Scripture: John 20: 1-18
Music: Jesus Christ is Risen Today; Thine is the Glory; Your Love is Amazing
Musicians: Stephen Spencer, with Pete Betts, Andy O’Neill and Jenny O’Neill
Each year, the journey to Easter Sunday begins on Ash Wednesday, when we recall the limits of our lives. The days of Lent are a sort of spiritual marathon, with Holy Week marking the last, most painful miles, when we encounter a story that holds up a mirror to our brokenness and that of the world. We know that joy and celebration are coming, but before we arrive there, we walk a holy path of reckoning.
For me, and I know for many of you, the Lenten experience has felt more palpable this year than it has in others. Some wise person once said that tears and laughter emerge from the same deep well within us, and that has certainly been true of many experiences this year. Our frailty as people, as a society, and as a species has been on full display.
But so have our strength, resiliency and creativity. This time last year, as a staff we were in high gear, learning on the fly how to celebrate Easter online. We were reminded that Easter cannot be cancelled; that God’s rising and restoring are eternal. We learned that the risen Christ can meet us in our homes, on screened-in porches, on riverside walking paths, on front lawns and on Zoom. We learned that the question of faith is not whether Christ is risen, but where we look to see and hear its coming.
Yet, here I am, recording another sermon, the second Easter sermon of COVID. We’ve lapped the liturgical year. I know you’re there, on the other end of the internet, but I will miss, again, hearing the trumpeted descant of our Easter hymns, the bright, precious smiles brightened by chocolate eggs, and the promise of gathering with family around the table.
Like you, I’ve spent the past year physically isolating from family, friends and colleagues. And while I can see some of your eyes each week in person, I miss all of your smiles, handshakes, jokes and hugs. So, while I know Easter to be a time of restoration and wholeness, of love lifted up in the name of courage, hope and transformation, this Easter, after so much time living in virtual space and time, what I need most is the people, the bodies, the physical presence of love.
This year, something John Updike once wrote about our embodied faith struck me:
It was not as the flowers, each soft Spring recurrent; it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles; it was as His flesh: ours. The same hinged thumbs and toes, the same valved heart that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of enduring Might new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping, transcendence; making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages: let us walk through the door.
The Easter story is variously told in the Gospels. This morning, we heard John’s account of Mary Magdalene seeing a gardener whom she suddenly recognizes as Jesus. These sudden appearances continue in the days that follow the resurrection, in the Upper Room, on the road to Emmaus, and others until Jesus’ ascension. My favourite is in Luke, who has Jesus say to his surprised disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And then, almost comically, “Have you anything here to eat?” (Luke 24: 39, 41)
The door that Updike wants us to walk through ourselves is the one that stands between the resurrection as an idea – a metaphor, an analogy at arm’s length – and the resurrection as a physical event, a body made new, lifted up, and more.
I’ll confess that at different times in my life I have been on either side of that door, which means that I certainly can’t tell you what to believe. This year, however, I have been reminded time and time again how important bodies are, how important being physically present to each other is: in church, at home, in the hospital, at work.
We have learned to adapt, yes; and we have learned the limits of our adaptation. We cannot transcend the longing in our arms for our families and friends or the open wounds of grief for those whose death we haven’t been able to mark together.
We’ve also learned the importance of respecting and speaking up for the bodies of our neighbours: Black, brown and white bodies; rich and poor; male, female, trans and non-binary; straight and gay; friend and stranger; young and old. We know how important it is to support policies that make it possible for all bodies to be well fed, given access to health care, and housed in neighborhoods that are safe, vibrant and just. This is the embodied work of faith, the work of restoring humanity.
So, at least this year, I find myself wanting a resurrection that is more than an analogy. I find myself drawn to a more embodied faith. This Easter, I don’t have the same patience for the Jesus of John’s Gospel, who bids Mary Magdalene to refrain from touching him, who is some kind of spiritualized or unfinished vision. This year, I need more Luke, with his focus on the body, the hunger and the presence.
Yes, I want COVID restrictions to end, but more than that I am seeing and hearing the need for us to reckon with each other as embodied lives; people whose words, actions, lifestyles and political choices have consequences for others. We need to know each other and each other’s lived experiences.
As we emerge from this Great Pause we’ve been experiencing, I believe we’re being invited not to the life that was, but to life renewed, restored, resurrected. We’re being invited to exchange some of our busyness for more time with those we love; to exchange some of the excitement of travel for welcoming friends into our homes; perhaps even to exchange our pursuit of more in order to seek enough for all.
And I want to walk through these doors not because I’m virtuous or pious, but because this year has shown me what is essential to life together and what is not.
We will be managing COVID for years to come, but it is time for this withering pause to be over; time to be “regathered out of enduring Might new strength to enclose”; time to see Christ’s body as our body as our neighbour’s body; and to see that he is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
On this day, we celebrate the risen Christ
On this day, we celebrate resurrection in our lives.
On this day, we embrace the grace which reaches from the tomb.
On this day, we embrace faith by committing to love in action.
On this day, we shout Hallelujah!
On this day we shout, Christ is risen! Alleluia!
We are blessed by you, O God our maker and liberator, for you made the world and all that is in it; you created us, and named us good; and you have always lived among us. Though we have often lost our way, you always loved us and led us carefully. You sent your child, Jesus, to be our teacher and guide. When we failed to understand him, when, fearing what he could represent, we killed him, even then you reached out to us in love. Then we found his tomb empty on Easter morning and learned the Good News that Jesus was alive. Not even his death could break your love for us. You raised him to new life, and promise new life for us all.
Therefore, we join with all heaven and earth, and with the faithful from every time and place, giving thanks and singing:
Holy, holy, holy God, Creator and liberator;
Heaven and earth are full of your glory!
Hosanna in the highest;
Blessed is the One who comes to bring peace with justice to all!
On the night before he died, Jesus ate supper with his friends – people like us. He took the bread, gave you thanks, and broke it saying, “Take this and eat it: this bread is my body, which I give for you. Whenever you gather, do this and remember me.”
Jesus took the cup of wine, gave you thanks, and gave it to his friends, saying, “Drink this, everyone: this wine is my blood, which I give for you, and for everyone. Whenever you drink from this cup, remember me.”
As we rejoice in the power of resurrection and your call to witness to life even in the midst of a pandemic, we ask that your Spirit guide the response to COVID-19. Be with the medical researchers and frontline health care workers. Bless those helping to deliver vaccines. Also, grant us patience and help calm our fears as we wait for our turn and all who need vaccinated.
We offer our prayers for all those yearning for the good news and the promise of a new day:
We pray for all who are in sorrow or in pain….
All who are ill or alone…
All who live with fear, oppression or hunger…
All who live in places of war and terror…
All whom the world counts as least and last…
We pray for your church around the world
as we seek to live your resurrection story…
We pray for the nations, may they work for peace with justice….
We pray for the earth, and the fragile web of life we share…
We pray for the day when all can rejoice in your vision of a new heaven and a new earth.
Send your Holy Spirit upon us, and upon this bread and this wine, so that everyone who comes to this table may become one body, one flesh, and one spirit, one with Christ,
Through Christ, with Christ and in Christ,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
All glory is yours, God most holy,
Now and forever. Amen.
Breaking of the Bread and Pouring of the Cup
Sharing of the Bread and the Cup