This is such a strange Easter. An Unexpected Easter. No happy greetings in the narthex or the aisles. No families squeezing together in the pews. No lilies adorning the sanctuary and the cross. No choir. No organ. No procession. No acolytes. No paschal candle. If someone had told any of us on Christmas Eve that on Easter Sunday morning the sanctuary would be empty and dark and we would all be sequestered in our own homes, if they had told us that on Easter Sunday morning we would be fussing with our computers and laptops and tablets and phones so we could connect together electronically for worship we would have thought that person was delusional. But here we are. You in your home, I in mine and it doesn’t look or feel like any Easter we’ve ever celebrated before.
So no. This year we don’t have the organ or the lilies or the acolytes or the choir. This year we can’t light the paschal candle in our sanctuary. But maybe there’s a silver lining. Maybe since we don’t have all those things that look like Easter and feel like Easter we can focus on what is Easter.
We still have the main thing, the central thing, the most important thing.
We have the good news that the tomb is empty. We have the good news that Jesus has been resurrected to new life.
Still, when you’re isolated from everyone, when you can’t hug the people you love or even see them face to face, when everyone is wearing masks for safety, when sickness or even death are only one careless touch away, the world can seem pretty dark.
But remember, resurrection happens in darkness. The gospel accounts differ significantly on several details, but that’s one thing they all agree on. The resurrection happened in darkness. Before dawn. In the closed tomb. God’s most astonishing work happens in the dark.
There’s a disarming honesty in the confusion in the Bible’s accounts of the resurrection. But it’s really not surprising that so many details differ when you consider that the earliest gospel, Mark, was written about 30 years after the events it was describing. Twenty years or so after that, Luke and Matthew, using Mark as a template, each added their own material based on what they had heard handed down. And then John, written as much as 70 years after the resurrection in a community far removed from Jerusalem told the story as it had been passed down in that community. Through all that time, these communities of faith had been telling and retelling the story of the resurrection. Many of those believers, the Apostle Paul, for instance, would tell you that they, themselves had encountered the risen Jesus. Writing to the Corinthians he said this:
I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)
Those who had encountered the risen Christ told others. Despite ridicule, persecution, and dispersion, they told others. They told others because the resurrection of Jesus transformed them. Peter, who had denied even knowing Jesus, after encountering the risen Jesus, came out of hiding to proclaim Christ’s resurrection on the steps of the temple. Saul, who had persecuted the followers of Jesus, was confronted by the risen Christ, then changed his name to Paul and dedicated his life to telling others about his resurrected Lord. They quite literally and immediately had new life in Christ. They were braver, they were bolder, they were stronger. They were no longer afraid. So they shared the news with others.
We have the good news that the tomb is empty. We have the good news that Jesus has been resurrected to new life. If your Corona virus isolation has begun to feel a little bit like a tomb, I can’t think of more welcome news. As St. Paul says in Romans, because Christ was raised, we too will walk in newness of life.
Yes, this is a very different Easter than what we’re used to. An unexpected Easter. All that remains to be seen is how this unexpected Easter will transform us.
Yes, right now the world looks a little dark. But remember, God’s most astonishing work happens in the dark. And Christ is risen.