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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Easter Hope

Happy Easter!  I have so much to say about our Easter service, but for the time being, I will leave you with my Easter sermon.  It was short and sweet, but that’s the way I like Easter sermons – after all, the story speaks for itself!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 21, 2019

John 20:1-18

Easter Hope

A few weeks ago, my in-laws were here and they gave Harrison a tomato plant.  We watered it a few times and then transplanted it into a bigger pot.  I excitedly explained to my sweet toddler as we cared for this little plant that eventually we were going to put it in our vegetable garden outside and that it was going to get bigger and grow tomatoes that we were going to eat.

About a week later, I was at church getting ready for worship when I got a text from Bruce that simply read, “I hate her.”

A few seconds later a picture came through; a picture of our sweet toddler’s little tomato plant – or, at least, what was left of it after the cat ate it the night before.

So we took a deep breath and decided not to give up on the plant.  We moved it to a different location – one that we thought (foreshadowing!) the cat would not be able to get to and made sure it had plenty of water and sun.  Much to our delight, new growth emerged.

And then a week later, the cat found it again.

But since we are gluttons for gardening punishment, we decided, again, not to give up on this plant; and, again, with some nurturing and some patience and some time, new growth has emerged.

I was all set to use this story as my big illustration for an Easter sermon on resurrection and hope and then on Monday I saw the notification on my phone that the Cathedral at Notre Dame was on fire. And then I watched, probably with millions of people around the world, as that fire engulfed the iconic cathedral.

At the time, my silly story of a tomato plant seemed so insignificant and trivial.  I wasn’t really sure it would really be appropriate to joke about it once I watched the spire of that 800-year-old building collapse in the fire.

I kept thinking that, as a pastor, I am trained to respond with this narrative of the Bodyof Christ and not the Buildingof Christ.  We, as Christians, know that the Church is not defined by a physical structure, but by the people who have enthusiastically responded to the call to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But it was hard not to be devastated as I watched that building burn.

I immediately started thinking about a different message to share on Easter morning, a message of hope; a reminder, perhaps, that the story is not over yet, that God does really great work in the midst of devastation and loss and ash.

And then photos started to emerge from the interior of the cathedral.  And those photos boldly spoke that message of hope in a way that words would never be able to.  Photos of ancient relics still in tact – the cross, the altar, the stained glass windows, the bell towers, the crown of thorns believed to be worn by Jesus, himself.

Just like the tiny little leaves that have emerged on Harrison’s chewed-down tomato plant, those photos were real and powerful reminders that resurrection is always possible; that even when it seems as though hope is lost, God is not finished.

God is not finished with the little and seemingly insignificant and trivial things and God is not finished with the big things, either.

The Easter story is a story of hope.  It tells us that there are no lost causes, that God’s power in this world is greater than everything, even death, itself.  The Easter story reminds us that God never abandons us during out times of great need; that in fact, that God does the most incredibly-inspiring and grace-filled work in those moments.  It shows us that it is in our moments of grief and sorrow and confusion that angels are in our midst and that Christ will appear to us – in some way – and call us by name.  It teaches us that the tomb was empty because God saw the brokenness of our humanity and said, this story is not over yet.

We live in world that desperately needs to hear this message of hope proclaimed.  We live in a world where people are hurting, where they are experiencing loss and heartache and stress and pain.  We live in a world where people weep, like Mary Magdalene, because it seems as though their world is crumbling.  We live in a world where people feel the depths of their brokenness.

And it is in this world that people need to know that second chances are always possible, that in the darkest moments of their lives, God’s light will shine.

And so today we tell this story of hope to a world that is broken.  We tell this story of our God whose love is so powerful that it triumphed over death, itself.  We tell this story of a man named Jesus whose Gospel we now live out in our own lives today. We tell this story of how resurrection once turned the world upside down and how it still can, today.  We tell this story of how redemption can be found in the smallest leaves on a tomato plant or in priceless relics discovered in the ash of a fire.  We tell this story of how there are no lost causes and how hope is real, hope is powerful and hope is alive in our lives today.

Happy Easter, friends!  May you feel the hope of God’s resurrecting love as you remember this story.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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You’ve Heard The Story. Keep Writing It.

Hi friends!  Happy Easter!  I hope you all have a wonderful and joyous resurrection celebration.  We were busy and blessed at the church.  There was a lot going on, but I felt like we had something for everyone on different walks of life.

Here is my sermon – short and sweet!  This story speaks for itself.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 1, 2018

Mark 16:1-8

You’ve Heard The Story. Keep Writing It.

My uncle went to mass on Easter one year and the priest got up for his homily, paused and said, “You’ve heard the story. Think about it.”

And then he sat down.

Every year on Easter morning, I am tempted to do the same thing. After all, this story kind of speaks for itself. The tomb was empty! Death did not win! God’s love was victorious over the grave. It is because of this story that we gather in the first place; that we believe in the mystery, but also the grace of resurrection.

This story is, perhaps, one of the greatest ever told.

And yet, the account of the Jesus’ resurrection that we 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.[1]

That’s it.

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. Jesus did not ascend into heaven. This narrative ends with three women fleeing the empty tomb, terrified.

In a way, this story seems unfinished.

Eventually – in the late second century – a longer ending was added to the Gospel of Mark. It is more conclusive; in line with the resurrection narratives of the other three Gospels, the longer ending wraps up the story in a neater bow. Rather than the women fleeing the tomb in fear and not telling anyone what happened, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and the disciples and then ascends to heaven.[2]

I think, more often than not, most of us prefer to have the story end this way (which is probably why the longer ending was added in the first place). There is closure; there are not as many unanswered questions.

Which begs the question: What if this ending was never added? What if this story – the story we just heard read this morning, abrupt ending and all – was our only account of Jesus’ resurrection? Would the Easter story feel unfinished? Would the Christian story feel unfinished?

But here’s the thing: The Christian story is unfinished. And I do not say this in a bad way, either. I say this in a God-sized, grace-filled, possibilities-are-endless kind of way.

The Christian story is still being written because we are still writing this story – in the lives we are living, in the stories we are telling. The Christian story did not end with Jesus’ death; it began with his resurrection, when people experienced the Risen Christ.

And friends, that is very much still happening today. Like the women who went to the tomb and saw that the stone had already been rolled away, we, too, experience the Risen Christ in our own lives. Sometimes we experience the Risen Christ is big ways; in those life-changing, conversion-like experiences. But very often we experience the Risen Christ in the ordinary moments of our lives; when we show compassion, kindness and love; when we feel the strength of the faith of a church community, just like this one, living out Christ’s call to serve; when we gather around a table with our family and friends and break bread together.

Perhaps the ending to this resurrection narrative was so abrupt because it was never meant to be the ending; the story was supposed to continue, not only in the lives of Jesus’ disciples and the earliest Christians, but also in our lives, today. We are supposed to be writing this Christian story as we live our lives today.

Friends, if you take one thing out of this service, let it be this: You are still writing this story. The life you lead, the choices you make, the Good News you proclaim – all of this continues the narrative God started the moment the women approached that tomb and found the stone had already been rolled away, the moment they realized the prophecy had been fulfilled, the moment the bold and radical truth was proclaimed that God could do the impossible and that love would win over and over and over again.

The narrative is not anticlimactic. It just wasn’t finished.

It still isn’t

So … You’ve heard the story. Keep writing it.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Mark 16:8, NRSV
[2] Mark 16:9-20 {The Longer Ending Of Mark}

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