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Easter 2020 Sermon: Running into Jesus

The Holy Women at Christ's Tomb, from The Passion of Christ, plate 20, by Gregoire Huret (1606-1670).

The Holy Women at Christ's Tomb, from The Passion of Christ, plate 20, by Gregoire Huret (1606-1670).

At the first Easter, the women who found the tomb empty felt an earthquake, were told by an angel to go tell the disciples, and in going they ran into Jesus. As the earthquake that is the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts our lives, Bishop Hughes asks us to think about where are WE running into Jesus? (Time: 18:39.)

Video Transcript

Thinking about Easter this week, I ran across these words from a poem that Pauli Murray wrote. The poem is "Devastation" and in it, Verse 8, it's in sections, in eight sections, and the section called Verse 8 has this phrase right in the middle as she talks about hope. And it says, "hope is a song in a weary throat." "Hope is a song in a weary throat." And that seems to describe so well, what this time is like, what this Easter is like, what Lent has been like.

Someone said to me recently, "Could we just put off Easter? Could we move it to later when everything is back to normal." And I thought, the first thing I thought was, back to normal, I wonder what that's going to look like. How will we ever go exactly back to where we were, and, do we actually want to go back to that normal. There's some things that we've been learning we might want to hold on to.

But most of all I thought, no, we can't put off Easter until another time because we need Easter right now. Easter anchors us in who God is. It anchors us in God's love. It helps us to know more about God's love and who God is in that love, and because we're anchored in God's love we know more about ourselves. That we are beloved by God.

We need that from Easter. We need this resurrection, that's what makes Easter so important – the resurrection – and we claim that resurrection. Even the parts of it we may not know how to understand fully – we claim the resurrection, we claim the love that made resurrection happen, we claim the sadness, the sorrow in resurrection, we claim the mystery of resurrection, the power of resurrection, the transformation of resurrection, we claim Easter, because we claim God, and who we are as God's beloved people.

God whose love is so wide for us, so all-encompassing, so relentless, that when God got to the point where God thought, I cannot figure out how to stay in relationship with my creation, God found one more way and that way was one of the two events that makes us who we are as people of God. God came, God sent a part of God's self to incarnate to live among us, that part of God that we know as Jesus. Jesus was born like us, lived like us, learned like us, loved like us, ministered like us, died like us and the quintessential difference is that three days later Jesus rose. Alive.

That is something we had not been able to do on our own. Knowing that we will follow in his footsteps and we will rise again, alive, to live with Christ, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit. That this life that we're in is an important life, but our lives continue and go on. All of this born from God's incredible desire to be in relationship with us.

That love that God has for all people, and all means all to God. We are the ones that put boundaries around "all." God does not love the way we love. God looks at all of creation and thinks this is my creation, these are my people, whether the people believe or not does not matter to God. Whether we call the people them or us does not matter to God. Whether we say that people are right or wrong does not matter to God. Every single label we put on people does not matter to God because to God we are all beloved.

And God will come for us and stay with us no matter what trouble we may face. Even trouble so bad and so deep it makes the ground shake underneath us like Mary and the other Mary when they went to that tomb. Went to the tomb with sorrow, went to the tomb with the deepest of love needing to know that Jesus had been buried, that his body had been lovingly put into the tomb.

They got there in that sorrow and the ground moved underneath them, it shook, there was an earthquake and in that earthquake comes that fearsome creature. And it seems that angels are not the cuddly cherubs that we so cherish and put on our display as ornaments or on our mantels or on our trees. But angels seem to be these fearsome large creatures. The first thing they have to say is "Fear not" because they scare people so much.

In the midst of that earthquake comes this angel, and angel means messenger of God, comes this Messenger of God. In the midst of sorrow and shaking earth, and says, "I know who you're looking for and he's not here. He has risen from the dead like he said he would. Now go! Go and tell his disciples they can find him in Galilee."

And here's the really wonderful part to me about these women: they just went. He said go – now maybe they were scared out of their minds and they would have just gone anyway – but, he said go and go tell the disciples and they went running as fast as they could. They didn't say, well my sorrow is private, my grief is private, my faith is private. They didn't say, I don't know that I have the right words. Is there somebody else who can convince the disciples better than me? They didn't say, I need proof before I go. They just went. And when they went they ran into Jesus. Oh my goodness the earth shook, the angel came, they ran and they ran in to Jesus. I wonder does anybody out there need to run into Jesus today.

I don't know about you but for me, I'm convinced this virus, Covid-19, has been our earthquake. We have been out of our churches for five weeks now. We have wondered how we worship and how we are Church without these buildings, and without a specific time where we gather. What will happen to our faith, how will we serve God, how will we serve other people.

We have watched as friends, family, neighbors lost their jobs. A friend of mine had a business and found out at five o'clock she had to shut it down at eight o'clock that night. She was in a state of shock, still is. That she had to close down her business that quick. We see the economic fallout. We see the death and the death toll that seems to strike higher and higher, further than anything we have ever expected.

And then there has been this strangeness of our leadership. In some odd way it feels like it was the NBA that made the entire nation say, we need to take this seriously, when they canceled their basketball season. Suddenly the whole nation took it seriously. I don't mean to denigrate how our leaders have worked it out and because some of them have truly risen to the occasion. But, it's been hard watching that struggle happen as a nation.

We've been in an earthquake all right, and there have been messengers of God all along the way. We tend to think of messengers, we think that somebody's gonna walk right up to us and have a sign, or tell us, "Oh, these are the words that God has for you." But messengers come in so many different ways.

I think of the gift that technology has been to us. How it has drawn us together, not only in worship and in meetings and in businesses but connecting families and connecting friends. Those coffee hours and happy hours and lunchtime get-togethers that we have with our families. It was the most touching thing to me to watch one of my closest friend's family gather for Passover and listen to them singing their songs on video conference. They weren't at the same table. They were at many tables.

We've seen messengers be the neighbor to someone. To check and see if the elderly need help getting to the store. We've seen the messenger be the person who calls everyone on their calling lists. Rotating them every day, calling a different person so that those people know that they are loved and they aren't lonely. Everywhere we turn God is sending messengers. Sending people to help other people. And, sending God's Spirit to whisper into our ears, to encourage us to be compassionate, to encourage us to help other people. Thinking of a group of people that just gathered as much water as they could because it turned out their local community hospital didn't have enough drinking water for everyone who was working. They don't even know what inspired them to do that, they just said, "Let's gather water," and it turned out there was an incredible need.

I want to go even further as we think about this, because it's not just the messengers that we've been meeting up with, when we turn away from those things that scare us in this earthquake. When we take on those things that scare us in this earthquake. When we go the way those Marys went. Chances are we are going to run into Jesus. Jesus might look different than how we think Jesus looks. But Matthew tells us every time we help that person that needed something to eat, every time we help that person that needed something to drink, every time we help that person that needed something to wear or needed shelter, that every time we help those people that we have helped Jesus.

And right now, Jesus is in need all over the place. There are people and food pantries and Episcopal churches and certainly in all kinds of houses of worship, all over this diocese, all over northern New Jersey, that see Jesus as they pack up food and hand it to someone who is hungry. Whether that person has been homeless and hungry for a very long time, or they're a student who no longer has access to the meals they would have had at school, or they're newly unemployed and those funds from unemployment and the stimulus have not come in yet.

We see Jesus as people sorrow. When they lay down their head and cry. We see Jesus in the loneliness of others. Every time we stretch out a hand, every time we pick up the phone, every time we make the offer of help every time we go. We see Jesus.

What this means for us, is we might have to give things up as we get to whatever it is that comes next. Some people are gonna call that the new normal. I don't know what to call it yet, because we're still in this and we don't know how much longer this is going to last. But what we will need every day of the rest of this and going into what comes after this, is the ability to be honest and name the tombs that we go to. The tomb of individualism that says I can make it on my own and I don't need anybody else. I don't know who my neighbors are and they don't need to know me because having to say hello to them is more trouble than I want. That tomb of individualism is a place that leaves us broke. That tomb of sorrow and of grieving that we seem so bent on acting like it's not happening, that we've got to force our way through this. And I find that sometimes the way we force our way through this is to judge everybody around us. Rather than to face the facts that our hearts are broken. That we are not who we thought we are. That we are not as safe as we thought we would be.

And for us Episcopalians it's going to take being honest about the tomb of our church buildings. These sacred spaces that hold so much history and hold so many deep and loving memories. The thing is when we sat at that tomb and the messenger came to us about these churches it was a Wednesday and we found out we would not be in our churches on Sunday. And by Sunday we did the thing that we said was impossible. We said we could never get our worship online, we could never find someone to film things, we could never make this happen. We heard from the messenger and we went running. Running into church a completely different way. And, we've been meeting Jesus. We've been meeting Jesus on Zoom, on YouTube, on Facebook.

Not only have we been meeting Jesus, we've been talking about Jesus. When almost, not quite, but you would almost think we got a little Baptist, because we've been talking about Jesus so much because we've been excited about who we have been as church outside of our buildings.

There are things for us to know. There are things for us to learn. There is a song here, a song of hope even when our throats are weary. We are God's beloved, and this is Easter. And not only do we sing a song of hope, we sing a song of faith and a song of joy, we sing a song of sorrow, we sing a song of perseverance. And when we sing, our song is always, "Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia." Amen.

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