Christ is Risen!
CHRIST IS RISEN, INDEED!
1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
“Easter cannot be cancelled.” NO! I am not referring to the President’s announcement in March that we can stop practicing social distancing, that we can return to work, that we can return to our churches and fill our sanctuaries on April 12 to celebrate Easter because the “economic lost of the cure cannot be worse than the disease.” What I am referring to is that while we may not gather in the same way, Easter will not cease! The resurrection continues!! The weekly Men’s Bible Study has not missed a beat. We have continued to meet via Zoom video conferencing. A couple of weeks ago, the theme of the study was Gratitude. One of our participants, Wayne, shared...”My life is dedicated to service. I’m one of those laid off in the restaurant industry yet realized I’m the lucky one. Many in services are undocumented and have little access to government benefits. I am working with restaurant owners to help them stay alive in these times AND help their most vulnerable workers—many undocumented. Why? Well I have the skills. Yes, but also because I took a life with my drunk driving crime. That cost cannot be unpaid; yet I seek to be of service where I can most help. For now that is the small businesses and their employees. I can’t really articulate how grateful I am to help others. Service is how I can face my guilt, my children and my God.” Easter cannot be cancelled!
I received an email from an art instructor who teaches at Hamlin School, whom I met on the #22 Fillmore bus on our commute to our respective offices. She offered to run errands and to pick up groceries for me if I needed any help. I walked into my office this morning to a bagful of homemade goodies from an Elder—sourdough bread and granola. And I received the sweetest note with a package of onion seeds to plant in our garden from Henry Faison, a 5th grader, wishing Sharon and me well and hoping that we were taking care of ourselves. Easter cannot be cancelled! In response to the shortage of doctors and nurses and caregivers, a physician came out of retirement to provide relief for overwhelmed colleagues. Undocumented healthcare workers are making themselves available to care for the sick and the dying. Easter cannot be cancelled!
Historically and biblically, in a time of crisis, the church runs toward tragedy, not from it. We don’t retreat back in fear; we go forward in faith. On that first Easter morning, two women—Mary Magdalene and the other Mary—at great risk to themselves, went to the grave of a convicted political criminal who had just been crucified. There were guards posted at the tomb and they could have easily reported the identities of any followers or supporters of this one whom they had killed and whose movement they had hoped to crush. The risk of the women is made even more dramatic by the realization that the rest of the disciples were all laying low. The men were hiding, paralyzed by grief and fear. In many of the gospel stories that are familiar to us, women were always there, always present, always faithful—but nearly always in the background and hardly ever mentioned by the men in the stories, and certainly not the ones writing the stories. In that culture, at that time, the word of a woman had no public credibility. Legally, a woman’s testimony was not even admissible in court under Jewish law. But God chose to reveal the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection first to women. They were then told to report the astonishing news of the empty tomb to the men. When I think of the women at the tomb, I think of Mothers of the Movement—mothers of young men and women of color who have died at the hands of law enforcement, while in police custody. We know the names of their children: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and so many more. When I think of the women at the tomb, I think of the tens of thousands of women in Mexico going on a nation-wide strike last March to protest the government’s failure to halt the hate crime killings of women, on average 10 a day. When I think of the women at the tomb, I am thinking of Greta Thunberg, the teen-age environmental activist shaming the world leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference; and standing up to the world’s economists at the World Economic Forum. When I think of the women at the tomb, I am thinking of Malala, the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Peace laureate. When things get rough, when things are at their worst, when everyone else flees or is in hiding, often it is the women who stand up, offering themselves, becoming completely vulnerable as they submit to the risk of death.
At the tomb, the angel’s first words to the two women were, “Don’t you be afraid.” Confronted by danger and threat, of course the women were afraid. Fear simply rises in us when confronted with a threatening moment. Fear is physical; it takes the form of an adrenaline burst, makes the heart race, giving us the energy to flee for survival, if necessary. But what the angel says about fear is, however, not a command. The sense of “Do not be afraid,” is not an emphatic requirement, but a comforting assurance. There is nothing to fear. You need not fear. The calming voice comes from an authority who speaks with power that is beyond this world. With no need for fear, the women are then instructed by the angel to live into their lives with abandon. You see, we, too, are so instructed and reassured. The women were still afraid, of course; just as you and I would be. Courage is not simply throwing caution to the wind, as they say, but action despite danger.
In a recent column, David Brooks recalled Victor Frankl, who writing from the madness of the Holocaust, reminded us that we don’t get to choose our difficulties; but we do have the freedom to select our responses. “Meaning, Frankl argued, comes from three things: the work we offer in times of crisis, the love we give, and our ability to display courage in the face of suffering.” The threat may be subhuman or superhuman, but we all have the option of asserting our own dignity, even to the end. As we all face our current crisis, it demands us to address our problems in ways we weren’t forced to before. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases has become a target of online conspiracy theorists. When asked how he felt about the need for him to be provided enhanced police security because of threats to his life, he responded: “This is the way it is. It is the life I have chosen. My regret is the affect on my family.”
In these times, the church can rise and shine; the church can be creative. Easter is all about life coming out of death. It is about God’s best work being done in the dark when no one knows what is happening. This morning, we are missing all the celebration, the brass instruments, the full choir, the energy in the sanctuary, the lilies. But regardless if we are together in person or not, Easter happens! Easter cannot be cancelled! Easter represents our belief that there is a truth that illness, fear, pandemic, economic distress and even death cannot touch. The truth is God’s incredible love for us.
Tulio, who has been a member of our Men’s Bible Study from the start, shared this: “The COVID-19 crisis has, so far, been an unprecedented struggle for our family. With our two young children, Toby (6) and Lela Rae (4), out of school indefinitely, my wife, Jeanine, and I have had to do our best to care for them while we both also try to maintain our busy work schedules. Complicating matters, my mother, Lupy, who is 70 and has a weak immune system, is self-isolating in the in-law unit of our home. For her protection, she is unable to help us care for the kids or attend to the various everyday tasks she gladly assists us with around the home.
Normally, I’m grateful for all the usual things: home, health, family, job security, but the crisis so far has forced a fresh perspective on how truly blessed we really are. Mom’s seclusion has reminded us of what a huge role she plays in our family…. In a time of massive financial disruption, Jeanine and I are very lucky to not be among the many recently unemployed. Not to mention having the great luxury of being able to work remotely, and not further endanger ourselves with possible exposure….
One (last) thing worth highlighting is that having the kids full-time has, for us, clearly been the most challenging aspect of this ordeal so far. It has, however, come with some unexpected blessings. Along with the frequent bouts of frustration and exhaustion, there have been beautiful moments of togetherness and cohesion. Somewhere between the tantrums, and bottled up energy released at inopportune times, I know I’m getting to know my kids better through all this. Moments when their personality genuinely shines through are rare but priceless opportunities I might have otherwise missed. Similarly, suddenly being officially in charge of their education, while an overwhelming responsibility we are in many ways ill-equipped to take on, has forced us to get out of our comfort zone and see to some challenges we normally happily ‘outsource’ to professionals, and therefore miss out on its rewards.” Easter cannot be cancelled!
Christ is Risen!
CHRIST IS RISEN, INDEED!