyous crowd either. They, too, did not respond by gathering their families for worship, or gathering their families for a celebration feast or Easter Egg Hunt. They did not begin to praise God, or preach the word, or celebrate Eucharist (thanksgiving). They did not sing. Instead we are told, “they did not believe the women because their words seemed like nonsense. Peter even left them. He went back to the tomb by himself, saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and, we are told, he ”went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” This is the original Easter: chaos, confusion, separation. Questions, hiding, running. Distance, retreat, disappointment, disbelief. This is the original Easter. This is the day we celebrate: a day of not knowing, a day of not understanding, a day of disbelief and retreat.
And so perhaps it is deeply appropriate that we, too, as we gather in our separate places and yet our together places, that we, too, are separate, are not knowing what tomorrow or next week or next year will look like, that we spend a day in having our set ideas of what Easter is, and what Church is, and what WE are supposed to be on this day: that we have all of this broken open.
In the transitional ministry class that I’ve been taking, it has been reinforced for me once again that because people so fear real, true, deep change, the only thing that pushes us to truly grow, truly deepen in our faith, in our communities, and in our work for God is some kind of “catalytic event”. That the only thing that really moves us to be better, be stronger, be more faithful, deeper, more loving and connected to God and each other is chaos, is change, is crisis. So, I would like to invite you to consider that this time is an opportunity. And that this new stepping back in a different way, in a non-usual way, in a slightly chaotic and definitely different way is a GIFT to us. It is a gift of being able to remember and reconsider what is important to us about church, what is the meaning for us in our faith, what is the true and deep and beautiful message of Easter.
I shared this story on Good Friday, but I want to share it here again because I think it is so relevant and important: When St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was being built, the architect was walking among the stonecutters. He wanted to know how people were feeling about what they were doing. So he asked one of the cutters, “What are you doing?” And the cutter answered, “I’m hammering this stupid rock!” Wren moved onto ask a second cutter, “What are you doing?” This one answered, “I’m shaping this rock to be a cornice over a doorway.” Finally he asked a third, “What are you doing?” To which this stonecutter instantly replied, “I’m building a cathedral!”
Do we focus on the fact that it may feel like hard work to rebuild our congregation and our community? Do we focus on the need to make everything the same ASAP so that we can “go back to normal”? Or do we take this opportunity to really look at the amazing gift of resurrection. Jesus was not resurrected in the way we expected. And in fact, he was not resurrected the same. We hear that Philip put his hands in Jesus’ side. His body was not the same. He was resurrected with his scars. And as we resurrect as a church, our body will not be the same either: some have moved away, for example. And others have joined us: we had six new members join and I’ve been contacted by others who have been “participating” in our church whom we’ve never met.
Jesus’ interaction with the disciples and his community was also different. We read in scripture that the disciples didn’t recognize him on the walk to Emmaus. We also hear, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” He came and went in a very different way and he was not the same person going around healing and teaching. He spoke to few, and he inspired those few to be the risen Christ in the world: to go into the world teaching and healing as he had done. So, too, our church community will not be the same, will not look the same. We will continue to do some teaching through zoom so that those who cannot come in and do not live close can continue to be part of us. We will continue to offer multiple ways of seeing services: in person or from home. Resurrection looks different than what we were before.
But we have a choice. We can see the hard work of the stone-cutter, or we can see the new church that we are building with wonder and with awe. We can grieve what has changed, and indeed that is part of moving through and into something new. But we can choose to become stuck there, and stuck in a process of trying to recreate exactly what was, or we can rejoice at the changes, and look for the ways in which God is re-creating us, re-inviting us into new life, new vision, new hope, a new church community.
The good news of the resurrection is for each and every one of us. We, too, get to be resurrected anew. We are invited to start this day and every day with hope, with joy, with new vision into what could be, what might be, and to see into what WILL be.
I want to share a little story that Rev. Michael Piazza wrote about and which Lyle shared with me about the amazing creative, life-giving work of God. Rev. Michael Piazza wrote this: “Slaves would cook huge meals for the masters’ families, while they often were forced to make do with the leftovers. One staple often left to the slaves was what my mother used to call “pot liquor.” Now, for those of you who didn’t grow up poor, pot liquor is the liquid left after the food has been cooked. My grandmother used to boil collards or turnip greens. When they were done, she would remove them and then drop globs of dough into the still boiling water to make dumplings. That often was all the slaves had to eat. It wasn’t until about 100 years later that nutritionists discovered [that] almost all the nutritional value of the food was left in the pot liquor. The slave owners would stuff themselves on the best life had to offer, but the slaves were the ones who were made stronger and healthier by the pot liquor. Perhaps that is how it is with pain. The good times may make your life feel full, but the struggles can make you healthy and strong. You must decide which it will be; perhaps, though, there is not as much to fear from pain as you once thought.”
And so, we learn that when we go through the pain of our crises, of our challenges, of the struggles, that when we can forgive, and when we can go through the work of dealing with the losses and the grief, when we can breathe into each day, we can emerge on the other side resurrected. We will not look the same. But those scars we carry are usually places of greater strength. When the broken bones heal, the places they heal are stronger. When we have scars, that scar tissue is tougher. It does not look the same, but in it is life; new life, God-given life, resurrected life.
This is the day we remember that Jesus has risen! Not in the ways expected or even hoped for: but in the ways God has caused new life to be: fuller, deeper, spread out among and through and beyond the disciples and the community. And we are a part of that resurrection, too. Thanks be to God! Amen.