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Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020                                                                   Rev. Nancy Talbot

Matthew 28: 1-10                                                                 Mount Seymour United Church

No matter which version of the Easter story we read from the scriptures, the story always begins in grief and fear.  After all, it is only three days since they have laid Jesus in the tomb.  So many disturbing events had taken place that last week, it’s not hard to imagine the characters in the story full of trepidation as they approached the place where they had laid him.  They didn’t believe for a minute this saga was over.  They were just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Kind of like us these last few weeks, everybody walking around on edge, trying to be cautious but never certain if that door handle we’ve touched or that neighbour we said hello to is a carrier of the disease that is taking down so many around our world.  Constantly feeling, just below the surface and at times right at the surface the uncertainty of whether or not our finances are going to hold out or if job will last till this thing is over.

And then there are all the wacky things that make us wonder if there isn’t actually something else going on right now beyond the pandemic.  Did you see the snow falling around the Prime Minister as he addressed the nation during the first week of April?  Did you hear the thunder clap or see the lightening flash a week or so ago here on the North Shore when about an inch of hail suddenly fell from the sky?  Did you, like me, think it was the fourth horseman of the apocalypse arriving?  Or what about the power surge in the middle of the zoom call we were having with our child’s teachers?  I know we weren’t the only ones praying in that moment “please, God, not the internet too! We will not make it through this without the internet.”

Imagine those women full of the same kind of anxiety we’ve been feeling this last month and more, arriving at the tomb and the first thing that happens is an earthquake, and then an angel descends from heaven and rolls back the stone that sealed off the tomb and sits on top of it.  We could forgive those women for thinking he was the fourth horseman from the apocalypse couldn’t we?  No wonder they were scared out of their skin.  No wonder the angel had to reassure them with the words “do not be afraid.”

Perhaps we could forgive ourselves for wondering if Easter was really going to happen for us this year.

When churches first began announcing that they would have to suspend in-person worship services, Nora, a highschool student contacted her minister at Claremont United Methodist Church in California to ask her if they would still be having an Easter service.  “I am very upset about the absence of church and what is happening in our world right now” she said “I would be very upset if Easter was canceled.”

Her minister, Rev. Karen Clark Ristine, responded : Yes, dear Nora, there will be Easter.

Easter is alive in you right now.

Easter comes alive in every human connection.

Easter lives in every longing and in every memory of Easters past.

Easter is alive in the natural world around us, inviting us to see beyond these earliest days of spring.

Easter calls us to hope.  To hope in one another, to hope in a future we cannot yet see or imagine.

Yes, dear Nora, there will be Easter.  Easter is alive in you and me.*

From the first outbreak of Covid-19, both here in Canada and around the world we have seen evidence of Easter bursting out all over the place.  We’ve seen it in the memes and the singing and the 7pm pot banging. We’ve seen it in the resilience and dedication and the determination of our health care workers, service providers and politicians.  We’ve seen it in the rainbows taped in windows and the sidewalks covered in chalk flowers and messages of encouragement.  We’ve seen it in whiskey distilleries who are now producing hand sanitizer and the outdoor clothing manufacturers making personal protective gear.  We’ve seen it in the way churches have learned how to produce services online almost overnight and zooming has become the new normal for both individuals and organizations.  We’ve seen it in the way families have bonded over being forced to stay home with one another.  We’ve seen it in the way we’ve reached out to connect with one another across barriers and borders united in our human frailty and in our human strength.

Easter is alive and it is running rampant all around us.  This is the Easter we have created for ourselves because as human beings we are actually hard wired for Easter.  We are hard wired for hope, we are hard wired for freedom, we are hard wired for life and never more is that apparent then when we are staring down the face of death.

But there is also another kind of Easter.  It is not an Easter of human making. It is the Easter we cannot orchestrate for ourselves because it comes in ways we can anticipate but not predict and from places we can imagine but never know with certainty where they will emerge.  It is the Easter that does not come simply because the calendar says it is April 12th.  It is the wild and untameable Easter Christians call the Spirit of the Living Christ and it is at the very heart of all creation.  And because it is untameable, it is kind of scary because it can call us out of tombs of our own making and strip us of graveclothes we might not have been quite ready to remove.  It can arrive when we least expect it and when we aren’t looking for it. When this kind of Easter takes hold of us, we can find ourselves doing things we had not planned on doing, things that take us outside our comfort zone and beyond the safety of the walls we have carefully constructed around us.  And when it happens we can find ourselves feeling the exhilaration of being truly alive.   We can find ourselves feeling a freedom we might not have even known that we desired.

And when we are longing for this kind of unpredictable Easter to come, when we are watching and waiting for it to come, when we are desperate for new life, for resurrection for something to lift us out of our grief, our oppression, our enslavement, the scary thing is that we don’t know how long it will take to arrive or how or when it will come.  Which oddly enough can also make us feel truly alive because just hoping for Easter to come, brings it somehow closer to arriving.  Do not give up hope that this too shall pass.  Do not give up hope.

Through the season of Easter which lasts all the way until the end of May, we are going to be using worry stones as part of our Sunday morning worship.  I found this beautifully painted stone I have with me this morning sitting in the grass one morning when I was out walking in my neighbourhood.  As I hold this stone now, I invite you to imagine you are also holding a stone in your hands.  Imagine this is the great stone, the angel rolled away from the entrance to the tomb.  Into this stone I invite you to send now your worries, your hopes and your desires for freedom, for resurrection, for new life trusting that God can and will do more than we ever imagine possible.  Thanks be to God.

  • adapted from: Karen Clark-Ristine, Commentary: Will There Be Easter?, SanDiego Union Tribune, April 1, 2020.