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.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
April 12, 2020
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.
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!