We Show Up Anyway

And here is my sermon from our 10AM livestream! It was so lovely to have a trumpeter and a vocalist in worship with us this morning – and to hear the organ! What a blessing. Here is my sermon, as well as the video from the livestream.

Happy Easter!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 4, 2021

Mark 16:1-8

Show Up Anyway

What I love about the Easter story is that it does not require us to have all the answers.

It just requires us to be faithful.

We just heard the story of the resurrection as told in the Gospel of Mark.  This gospel is, by far, the most anticlimactic of the four gospels when it comes to the Easter story.  You may have noticed that Jesus does not actually appear in this narrative.  In fact, the story does not end with Mary or the disciples telling people that Jesus has been raised; instead, the women flee from the tomb, terrified.

If you look at this story in the bible (in the Gospel of Mark), itself, there are two endings; one short passage that follows the end of our reading where the women briefly tell Peter and those around him what had been commanded of them and then there is a longer ending, one scholars believe was actually added later on, where Jesus, himself, appears to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples.

So the original ending to this gospel does not end with resurrection neatly tied up in a bow.  It ends here – with an empty tomb and a whole lot of questions.

But like I said, what I love about the Easter story is that it does not require us to have all the answers.  It just requires us to be faithful.

And these women were.  Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Salome – they were faithful.

Let’s back up for a minute.

After Jesus died, as soon as the Sabbath was over, Mary and Mary gathered up the spices that they would need to anoint Jesus’ body and they went to the tomb.  And the thing is, at the time, they really did not have a plan for what they were going to do when they got there.  They even had a conversation about this; they asked themselves on the way to the tomb who was going to roll the stone away for them.

And, if you think about it, this conversation about who is going to roll away the stone really sets up the narrative for what happens next when they arrive at the tomb and the stone is already rolled away.

It is a little bit of subtle foreshadowing.

But my point is this:  They went to the tomb anyway.  Mary and Mary gathered up the spices that they were going to need to anoint Jesus’ body and went to the tomb.  They had no idea how they were going to get in when they got there, but they showed up anyway.

Now, I realize that I am projecting a lot into a small and potentially insignificant part of this story, but as someone who likes having a plan and knowing how, exactly, everything is going to line up, I am fascinated by these women in this story, because if someone had met them along their journey and asked them how, they were going to get into the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they would not have had an answer.

But they were faithful.

They showed up anyway.

Now – isn’t that what we have been doing all year?  Not really knowing, sometimes, what we were going to have to do or how we were going to do it, we showed up anyway, sometimes in person, sometimes from our cars and sometimes virtually.  Not necessarily always having a plan, we showed up anyway.  Not having the ability to take part in beloved traditions and familiar routines, we showed up anyway.

For significant parts of the last year or so, we have had far more questions than we have had answers.

But we have been faithful.

And we have shown up anyway.

But this is what it means to have faith, right?  To believe in the things that we cannot see, to trust in the things that we do not understand.

What I love about this passage, especially where it cuts off with Mary and Mary fleeing from the tomb without actually seeing the Risen Christ, is the fact that it leaves room for questions.  Resolution to why the tomb is empty or what the heck happened overnight is not wrapped up neatly in a bow, rather there are some loose ends hanging around.  This story reminds us that it is okay if sometimes we experience fear or anxiety in our own lives and faith, if we have questions or if we still have a few loose ends that need to be tied up.

But this is actually a more realistic understanding of how our faith works, anyway – especially now.  Even with the situation with the pandemic hopefully starting to improve, we still have a whole lot of questions and not a lot of answers about what comes next.  We do not necessarily have a plan; we do not know how we are going to roll away the stone when we arrive at the tomb.

But we have faith that it will happen.

Like these women who gathered up some spices and just started walking, we have faith that we are going to figure it out when we arrive.

But this is resurrection; it is the promise that God will help us figure out the details, it is the reassurance that we do not have to have all of the answers, it is the hope that, sometimes against all odds, we will emerge from the darkness and shine God’s light into the world.

Last year I preached Easter Sunday alone from my house.  And I think, even years from now, I will look back on that Easter as one of the most faithful moments of our generation for this church.

Because it did not feel like Easter Sunday last year; it still felt like Good Friday.  At the time, we were still very much deep in the valley of the unknown when it came to pandemic.  Hope was there, but it was really hard to hold onto.

And yet we still showed up.  With few answers and the most broken of hallelujahs, we showed up and proclaimed the Good News that Christ has risen.

We were faithful.  We have continued to be faithful.  And we will continue to be faithful as we figure out what comes next.

Despite the fact that I am still livestreaming from an empty sanctuary, I do have a lot of hope for what comes next.  It was wonderful to gather with actual people outside on Redway Plain this morning for our sunrise services!  And I am grateful for the technological advances we have made over this past year that will hopefully make it possible for us to reach a point over the next few weeks where we can move our livestream outside and invite people to worship in person if they would like to.  I am amazed at the way the work has continued within our boards and committees, work that has not only nurtured our church, but reached out to and touched the community, as well.  In a time where we are, as the old adage goes, “flying by the seat of our pants,” we have accomplished so much.  We have figured it out as we went along.  We have remained faithful.

Friends, today we take a moment to celebrate the Good News that Christ is risen.  We celebrate the Good News that death did not have the final word, that love always wins, that God is stronger and more powerful than any obstacles or challenges we might face here, on earth.  Today we take a moment to celebrate the Good News that resurrection is real – and that there are no lost causes.

This is, after, what we do, as Christians on Easter, pandemic or not.  We proclaim this Good News!  We take this moment to rejoice in God’s redeeming work in this world.

And tomorrow, we will gather up our spices and figure out what happens next.  Even without answers, we will show up anyway.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

How Can We Proclaim The Good News

Good morning! Happy Easter!  I have two sermons to post this morning.  This is from our sunrise service at Redway Plain in Rehoboth.

He is risen, indeed!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Redway Plain
Rehoboth, MA
April 4, 2021

Psalm 118
John 20:1-18

How Can We Proclaim The Good News

About two months ago, at a Deacons meeting, someone said to me, “We aren’t doing a sunrise service in-person this year, are we?”  I paused, thought for a moment and then said, “I am not ready to start planning it; and yet I am not ready to not start planning it, either”.

You see, pandemic-aside, so much about the Easter story is about people showing up – in person, in the flesh – to bear witness to the resurrection.  Mary Magdalene is the first to show up in this story; she comes to the tomb early in the morning and realizes that the stone has been rolled away.  But it does not end there; she runs and grabs Simon Peter and another disciple and tells them what she saw and so they then run to the tomb to see for themselves.  They, eventually, return to their homes, but Mary remains at the tomb where, eventually, she has an encounter with the Risen Christ.

Now we have figured out a lot of ways do church in different ways this year – some ways that have involved no direct contact whatsoever – and so many of them have been so meaningful to us and I am so grateful for them.  They have been my lifeline and the pulse of this community that has continued to beat strong throughout this entire pandemic.

By my goodness, nothing beats being with you all here, in person.

Like I said in my words of welcome, to quote Simon Peter – who later will run to the tomb and bear witness to the fact that it is, indeed, empty and that death was not victorious – “it is good for us to be here.”

It is good for us to be here so that we can stand in one another’s presence, not only bearing witness to the resurrection, but to one another’s faith, as well.

It is good for us to be here so that we can look one another in the eyes and see a tangible sign of the hope that we have been holding onto this whole year; that we are not alone.

It is good for us to be here so that we can finally hear, again, the chorus of our voices joined together as we sing and pray and rejoice in the bold and radical truth that Christ has risen and that love has won.

And it is good for us to be here so that we can figure out how to do this again; so that we can learn what it means to eventually transition our community to both online and in-person.  You see, the Easter story is not just a narrative of resurrection, but also about those who bore witness to the resurrection and how they then proclaimed it.

Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and the rest of the disciples – these were people living in a very specific place and time in this world and so they had to figure out how to tell that story within the context of their world.

And this is what we have always done; but guess what?  Our world has changed.  It is continuing to change.  And part of our call as Christians – as people of the resurrection – is to tell this story the way the world needs to hear it now.

Yes, this story is about resurrection, but it is also about innovation and tenacity and a faith that moves mountains and believes in the impossible.  It is about not giving up; about sticking it out at the tomb until the Risen Christ shows up.  It is about finding others to help you figure out what is happening.  And it is about then proclaiming to the world, “I have seen the Lord.”

And so here we are this morning – together!  It is so good to be here with you all.  While I am grateful for all of the ways that we have made church work this past year – and I will continue to be grateful for the ways we will be able to connect with people online in the future – it feels right to be here.

To show up, in the flesh, the way that Jesus did.

To name resurrection and to believe that it is real.

And then to go and tell others what we have seen.

I have to be honest, when we had that conversation at the Deacons meeting about the sunrise service, I honestly had no idea what was going to happen on Easter morning.  For someone who is a bit of a control freak when it comes to planning, that felt kind of weird.  But I also felt at peace about it, knowing that part of being faithful, especially during this pandemic, is stepping back and letting God take care of some of the details.

I actually kind of think that is what happened on that first Easter.

So, given the fact that we have had the opportunity – with protocols in place to keep us all as safe as possible – to come together and physically be with one another on this beautiful Easter morning, as we leave this space – this space that feels unfamiliar, and yet so familiar at the same time – I invite you all to figure out with me just how to tell this story right now.  How can we, members and friends of our beloved church in the village, in the year of our Lord 2021, proclaim the Good News of resurrection?

For it is Good News.

Christ is risen, friends!  He is risen, indeed.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Weeping At The Tomb

Happy Easter, friends! I hope wherever you are you are home, safe and proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s resurrection. It was bittersweet to not be able to worship in person this morning, but I really do believe that now is the time to lean into our faith as we heed the recommendations to stay home so we can flatten the curve.

I love you all.  Despite the challenging times we are living through right now, I still believe in the hope of the Easter promise that Christ is risen!

He is risen, indeed.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 12, 2020

John 20:1-18

Weeping At The Tomb

This past Friday – Good Friday – marked the nine-year anniversary of my ordination, which means I have been in vocational ministry for nearly a decade.

Now, if you had asked me six weeks ago if I felt like a decade was a long time to be in ministry and if I had experienced a lot of stuff in that time, I probably would have told you that, in many ways, I was still very new to all of this and that I had not necessarily weathered any really big ministerial storms like my colleagues who have more years under their vestments.

Of course, I am not sure I would say the same today.

That being said, one of the things I think I have actually honed over the past nine years is the Easter sermon.  I realize that, like Christmas, it is one of those, “many eyes on you” kind of moments, but it honestly was never something that I really stressed about.  My philosophy has always been that the Easter story kind of speaks for itself.

Resurrection!

Light!

Love!

Grace!

A God that is more powerful than our human brokenness, more powerful than death, itself.

And when you take that story and add brass, confetti, a children’s sermon that may or may not go awry, a full church of people who are very ready to get to their family dinners and a bunch of children who are used to going to Church School and not sitting through a sermon, you have seven – maybe eight, TOPS – minutes to preach said sermon.

I have often said that no one has ever complained about an Easter sermon that was too short.

And yet, this year there is nothing for me to do BUT preach.  I do not have all of the bells and whistles that I always felt made our Easter celebration extra special.

When we moved our worship into this virtual space five weeks ago, I was really committed to 1) heeding the call to social distance in a responsible way, which means not bringing our staff together into the sanctuary to stream worship and 2) keeping it simple, which means using a platform like Facebook live where you just get to see my smiling face talking to you instead of a platform where we can integrate more worship leaders from wherever they are.

With regards to the second point, I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of worship streaming options.  Truth be told, one of the reasons we took the simpler option is because my due date is rapidly approaching and I knew it would make for a smoother transition when it was time for me to go on maternity leave.

That being said, I think right now we do have an opportunity, as Christians, who are often distracted by busy schedules and technology and traditions, to really get back to the core of what it means to be a Christian and to be part of a Church that God is calling to being.

The earliest Christians did not have full sanctuaries with brass, confetti and special children’s sermons.  They had a story – a story about resurrection and about a hope that is not lost.  They worshiped in their homes and broke bread with their families.

And that is what we have today.

I know many of us are mourning the loss of our Easter traditions right now.  It seems like one more thing that this virus has taken from us.

But it has not taken away this story – this story about resurrection and about a hope that is not lost.

So – for better or worse, you get me this morning.  You get a raw, unedited version of me, unable to distract you with confetti and other forms of blessed chaos.  You get a pastor who is mourning the loss of her Easter traditions, right alongside of you.

But you also get a story.  A story that proclaims the hard to imagine truth right now that God is not finished yet.  You get a story that proves the impossible is possible.  You get a story that does not let the hard stuff win.  You get a story that will change your life.

I went back and forth as to whether I should preach the Easter story out of Matthew – which is the Gospel we are in for the lectionary this year – or John this Easter.  Ultimately, however, I chose John, because, in so many ways, I feel like I am resonating with Mary right now.

Because she stands outside the tomb and weeps.

Mary goes to the tomb, but Jesus’ body is not there.  She assumes someone has taken him somewhere and now she does not know where to go to find him – so she begins to weep.

So much has already been taken from Mary – this empty tomb feels like one more thing.

And so she stands outside the tomb and weeps.

Friends, it is okay if we weep on this Easter morning, as well.

I shared with my congregation when we first made the decision to suspend our in-person worship more than a month ago that the realization of the decision I was about to make caused me to weep at my desk in my office.  Since then, however, I think I have been running on adrenaline and fascination with the challenge of what it means to create virtual worship.  It has felt comforting and meaningful and, in so many ways, holy that I did not weep again, but I rejoiced in God’s ability to still draw me close to my church family during this time of distancing.

And then on Thursday night, I set up communion for myself and for my family as I prepared for our Virtual Service of Holy Communion.  And for some reason, I broke down as I carefully put out those simple elements of bread and juice.  I held my chalice and paten in my hand, thinking about the moment I grabbed them from my office a few weeks ago “just in case” I eventually needed them at home, but not actually believing that I would.  I thought about the fact that I would be looking into the screen of my phone as I spoke those beautiful words of institution and not into the eyes of the people that I love so much.

Like Mary at the tomb, it felt like so much had already been taken from me – from us!  And this was just one more thing.

And so I sat at my desk – at home this time – and wept.

It is okay to weep right now, to say, like Mary, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

It is okay to weep right now, to say on this Easter morning, “This virus has taken away so much from me already and I do not know what to do next.”

It is okay to weep right now, to miss the sounds of our church bells ringing, the smell of our sanctuary filled with lilies and tulips and the sight of our flower-filled cross in front of our church building, bolding proclaiming the truth of resurrection.

Friends, we are a resurrection people, but to get to resurrection, we have to first experience the pain and sadness and trauma of death and that is just where we are right now.  And it is okay to weep.  It is okay to weep while we are in the middle of something that is really hard, while still knowing and believing that resurrection is coming.

The beautiful thing that Mary does in this story is that, despite the pain and the sadness and the trauma she is feeling, she shows up anyway.  She shows up at the tomb.  She does not leave with the disciples, who return to their homes after seeing for themselves that the tomb is empty.  She shows up.  She sits with the sorrow of not knowing where Jesus is, of the sadness of feeling like she has lost one more thing, but is also not ready to give up yet.

She is not ready to give up yet.

As a pastor, pressing on and planning for Easter in the middle of what they think is the apex of this pandemic, in our part of the country, at least, feels a little bit like being the violinist on the Titanic who just kept playing while the ship was going down.  Because, even though I knew I could not have the confetti and the brass and a children’s sermon that made a mess, I was still going to show up a proclaim the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.  In the middle of utter chaos and mayhem, I was going to hold onto our battle cry that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.

Because even though I am weeping, I am not ready to give up yet.

I am not ready to give up on this story.  I am not ready to give up on our world.  And I am certainly not ready to give up on the hope of resurrection, even if we are not necessarily experiencing the type of resurrection we want to this morning.

Friends, remember that, on that first Easter, it felt like all hope was lost, but God was not finished yet.  God was doing a new thing.  God was working on something that could not necessarily be seen, but that was real and powerful and lifechanging.

And so we have to believe that the same is true today.

We have to believe that, even though there are moments in all of this where it feels like all hope is lost, that God is not finished yet.  We have to believe God is doing a new thing.  We have to believe that God is working on something that perhaps we cannot see right now, but that is also real and powerful and lifechanging.

This is what it means to be a resurrection people.  To weep, but to show up anyway.  To weep, but to not give up.  To weep, but to still believe that this is not how the story ends.

I said last week that, in so many ways, we were experiencing our own kind of Holy Week this year.

And, unfortunately, we still are – even as we celebrate Easter.

I think, in some ways, we all were hoping and praying for that Easter miracle, where – against all odds and scientific predictions – we flattened the curve and everything went back to normal in the same three days that it took to travel from the cross to the empty tomb.  But we are not quite there yet.

And that is okay.

I mean – it is not okay.  None of this is okay.

But I still believe that resurrection is coming.  We just have to wait a little bit longer.  God has proven before that death does not win and it will not win today.  God has proven before that the God can do the impossible and God will again today.  God has proven before that our world is worth saving and it still is today.

Just like on that first Easter morning, God is doing a new thing, despite the brokenness we feel right now.

And resurrection will happen.

We will be redeemed.  Light will shine.  Like Mary, we, too, will bear witness to the Risen Christ in our midst and stand in awe at the work that God is able to do.  We, too, will run from the tomb and announce to the world, “I have seen the Lord!”

Friends, if we refuse to let death have the final word, I assure you that, at the end of all of this, we will not only be able to proclaim, but also really see and believe that Christ IS risen, he is risen, indeed!

And in the meantime, we display the same faithfulness of Mary and show up at the tomb.  We weep and acknowledge our brokenness, naming what has been taken from us and allowing ourselves to grieve what we have lost and fear the unknown.

But we refuse to give up.  We believe that this is not how the story is going to end.

Friends, we are a resurrection people, even though we are walking through the darkness of a terrifying moment in history.  And so, as a resurrection people we will proclaim, louder than ever this year, that Christ IS risen.

He is risen, indeed!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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