Somehow, Joy; Somehow, Hope. April 12, Easter

Somehow, Joy; Somehow, Hope

Jeremiah 31:1-6; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville United Methodist Churches; April 12, 2020

 

Irene lives in Michigan.  In the nineteen years I’ve known her, I’ve lived in Connecticut, on Long Island, in Duluth, Minnesota, and now, here in Catskill, New York.  I met her when our babies were babies; we bantered with other new mamas online about nursing our little ones and how to carry them in slings, and about life and hope and disappointment and things that made us laugh – you know, we became friends.  And every Easter, at midnight, I would post an Easter message, first in the AOL chat room where the mamas gathered, then on Facebook, where we all migrated to after a few years, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!”  Irene would then post, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”  Nineteen years we’ve been welcoming Easter together, across the miles, across the internet, in joy.  This morning I forgot.  I didn’t see her post of Christ is risen until almost 12:45 am.  I finally typed, ‘He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!’  Irene responded, “Now I can finally go to bed!’  It’s not that I don’t still love Irene.  I do.  It’s that this year is different. There aren’t many lilies or hyacinth here on the chancel because there aren’t any of you out there in the pews.  We’re living Christ’s love and Christ’s ascent into life by staying at home.  And it’s strange. 

 

I saw another friend’s video last night of a new version of a beloved story that began like this:  “The Whos down in Whoville liked Easter a lot, but the Covid, who lived just north of Whoville did not!”  Listening to her tell the all-too-familiar story of The Covid trying to steal Easter away from the Whos made me weep in a way the Grinch never has.  I’ve never felt threatened that Christmas wasn’t going to be.  This year, Easter has been elusive.  And, like the Whos, I like Easter a lot; I love Easter.  I love getting up early Easter morning and gathering as the sun is rising for Alleluias and singing and communion.  I love being with all the people who choose to come to church to celebrate the resurrection, to listen together to the wonderful story of the stone rolled away from the tomb, the stunned guards and the amazed women.  The songs and the joy and the flowers all combine to make Easter my favorite Sunday all year.  I wept at the story of The Covid who tried to keep Easter from coming, not because he stole all the baskets and chocolate, not even because I doubted the singing Whos at the end of the story – because, of course, that’s how the story ends.  The Whos sing together and the Covid’s heart of stone is changed.  The stone is rolled away and the Covid descends to Whoville to join the rejoicing and the feast.  I knew that’s how the story would end; the ending makes me happy.  I wept because the telling of the story helped me realize how my heart hurts at the threat that these last few weeks have brought to the surface.  I had forgotten to hope.  I had let the stone of the coronavirus and the death and sadness and loneliness that it has brought to our world lay so heavy on my heart that I had ceased to focus on Easter’s declaration of hope and life and joy. 

 

You may well be with me on this.  Maybe you’ve been keeping busy – gardening, making masks, organizing photos, or reading books you discovered in the attic.  Maybe you’re watching movies on Netflix or doing puzzles or playing solitaire online.  Maybe you’re watching the news every day to keep up with what’s going on.  But underneath it all, at least in my life, my soul hurts with the pain and fear that seeps in – from the stories from nurses working 12 hour shifts, from the essential workers in NY City who have to commute to work in crowded subway cars, from the experiences of kids whose capacity to function well is fragile, and who are falling apart as routines disintegrate. These are hard times, friends. 

 

The prophet Jeremiah speaks to people who are living in hard times.  They are in exile, far away from their homes and their land.  They want to be home, but they are instead in a strange and foreign land.   The prophet proclaims hope, hope in the form of the promise of salvation from the God who has been good to Israel over and over again across the ages.  2Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, 3the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. 4Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.  The tambourines are an explicit reference to the dancing of Miriam and the women after the Israelites crossed the red sea and the chariots of Egypt were drowned.  God brought Israel out of slavery and into freedom – tough times transformed into hope; weeping turned into rejoicing.  Our hope is still in the Lord, who has visited and redeemed the people, and will continue to go with us.

 

Today’s gospel tells the Easter story.  Christ is risen!  This is the core of our faith, the essence of our hope, the reason we sing and shout Alleluia!  But the first Easter begins in pain and fear, like the pain and fear we’re living in today.  Jesus had been crucified. The women in today’s story had watched him die as a common criminal on the cross on Friday afternoon.  Their hearts were broken, and they, too, had forgotten how to hope.  And they were the only ones left.  The rest of the disciples had deserted Jesus.  Perhaps they watched him die from a distance, but they were afraid for their own lives.  Would they be next on the Romans’ list of troublemakers to be disposed of?  The women press through their fear to do the work of caretakers, to prepare the body, to bless it with ointment and with their tears.  Some might name the work useless; he’s already dead.  But humans over the ages treat dead bodies with respect whenever possible, and we are troubled when we cannot. 

 

So Mary and Mary go to the tomb.  And the action begins.  An earthquake!  The stone is rolled away!  A glorious angel appears!  The guards are struck senseless!  And the body is gone.  The angel tells them that Jesus is alive; he has been raised.  They are awestruck. The text says they leave in fear and great joy.  Both fear and joy, together, moving them forward without complete understanding.  Then they see.  They meet Jesus, whom they had watched die, alive again.  Does it all make sense at that point?  Matthew doesn’t say that.  I think it’s because it still doesn’t make sense.  But it becomes real.  It becomes truth, truth that matters because it’s their friend, their beloved Jesus, their Lord. The text says they fall down and worship him. 

 

We have centuries of theology behind us to ‘understand’ the resurrection.  But it all comes down to the same point, especially this year.  In the midst of pain and fear, in the hardest of times, God, who loves us dearly, who loves us with an everlasting love, reaches into our world, still in the person of Jesus, to offer the promise of life and hope and joy.  It’s there.  It’s real. Even in the face of the sickness and death of Covid 19, Easter comes, with singing and Alleluias!  Yes, death is real; it has not gone away – Jesus is raised from the dead with his wounds from the nails intact.  But death does not win. Life wins.  Love wins.  The doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists who are coming to New York out of retirement in Tennessee win.  The cast of Hamilton who sang together from their homes for a little girl whose tickets for the show were no good when the performance was cancelled win.  The Mermaid Café here in Catskill which has taken on delivering homemade soup to almost one hundred people three times a week wins.  The families who made and addressed cards to nursing home residents here in Catskill because the residents can’t have visitors – they win!  The EMTs who fly ICU patients in helicopters, the doctors and nurses who are working with makeshift masks and gowns – they win. The truckers who are continuing to deliver toilet paper, and everything else we need, to grocery stores win, and the people who are staying home, bouncing off the walls, not meeting with friends or going bowling or going to work because people are dying and staying home keeps others safe.  They win.  We win when we let love be our GPS.  That’s the good news of Easter.  The love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ cannot be contained, even by sin, even by sickness, even by death.  Nope.  Christ is risen indeed.  Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, Christ is risen.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  And Amen.

 

Jeremiah 31:1-6

31At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. 2Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, 3the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. 4Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. 5Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. 6For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”

 

Romans 6:3-11

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 

Matthew 28:1-10

28After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”