I think there needs to be a retelling of this story for the 21st century. Somewhat early on the first day of the week, all the parishioners found that the church was empty. But Jesus came to them in their locked houses and said to them, “peace, whether you are gathered in a church building or locked inside your homes to help flatten the curve, I have risen from the dead just as I said I would.” You see, no matter where we are, and no matter when you might be watching this, Jesus is alive, he has risen from the dead.
I know it may not seem like Easter. There are no lilies to adorn our church, and we are not together physically, but we are together spiritually. We are very much like those first disciples that were gathered in that upper room. They were locked in, just as we are, because of real fear and a real threat to their lives. They were sad, and they were in mourning because they had just lost their friend, and they were not sure what was going to happen to them. Some of them, as we heard in the Scripture lesson, went to the Tomb and found that it was empty just as our church is empty this morning. But their sadness soon turned to joy as will ours.
It has been a long, dark Lent this year. We have traveled the road with Jesus as he walked closer to today. We sat with him Thursday night and watched as he washed the feet of his disciples to remind us that we are to be servants to all. I am reminded of the servants in our world who, at this very moment, are caring for those suffering in hospitals and nursing homes. At considerable risk to their own lives, they are washing not only the feet of those they are serving but their entire bodies. They are sitting with their patients because their families cannot and holding their hands.
We watched as Jesus took bread and wine and presented it to those gathered with him and told them that this bread and cup were his body and blood that has been shed for the world. He reminded them and us that each time we partake in the Sacrament of Communion, we are doing so in remembrance of him and for all that he did for us. But it does not end there for we are now the body of Christ, and we are called to be broken and shared in this world as the light in the darkness. We are to show the world that God loves them and cares deeply for them, and we show that by loving and caring for those around us, especially the least of these.
We walked with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he went alone to pray. We witnessed Jesus scared and uncertain and bargaining with God to let him find another way. We sat next to him as he prayed so hard that drops of blood formed on his brow and fell to the rock he was using as his altar. We watched as a feeling of peace came upon him as he began to understanding that what he was called to and what we are called to is to obey the will of the Father. “Not my will but yours,” he said. This is not an easy thing to grasp, but to be authentic followers of Jesus Christ, we must surrender our will to that of God’s.
We were there when Judas came, one of his closest friends, and handed him over to the authorities. This must have been difficult for Jesus. Yes, Jesus knew what was about to happen, but he still must have felt that deep betrayal that comes when someone we love lets us down. Jesus went willingly with the authorities, and those that were with him, had walked with him and spent the last three years with him, scattered and left him alone because they were afraid, they might be next.
We were there, although, like those who abandoned him, we were at a distance so as not to attract any attention because if anyone finds out, we are a Christian, we might have to change the way we act towards others. But we saw him, hanging on that cross, an innocent killed by the system to protect the system. Killed for preaching that everyone is the same and loved equally by God no matter where you are from, what color your skin is, what language you speak, what your immigration status might be, or who you chose to fall in love with. He was killed because he preached that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. He taught that if we have an abundance and our neighbor has less, we are to give from what we have been blessed with without condition. He was killed because people could not accept that their privileged position required them to help those less fortunate and that they were not there to be used for political purposes. Jesus was killed because he loved. Everyone. Without condition. And he did this to show us that this is how we are to live our lives.
But the story does not end there because after the darkness of the night after the doors have been locked after the virus has caused us to stay away from each other morning will come, and the Tomb is empty, and love has won and has beat death. Jesus has risen from the dead despite what they did to him. Jesus rose from the dead for the same reason that he died on that cross because he loved. Everyone. Without condition.
During these weeks of isolation, I have been involved in some pretty deep conversations with people about all of this and what is going to happen, and I was reminded that after Jesus came, the Holy Spirit came, and she breathed new life into the church. Just as God blew his very breath into the lifeless body of humanity at creation, the Holy Spirit came and blew her breath into the church that had gone stale. A Church that had lost her way. A church that forgot what it means to be church. A church that built large, beautiful buildings and amassed large endowment funds but forgot that the church exists for the least of these. The Holy Spirit came on that first Pentecost and woke them up and called them out and Church I believe that is precisely what she is going to do when this is all over.
We are locked in behind the doors of rules, regulations, traditions, and laws, and the Holy Spirit is coming to tell us that it is time we get back to what we are called to do, and that is to proclaim the love of God all the world. We are to go out into the whole of creation and celebrate what God has done, what God is doing, and what God is going to do.
I want you to turn to the person next to you, no matter where you are, and say, I am ready. Go on; I am ready. God, I am ready for whatever you ask, Not my will God, but yours.
In this world of uncertainty, there is one certain thing, we can never go back to the way it was our voice is a voice that can no longer just be whispered for fear of offending people. Our voice can longer only be heard inside the walls of the Church; what Coronoavirus as taught us is that the world is our church, and we are going to shout from the rooftops if we have too. What this Coronoavirus has shown us is that the system is fixed for the haves, and it is broken for the have nots and church; we can no longer stand by and remain silent. This is way too important for that.
Church, I hope all y’all are ready because the Holy Spirit is warming up and is fixin to set this place on fire and that fire is either going to burn us up or clear the path, and we need to be ready. We can use this time of quiet to prepare ourselves for the future, prayer, study, and all the rest. We have no time to lose, the time to start is now!
My prayer as we continue this Easter season locked in the Upper Room is that we will hold fast and not lose hope. God is with us just as God was with Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross, God is with us now, as then because God loves us more than we will ever know or imagine.