Easter Day in the time of our exile

A vineyard on the Venetian island of Torcello

Alleluia! He is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! 

The stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty, the angels have spoken! Today we celebrate the Paschal mystery, which is truly a mystery, how God drops into time from eternity and acts in history to bring about new life in the midst of death. Oh, how we need this story today, this assurance that God is faithful, that God desires abundant life for us, that God will breathe new life into our weary dried up bones and open up the graves we find ourselves in and love us into a new and hopeful reality. Every year the Easter story is a joy and a gift, but especially this year as the world is bent over with suffering and pain. Easter assures us that God will redeem this suffering. God will bring new life. 

So put on your Easter finery and sing all your favorite Easter songs and give up your Lenten fast. Get out your white shoes. Eat some chocolate, if you have any left after stress-eating your way through the last few weeks like I have. Give yourself some time to celebrate this beautiful day.

I don’t mean to suggest that we ought to pretend that our world has not been turned upside down. People are dying today. People are out of work today. People are unable to hold their loved ones today. The suffering goes on today as it did yesterday and will again tomorrow. But I am remembering a photograph someone sent to me when he was working in a very poor country. He had told me how difficult life was for young girls in his village, that they were married off at a young age and were expected to bear many children and work themselves nearly to death, hauling water, cooking, sweeping dirt floors, living in poverty. Domestic violence was common, too. But the picture he sent showed a group of those young women dancing under a tree, faces and arms uplifted, bare feet pounding the earth to the beat of music coming from a radio, engulfed in pure joy for just a few moments. That they could dance when life was so hard was an amazement. I was astonished that they could put aside their hardships and dance.

But Easter is like that. It’s complicated. It’s not a magic trick, a fantasy, an optical illusion designed to make something appear to be true that isn’t really true. It’s a way of living with joy amidst the realities of sorrow and suffering. It’s a way of accepting God’s gift of complicated life with gratitude, of appreciating the beauty that abounds even in a broken world. It’s knowing that life is beautiful even though life is also hard. It’s holding out hope like a candle in the darkness, like planting flowers when we’ve received the news of a terminal illness, like coming out on the balcony to play music while the entire village is in quarantine. 

Easter is not Pollyanna, not just playing the Glad Game, finding the silver lining. It’s multi-dimensional, multi-layered: Jesus, God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity; the mysterium tremendens; resurrection, a complexity we cannot grasp; all inspiring us to tap into the Jesus-given gushing up of living water within us to share with a world that is dying of thirst. Easter is not just joy; it is joy in the midst of sorrow, suffering, and pain. 

After their joyful reunion on that Easter morning so long ago, Jesus told a still-tearful Mary Magdalene that he must go back to God before his work and life were complete. He came from God and had to go back to God, opening the way to heaven for all of us. He could not remain as the peripatetic teacher and friend, he had another path to follow. That’s why he told the disciples to love one another, to be servants of one another, to show the world that they were his disciples by showing love the way he had showed love, because he knew that he would be no longer in the world to show the world what God is like. 

So Jesus is risen, but he is not strolling down the Boulevard. That means that now it is up to us to show the world what God is like. It is now up to us to stand for abundant life for all of God’s beloved children, to show the world what love is like and how love acts, to show what a life of integrity is like. It is up to us to show the world that God desires wholeness for all God’s people. It is up to us to show that love heals; that sheltering the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the hungry, and protecting the vulnerable is the work God has given us to do here and now. 

This Easter, though, we are not able to swarm the streets with food or go to hospitals and nursing homes to visit the sick and lonely. We are sheltering in place. Some of us are watching our resources dwindle more quickly than we had hoped and planned. Some of us have loved ones who are out there in the thick of the effort to contain a pandemic or continuing to work in constrained circumstances. How we carry on the work Jesus left for us to carry on with will have to look different than it did last year.

But this is Easter, too. A time when we discern new things that are being born. Jesus was changed through his resurrection - so changed that his devoted friend Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him. Nor did the two fellows he met on the road to Emmaus. The resurrected Jesus was a new thing, a new experience, a new way of life. New life is stirring within our community, too, even though our doors are closed and we cannot meet the way we used to. Life is not ended, but changed, and we are changed, too, and the way we minister to God’s people must fit with the times in which we find ourselves. Indeed, even the way we see ourselves must be changed. We don’t know what our new life is going to look like or even what we are going to look like when we get to the other side of this terrible time. 

That will be our work during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. It always is but this year will continue to be different. We must burst out of our own tombs where we may have been huddling as the pandemic has swept through the world and through our economy and our hospitals and our way of life. It’s time to come out of our huddling even if we can’t come out of our neighborhood. Its time to let go of what’s shriveling, and look around for new life. 

God is leading us into new life. So dance and raise your face to the sun and shout Alleluia, the Lord is risen indeed! And then let’s get ready to roll up our sleeves and show this beautiful broken world what God can do. Let's continue to look for God going ahead of us, and when we are able, be ready to join in.