Sermon; Easter Day, 2021
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
I love saying that. I love saying it even more when there are people in the pews.
This is a day two years in the making. Easter 2019 was the last time we celebrated Christ's victory over death as a physically-gathered group. Easter 2020 was online only and had a much different feel. So after two years, we once again get to cry out together, “Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!”
As we progressed through the COVID pandemic we experienced a variety of emotions and thoughts. As a priest, I watched a number of discussions and scenarios play out among colleagues and/or other people about what COVID is doing to our churches and how we might come out of this pandemic. Probably the #1 concern of people was/is, “Will our people come back to church?”
The fear was/is that people would get so used to watching a service online in their comfy pj's and hot mocha skinny latte w/extra vanilla and whipped cream that they would never again rush to get up early, get dressed, and head out to sit in an uncomfortable pew. The fear was that people would find other things to fill their time. The fear was that people would find they didn't need “church” or organized religion and simply wander off, leaving clergy behind to shutter the doors.
There are a few thoughts I have about all of that. First, what those people miss is the desire for community. Sitting at home in comfy pj's watching the service is one thing. But it doesn't compare to being part of a worshiping body. It doesn't compare to singing together (which we get to do outside for our closing hymn, and which we will eventually get to do again inside). It doesn't compare to hearing people respond to, “Alleluia, Christ is risen . . .”
We have worshiped together separately for a long time now, and it is not the same. When we worship we need to be part of that whole group of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven who sing TOGETHER.
The second thing that group of people forget is that this is home base. This is where we gather to worship, yes, but it is also where we gather to feed people both physically and spiritually. It is where we gather to support a variety of outreach programs. It is where we gather to learn. It is where we gather. People I've talked to want to regather most of all.
And third, those thoughts assume people have a low opinion of their faith or their parish/church. They seem afraid that people won't tell other people about their church. They seem afraid that people won't invite other people to come with them to church.
As we watch the COVID numbers and case rates, which are beginning to rise again, as we advocate for people to get vaccinated and continue to wear masks, as we work to understand this ever-changing world we live in, we also need to understand the opportunity before us. Because right now, more than at any other time in our lives, we are living the end of the Gospel of Mark.
Right now, with regards to our faith and our faith-community here at Saint John's, we have the option of choosing between two types of people.
We can choose to be like those who constantly worry about the decline of the church. We can be like those who are afraid the church won't survive the pandemic. We can be like those who are afraid people won't come back. We can be like the three women depicted in our window over the high altar – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – who, after being told to tell the disciples about Christ's resurrection fled from the tomb in terror saying nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
Or we can choose to live in the hope of the resurrection. We can choose to see COVID as a time when life was changed, not ended. And I certainly don't mean to minimize the awful toll COVID has taken here, but we can choose to live with the hope of the resurrection even in the midst of death. We can choose to understand that Mark's gospel ending isn't a condemnation of those three women, but an invitation to the readers of that gospel, to the hearers of that story, to us.
Question: Does anybody here (other than Dcn. Sue) know the first sentence of the Gospel of Mark?
It is this: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Mark's gospel ends abruptly: The women went away and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Notice that Mark's gospel doesn't have a nice, tidy ending, like Matthew, Luke, and John. Mark's gospel ends on an unfinished note because it is the BEGINNING of the good news. It doesn't have a nice, tidy ending because it is up to us to keep the story going.
All Easter's are special. But after all that we have been through in 2020, this Easter seems more special than others. We have come through a time of separation. We are slowly regathering. We are looking at new ways of being – of being us, of being human, of being the church.
On this day Christ was victorious over death. On this day life was changed, not ended. On this day the tomb was empty.
Like the three women who went to the tomb expecting one thing, we have discovered something else. Today we have rediscovered our sense of place. Today we have rediscovered community. Today we have rediscovered resurrection.
So let us heed the words of the angel. Let us be not afraid. Let us understand that this is the beginning of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God. And let us go from here and proclaim that good news.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!