Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
This is the ancient greeting we use on Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. This Easter is unlike others in recent years due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. We wonder how we should celebrate Easter during this time. We wonder if we should celebrate at all, if it is appropriate.
There is no doubt that this is a challenging time. However, we remain committed to the cause of Christ, the clarion call of the gospel to share the grace that we have so freely received with all people.
Below are two videos, one which has a children’s time and the other has all the familiar aspects of our worship time together.
At dawn, when we look to the west and see darkness, but turning east we witness the brilliance of the sun rising.
At dawn, when many of us still slumber, but shifts are changing at the hospitals.
At dawn, the two Mary’s travel to the tomb.
When they arrive, they will witness a violent earthquake and watch as the stone is rolled back by an angel. The guards will faint, and the angel will say, “Do not be afraid, he is not here; he has risen.” We will hear those words, ‘Do not be afraid’ twice in this passage. Once from the angel and once from Jesus himself.
Do not be afraid.
What do those words mean to us today? Do not be afraid, what meaning do those words hold in a Covid-19 world, where fear of catching the virus, fear of more deaths fuels every decision we are making as a society. Right now as individuals, as a society we have all become far too accustomed with death and its finality.
It has coloured all the aspects of our lives. As a church family that is never more evident, today is one of our most important celebrations in the year. It is Easter Sunday and we are unable to gather together. Our sanctuary sits empty, no trumpets are playing, the choir has no anthem to sing. We are unable to share the greeting:
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
It is hard to feel celebratory about Easter today. It is hard to be infused by the hope that this season represents. Death is everywhere as we weather the storm of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The numbers that are reported daily are lives which have ended. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends who have had their lives cut short by this terrible virus.
Scott Hoezee from the Center for Excellence in Preaching puts it this way:
“Listen: Easter does not happen in a bright, airy, and decked-out-in-white church sanctuary. And a good thing too this year because we cannot celebrate it that way.
Listen: Easter doesn’t happen around the dinner table when we have our family around us and mounds of delicious food to tuck into. And since larger gatherings of even our closest family members may not be wise to do this year, either . . .
Listen: Easter happens in the E.R. when the doctor comes out to the waiting area and shakes his head. We couldn’t save him.
Easter happens at the funeral home when that first glimpse of dad in the coffin hits you like a cinder block to the solar plexus. You can’t breathe.
Easter happens in the crack house where men and women watch each other slowly kill themselves with drugs, where life has become a living death.
Easter happens on the nursing floor where once strong-bodied men and women watch their peers disappear one by one and where these wheelchair-bound precious people know that all of life has now come down to this long waiting for death.
Easter happens where death is, because that is the only place it is needed.” (Scott Hoezee)
Easter follows death and that is a sobering thought, but it is also the reality. A truth that perhaps we have been able to ignore as we have been busy celebrating the symbol of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, but we haven’t thoroughly discussed where it is needed.
We are accustomed to a few days of darkness following Good Friday. Though if we are honest those days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday don’t look much different than any other day. But today, on Easter Sunday we are still feeling the darkness of Good Friday. We are acknowledging that walking through the valley of the shadow of death is often a longer, more arduous journey than we realized.
Yet, anyone who has suffered through an illness, borne the grief of watching a loved one die knows that the hint of darkness is always there. Days, week, months, years, decades later we still confront and acknowledge the loss that occurred.
Easter is a time of hope, yes. However, it is also a time of healing, a time of waiting. We are all feeling helpless and we want to do more. Watching first responders, health workers and essential workers, rise up and put their health on the line. We too want to do our part. And we are, except doing our part now means staying home and practicing social distancing.
Covid-19 is keeping us in our homes, isolating ourselves. Perhaps we see ourselves as the disciples in those days between Good Friday and Easter, we are hiding. But when this present time has passed, and it will pass, there will be opportunity to step out of the tomb and to act. To hear the words of the angel and Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” There will come a time where the church building will be bustling with activity again, hosting us for worship and allowing community groups to provide a wide variety of outreach. A time for us to greet one another, to embrace and share a simple meal of bread and wine. A time to perform the work of healing that all of us will need to receive.
As you sit and wait, trust in the promise that was delivered at dawn so long ago. Do not be afraid. The time will come when our family, friends and society will need a strong dose of grace, love and mercy.
Matthew’s gospel begins in fear and darkness. A man who is afraid to marry his wife because she has become pregnant. It will take a message from the angels to soothe that fear. A tyrant of a king will kill every child under the age of two in order to enshrine his power. Matthew’s gospel starts in a place of fear. However, it comes towards the end with the words “Don’t be afraid.” A message of hope and trust.
I am reminded again of the words I read earlier from Brian McLaren, “Jesus now reigns for us as the non-violent king, the servant-king, the king of love. He has already ascended and has already been enthroned, which is to say that we don’t need to wait for some future day to start living his way. We can, we must, begin the insurrection of resurrection now.” (McLaren, Brian D. Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. Jericho Books, 2012, p. 175).
Do not be afraid, is the message.
Go and tell, is the message.
People will see me, is the message.
We wait for the dawn which will represent the end to this current time, but we live as Easter people full of hope, trusting in the promises of God knowing that now, as always, there is work to be done. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.