He is risen! He is risen indeed!
On a normal Easter Sunday, before the worship begins, the pastors and the choir would be gathered at the back doors, the lights would be darkened. There would be a brass fanfare in the balcony and then I would shout out the words that Christians have been saying for 2000 years: “He is risen!” And you would reply with the liturgically correct response, “He is risen indeed!”
That’s what we would do…on a normal Easter Sunday.
On a normal Easter Sunday, the parking lot would be crowded. Little boys would be dressed in ties, and little girls in Easter dresses. (So many pastel colors!) There would be smiles, and conversation, and handshakes and hugs before hurrying home to get the Easter dinner ready for the visiting family members.
That is…on a normal Easter.
On a normal Easter Sunday, the pastor’s job is to proclaim not Christ crucified…but Christ resurrected. We would talk not about quarantine, and separation, and distance, but of the gifts of grace, and the closeness we feel to God and to each other, when we are together to celebrate the resurrection, the single most significant event in human history.
This is what we would do…on a normal Easter.
And while today is definitely Easter…Christ is still risen…it is not, by any stretch, a normal Easter. Not by a long shot.
But of course, you already know that. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
And today, whether we are dressed in pastels or pajamas…whether we are in the Sanctuary or on the couch…whether or not it feels normal, it is still Easter. “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”
In fact, this year, I think we’re reminded of a really important truth that we often forget. Here it is: Easter was never supposed to be normal. Think about it; there is nothing normal about resurrection. Going from death to life? That’s not normal…that’s not how it works in everyday life. Resurrection… Easter…is not normal.
Let’s consider the story: These two faithful women (both named Mary) go to the tomb.
We’re not sure why they decided to go to the tomb. Maybe they just need to sit and grieve. They’d lost someone they were very close to, after all.
As the two women arrive, a great earthquake shakes the land. An Angel appears and rolls away the massive stone and then hops up and sits on it. And the guards assigned to watch the tomb faint, and collapse to the ground.
The angel says to the women: “Don’t be afraid.” And then the angel speaks the words of hope that changed everything: “I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he is risen, just as he said.”
And they rush back to tell the other disciples. The scriptures tell us that their hearts were full of astonishment and joy.
But as they rush back to the other disciples, Jesus appears, right there in front of them. And this is when it all starts to get real.
Because in that moment, when they see Jesus, the Gospel tells us that they dropped to the ground, grabbed on to his feet and began to worship them. And in that moment, they knew the story was true…and they knew that death was defeated…and they knew that nothing would ever be “normal” again. And Jesus repeats the angels words to them: “Do not be afraid.” And then he tells them: “now go, and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
This is an interesting twist. Jesus says “go tell my brothers.” In other words, go and tell the eleven remaining disciples that I am alive. But in saying this, Jesus does something remarkable. He changes these two women’s roles. You see, there is a difference between the word “disciple” and the word “apostle.” We sometimes use them interchangeably. But the word “disciple” means “student,” or “follower.” The word apostle means “messenger,” or “teacher.”
When Jesus gave these two women the task of telling…of teaching the other disciples about Jesus’ resurrection, he was giving them a new role. These two women…they were the first apostles.
And the message, the teaching they had to share, would change the world. It would change the world’s understanding of “normal.” Before the resurrection, religion, faith and…well…pretty much everything…focused on the law, on rules, on rigidity, on sin and on punishment. But now, in the moment of the resurrection, everything changed. From now on, normal is grace. Normal is forgiveness. Normal…is unconditional love.
Author Mike Ridell wrote of the story of Vincent and Marilyn. This couple had met and lived in New Zealand. Marilyn had lived a difficult, broken life, full of abuse and abandonment since she had been a little girl. As she grew, she had numbed herself from the pain with drugs, and was living as an addict and a prostitute. But then she met Vincent, and everything changed. For the first time, she experienced joy and love. Marilyn kept her background a secret from him for a long time, but finally, when things were becoming serious, she felt the need to be honest with him, even though she knew it might break his heart, and end their relationship.
Over dinner one night she said: “Vincent?”
“There’s ah …..There’s something we need to talk about. It’s about me and the things that I have done.”
Startled, Vincent looked up, and Marilyn immediately stared down at her plate. Anything to avoid Vincent’s eyes.
“There’s no easy way of saying this. I’m an drug addict. And I’ve been a prostitute. I’ve done horrible things.” And she told her story.
There was silence; long silence. Marilyn looks up at last from her salad. Vincent was crying. The tears were streaming down his cheeks, and he was biting his lip to stop himself from sobbing. She broke into tears and said “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to deceive you. I’m sorry, Vincent. I’m so sorry.”
He couldn’t speak. He wanted to, but nothing was working. He was looking at her, at her beautiful face, at her eyes, at the slight hardness around her mouth. And he was weeping and weeping. She reached a hand across to hold his. She was beyond tears, empty and bleak and barren. Vincent was mumbling something but was incoherent through the pain. And then he began to repeat it again and again.
“I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you…..”
Marilyn stared in disbelief. This was the hardest, and yet the best word, she had ever heard in her life. And then she burst into tears.
Marilyn expected Vincent to reject her, to pull away from her, to have nothing to do with her. Vincent…did what Jesus would do; he looked beyond the actions, into Marilyn’s heart; and what she received was understanding. Instead of hearing words of condemnation Marilyn heard over and over again, “I love you”.
This is a resurrection kind of love. And my friends, it is not normal. This kind of love comes only from God. This is why God became flesh, in the form of Jesus for you. This is why Jesus went to the cross for you. This is why Jesus was resurrected…for you. From the cross, Jesus said “I love you…I love you…I love you…I love you…”
Jesus’ resurrection ushered in a new normal. Now let me be clear: death was not abolished. Sin was not abolished. The brokenness of the world did not simply go away in that moment. Clearly those things still exist…and we all experience them. Right? I mean just take a look around.
But the difference that Jesus’ resurrection made is that sin, death and brokenness no longer have the last word! There is something else…something beyond. The resurrection draws us all into new life. And we get to tell that story. Today we are reminded that as people who follow Jesus, you and I walk in the footsteps of those two women…of the two Marys. We are no longer just the disciples. We are now the apostles…we are now the message bearers and the teachers. We are the storytellers.
And in the midst of the brokenness of the world, there is a resurrection hope that we can all cling to…especially when days seem difficult or dark. We have a story to tell in these days and the days ahead. It is a story of resurrection love, hope and grace. And in the midst of this quarantine, the world needs to hear this story.
And someday my kids, and yours, will be able to tell their children and grandchildren that yes, they remember the pandemic of 2020 and the long quarantine.
- They remember when people put hearts on their windows
- They remember when people united to sew protective masks and donate them to clinics and hospitals
- They remember volunteering to serve lunches to children in the community
- They remember delivering groceries to the elderly and vulnerable who could not leave their homes
- They remember when school systems had to reinvent their whole educational systems…in a week
- They remember when churches had to innovate to hold worship online and to redefine what it means to be community
They will be able to tell their children and grandchildren that they were there when the community came together and sacrificed, and businesses had to shut their doors, and people were furloughed for awhile, all for the greater good…all to protect health and safety. And they will tell their children that it was hard…but it was important. And they will tell their children that it was all because of resurrection love.
And they will tell their kids that these days, during this pandemic, they saw God show up. That through the work of God’s people, resurrection love was everywhere…and that people cared for each other.
You and I, and our kids and grandkids will become the apostles, just like the two Mary’s and we will share with God’s people the story of Jesus’ resurrection love, and about what he did here, during these hard days.
Resurrection love is always about life and hope. It is always about restoration. It is always about redemption. It is always about God making things new. In the world in which we live, resurrection love is not normal. But God works through us to make it normal.
My prayer this Easter is that we never lose sight of seeing what God is up to all around us, all of the time. My hope is that the resurrection is never just routine, never simply a holiday, but rather is a lifestyle that we live into together. And my dream is that like the two Mary’s, we become the apostles, the storytellers, so that all come to know and experience the new life that comes from God in the midst of chaos and anxiety.
These words are not normal, but they are true:
He is risen. He is risen indeed!
Thanks be to God!
* Thanks to Janean Hall, who took the photo from the balcony during the 10am Easter worship service