My sister, Jane Redwine Bartlett, is a retired psychology assistant professor and a working lay minister. She gave the following Easter message electronically. As she received some Good personal News the following week she may see that as a reward. It is a nice thought.
“Good Morning! We gather in worship on this strangest of Easter Sundays—almost as strange as that first Easter 2000 years ago. When in your life have you ever given up so much for Lent? Forget giving up chocolate or starches or alcohol. Forget, “Don’t give something up; get out and do something good for others.” This year Lent has called for big time sacrifice.
We have given up freedom of movement, freedom of choice, jobs we love, family time around Easter ham, Mom’s brownies and colored eggs. We also mostly gave up Shrove Tuesday Pancake Breakfasts, Maundy Thursday’s fellowship meals and Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross.
Some have given up income. Students have given up school and the important social interaction with friends, settling for parents REALLY as teachers—with results sometimes good; sometimes not so good. Many Moms and Dads have jobs or are trying to work from home. Teaching six different subjects to three different kids at three different grade levels while stirring the fried potatoes just isn’t fun.
As writer David Brooks says, we humans are social animals. We have always been stronger and served our God better when we reach out to others. Now we are cautioned against reaching out. Touch has always healed yet now touch can carry a death sentence. Because kids aren’t in school, child abuse reports have dwindled—school is about more than education; school is often the only ‘safe’ place for hungry, abused and neglected children.
Most worrisome for many of us is the giving up of our sense of safety and security—the, silent, unseen Covid 19 virus may be insidiously waiting just around the next corner or next aisle, not only for us but more importantly for one or more of our loved ones or friends. We may still have a job but are waiting for another round of layoffs. Almost 20 million unemployed boggles our minds as do the miles and miles of bread lines.
When shopping for groceries or taking a walk in the park turns in to a possible contamination of self or others, our world is rocked. Few of us have ever experienced such restrictions, and most of us have not experienced such pernicious fear or anxiety. When all has passed, what will our nation and our world resemble? Will we recognize those things we hold dear or will they have been forever changed? How about each of us? How are we being changed by this pandemic?
Today’s scripture finds Jesus’ disciples in a very similar situation. Their leader has been crucified, killed, buried. Roman and Jewish authorities are attempting to herd and capture them. They are frightened, hiding and fearing what will come next.
Hear the words from John 20: 1-18. As you listen, put yourself in the place of each character—Jesus, the Angels, Peter, John, Mary. How do you think each was feeling? Just as everyone around us now is reacting differently to what is going on, Mary, Peter, John and the others each react differently to Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and the empty tomb. Some with awe; some with fear; some with disbelief, some with action.
As observant Jews, the disciples and faithful followers of Jesus had to leave his body unattended until the next day or bury him quickly. Two of the Sanhedrin took charge—both wealthy enough to receive favors from their fellow Sanhedrin and from Pilate, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. I wonder if they were present for Jesus’ trial and chose not to speak? What gave them courage now, these secret followers, to claim the body of this homeless, itinerant carpenter?
Peter fearfully and shamefully denied he was a follower of Jesus’, yet he almost beats John to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday morning and as the story plays out is still seen as a leader. Mary, grieving deeply over this man who accepted her with all her wrongdoing, came to anoint Jesus’ body, but finds him missing. Mary rushes to tell Peter and John then returns to linger and mourn her loss. John, the disciple who the Bible tells us,” Jesus loved”, raced Peter to the tomb– John’s ability to beat Peter at this race might have something to do with John’s youth. But apparently John didn’t have the nerve to enter the tomb, leaving that to Peter. When they saw the grave cloths were not disturbed but folded neatly, they were amazed.
Fear that the Roman or Jewish leaders had stolen Jesus’ body coupled with fear of what was going to happen in this new world environment had to be as disturbing as our fears of what our new world environment offers. As Christians we celebrate Easter as a day of Life Breaking Death—we rejoice over the renewal and rejuvenation of all things that have been lost. What a relevant celebration for this scary time.
Just as Mary didn’t recognize Jesus until he called her name, we too have difficulty seeing God and Jesus in the midst of this pandemic—particularly since we not only have to winnow out what is true and right and good, but because we must discard so much misinformation and despair. As Mr. Roger’s said when asked what you tell children to do in times of disaster or despair, “You look for the helpers. Keep your eye on the helpers.”
Excellent advice for all ages. I would say to you that God is in our midst, despite our inability to see God’s continual creating. In moments of doubt and confusion, darkness and struggle, fear and anxiety, it is normal for even faithful Christians to fail to see God, to find his loving goodness in the midst of despair.
If we remember our mandate to “Love One Another as Jesus Loved,” we can see sparks of hope, in the dainty pink tulips I discovered on my front porch, in the effort of my eldest brother who called to play, “The Holy City” on his saxophone for his siblings on National Sibling Day, in caring neighbors who bring soup and cinnamon rolls, in parents and teachers working together; in research scientists searching for a cure, in medical personnel who continue to treat Covid 19 patients even at risk of their health, in the RV’s for MD’s program New Song is investigating—we have the land and facilities; hopefully we can provide a service.
The fear and pain are huge right now. The message of Easter is that we are called to act in large and small ways to mitigate that pain wherever we can, including not encouraging others to gather—even in small groups.
The church has never been about the building but about our individual relationship with God and with one another. We will continue to Seek God, Create Community and Serve Humanity—that’s who we are.
The message of the empty cross and the empty tomb is that Jesus lives. As long as he lives within our hearts, as long as we continue to step up and serve others, being safe and cautious as we push through our fears, being faithful to our calling to love as Jesus loved, Easter may be celebrated differently; Easter might feel strange; but we each can come out of this quarantined, physically distanced world more connected, more loving, more kind and assured that God is alive, God is in our midst. He has risen; he has risen indeed.”