Easter Sunday in a Pandemic 2020

John 20:1-18

Homily Easter Sunday

April 12, 2020

Rev. Debra Jene Collum

I love how the gospel of John tells the story of the resurrection. It is so appropriate for this year. Because in John, Easter comes slowly. It unfolds before us in stages. With so many emotions. So many nuances.

I think one of the hardest parts of this pandemic is the nuances. The layers of emotions that we all experience daily; if not hourly. 

Sadness at the news we hear of deaths and threats. Joy at the signs of generosity and stories of caring. Regret at the moments we are missing. Anger at the unrelenting absurdity of it all. And confusion because we don’t know enough to know if what we are doing to stem the tide is enough.

And so it was on that first resurrection morning. One woman, at a tomb, before sunrise. With the ointments for burial. With the grief of a loss beyond words…From the gospel of John…

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance, so she ran off to Simon Peter and the other disciple—the one Jesus loved—and told them,

“The Rabbi has been taken from the tomb! We don’t know where they have put Jesus!”

Mary bereft. Where is Jesus? What have they done with him? She runs to tell the disciples.

 Can you feel the panic? The confusion? The despair?

At that, Peter and the other disciple started out toward the tomb. They ran, out running each other. They reached the tomb, saw there was no body. Just the grave clothes. In an empty tomb.

The gospel writer ways: “They didn’t understand the scripture that Jesus was to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.”

We know the end of the story. But imagine for a moment standing before an empty tomb, seeing grave clothes laid out without a body. What do you feel? What else is there to do but go back home?

The disciples will stay home for the rest of the story. They will gather in an upper room, sequestered, quarantined by fear and confusion and not knowing what will happen next.

Is this what our quarantine feels like?

It does for those who are home alone with no family able to visit.

It does for those who have to isolate because they might have the virus.

I was on a zoom conversation with a friend whose whole family are considered essential workers. Six of them go out into different places each day exposing themselves and the family to the potential for contagion.

They have a plan in place for a family quarantine in case one of them comes home symptomatic.

This is our new normal. Waiting to see how isolated we have to be. It is nuanced. It is scary. It is doing a number on our brains.

Be gentle with yourself, just as we should be gentle to the disciples who seem so clueless.

They didn’t understand any more than we understand.

They don’t know the end of the story any more than we know the end of our story.

The truth of Jesus resurrection is not mitigated on our belief.

Which is good. Because this year it is hard to believe in a resurrection.

It is hard to believe that new life can come out of all this mess.

And the new life that we do experience is tainted by the possibilities that it might contain a new virus that we will have to battle over and over and over again.

And so we might want to join Mary for a moment as she stands before the empty tomb weeping.

Meanwhile, Mary stood weeping beside the tomb. Even as she wept, she stooped to peer inside, and there she saw two angels in dazzling robes. One was seated at the head and the other at the foot of the place where Jesus’ body had lain.

They asked her, “Why are you weeping?” She answered them, “Because they have taken away my Rabbi, and I don’t know where they have put the body.”

I realized as I was reading the John passage that Mary, standing outside the tomb with the oils for burial, is feeling some of the same grief as those who are trying to bury and honor the death of their loved ones during this pandemic. They have taken the body and I don’t know where it is…

I always feel so overwhelmingly sad for Mary when I read this passage. She doesn’t know what the empty tomb meant either. Only that her Jesus, her Savior’s body is gone. And like Jesus weeping outside the tomb of Lazarus, Mary is grieving Jesus death. It feels so final. So over and there isn’t even a body to mourn.

This is our fear in this time isn’t it. That if a loved one dies we won’t be given the opportunity to prepare the body for burial. To mourn the body in a proper funeral.

But as we stand before an empty tomb. Or feel as if we are in an empty tomb. It is the emptiness that witnesses to the truth. Jesus is alive! Christ is alive!

No sooner had she said this than she turned around and caught sight of Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” She supposed it was the gardener, so she said, “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.”

Do you hear Mary’s love? Her longing to care for her Savior? She hasn’t given up on him. She hasn’t abandoned him. Even a body will do for her for now.

But she gets so much more than an body.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” “Mary”

Her name, spoken in love.

Her name. In a voice she remembered. In a voice that she recognized.

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ears the son of God discloses.

The beauty of that old hymn. We will sing it together in a moment. As we sing, let’s feel the truth of that first resurrection morning. Full of emotions that meet us right where we are in the midst of this pandemic.

Our story isn’t over, yet. And we don’t know the end of it. We will feel all the nuances in these next weeks. Just as the early disciples did. We will walk into a resurrection that we don’t yet understand. Just as the early disciples did.

But as we walk this resurrection journey we do know that Jesus calls our name out in love. In many, many places.

In the market when we see a friend who from six feet distance asks, how are you.

In a phone call that fills a moment of our empty isolated spaces.

In the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Even a woman in a bunny costume driving around Chatfield yesterday to bring joy to children.

So let us pause often in our days to listen for Jesus calling our name. Let us be intentional to hear his voice. To recognize the voice of resurrected love. Our Savior who is alive and among us calling our name.

Let us sing together.

Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation . Sheed & Ward. Kindle Edition.