Easter Beyond Expectation
“Do not be afraid,” the angel says, “I know that you are looking for Jesus – but he is not here.” (Matthew 28:1-10) The gospel/sermon begins at 7:14 in the video below.
Last year on Easter Sunday – the headline of the Baltimore Sun proclaimed “Superbowl Sunday for churches.” The smiling photo of a colleague graced the cover and she along with other priests and pastors interviewed basically agreed - that yes, Easter Sunday is our version of Superbowl Sunday each spring.
Because we know that no matter our typical size, we will be preaching to what will probably be the biggest crowd we’re gonna see on a Sunday morning all year.
And we get nervous – and we get excited – because we get to proclaim the good news of God’s love and eternal promise in a sanctuary filled with the beloved children of God – who along with us – want a celebration of joy, thanksgiving and praise.
We expect our Alleluias to resound in prayer and song – with choir – organ, timpani, and trumpets.
We expect altars adorned with the beauty of God’s creation – draped with lilies and bouquets – reflecting the people who have gathered all adorned in our Sunday best.
With children in tow expected to shine in Easter dresses and bows, suits and ties – waiting for the worship to be done – so they can run outside where they expect to find those Easter eggs and get even more candy than what they got in their baskets first thing in the morning.
We expect to gather with family and friends – out of tradition, or obligation, or maybe both –to cook and feast at home or out – to enjoy a delicious and elaborate meal.
And church and food and our traditions done – another Easter over – we call it tonight – expecting to get up on Monday morning to go to work.
We may have our expectations. We may have our traditions. And it is hard and it is painful – it is confusing – it is distressing – when our expectations, our traditions, our rituals are neither what we want nor what we expect.
But Easter did not and does not happen because of our expectations.
Easter always begins in the dark.
Easter comes through a sliver of light that pierces our darkness.
Easter is the moment when we feel – or see – or just trust – in hope.
For Easter is the eternal work and promise of God and God alone. A promise of new life and new beginnings. A promise first made when a few bereft, poor and courageous woman made their way to a tomb in the early light of dawn – and did not find anything as they expected.
But they listened and heeded the message of the angel – do not be afraid. So they ran to that upper room – where a few more bereft, poor and anxious disciples hid for fear of their lives – and they shared a message of hope – He is Risen – Christ is alive – the promise of God is real.
The truth this Easter morning is that you and I have never been as close to the first Easter morning as we are right now! When there was an empty tomb – like the empty churches we find around the world.
And to name what is painful and hard and terrifying in our world right now – is to align our hearts will with the Easter reality of those first disciples – who walked by faith and not by sight.
On this Easter more than any other – hear the words of Jesus – the same words shared when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – Do not be afraid!
Easter is not our creation. Easter is the promise of God. The promise of eternal love and eternal light. The promise of Emmanuel – God with us.
Have you watched the videos of people gathering on their balconies in the early evening light in those cities, like New York? They gather on their balconies with pots and pans and clapping hands – and anything else that can make a joyful noise around 7pm or whenever there is a shift change – whopping and hollering giving thanks and praise. For the courageous healthcare workers – weary and worn – doing the work that has been given them to do.
That is Easter – those are shouts of Alleluia.
Have you watched people share – or read the articles where people name what their grateful for in the midst of this hardship? Yes, it's hard working at home – with kids underfoot – and school to still teach – and no playgrounds to go to – but we’ve had dinner together every day this week. And it’s been good – in a way I never imagined I would treasure.
Have you leaned into your faith – in a way you never have before? Finding solace and comfort in words of ancient days – resonating in your heart – because now you know what it is to call on God from the depths of your soul in a way you never have before?
In my world this past week – a parent of our Day School sent a video of their children watching the Children’s Chapel video I made. In Children’s Chapel we make a prayer box – with our hands – we say our prayers, what we’re thankful for and then lift our prayers and shout Amen!
And watching just two beautiful children say their prayers – and shout Amen – that was Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Because that is hope – that is gratitude for the promise Jesus shared the night before he died – I have said these things to you so that no matter what happens – my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.(Jn 15:11)
The promise of God was given freely and abundantly – and it came through sacrifice and death. That is the good news and hard truth of our faith.
God doesn’t promise to meet our expectations. God doesn’t promise packed churches and glorious celebrations.
God doesn’t promise ever growing empires and economies and never-failing institutions. God doesn’t promise perfect health or for our lives to unfold according to our carefully laid out plans – no matter how worthy our intentions and pursuits may be.**
God promises Easter. That out of death there will be new life.
God promises Emmanuel. That in our sorrow and in our joy – in our fear and in our doubt – we can find something to be grateful for – to connect to the joy within us for God is there.
God promises in our grief that life is everlasting – that our lives are changed, not ended when our journey here is done.
God is Love – and nothing – neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is the promise! (Rom 8:38ff)
And we sum up our reply and commitment with the words - Alleluia – Alleluia – Alleluia!
So on this Easter – and during the Great 50 days of Easter that are to come – practice Alleluia! See it in your homes – See it in creation – See it in the blessings so many of us have been given.
God is with us – so pray for the strength and the courage to meet the days ahead – as the poor bear the brunt of this pandemic – in our country and around the world – physically and economically. Will we have the courage to practice resurrection– to be the hands and feet of Christ reaching out to heal and restore communities?
Will we have the courage to come together for the common good? Insisting that our leaders – the ones with a seat at the table of power – pass policies to ensure the protection of those who have no voice at all – because now we see how interconnected we all are? And that our divisions do nothing to heal us.
This Easter as the creation God spoke into being is able to heal and breathe – because half the world has ceased producing what we expect for our consumption – can we renew our promise to be good stewards of creation?
On this Easter – may we see – may we trust the promise of God with us.
May we be as courageous as those first disciples – who despite their grief and fear – trusting with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength – to not be afraid – and to proclaim the good news in word and deed – that Christ is alive!
God is with you. God is with us – right here – right now. Alleluia. For Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen indeed.
**With gratitude for "what God has promised" by David Lose