Easter – April 12, 2020

John 20:1-18

          Alleluia! Christ is risen!  Even though we are celebrating this Easter differently than we ever have before, we can still proclaim our Alleluias!  loudly and boldly, knowing that Christ rose from the dead because of God’s great love for all of us.

This resurrection story experience from John, actually hits pretty close to home with our pandemic experience.  After Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples had been hiding out in their homes, afraid, trying to figure out what happens next.  And Mary, in our story, approaches the tomb in darkness, in the midst of grief, her world suddenly changed, turned upside down.  Then grief was deepened because Jesus’ body was now missing.  The man they loved, was gone.  And in that grief, Mary weeps.

And then she is visited by angels and by Jesus himself. I particularly noticed this year how Jesus said to her, “do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father”.  Especially poignant to me now as we cannot touch each other during this pandemic.  Yet, Jesus is still present. Jesus is with us every step of the way.

This global pandemic is laying bare what the church has long confessed: all people are deeply and inextricably connected to one another, like branches on a vine.  As I mentioned in my Good Friday homily, we are all experiencing vulnerability.  Mutual vulnerability.

I shared about Brene Brown’s podcast interview with Alicia Keys. It was to talk about Alicia’s newly released book, More Myself: A Journey.  In her book, Alicia tells of how she took a retreat, by herself, to Egypt. One of the first things she did was take a boat ride on the Nile, and she became excited on that river and wanted to bring her piano on the boat and write and sing. But interestingly enough, as soon as she got to her room, she lost her voice, she had laryngitis. She couldn’t speak, she couldn’t sing for two weeks. She felt as if the universe was saying “Be quiet. Say nothing. Do nothing. Listen.” At that moment in Egypt, there was nothing she could do. She didn’t have a choice.

It was a defining moment and experience in her life. It is was what led her to more fully reflect on her truth, her identity. She talks of Egyptian architecture, the pyramids and temples; and how freedom tapped her on the shoulder – and she inhaled that freedom loud and strong. We can restructure or rebuild the architecture of our lives.

Like Alicia’s experience, we have been forced into quiet, with no outside activities to keep us busy. The pause button has been hit. And it is truly a gift.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” says Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. “So do I,” says Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

I would guess that many of us today feel very much like Frodo. Why now? Why me? But even though no one would have wished for the disruption, uncertainty and, for many, the very real suffering of these times, we can still decide “what to do with the time that is given us.”

Thrive Global founder and CEO, Arianna Huffington says: There is a lot we can do to alleviate the suffering of others. But there is also a lot we can do to shift our entire culture away from an always-on, perpetually stressed-out, fight-or-flight state of being and reconnect with some essential truths we have forgotten. This is the great challenge in front of us. In the midst of untold suffering, we are being reminded of something our modern culture has forgotten: that there are two threads running through our lives. One is pulling us into the world to achieve and make things happen, the other is pulling us back from the world to nourish, replenish and refuel ourselves. If we ignore the second thread, it is much harder, especially during these times, to connect with ourselves and with those around us.

          We have been missing what every philosophical and spiritual tradition tells us — that there is a place of wisdom, peace and strength in each one of us. We need to reacquaint ourselves with it! 

          We have all now been forced to pause. And during this pause, we are discovering that certain parts of life were not as essential as we thought — and just as important, rediscovering certain essential parts we had forgotten. As Pope Francis said in the blessing he delivered for an end to the coronavirus, “It is a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.” 

          Yes, of course, as Gandalf said, no one would have wished to live through this time, and all the grief and suffering we wake up to in our own lives or in the headlines each day. But it is always during the hard times — whether personal or collective — that we are shaken out of our routines to find true purpose and meaning.

Let’s go back to John’s resurrection story and Mary. Notice that Jesus simply calls her by name. “Mary,” he says, and suddenly she sees and believes and trusts and is brought to new life. At the heart of this story is the recognition that resurrection heralds not simply the defeat of death and promise of life – which are really, really big things!! – but also that God is accessible to us, that God will not abandon us, that God desires more than anything to be in relationship with us, that God continues to call us by name.

Like the disciples of old, we may just hear anew and find the faith and courage not simply to survive but also to flourish. And perhaps it’s worth remembering that this small gathering of disciples – once they were called and named and sent by Jesus – changed the world. Which might just be what happens once again.  Jesus is calling your name.  Happy Easter!   Amen.