Matthew 28 1-10 Acts 10 34-43 Easter Sunday 2020
Alleluia Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
I wonder how many times you have uttered those words in your lifetime? I wonder if they are as familiar to you as saying Happy Christmas is? I wonder if you have barely said them at all. I wonder if you have never even heard them before?
I wonder whether you’ve heard the timeless stories of Christ’s birth, his life, his death and resurrection year after year, and you can’t help thinking what more in the telling there can be to learn, to experience, to get excited by. Or perhaps this year is the first time that you’ve heard them.
I stand here before you, not knowing who is out there. Not knowing if you are near or far, if this is a conscious act to join in an act of worship or just a video clip you have stumbled across while you scroll through social media.
I have done a lot of wondering over the last three weeks, about all sorts of things. And I have discovered a lot of things, some of which I will never recall again, while others will remain etched on my mind for ever.
There is one thing I know that I have learned and which I hope will always remain with me.
I have learned that actually when it comes to worship all that stuff that I have been taught over the years from attending Sunday school as a child, to going to various churches, to three years at theological college, there are lot of things that I always thought were really important actually aren’t at all.
Learning to worship in a stripped back world, with no consecrated building, none of the usual accoutrements has been for me a real game changer. Not that I don’t long for the day that we are able to gather together to worship and praise our great God – I do. I miss seeing all your lovely faces, I miss sharing the Peace, I miss the awe of standing at the altar presiding at the Eucharist, I miss chatting to people over tea and biscuits (especially when there’s cake!)
But I have learned how to be more creative in how I share worship, how to try and engage with people that I might never normally have the pleasure of interacting with. I have learned the joy of deeper, unhurried conversations. I have learned a bit more of how to be than how to do – although I still have a long way to go with that one!
I have learned to rely on God more than I ever have in my life before , to trust that the Holy Spirit will give me words to say when my brain is scrambled with so many thoughts . And I have learned the importance of hope. Hope that the world in innately a good place. Hope that the overwhelming majority of people are kind. Hope in the belief that God is alongside us every step of our journeys.
There is no doubt that this Easter is an Easter like no other. And our experience of it is one that enables us to reflect more so than any other year on how isolated and cast adrift Jesus’s followers must have felt on that very first Easter Sunday, three days after their Lord had been so cruelly murdered.
A few verses before our Gospel reading this morning commences, we’re told that Jesus had been placed inside the tomb which was then sealed by a huge rock and guarded, at the request of the chief priests and Pharisees, so that his disciples couldn’t come and steal the body and then claim that Jesus had risen on the third day as he himself had promised.
A burial therefore without the usual anointing. A burial without any mourners allowed to be there. A burial with Jesus totally alone. A funeral rite not unlike many of those who have died over recent weeks have undergone.
This Easter, during a time of lockdown, most of us are confined to our homes, just like the disciples were two thousand years ago as they hid from those who had snatched their Master from them, frightened of the consequences their association with him may bring .
The fear that we share is a fear of contracting Covid-19, and of passing it on to those we love. . And even in the places we are allowed to go for short periods of time, we’re fearful of the consequences of getting too close to others, fearful that they might have the virus and pass it on. Fearful of shopping, of passing people in the street, of waiting in the queue at the chemist.
We’re not able to see family members not living with us, go to work or school, or meet together as church. The usual support mechanisms for dealing with fear and anxiety aren’t there anymore, and we can feel alone, particularly if we live on our own. Some of us have experienced the loss of loved ones during this period and haven’t been able to say our goodbyes or attend the funeral, just as Jesus’s loved ones were unable to do/
We watch daily briefings on the television, checking in to see how many lives have been lost to Covid in the preceding 24 hours; the number of total deaths overall due to the pandemic; whether anyone notable, someone everyone knew has died. And, as the numbers increase, we may know someone personal, someone known to us, who has died too.
On that first Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Clopas were doing their own checking in. Someone who was both notable and personal had died. Almost everyone in the area knew who Jesus was – the itinerant rabbi who did signs and wonders, who some said was the long-awaited Messiah. But these women knew him personally.
You know what happens next. It’s the story we tell every Easter Sunday, albeit using slightly different narratives, depending on which Gospel we are reading. Here in Matthew, it is all special effects and drama – there is an earthquake, a shining angel dressed in dazzling white!
And there is even an example of what we might now term ‘fake news” as the chief priests bribe the fearful guards in an attempt to suppress the truth!
And what does Jesus brings into this situation, this place of fear and confusion? He brings the love and reassurance that only he can bring. As he greets his disciples he tells them not to be afraid. And it’s into this Easter, an Easter like no other, that Jesus still brings that love and reassurance.
If Easter tells us anything, it is that God’s love outlasts everything and anything else. It tells us that death does not, and will never, have the last word. Easter breathes God’s life over us again and whispers into our waiting hearts – hearts that this year may be filled with uncertainty and fear – that his ‘kingdom endures from generation to generation’.
It tells us again that those who trust in the Lord will not be put to shame as he willingly went to the cross for us. It confirms that though, in current times, we live through the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross, and the tomb, God guarantees the resurrection. A resurrection that will be just as the first, centred on love, relationship and reconciliation. A resurrection that doesn’t discriminate.
As Peter states in our reading from Acts “I see very clearly that God shows no favouritism. In every every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right”
How blessed are we that this is the case! If God were to have favourites then the message of Easter would be very different indeed! Yet throughout the history of Christianity many people have tried to impose the concept of preference on our faith – by excluding whole sections of society from fully participating in the way in which Christianity is practiced. When gender, race, sexuality, wealth or any other aspect of diversity is used as a way of discriminating against others in all sorts of ways we have ignored the fundamental message of the Gospel. We have failed to love on another as God has loved us. We have not listened to what Jesus has said to us. We have been arrogant enough to suggest that actually God does have favourites.
We have seen in these strange days that this disease that we fear doesn’t discriminate in who it attacks. But we have also seen that that there are disproportionate consequences across our society that will last longer than the current lockdown. At the moment many of us may feel impotent in our ability to make a meaningful contribution to this fight. we may feel we are not doing enough. But we are – simply by abiding by the advice that has been given, by praying, by witnessing to God’s presence in this situation.
At the end of our Gospel reading Jesus commissions the disciples to go forth and make disciples of all nations. That commission has been passed on through the generations and rests with us today. It may feel more challenging to live out the Gospel at the moment but God continues to guide us if we but listen to his voice.
We are Easter people! We rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour – Alleluia!
So, may the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, this Easter and always. Amen.