Easter Sunday 2020
We started this week proclaiming our King’s entrance into Jerusalem, humbly riding on a donkey. On Thursday, we shared in more humility, directed to one another, as we recalled Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and sharing a humble, and we were invited to do likewise in remembrance of him. We were given a new commandment, to love one another as he has loved us. And there was even more humbling on Friday, a day we are invited to examine our hearts and seek forgiveness for our shortcomings. We read about Jesus being betrayed, arrested, beaten, ridiculed, and crucified. He gave himself up for us, enduring the ultimate physical and emotional suffering so that we might be freed from sin and death, and never have to be so abandoned, but have an eternal connection to God and one another in the Holy Spirit. These holy days may have provided a dose of sadness and guilt over our past failings, but we who know the end of the story can look forward to the promised day when all sin and suffering will no longer exist for us who have faithfully followed Jesus into eternity. We have spent this week (and past weeks) with doubts and fear, lots of question marks, but Easter is all about exclamation points. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
This year in particular we need to hear the glorious story of Easter morning. Unlike recent years, this time, perhaps, we can better identify with being ones who have been living in darkness but have seen a great light. The fact that we have not been able to meet for worship is a sign of just how serious this present crisis is. Although the death counts are supposedly spiking in some places, at the same time there are signs of hope, as social distancing seems to be working. But we all know how difficult being disciplined can be, and with those glimmers of hope, some folks will relax too soon. As with the Resurrection, we may have the promises in hand, but we are not to the end yet.
When I began writing this, I was in my new office in the woods behind the church, resting in my hammock, looking up at the trees, listening to the wind, enjoying the filtered sunlight washing away my anxieties. Even during this pandemic, God’s glory is revealed in the beauty of creation. The Light of Christ cannot be extinguished, no matter how dark our time here may be. May His Light shine all the brighter because of it! Although we may not able to rejoice together, may the Holy Spirit forever bind us together as one people, one heart, one hope, in one Lord of All.
As with the Advent Season, I prefer to simply let the Scriptures speak for themselves. You can’t add to perfection, and nothing I say can say will increase the brilliance of the glories revealed that morning so long ago. For those of you who need a more formal sermon, the Bishop’s message to the Conference is included. May God bless you all this Easter Season!
These are clickable for those of you reading online:
Acts 10:34-43 * Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 (UMH 839) * Colossians 3:1-4 * John 20:1-18,
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.
They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And 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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then 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.”
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020
Resurrection in the Shadow of Death 1
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
John 20: 1-18
My name is Elaine Stanovsky. I’m the United Methodist Bishop of the Alaska,
Idaho, Oregon, Washington States. I am joining this worship service from the town of
Roslyn, where coal was king, in the central Cascade mountains of Washington State. In
this time of physical distancing, I greet you from my heart to your heart.
Wherever you are, whoever you are with, whoever you are separated from today,
I’m so glad that you joined us to share music and prayers, and to remember again the
Good News that…
…nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not
angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any
other thing that is created. Romans 8: 38-39
By showing up for worship you put yourself on the side of life at a time when a
tiny virus is bringing individuals, the nation and the whole world to their knees.
In a moment, I’m going to ask you a question. It will be familiar, but with a little
twist. It is not a test. You will know the answer. I want you to convince me with your
answer. It may seem odd to shout your answer out at home, alone or with your spouse, so
I have recruited my husband and able assistant, Clint, to help with your part. Are you
Here’s the question: IS CHRIST RISEN?
Answer: Christ is risen, indeed!
What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make when so many people are
Imagine with me for a moment, our three
young sons, making up a game using a toddler toy
consisting of large plastic beads that you could
click together and pop apart. Can you imagine?
The game was to hold up two beads and
ask, to-gether? Or to-part? If they were clicked
together the answer was: to-gether. But if they
were popped apart, the answer was: to-part. But,
soon, it didn’t have to be beads. It could be
anything. Let’s take my hands…
[Hands clasped together] To-gether? or To-part? Together!
[Hands unclasped] To-gether? or To-part? To-part!
Today, on Easter Sunday we come, asking the same question about life and
community: To-gether? or to-part? As we are keeping distance and refraining from
worship or a picnic or a team sport, are we to-gether or to-part? With God? With Jesus?
With each other?
Clearly, this morning we are not huddled on a chilly hillside to watch the sunrise
together and singing Alleluia! And we are not in a sanctuary full of Easter Lilies. No,
instead, you are here, worshiping as you look at a screen or listen on the telephone. Are
we to-gether or to-part? Well, all the hard evidence says we are to-part, in the sense that
we are not physically together. But we have gone to great lengths to be together by
whatever means we can find.
So, here we are. And, even as I record this message in room in a house I share
only with Clint and Mollie-the-dog, you are with me. I carry you in my heart today, as I
have all week preparing this message. The other people you see in this worship service,
have been with us from all the places across four states where they taped their parts. You
are bringing us to-gether by joining remotely from your to-part places. It’s not as good
as being able to see each other, hear each other’s voices and share a hand shake or a hug,
but it’s a lot better than being simply to-part.
The hard evidence says that we are to-part, but the testimony of our hearts says
we are together: by choice, by affection, out of hope and longing.
How does the to-gether and to-part game help us think about what difference the
resurrection of Jesus makes when people are dying? When Jesus suffered under Pontius
Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, and descended to the dead (The Apostles Creed),
he was to-part. Listen to Matthew’s description:
Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the
curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks
were split. Matthew 27: 50-51
The gospel writer gives us hard evidence that Jesus was to-part. Those who were
there could not doubt that Jesus had died. They watched it. They heard the nails driven.
They felt the weight of his dead body. They saw the guards seal the entrance of the tomb
with a mighty stone. No doubt about it. Jesus was dead. TO-PART!
And yet, the disciples’ hearts still beat with the intensity of his presence, his
teaching, his defiance, his compassion. He had shown them life. Given them hope they
had never had. Freed them from fear and hatred of strangers and foreigners, hoarding, a
me-first attitude. He had taught them to love.
The Bible says that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of
things not seen” (Hebrews 11: 1). Faith was forming in Mary and Simon Peter after Jesus died. They knew, without a shadow of doubt that they had been changed forever by his
love. That they would carry his message with them forever.
Mary didn’t expect to find Jesus alive when she went to the tomb early that
morning. She went because she knew that something of Jesus’ Way of Life lived on in
her. She went out of love, and as a witness to the life he had let loose in the world. She
went with the knowledge of what she knew in her heart.
And when she found Jesus alive, what did he say to her? “Don’t hold on to me. I
have not yet gone up to the Father.” DON’T HOLD ON TO ME?? Did he really say
that? What did he mean? Don’t you find it amazing that Jesus spoke so directly to the
very unusual circumstance that we find ourselves in? He might as well have said, “Keep
your distance. You don’t need to touch me to know what you know – that I am alive, that
I love you, that we are to-gether. Nothing can separate us.”
Mary, and then Simon Peter and the other disciples came to know and to
understand in a way that is deeper than the hard evidence, that whatever it was about
Jesus that drew them to him, that drew crowds to him and that threatened the “powers
that be” did not die on the cross. It was still alive in each of them, and it was the light
that shines in the darkness and is not overcome(John 1: 5).
The disciples discovered the resurrection in the shadow of Jesus’s death.
The story of the resurrection of Jesus is God shouting to all God’s beloved
creatures: DEATH DOES NOT WIN! LIFE IS STRONGER THAN DEATH.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord,
and if we die, we die to the Lord; so, whether we live or whether we die, we are the
Lord’s. Romans 14: 7-8
What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make when people are dying? It
shows us that in addition to the hard evidence, we have heart evidence: the catch of our
breath, tears that well up, the way a view of majestic mountains or wide, gracious plains
stop us in our tracks, or a sudden impulse to generosity. All are evidence that we are together with one another in God’s broad and beautiful creation.
As the world groans in travail, I offer you the good news of Jesus Christ. Our lives
come from the spirit God breathed into the world at creation; from the love born to the
world in Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that connects us to one another
at a depth no disease, distance, not even death can even touch.
This story of LIFE, passed from person to person through the ages, takes root in us.
It calls, connects, and mends us to-gether, even when the hard evidence has left us topart and alone.
God bless you, witnesses to life. Menders of the tears/tears. God bless you,
cultivators of love, of community. We are Easter people!
Call: CHRIST IS RISEN!
Response: Christ is risen, indeed!
Call: To-gether or to-part?
Nothing can separate us from each other or from the love of God in Jesus Christ!
I want to say thank you to all the people – pastors and lay people – who are faithful
to the Church during this time of crisis.
It’s people sharing what they have that make it possible for the church to care for its
members and the whole community. It’s tough, though, when the church is closed for
weeks and people are used to giving their offerings in church. So, I have three ways for
you to make sure the church remains strong in this trying time.
FIRST Today, please give as you are able to support the ministries of your local
United Methodist congregation or whatever church you call home. Check the church
website or Facebook page for instructions. Or just put a check in the mail.
SECOND: You might also want to give a special Easter gift to the Greater
Northwest Area-wide “Fund for Families.” Local churches partner with community
groups to offer targeted financial help to neighbors on the margins who are most
vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Text the code “GNWFFF” to 44-321
to give now. On your computer? Visit: http://bit.ly/gnwfff
FINALLY: Looking ahead, if you expect to receive a CARES Act stimulus
check that you don’t really need, because your income is secure. I hope you’ll let us help
you pass it along to someone who needs it more than you do. Watch during the weeks
ahead to learn how to participate in “Pass the stimulus Along.”
Thank you for your generosity! You and I can be Christ alive, caring for people
BENEDICTION AND CHARGE
We are scattered across great distances on this Easter, so I invite everyone to
participate in this blessing. Stretch your hands out with palms outward in a gesture of
blessing to that we understand that each of us is blessed and each of us is a blessing.
Know always that the hands, the arms, the heart of God will hold you in love, in
peace, and in the joy of the Resurrection. Alleluia.
With gra,tude to long-,me friend and colleague, Rev. Carol Davies, who reminded me last week of to-gether and to-part 1
from a sermon I preached many years ago at the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference session in Nampa, Idaho.