Welcome Happy (confusing, social distancing) Morning: Easter 2020

Easter (Year A): John 20:1-18. St. Timothy’s, Lake Jackson, Texas.

There is a rabbinical saying about Scripture, that it is like a multi-faceted jewel: turn it, turn it, for everything is in it.

This speaks to the dynamic relationship we have with scripture. How it is that these Spirit-inspired sacred pages continue to speak to us throughout our lives — through the many and varied circumstances in which we live.

While this dynamic is always at work, today’s Easter account from the Gospel of John is particularly striking.

John proclaims the good news we expected to hear of Christ’s resurrection. But he also shares something that we perhaps didn’t expect. In the details of John’s Easter morning account, he powerfully ministers to us in our present COVID-19 reality:

The reality of not being able to gather in-person to celebrate this festival day. And solidarity with us in feelings of loss, uncertainty, and stress caused by the pandemic. 

Whether you are a high school senior or a furloughed worker; business owner or hospital nurse. We are all — on some level — experiencing loss and grief, uncertainty, confusion, and maybe even fear. And the poor among us feel this most acutely.

So, as one of my colleagues recently wondered: could this be the most “biblical” Easter we have ever experienced?[1]

For, the first Easter did not happen in a church. There was not a large gathering. There were no bold trumpets, festival Eucharist, or joyful, colorful Easter egg hunts — as wonderful as these traditions are!

The first Easter was instead, full of grief and uncertainty. Though Christ is risen, that first Easter morning was confusing to say the least! It was a lot to take in. Mary’s and the disciples’ perception of Christ’s resurrection was unfolding, extended. It took … time. 

Remember: the disciples were full of fear and grief. With exception to this early morning sprint to the tomb and back, they were hiding behind locked doors.[2] They were sheltering in place.

Mary Magdelene went to the tomb alone, weeping. She is confused and distressed that Jesus’ body is missing. It is not clear what is going on, so much so that she unknowingly speaks with angels and then with the Risen Christ himself, supposing him to be the gardener (perhaps an “essential worker”?). 

Only when Christ calls her by name[3] does she recognize him.

The Moment Mary Heard Her Name by Sharyn Richey Turner, 2012. The collection of The Rev. Martha Francis.

And then, she wants to embrace him — just as we yearn to do in the Eucharist! But there’s this … social distancing that must be in place for now: “Do not hold on to me” Christ says to Mary on that “Happy Morning.”[4]

 I suppose “Welcome Confusing, Social Distancing Morning” doesn’t make for a joyful-sounding hymn, does it?

And remember, the resurrection was an extended and unfolding understanding. It was a full week later that Thomas was able to perceive and accept the reality of Christ’s resurrection.[5]

We are experiencing Easter with Mary, Thomas, and the other disciples this year in a way that I dare say we never have before.

So, if you are full of joy this Easter, I celebrate with you! But if this Easter is not marked by joy and excitement, but instead by confusion, uncertainty, and a bit of sadness … that’s okay. John’s gospel reveals to us that the resurrection event is big enough[6] to include and hold all of these emotions and experiences. 

So, be encouraged on this stay-at-home Easter of 2020. Perhaps this year Easter joy doesn’t come to us immediately, like the “flip of a switch,” [7] but envelops us over time as it did for Mary, Thomas and the other disciples.  

As your interim rector who joined you in this role only days ago, I find it helpful to recall the words of a wise person who noted: Easter didn’t come because some good people tried really hard.[8]

Indeed, Easter arrives by the power of God, not by our own efforts. 

For God so loves the world, Easter arrives again, again, and again. I pray we have eyes to perceive it, breaking into our present reality … 

This moment is expressed beautifully by American novelist Louis L’Amour who wrote: “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us proclaim the gospel and the deep truth of God’s work on this day:

Alleluia, Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord has risen indeed. Alleluia!

+++

Pysanky artist Robyn Perry, 2020.

[1] The Rev. Dr. Emily C. Heath on Twitter: “The first Easter didn’t happen at church. It happened outside an empty tomb, while the disciples were sequestered at home grief-stricken and wondering what’s going on. So, we’re all going to be keeping things pretty Biblical this year.”

[2] John 20:19.

[3] John 10:3b.

[4] “Welcome Happy Morning” Hymn 179.

[5] John 20:26.

[6] Conversations with colleagues.

[7] The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of Washington, articulates this idea beautifully in a pastoral video (April 10, 2020). https://www.facebook.com/mebudde

[8] Ibid.

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