The Day of Resurrection – Easter Sunday!
As the Church of Jesus Christ observes the second Easter of this pandemic, there is weariness throughout our culture. The saints at The First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights gathered on April 4 and joined in the proclamation of the resurrection and wondered what that might look like to a group of people who are tired and stretched thin – much like the disciples as described in Luke 24:1-12. We also sat with Colossians 3:1-4.
For a recording of the sermon as preached in worship, please use the audio player below:
To see the entire worship service via YouTube, use this link:
So, I’m not really sure what it’s like for you at your job, or at your school, but for what it’s worth, this has been a pretty rough week for a lot of people in my line of work. In fact, a couple of the online groups for pastors of which I’m a part have been characterized by comments like, “Holy week? More like ‘Holy HELL week’!” My colleagues have been feeling the pressure to plan extra services, while dealing with an increased burden of technology, and wondering who is getting the flowers this year and how many people are we supposed to let into the building… Yes, there are some frustrated pastors out there, friends.
This week, I was imagining a conversation between a small group of Christ-followers from, say, AD 60 and their counterparts in US churches from the last five years. In my head, this is how that scene played out:
The group of American church leaders stumbles into the room looking weary and frazzled. They are clutching coffee cups and shaking their heads. The folks from Rome are led by an elderly man named Caius, who begins the conversation by welcoming the modern-day pastors.
“Thank you so much for coming in today, friends. This will give all of us, who have to worship in secret and hide in the tombs of the city, the opportunity to see how things might play out in the years to come. To be honest, right now, things are tough-“
Before the old man can finish, a young pastor rolls up his sleeves to display a very hip tattoo and says, “Tell me about it, brother! I mean, I was trying to get the worship schedule set for Holy Week when I received notice that the choir director wants a raise, there’s a huge stain on the carpet, and someone just told me that there’s a fight going on in the fellowship committee because a couple of the men want to cook hash browns for the Easter breakfast and everybody else says that we’ve always had homefries.”
No sooner had that pastor finished than the woman to his left added, “Right? Last year two people quit the church because we had hyacinths AND lilies on Easter. AND I had to fire the Children’s Director because she brought in the Easter Bunny last week but forgot to mention anything about the empty tomb.”
One of the early Christians looks on in shock: “Wait… what? You have buildings? Your churches own property?”
An older pastor rolls his eyes and say, “Yeah, and don’t even get me started on the building committee, brother. I’ve got two words for you: ‘pew pads’. People are losing their minds.”
Caius interjects: “Hold on, friend. Are you all saying that this Sunday, this Resurrection Sunday, you have too many people attending your worship services? That you have people who don’t even believe, or who will pretend to believe, who show up just because their grandmother wants them to?”
The contemporary pastors all nod in the affirmative.
Caius continues, “You know we are literally getting killed for mentioning the name of Jesus, right? That there is a bounty on my head because I broke the bread at a worship service last week?”
Well, I could go on, but I hope that you see my point… The people who celebrated the first, the tenth, or the fortieth Easter worship services would not, in their wildest dreams, recognize what the festival day of worship, the religious enterprise that is the church at Easter, has become.
The Gospels are in complete agreement that the first resurrection was characterized, not by pageantry and finery and musical excellence, but by fear, confusion, and distrust. People did not know who or what to believe, and Jesus’ friends struggled to understand the implications of what they heard, and saw, and felt. The first Easter was clouded by pain and grief and loss and uncertainty.
Beloved, can I suggest that this past year may have given us new insights into the Gospel – understandings that we may not have had otherwise? You know that we have come to understand something of fear, confusion, and disorientation – but I’m not sure you know how deeply that has characterized our culture in the past twelve months.
- 41% of adult Americans report that they have experienced stress in their personal and relational lives, citing experiences of isolation, loneliness, and unpredictable living situations.
- 25% of Americans say that they’ve had trouble paying their bills in the past year
- According to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, there has been a 42% increase in food insecurity in local households
- In 2019, 1 in 10 Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. In 2020, that number rose to 4 in 10
- Meanwhile, there has been a 34% increase in alcohol sales, and
- 42% of people have reported a dramatic weight gain – the average is 29 pounds for this past year.
All of these things, I believe, speak to a deep sense of discomfort and dis-ease and uncertainty with which we’ve lived these past twelve months.
But now, now there is a glimmer of hope, we think. Things are changing, we hope. There are vaccines. The weather is warming up. We anticipate reunions and re-engagement.
And again, I’m not sure what it feels like to be you, but when my weary-yet-wanting-to-be-hopeful self looks at social media, or receives mailings, or attends planning seminars with colleagues, I’m overwhelmed with people who say things like, “Well, we’re unveiling plans for four major initiatives to start up next month, and there are five new programs for people who are…
It feels like everyone around me has a plan for snapping back into place and I’m feeling like, “Wait – what? How?” I don’t get how folks can be that on top of things right now.
So if you’ve been away for a while and you’ve come to the Easter worship because you want to see the new program, and get signed up for the plan that will get you back to normal in six weeks, then, well, I’m sorry. Come back in a couple of months.
But if you’re here and you know weariness, fear, confusion, and grief, then let me invite you to take a load off and breathe easy. These are your people. We’ve got you. And this is your day.
The day of resurrection begins, of course, the only way it can: in death. There’s no way around that fact. You can’t come charging into this place clinging for some hope for resuscitation, for a kind of a refresher, hoping for a momentary break in an otherwise unending series of wins. No, the one indisputable requirement for resurrection is a corpse.
And note that the day of resurrection begins, not in anticipation, but in memory. The women remembered what Jesus had said to them.
The day of resurrection is characterized by confusion and even disagreement. I’m sure that many of you heard what Aviva said, “the men did not believe the women, and thought it sounded like nonsense”, and you thought, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
The day of resurrection begins with pondering an empty space and wondering and investigating and thinking “what if?”
Paul says that the resurrection means that we are hidden with Christ. That we are waiting to be revealed, uncovered, unleashed.
So listen to me, beloved… if you feel like a loser because you were nodding your heads when I read through that laundry list of symptoms a few moments ago… if when I talked about loneliness or hunger or anxiety or isolation or weight gain, youknew what I was talking about… Then let me encourage you to name those things as a part of your story. Let me encourage you to acknowledge that those things are, or have been, here.
And let me further encourage you to begin to think about a time when those things are not as much a part of your story. Let me invite you to ask for God’s help in uncovering, in revealing, what comes next for you. Let me remind you that it is not pleasing to your Creator when you should all over yourself and thereby remain stuck in what has become dead. You don’t have a six-week plan, or four steps to financial independence, or the child you thought you’d have by now, or the beach body you think that someone expects you to have. You just don’t. And maybe you think that you should.
On this day of resurrection, let me invite you to allow those painful or shameful self-condemnations to die, and to ask God what comes next.
On the first Easter, Peter went to the tomb and he checked things out. And whatever “it” was, he didn’t get it. Not at first. He went home and he wondered. He knew that his life had been impacted by Jesus – he knew that he had, somehow, been changed by Jesus. And he knew that the empty tomb had to mean something.
And so he did what Jesus suggested. He met with his friends. And, because he was still Peter, he probably got on their nerves sometimes, and he was probably rash and abrasive at times. But he came back. And he listened. And he worshiped. And he took it one day at a time, as things became more clear to him. As things were revealed to him.
So beloved, please, let me invite you to make that your practice for this Spring in 2021. Nobody – not you, nor me, nor our neighbors – will emerge from this difficulty all at once. Our only option is to take one step at a time. For one of you, that may mean finding a friend and talking a walk. And then another one. And maybe once a week. For others, that may mean that it’s time for you risk commitment to a real, true community right now. Maybe it’s just an online book club. Maybe it’s a decision to be physically present in worship twice a month. Maybe its gathering into some sort of Bible Study or prayer partnership or the Youth Group. But some of us are ready to find new ways right now to be there, to be active, and to grow. For still others of us, it’s time to look for a new way to give of ourselves. Can you be more liberal with your finances? More generous with your time? Maybe you combine some of what I’m saying and you share some craft or baked good with a neighbor – someone who needs to see a friendly face and to remember that they are not alone.
This Easter Sunday, let me ask you to be as gentle with yourself as God has been with you.
And let me implore you to be as kind to other people as God has been to you.
Remember, dear ones, that you were made to grow. It is how you were created. You can grow. You will grow. Our brother Paul reminded us to “set our minds on the things that are above”. Look to the Son, because I promise you that the Son is looking at you, and inviting you to join him in resurrection – in becoming – in wondering and imagining and growing and healing. In life. In that for which you were made. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 For more statistics like this, please visit https://www.pewresearch.org/2021/03/05/in-their-own-words-americans-describe-the-struggles-and-silver-linings-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/, https://www.pittsburghfoodbank.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/PRESS-RELEASE-New-Food-Insecurity-Data-Shows-Significant-Increase-in-Southwest-PA.pdf and https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/