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A Strange Sunday (Sermon for April 12, 2020)

This is a strange Easter.

On any normal Easter Sunday, we would be packed together in our church buildings. We would hug and shake hands and pass the peace. We would shout, “He is risen!” in chorus. The scent of flowers in the chancel would fill our noses. The alleluias of Christ the Lord is Risen Today would fill our sanctuaries.

But this is not a normal Easter Sunday. It is not the Easter Sunday that we were expecting. It isn’t the Easter Sunday that we wanted. It is a strange Easter Sunday.

We are separated and scattered, gathered in living rooms and around kitchen tables, using Zoom and Facebook Live to get some semblance of being together. We are keeping our distance and struggling to avoid touching our faces. We are learning to live with new ways of being the church. It is a strange Easter.

But, maybe, not that strange.

Just a week ago, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem. A joyful crowd waved palm branches and threw their coats on the road and shouted, “Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

And that crowd and the disciples expected that Jesus would kick the Romans out of Israel, and restore the throne of David, and usher in the kingdom of God.

And then Jesus started causing trouble.

Just a few days later, just a few days ago, Jesus shared a Passover meal with his disciples. They broke bread and drank wine. They sang the hymn and they prayed, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, sovereign of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.”

And one of his disciples betrayed him… and the authorities arrested him.

The crowd that was blessing him just a few days earlier turned on him and called for his crucifixion. He was tried… and mocked… and hung on a cross to die. And after he breathed his last, a man from Arimathea took his body down… and wrapped him in a linen cloth… and laid him in a tomb.

And now it is the Sunday after the cross. And it is not the Sunday that the disciples were expecting. It is not the Sunday that they wanted. Jesus did not kick the Romans out of Israel, and restore the throne of David, and usher in the kingdom of God. He is dead and in a tomb. And the disciples are scattered and afraid.

And while the men are wondering what to do, the women are doing what women have been doing for millennia. The women are getting on with things.

There is a body that needs anointing. Yes, it is the body of their friend and teacher. Yes, their eyes are full of tears and their hearts are broken. But there is a body that need anointing. There is work to be done.

So Mary and Mary and Salome go to the tomb.

Every Easter Sunday starts here. Normal Easter Sundays—when we gather in sanctuaries and raise the joyful strain—start here. Strange Easter Sundays start here. Every Easter Sunday starts here… in the early morning… with the hope of the world dead and buried, and some women on their way to the tomb to do the last things… before they try to go back and reassemble their lives.

And this is not the Sunday that these women were expecting. This is not the Sunday that they want. This is just the Sunday that they have.

So they go to the tomb with their tearful eyes and broken hearts, because there is work to be done. And it is a strange Sunday.

And I understand if you feel the same way. This is not a normal Easter Sunday. It is not the Easter Sunday that we were expecting. It is not the Easter Sunday that we wanted. It is not the one that I was planning at the beginning of Lent or the one I was thinking about when we were first told not to gather in groups.

It is a strange Easter Sunday.

But…

When the women show up at the tomb, the stone is rolled away and the entrance is open. And Jesus’s body isn’t there. And there’s just this guy, who tells them, “Don’t be afraid! You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He’s not here. See, there’s the spot where he was laying and he’s not there. He has been raised! But he told me to tell you to tell Peter and the guys that he’s going to Galilee and he will see them there.”

And the women are frightened. The women are terrified. And they run away… and they say nothing. They don’t say anything to anyone.

Because this is also not the Sunday that these women were expecting. This is also not the Sunday that they want.

Their world was turned upside-down by the cross. And now it has been turned upside-down, again, by an empty tomb. But a world that’s been turned upside-down twice isn’t right-side-up. And their world hasn’t gone back to the way it was before.

And this is the Sunday that they have. This is the world that they have. And it is new and different and scary.

And I understand if you feel the same way.

The Easter Sunday that I had planned has a full church building. We would hug and shake hands and pass the peace. We would shout, “He is risen!” in chorus. The scent of flowers in the chancel would fill our noses. The alleluias of Christ the Lord is Risen Today would fill our sanctuaries.

This is not the Easter Sunday that I was expecting. This isn’t the Easter Sunday that I wanted. But here I am on the Easter Sunday that I have… and it is full of grace. I am here with my wife, and my congregation, and her congregation. I am raising the alleluia and sharing communion.

I. Am. In. Church.

If I went to the church building today, it would be empty. Because it turns out that Christ is not somewhere in the sanctuary, or in the classrooms, or in fellowship hall. Christ is out in the world. Christ is on the internet. Christ is in Zoom meetings and on Facebook Live and in millions of other virtual spaces. He has gone on ahead of us into new ways of doing things. And we’re seeing him as we catch up to him.

And here’s the thing:

Those women were scared and they were silent. They didn’t say anything to anyone. Until…

Even though they were terrified and uncertain, even though this was not the Sunday they were expecting, even though this was not the Sunday they wanted, even though their world had been turned upside-down twice

A song rose in their hearts.

Maybe it started soft. Maybe it started scattered. Maybe it started with just one of the Marys saying to Peter, “Christ the Lord is risen today. He is risen. He is risen indeed.”

Maybe it started soft. Maybe it started scattered. But it echoed through the disciples as they sat around kitchen tables, “Christ the Lord is risen today. He is risen. He is risen indeed.”

Maybe it started soft. Maybe it started scattered. But those who heard it lent their voice to the chorus and raised the joyful strain, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! The grave has lost, Christ has won, love has redeemed the world!”

Maybe it started soft. But it crescendoed. Maybe it started scattered. But it gathered the people together.

And it did that because even though it started at kitchen tables—and even though it is still present at kitchen tables—it did not stay there. And it did that because even though it came to church sanctuaries—and even though it will be present in church sanctuaries again—it does not stay there.

That song… that gospel… that good news is with you wherever you are and wherever you go. And it longs to be shared. Yes, in church buildings when it is time to meet again. And, yes, out in public among the crowds when it is time to go out again.

And, yes, on Zoom and Facebook. And, yes, through podcasts and videos. And, yes, on our living rooms couches and around our kitchen tables.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

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