Friends, Easter has come! Now, I don’t know about you, but this is an Easter unlike any I’ve ever known. I will admit that it feels strange – to pray together through technology, to sit here in my dining room and preach into a computer screen. It seems strange to celebrate life when the news headlines are full of death. On this Easter Sunday morning, nothing is as it’s supposed to be, and seems, perhaps, irresponsible – maybe even a little dangerous – to preach resurrection when death seems to be working overtime across the globe. As of the writing of this sermon, there have been over half a million people infected with the coronavirus; nearly 110,000 people have died, over 20,000 here in the U.S. alone. And the outlook offered by various models constructed to predict the outcome all lead to a rather grim vision of the future.
In so many ways, our lives seem to be governed by uncertainty and fear. Nothing is as it’s supposed to be. Certainly not this Easter Sunday morning when all the pomp and circumstance that traditionally marks the festivity of this day is missing.
And yet, as our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, reminds us – that first Easter morning didn’t look like anything we know and love about this day of celebration.
Jesus’ first followers also experienced fear and uncertainty. They had watched as their beloved teacher was arrested; many of them scattered and hid, lest they should come to the same fate. Some followed Jesus at a distance, watched, bewildered, as he was tried and condemned. A few followed as he took step after painful step to the hill where Roman soldiers nailed him to a cross. Nothing was as it was supposed to be. The One who was supposed to be the Son of God was dead – his lifeless body taken from the cross and laid in a tomb. The power of death had overcome the power of love embodied in Jesus Christ.
Early in the morning on that first Easter day, Mary and Mary made their way to the tomb. As they approached, the ground shook as an angel broke open the sealed tomb. The stone was rolled away – not to let Jesus out, but to invite Mary and Mary in so that they might see and bear witness to the emptiness of the grave. Jesus, the one who had been crucified and whose body had been placed in it several days before was not there! No, nothing was as it was supposed to be.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel tells them. “He has been raised just as he said.” Mary and Mary are commanded to reject the controlling power of fear. A fear born out of upended expectations, a fear that took root when all sense of “what was supposed to be” was shattered by a reality no one could have imagined.
In the angel’s command to not be afraid was a divine assurance: when the disciples felt as if nothing was as it was supposed to be, God was neither absent nor idle. Their fear and uncertainty need not govern their lives, for the one they sought in the tomb had in fact overcome death. Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, continues to be with and among us. Mary and Mary turn and run to tell the others and, on their way, Jesus meets them. They fall at his feet and again they hear the words, “Do not be afraid.” He commissions them – “Go and tell the others…” Tell them that Christ is risen; tell them they need not be afraid; tell them that God is still with them, that God has neither been absent or idle. Fear will not be their masters.
Today, on this Easter Sunday, we are given the same command – Do not be afraid! In our present circumstances, the world is shrouded in fear. And like Mary and Mary we are being called to by the One who overcame death. We are being told to Go and tell the others. The hope of resurrection mingles with our own fear. And just as in the hearts of Mary and Mary, the joy of Easter blossoms in our own hearts because we too have been raised with Christ. We too have been given new life because we share in the resurrection of Jesus. This is a new life that not even death has the power to diminish or snuff out. And so, like Mary and Mary we make our proclamation
– Alleluia, Alleluia, Christ has risen