Getting in the Easter Spirit

John 20:1-18

You often hear people in the middle of the Christmas season confessing, “I just can’t get into the Christmas spirit this year.”  Some add, “Since the kids grew up, Christmas is different.” Or, “Since my husband or wife died, this is a tough time for me.”  

I think many of us are saying a variation of this theme today, “I just can’t get into the Easter spirit.”  I know how you feel.  I look forward to taking a long walk on Easter morning and then  concluding my walk with celebrating Easter on the beach, coming back to church at this very hour for beautiful music and a cheerful congregation.  The Easter egg hunt on the lawn and then a lovely meal.  This year, we will have a celebrative meal with our family, but no guests, and many of you will be missing family and friends you’ve gathered with for decades.

It’s tough to get into the Easter spirit this year.  There will be no lilies, new outfits, kids wearing ties the only time of the year, and friendly salutations.  But, then like the Christmas season, I am reminded to ponder the deeper meaning of Easter and the reality that crises – whether involving health, failure, grief, broken relationships, or the current pandemic – challenge us to reflect on what’s truly important in  life and what’s truly important in the Easter season.

Stripped bare of the twenty-first century North American essentials or should we say luxuries, what is the deeper meaning of Easter?

Today, many Christians throughout the world are celebrating Easter in their homes because they live in countries where being a follower of Jesus can put your life in danger.  Remember last Easter, the bombing of a church in Sri Lanka.  Remember, the first Christians who huddled in fear even on Easter night, hearing the news of resurrection but still fearful of what the Jerusalem priests and Roman soldiers would do.  They were sheltering in place just as we do today.

Two images from the Easter stories haunt me this Easter.  First, the women coming to the tomb, talking with one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us?”  They wanted to give their spiritual teacher and dearest friend one last honor, the honor of anointing his lifeless body, but such a task of love seemed an impossibility.

Second, there is Mary of Magdala, coming to the Garden alone, begging for a glimpse of Jesus’ corpse.  “Where have you taken Jesus, my friend, my teacher, my spiritual companion?”  she pleads with the gardener not knowing he is the Risen Jesus.

That first Easter, there was no ham – it’s not kosher – no bonnets or chocolate bunnies, no Easter lilies or new dresses.  There was initially hopelessness and dread, and then wonder and disbelief of another kind, the ecstatic disbelief of “how can he be Risen?  How can death be defeated and life and love triumph over the greatest evils of our world?”

We may not like it but you’ve got to go through death to get to resurrection.  We have to remember that Jesus’ followers didn’t know what we know as they lived through that Holy Weekend – they hadn’t been to the Easter service yet, they didn’t take resurrection for granted, or act as if believing in a resurrection is something we can summon up without effort.  No, they hadn’t read the happy ending, all they knew was tragedy.

Right now, we are going through death on a national and global scale and it can’t be denied.  We see the rising death toll.  The fantasy of filled churches on Easter morning has been dashed by the realities of physical distancing, necessitated by our need to stop this pandemic, and more importantly our love for one another.  

Right now, we don’t know how the story will end.  We don’t 

know if there will be a happy ending or how life will change post-pandemic And, so this year, our lives are like those first century followers of Jesus, the Christians mourning last Easter in Sri Lanka, the shocked crowds at the Boston Marathon six years ago, and Christians celebrating at home to avoid arrest.

But, in the turmoil, the light of Easter shines brightest.  On the darkest night, the eye begins to see. With death all around, Easter bursts forth.  The women discover the stone has been rolled away and Jesus is alive.  Fear and grief turn to amazement and joy. 

In the Garden, Mary hears the gardener call her name, “Mary,” and knows that love wins, life defeats death, for Jesus is alive.

When Mary tries to embrace Jesus, he says “don’t hold onto me…go and tell others.” Jesus doesn’t even give her a fist or elbow bump or peace sign.  I believe he is saying, “things will never go back to normal.  You can’t localize me in one place or among one people.  From now on I will be everywhere.”

And, that’s what we are discovering.  When the pandemic is over, we will want to get back to normal, the ways things were in our lives and in our church, and of course our faith and wellbeing requires return of the familiar. Perhaps, though, we are learning that although we will be celebrating our 225th year, our congregation is not limited by its sanctuary.  Our mission is the village, the town, and the planet. 

         Yes, we will get back to normal in many ways, but something more will be asked of us – to embrace the resurrection spirit in new ways.  To be part of a new world, the world that comes out of the ashes of calvary. I don’t know what those new ways are.  I don’t have a road map.

But, I know that Jesus will be with us and he will show us how to be faithful, loving, life-giving, adventurous, and joyful – as we claim our new mission to go out into a very different world celebrating the news Christ is Risen, Christ the Lord is Risen today!