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.

We’ll Figure It Out Later

Hi Friends!  Happy Palm Sunday!  We had such a wonderful weekend at church.  We had a drive-thru palm distribution on Saturday morning and then people who had ordered soup for our Drive-Thru Soup Supper came to the church in the afternoon to pick up their soup and we gave them palms, as well.  The weather was perfect and it was just nice to be outside be together and feel a little piece of normal again.

Here is my Palm Sunday sermon, as well as the video from this morning’s sermon.  One of the cool parts about how we do worship is that I am following the comments on Facebook throughout the service.  It was SO cool to see the shouts of “Hosanna!” pop up in the comments from all over the country.

Peace be with you, friends.  Let’s journey to the cross together.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
Sunday, March 28, 2021

Mark 11:1-11

We’ll Figure It Out Later

I was talking to a friend of mine from seminary this week about preaching on Palm Sunday and I shared with her that I was having a hard time getting motivated to write my sermon.  As she and I reflected on this, I realized that, in some ways, I am just not ready to talk about Palm Sunday this year because I am still very much stuck in Good Friday from last year.

Last year during Holy Week, we were, essentially, locked down.  I streamed all of our services from my house, we made the very difficult decision not to hand out palms or have any kind of in-person gathering over the Easter weekend and we all, kind of, braced ourselves for the surge we knew was coming.

On a personal level, I was pregnant; I was a week away from giving birth and both trying desperately to stay calm for the sake of my baby, my family and my church, but also to hold onto hope that light eventually would break through the darkness we were facing.

The hope that I had proclaimed from this pulpit for ten years.

The hope that I believed in.

The hope that was being tested for all of us.

I remember reading a lot of conversations in my clergy circles about Easter, itself.  There was a little bit of a movement started to actually postpone Easter.  I realize how ridiculous that sounds now, but remember, at the time, this was supposed to be over in two weeks.  The theory was that a switch would flip and we would emerge out of this darkness proclaiming the Good News of resurrection.

One year later, while things are certainly improving, that switch has not flipped.  In some ways, it feels as though we are still stuck in Good Friday, desperately awaiting resurrection.

For the record, I was team Easter last year; I thought it would be a true testament to our faith to sing of the Good News of resurrection with hope, even though that hope was really difficult to see.  This was, after all, why we do the hard work of strengthening our faith when things are good – so that we have that strong foundation when things are not easy.

What I did not realize, however – what we all have slowly been coming to grips with over the past year – is that there never would be a clear-cut end to the pandemic, that we were going to have to slowly enter and figure out a “new normal”.  The switch that we were all assuming – hoping – would flip was and is more of a dimmer slide that slowly moves up and down.

And so it feels weird to be going into Holy Week again this year, because, in some ways, it feels like we never really got out of it last year.  And yet, there is hope, right?  We are in a better place than we were a year ago.

This past week, my Facebook memories showed me that, one year ago, Deb Woodard had just delivered the first round of our Peace Be With You yard signs.  Those signs were meant to be a symbol of hope, a visual sign of encouragement to people as they passed by.

The really cool part about those signs is that we put them in our yards and declared this message of peace and love at a time when people really needed it.  And that was wonderful!  But, looking back, I am not sure we completely understood just what that meant at the time.  I think that, even more than simply putting out signs and declaring this massage, we then spent this last year really living into it and learning what it meant.

We never stopped doing church; we never closed.  No, we could not do church the way we were used to doing it (or, quite frankly, the way we wanted to do it), but we found a way to make it work.  Our Missions Committee hosted drives, prepared meals and made monetary donations to local individuals and organizations.  Our sewers shifted from making items to sell at the bazaar to making PPE to donate to local hospitals.  Our musicians figured out how to use recording equipment and software so they could still sing together.  Our Church School was able to remain in session, using pre-recorded videos, craft kits, live Google meets and care packages dropped off at their houses.  Our Deacons hosted a prayer service online every single night.  People sent cards and gifts to one another.  We adapted and found ways to host some of our favorite worship services and events.  The Deacons and I served communion, rain or shine (but not during the blizzard, which I think everyone understood).

My point is this – not really knowing what it meant at the time, in March of 2020, we declared this message of peace and love and then we figured out what it meant.

In some ways we are still figuring it out.

As strange as this sound, I think this is kind of what the Palm Sunday story is all about.  People created this triumphal entry for Jesus into Jerusalem; a parade along a path lined with cloaks and palms.  They shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” probably not actually knowing fully what that meant at the time.  They boldly proclaimed this cry of praise and adoration, not completely grasping what was going to happen when they arrived in Jerusalem.

But they lived into it.  As the story continued to unfold, they learned what it meant to say those words.  They continued on this journey.  The experienced the crucifixion, not knowing that resurrection was coming.  Like we all did one year ago, they put their faith in something that they could not necessarily see or understand.  They shouted Hosanna without a clear understanding of what that was going to mean moving forward and yet those shouts were bold and confident.

As Christians, part of our call is to do this, as well.

To shout, “Hosanna!” on the way to Jerusalem, even if we do not know what is going to happen when we arrive.

To be harbingers of the light, even when the darkness feels blinding.

To share a message of peace and love, even if we are only just beginning to figure out what it means to live into it.

This year has taught me many things.  But one of the lessons I have learned is that you do not have to understand something to believe in it – or have all of the details worked out before you step out on a journey.

Our faith, after all, is a journey; and not one where we arrive at our destination, with life and faith completely figured out and then just coast, but one where we are constantly learning, constantly growing, constantly challenging ourselves to understand the world differently.

And so, as we wave our palms this year (and you have them to wave this year because we were able to hand them out, praise be to God!), I do not have a clear vision of what is next.  I know that we are starting to move that dimmer switch up, but I do now know how quickly that will happen or what that is even going to mean.

But I do have confidence that we are going to figure it out along the way.  Because we always do.  In so many ways, we proved that last year.

So may we, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our Lord!” even if we do not know, exactly, what that means.  Let us boldly declare this cry of praise and adoration, even if we do not, exactly, know how things are going to play out next.  Let us continue on this journey, learning, growing and challenging ourselves.  Let us, with faith and conviction, proclaim the Good News of hope in resurrection and peace to all.

We will figure out what it means later.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.