The Resurrection of JesusMark 16:1-8 (NRSV)
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 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.
On Easter Sunday, we usually pull out all the stops! We sing and we praise God, shouting, “Alleluia!” We don our Easter clothes and even Easter bonnets. We fill the church with people and with beautiful Easter flowers! And we worship God together, celebrating the fact that the tomb is empty and Christ is risen! Can I get an Alleluia?! What a day! What an event! What a celebration!
But this year, this year, it’s a little bit different. This year we are worshiping from home. We may not be wearing fancy Easter clothes or smelling the fragrance of beautiful Easter Lilies. We may miss seeing family and friends, and we may not feel excited or happy or filled with joy. Actually, on the contrary, some of us might be feeling lonely, or aggravated, or anxious, or even afraid.
But friends, let’s take a look back at the Easter story again because scripture tells us, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
You see my friends, the beginning of the Easter story starts with uncertainty and worry. How will the women move the enormous stone that covered the entrance to Jesus’ tomb? Will anyone be there to help them? Can they possibly do it alone? How will they get inside to anoint Jesus body? Luckily, the women had faith enough to believe that someone would help them. And by the grace of God, even though they weren’t sure how they would do it, they went to the tomb anyway.
My friends, sometimes life works that way, doesn’t it? We don’t have all the answers. We don’t know how something is going to turn out. We can’t control each and every step of our lives. And yet somehow, we continue to move forward in faith.
On that first Easter morning, the first bit of good news that we hear is that the women had the courage to take the next right step and do what they knew in their hearts was the right thing to do. They didn’t know how they were going to do it. They didn’t know step by step what was going to happen. But they did know what they were called to do, and they were going to go and try their very best to get it done.
If they were like many of us, I am sure they spent a lot of time worrying about how they were going to roll that big heavy stone away. Perhaps they had a few ideas, and maybe they prayed long and hard about it. After all, they even discussed it on their way down the path to the tomb. But when they reached the tomb and found that the stone had already been rolled away, they realized that their worry was never necessary. The hours they had spent uncertain of who would help and how they would accomplish such a big task were wasted. But the best news of the day, the Good news that would be shared for generations and for thousands of years, is that not only was the stone rolled away, but the tomb was empty. Jesus was gone! And the women were told, “Do not be afraid. … You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified? He has risen!”
My friends, if our faith assures us of only one thing, may it be that the uncertainties and fears that we face in our everyday lives are never the end. There is always more to the story. Though we sometimes don’t understand it, or can’t see another way around it, God always does. And the truth is, that is the message of the resurrection. God wants us to know that no matter what we say or what we do, God loves us. No matter what we understand or what we believe, God loves us. No matter who we live with or who we love, God loves us. No matter what is happening in the world right now, God loves us! No matter where we worship, who we worship with, or even if we worship, God loves us! No matter what we have done or left undone, God still loves us!
My friend, we call Good Friday “good” because even in the midst of the pain and the hurt and the grief and the brokenness of this world, God says, “No matter what you do to me, I will love you anyway.” And on that cross of death and destruction, when the Romans thought that they were in control, when evil thought it could win, when the world thought that death had the final word, when the cross was looked at as a place of fear and control and grief and doubt, God used the cross — that place of fear and control and grief and doubt — to show us that death is never the end, that evil never wins, and that God loves us and will never leave us, no matter what! And if that is not Good News, my friends, and if it doesn’t fill us with such joy that even from our homes that we need to shout Alleluia on the top of our lungs, I don’t know what does!
Friends, like many of you, I have been working from home recently. In the evenings, my husband and son and I look for something to watch on tv. Well, the other night we watched the Disney movie “Frozen 2.” Now I know that our Household Huddlers out there have seen the movie because you’ve all told me about it lots and lots of times! But now that I have seen it, I can tell you that it is a wonderful story of transformation. There is a line in the movie that I think speaks very clearly to where we are right now. Because though today is Easter, and the tomb is empty, some of us are still struggling. We feel afraid because there is so much unknown in the world right now. We have lost our sense of control, having to stay home, and having to look for new and different ways to do things. Some of us are afraid to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy, while others are struggling to make ends meet because of layoffs and closings. What we knew as normal is no more. The plans we had are put on hold or canceled altogether, and we’re having trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Friends, on this Easter Sunday, our hearts tell us that the tomb is empty, that Christ is risen, and that we should shout, “Alleluia!” but our heads can’t let go of our everyday fears. As we step out into the great fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, let’s listen to words of wisdom from the movie “Frozen 2.” “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.” Did you hear that? “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.”
To all you Oldtowners out there who have your fabric strips at home, I’m going to encourage you to put your fabric strip somewhere that you can see it over the next fifty days. And when you see it, may it remind you to do the next right thing. Maybe that is reaching out to help another, or encouraging you to make a call or write a note to someone that is lonely. Perhaps the next right thing for you is looking for something beautiful out in your yard or doing a random act of kindness, or maybe it’s a reminder to stay home and stay safe, not only for yourself but for your community.
But friends, though we should always strive to do the next right thing, we also have to remember that sometimes, when we are overwhelmed, it’s okay to feel sad or mad or frustrated. And sometimes, we might not have the energy to do the next right thing. Today’s scripture reading tells us that even the women at the tomb, after being told, “Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But then go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
But friends, the women were so afraid, they did nothing! Scripture says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”
Folks, we all face Good Friday moments when we are sad or anxious, grieving or lonely, unsure, or just plain scared. But the empty tomb reminds us that, even in the midst of fear and grief and uncertainty and doubt, death is never the end. A virus will not stop us from being who we are. Social distancing and restrictions on gatherings will not be forever. Evil never wins. And God loves us and will never leave us, no matter what!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Easter Sunday, as you stay safe at home, remember that it’s okay to feel unsure and afraid. It’s okay to be lonely or overwhelmed or anxious. But if you can, try to do the next right thing. Just remember the women on that first Easter morning. If they had simply let their worry stop them, they never would have gone to the tomb. They knew that the stone was in their way, but they did the next right thing. And thank goodness that they did or they never would have experienced the good news and found that the tomb was empty!
My friends, even in the midst of this pandemic, when we are scattered and unable to gather, when we are filled with fear and doubt and uncertainty, let us not forget the Good News that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!
So, let us all shout Alleluia!! Amen!