Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Easter Sunday Year A
April 12, 2020
Lessons: Acts 10:34-43 (or Jeremiah 31:1-6); Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 (or Acts 10:34-43); John 20:1-18 (or Matthew 28:1-10)
Note: In response to our current COVID-19 crisis, I am using Year B’s gospel lesson, Mark 16:1-8. You will find archived reflections for the lessons from Matthew (Year A) and John below.
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people refuse to let fear bind and muzzle them and prevent telling the world about the radical good news of Jesus and the risen Christ.
Key Scripture: So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. –Mark 16:8
Have you ever felt like you’re doing everything right, and things still fall apart? Most of us know that sensation; perhaps we’re even feeling it right now. We’re all experiencing some level of disruption to our normal patterns, work, and lifestyles thanks to an invisible-to-the-naked-eye virus named COVID-19. World economies are tanking, healthcare systems are stretched beyond capacity, supply chains are stalled, and the entire world is breathed into Sabbath. Change is tough, especially when you had no input into the process. No wonder emotions of grief, sadness, anxiety, anger, confusion, and (of course) fear are spinning us all into a complex and interconnected web.
Making any connections between our current situation and the socio-political and religious settings of first century Palestine? We certainly share the reality of upended expectations across time and space. Funny how life can change in the span of a single breath. We find our entire way of being overturned by a virus. The followers of Jesus had their hopes dashed and plans halted with the arrest and political killing of their beloved rabbi and Messiah. Today we are sequestered in our homes (those of us who are privileged enough to have homes), fearful and fretful in the midst of this pandemic, while conflicting information assaults us at every turn. Our first century counterparts were locked away in their homes for fear of being arrested as heretics or political rabble-rousers.
And yet the great world spins; life goes on. Today we’ve adapted to digital technologies for work, school, faith, and community to keep some rhythms and patterns going. My 92-year-old mother just learned how to use ZOOM, since visitors are not allowed at her assisted living home to prevent the spread of the virus. Faithful women, Mary of Magdala, Mary, mother of James, and Salome, left their homes to finish the work of commending Jesus’ body to the grave. At our best, we humans are creative and resilient; we find ways to keep on keepin’ on.
Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that pretty soon this will all be over and we can go back to the way things used to be. Easter says a big old NO to normal. Resurrection scoffs at backward longing and thinking, at nostalgia and regret. The Resurrection account in Mark’s gospel speaks such truth to our time. Mark’s Easter reality is messy, incomplete, and a basket case of emotions and confusion. It is raw and real, and my friends we need to own and work with the raw and real now. This is no time for bonnets, lilies, and baskets full of unethically sourced chocolates and plastic throwaway symbols of consumerism. It’s our human nature to polish up Mark’s Easter to look more like the socially acceptable and whitewashed jelly egg version.
Are you willing to let this socially and physically distanced Easter take you to the empty tomb and obliterate everything you’re so sure you know and to which you’ve been clinging? Are you willing to confront a new reality? Don’t be surprised that when you do you will have more in common with these first witnesses of the Resurrection than you might imagine. It is okay that you are afraid, confused, anxious, stunned, or numb. Jesus is not bound or hemmed in by our own human attempts to control him. He is risen and on the loose, troubling the waters and doing a new thing, and he’s accompanied by that “wild goose” of a Holy Spirit.
So yes, expect some holy chaos. Realize you won’t have all the answers. Don’t be afraid of what appears to be gaping nothingness. If the cat’s got your tongue, be not dismayed. We humans also have a tendency to work out our fears and steer toward homeostasis. Perhaps that’s why later manuscripts of Mark’s gospel aim to redact it, wrap it all up, and put a bow on it, saying:
And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.
Dear friends, as terrifying as the unknown truly is, I pray that we embrace this “inner Easter,” looking within to ensure resurrection and new birth without. Don’t rush to fill the space. Hang out with the women. Honor your pain and fear—and theirs. The Christ will not leave you bereft. See, he is not here. The remains of how you’ve always imagined him are all that’s left. Do not be afraid. Go and tell. Go and practice resurrection yourself—whenever we leave our behind our sheltering, that is. In the meantime, stay safe, be well, and rest in the Christ. You are beloved.
Keep this year’s worship simple. If you are live streaming, consider asking some questions like, “What were you expecting to find at the empty tomb this Easter?” “What do you fear the most?” “Where are you already seeing evidence of Jesus and the Spirit at work in our world during time of pandemic?” “What about fear silences you?” “What might you do about that as you seek to practice resurrection?” Even as we celebrate, it is helpful to honor the response of the first women at the empty tomb in Mark’s account and give ourselves permission to process and work through our own fear, terror, and grief. Let’s keep this the honest Easter that Mark so faithfully recounts.
Invite worshipers to post photos and short reflections about how they want to practice resurrection and what needs to happen to banish fear and replace it with all that promotes flourishing and a life of enough for all people.
Share this simple information video about the Simple Way with your youth. The Simple Way is an intentional Christian community located in North Philadelphia, where members practice resurrection with their neighbors in one of the most impoverished of the city’s neighborhood. Invite their ideas about how they might practice resurrection in your congregation’s neighborhood. For more information about The Simple Way, visit their website here. Oh, and be sure to check out Jesus’ words on the side of the building at the end of the video!
This week’s focus verse is Mark 16:8 – So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
The story of Jesus’ resurrection and the empty tomb as told in Mark’s gospel ends with terror, amazement, and the three women witnesses not saying anything to anyone—initially. We have to figure that they eventually did speak up because life did go on, Jesus did appear as promised, and Jesus does calm the disciples’ fears and doubts.
Have you ever been afraid? What makes you afraid? (Find a way to affirm each answer and also share what makes you afraid.) You know, fear is a perfectly normal and real emotion to experience. The key is to not let the fear paralyze you or keep you from living. We have all kinds of fears, both big and little. But we don’t ever want anyone to get stuck living from a position of fear and terror. It would be kind of like having 24/7 nightmares—definitely no fun.
The three women went to the tomb to finish taking care of Jesus’ body. He was not there, and they sure didn’t find what they expected. When things don’t go as expected for us, we may experience fear. The good news is that Jesus has promised to never leave us. He has risen and is working to restore creation and our world.
As you’re spending time at home this week, playing outside or taking walks, look for signs of Jesus in the world. Where do you see him at work? I guarantee he’s there, loving you, caring for you, and wanting you to be safe, secure, and connected to him.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you for loving us (thank you for loving us). Thank you for Jesus (Thank you for Jesus.). Thank you that the tomb was empty (Thank you that the tomb was empty) and that Jesus goes before us (and that Jesus goes before us) into the world (into the world). Please keep doctors, nurses, first responders, fire and police (Please keep doctors, nurses, first responders, fire and police) and other critical workers safe (and other critical workers safe). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful. (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Amen. (Amen.)
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! It may take us a little bit to get our bearings once we emerge from this time of physical and social distancing, but rest assured that Christ goes before us to lead the way into new life post COVID-19. No, the world will not look the same in some ways, but through careful and faithful stewardship of all aspects of life we have the opportunity to work to make it better. Alleluia!
Stewardship at Home
Yes, this is quite possibly the strangest Easter that most of us have celebrated, at least for a large segment of the world’s Christian population. Don’t let go of that weirdness just yet. Instead, spend at least part of your daily prayer/meditation/devotional time pondering what the Spirit may be up to, and what God wants to accomplish through you and your unique set of (God-given) talents. God sends us out to share the good news and love of Jesus with this beautiful and broken world. What threads of new meaning and real life might you be able to weave into the fabric of your faith community and the world outside the doors?
Alternately, ponder these words from Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton, Massachusetts. What do you find compelling about what Rabbi Rothbaum says? What do you find challenging? Does anything make you uncertain? Hopeful? How might practicing resurrection in this uncertain time lead to a glimpse of liberation?
Yes, the old ways of doing things are on hold, perhaps for longer than we realize. But this moment of rupture may be an opening to new paths. New connections. New ways of being. And, if we are diligent and blessed, maybe even liberation.
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/04/dont-be-afraid-be-sent/
2014 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2014/04/its-about-time-sort-of/
Reflection on John’s account: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2019/04/reliable-witnesses/
Reflection on Mark’s account: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2018/03/of-fear-and-foolishness/ (Mark’s gospel)
Images: Pedro-Ribeiro-Simões and TED, Creative Commons usage license. © compuinfoto – Fotolia.com Thanks!
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