April 12, 2020 – Easter Sunday – Pastor Teressa Sivers
John 20:1-20 & Psalm 46
This is not how we celebrate Easter morning! On Easter, our sanctuaries are not empty. Pews are filled with smiling face, familiar and new. Brass ensembles add bold, joyful tones to our music. The sanctuary choir raises a joyful noise to the Lord! We do have Easter flowers here today, but our altar is usually set for Holy Communion. Our church building is full of noise and energy and activity. It is a buzz with Beloved Community. No, this (indicates empty space) is not how we celebrate Resurrection Morning. And yet…it IS Easter morning, despite the silence and emptiness…but isn’t this how resurrection begins?
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, and she found the stone rolled away. Resurrection had already happened! Life abundant had already overcome death! In the deep darkness and silence of very early morning—the middle of the night—with no human witnesses whatsoever, God brought life out of death. Mary, restless in her heart-shattering grief and loneliness, made her way to the garden cemetery to be closer to the One she had lost. Early in the morning. WHILE IT WAS STILL DARK…Easter begins in darkness. This is an important metaphor in the gospel of John; darkness and light. Many people and situations in the gospel narrative are found ‘in the dark.’ They are in the dark; without understanding, without knowledge, without experience. They are in the dark; lost, alone, afraid. Easter begins with all shadowed: the beauty of the garden in the cemetery, the triumph of life over death, the fullness in the emptiness of the tomb. All shadowed. Easter doesn’t end the wilderness—it illuminates all that is shadowed within it.
Our Wilderness Theme took on new meaning as Lent progressed, and as Psalm 46 puts it so well, and the earth changed. We entered Lent, our beautiful Lenten vases filled with prayer stones, sand, moss, and dead branches, creating wilderness in our beloved sanctuary. We entered Lent thinking our Wilderness Theme was only a metaphor. But as one of our Lenten poem-prayers reminded us, ‘where there is creation, there is wilderness.’ We are shockingly united in a global wilderness experienced, one filled with fear, worry, grief, uncertainty, illness, and even death. We are in the dark, battling a virus the medical community still doesn’t fully understand or know how to stop. We are in the dark; feeling lost without our normal routines, alone in our isolation, afraid…terrified. Easter does indeed begin in the dark, while it was still dark…but that is NOT how Easter ends!
After some running around ‘in the dark,’ Mary remains. She stays present in and to the wilderness. Mary stands rooted in that shadowed cemetery, weeping with loss and fear and loneliness. And it is within this desolate wilderness, that the sun rises for Mary. The shadows melt away…slowly at first. It begins with two angels in the tomb acknowledging Mary’s sorrow. “Woman, why are you weeping?” She turns toward some movement and believes she is seeing the cemetery caretaker. “Woman, why are you weeping?” And then, with one word, the shadows vanish. “Mary!”
Called by name, Mary witnesses resurrection reality; the fullness of the emptiness of the tomb, Life triumphant over death, the beauty of the garden within the cemetery. The wilderness remains, but now Mary sees more than the fear, worry, grief, loss and uncertainty. Mary stands embraced in the Light!
It IS Easter! Resurrection morning! Though our wilderness remains, new light shines within it, chasing more of the shadows away. As our poem-prayer lifted up this morning in our centering time:
–>Wilderness is the birthplace of creation…”let there be light!” (Genesis 1)
–>Wilderness is where call begins…”I have called you by name, you are mine. When you go through the waters, they shall not overwhelm you…” (Isaiah 43)
–>Wilderness is where joy is birthed…”Rabbouni!” (John 20)
–>Wilderness is where we find God… “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20)
Our sanctuaries are indeed empty today. The pews are vacant. No brass or sanctuary choirs grace the space. Our sanctuaries are waiting…in CERTAINTY for all to return. Our sanctuaries are content to wait because they know you are keeping safe for the love of one another. Our sanctuaries wait in anticipation for all the noise and energy and activity—the buzz of Beloved Community—to return. It IS Easter morning! Resurrection day! We do not need to be in a sanctuary to encounter Jesus. “Don’t cling to me!” Jesus tells Mary, “I have places to go, people to see!” Jesus isn’t just found in our beloved places of worship, Jesus is everywhere! Jesus is with you! Jesus is with me! Jesus is with all people in all places! THAT is the Good News of Easter!
I have seen the Lord! You have seen the Lord!
As music flows through the spaces between us, connecting us, let us hold in our hearts and minds all the places where we have seen the Lord. Let us lift up all the places where we have witnessed new life. Let us hold these experiences in gratitude, and allow this gratitude to expand our generous hearts. From this heart of generosity, let us also consider what we are called to give, including to the ministry of your beloved church home. Use the online giving links on the live stream page, or write a check and mail it into the church office, and share a note with us, letting us know where you have seen the Lord.