Sunday, April 12, 2020
Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day, Year A

Prayer of the Day
God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life. Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Jeremiah 31:1-6 Joy at the restoration of God’s people
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 10:34-43 God raised Jesus on the third day
John 20:1-18 Seeing the risen Christ

SERMON
Title:  Butterflies in Cocoon Days

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

So, let’s start with the hard question.  What are you missing the most today? Perhaps for some this is the hardest day yet of our now four weeks of isolation, of prohibition on public gatherings, on our practice of social distancing.  This is the day that churches, under normal conditions, were be fuller than usual.  This is the day of walking 5th Avenue sporting your Easter bonnet and/or marveling at the creativity of others.  This is the day to gather with family and friends for a dinner.  Maybe your longings or simpler.  You are missing the smell of the lilies that fill the sanctuary as you arrive for mass.  I’m certainly missing the Dixie land music we have enjoyed the last couple of Easters providing a prelude that had people smiling and bouncing as if there was not only good music in the air, but good news.  And there was.  And there is.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

I certainly miss seeing you who make up this community of faith.  You who are faithful workers for the gospel.  So, this is a good day to remind ourselves of the great cloud of witnesses who surround us, not just today, but always.  Those who have witnessed to the hope, and lived the trust that is at the center of this day, whether we are face to face or separated by space and time.  This morning we have heard from Jeremiah, who with one voice he is telling the people that defeat is imminent.  That they are about to lose it all, king, country, temple.  That many will go into exile.  But with another voice, the one we have heard this morning, he is encouraging them that even in their defeat, even in their inevitable isolation from homeland and most valued temple, the hope that is theirs in God lives.  There will be return and there will be rejoicing in that return.  Restoration will be accomplished.  Replanting and nourishment will again be theirs.  Being in a similar situation, we are wise to fully hear and inspired to say with hope …

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Rejoicing is ours.  Restoration is ours.  Even now, and in days to come.  New growth and rich nourishment is ours in Christ Jesus the risen one.  But it is not a message easily heard or comprehended.  Especially to those who are isolated, cut off, and distanced.  In John’s account of that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb alone.  We heard on Good Friday how she saw them – Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – lay Jesus’ dead body in that tomb.  How much of her died that evening?  In her grief, she does not gather with others. She is alone.  She is isolated.  In her understanding, all hope is gone. In her sorrow she is unable to remember his words.  When the tomb is empty, she immediately thinks the dead, lifeless body has been taken.  Peter and the other disciple come and don’t know what to make of it either.  It says the one believed, but believed what? Not that Jesus had risen, because it then says they did not understand any of that yet.  And they just go home.  Back to their fear-filled, all-hope-is-gone isolation.  They are certainly not able to hear the news that

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

But then, – Breaking through their fear that all is lost.  Over-powering their doubt that God’s promises are indeed fulfilled.  Stilling their anxiety that the one they had pinned their hopes on was defeated. JESUS APPEARS.  The crucified one is not dead, is not defeated.  The one who spoke of love, who lived love, who called us to love one another, who even offered hope and forgiveness from the crushing isolation of the cross, this embodiment of God’s love is alive.  AND, even greater news than that – his victory, his life, his love IS OURS.  It is ours in the waters of baptism.  This morning, we have (and are) giving thanks for this new life.  We have replaced the Lenten cross that has been standing here for six weeks, that we have gathered around in person and online, that we have daily sat before for morning and evening prayer, that cross has been replaced with the baptismal font.  Death has been overcome by life.  We rejoice at this source and well-spring of our new life in the risen Christ, even as we wait for its fullness.  And at this table, that new life (and our journey into it) is nourished and sustained through the presence of the risen Jesus the Christ. That is why we continue to shout

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

And no distance of six feet or six hundred years will change that good news that binds us together as the body of the risen Christ across time and space.  And whether we gather face to face, or online, on Facebook or on Zoom, or in prayer across the miles or across the years; whether we see that great cloud of witnesses in our midst or if their presence is beyond our knowing or understanding.  We know, we celebrate, we live together, the life of our risen savior.  How loud and eternal is the shout, on heaven and on earth, lending our voices, so that as a countless multitude, made one in Christ, we say:

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Something else I am missing this year are all the butterflies that fill our sanctuary.  We have a few up.  But this year, it seems right to have both Butterfly and cocoon present.  Yes, Jesus is risen, the cocoon of death has been burst and the new life, symbolized in that re-created butterfly is flying with joy.  But I can’t help thinking that this year we have a deeper understanding that the cocoon days are continuing.  Even without quarantining, we live as both butterfly and cocoon. Dying daily to self and sin, we are rising to new life in Christ.  Yet, we are not quite able to fly as free as we long to do.

As we mark at least some of these 50 days of Easter (perhaps half, maybe more) with continued isolation and social distancing.  While we celebrate the hope of the resurrection with deep trust in the renewing life of God in Christ that is ours through the work of the Holy Spirit, perhaps we can also use these prolonged literal cocoon days to take time as individuals, as society, as the church, to give thought and contemplation to what is our new life to look like, our post-isolation life. Our days of becoming more butterfly, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  How will we use and not lose what we are learning from both this time of crisis and this time of isolation?

What will we do with all that we are learning as we watch nature reclaim lost territory in the face of decreased competition with us?  For any who doubted that systemic racism and economic inequality is literally killing people, we are seeing concrete evidence that this is true.  Can we begin to tell a deeper truth about our nation once we immerge from our cocoons?  Will we be ready to say that healthcare is a human right?  Will we admit that a stronger infrastructure is needed so that we are prepared to face future crisis?  And what about ourselves?  What changes, learned in this gift of isolation, will we seek to hold on to?  In the name of new life, resurrected life, don’t let this cocoon time be lost time.  As a community of faith, we are learning new ways to proclaim the gospel and to connect this diverse community.  I am determined to not let these means fall away as merely emergency measures, but rather become part of our ministry that must always be seeking new ways to proclaim:

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

So, I guess the question is not, what are we missing today.  Rather the question is, what are we embracing today, what are we clinging to today, what is still our hope and our salvation, our meaning and our calling, our joy and our life.  And no challenge or crisis, no limitation on gathering or prolonged isolation will ever change the new life that is forever ours in the fact that

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Before we continue with our liturgy, a postscript.

I am painfully aware that the magnitude and the complexity of this current crisis cannot fully be addressed in a simple Easter Sunday sermon. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the suffering and loss that is effecting so many in these days, I pray that you will hear words of hope and find comfort and peace in every element of this liturgy as we celebrate the victory over death that Christ shares with us. Does it erase the pain? By no means.  But this day assures us that we can even grieve with hope, trusting in our God whose love does not let us go.  And we can find peace in the presence of Christ who himself suffered and died, but now lives, and is with us, always, through the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

 

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