It’s Easter Anyway: Easter Day

It’s Easter Anyway: Easter Day

Easter DAy: April 12, 2020

Easter Day, Year A: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6, Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

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Homilist: The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church (United States)

This sermon was pre-recorded for inclusion in the live stream of the Cathedral’s April 12, 2020 worship service.

And now in the name of our loving, liberating and life-giving God, father, son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is an old Easter hymn that says this:

“The strife is O’er.
The battle done.
The victory of life is won.
The sound of triumph has begun.
Alleluia!”

The Bible, in John’s Gospel, chapter 20, verse 1, says this:

Early on the first day of the week while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…

I

It’s Easter Sunday.
It doesn’t look like it. It doesn’t smell like it. It doesn’t really feel like it.
But it’s Easter anyway.

Churches are empty.
There’s no sight or smell of lilies.
No children dressed in new clothes for Easter Day.
When I was a child I remember that all the women would come to church with hats, white and pink, and flowers and fruit adorning them.
None of that today.

When it happened, in those days,
It was Easter.
And we knew it.
And we would sing.

“Jesus Christ is risen today”

We would sing,
“Hail thee festival day. Blest day that art hallowed forever.”

We would sing,
“Welcome happy morning ages to age shall say.”

We would sing,
“Because he lives I can face tomorrow.”

We would sing,
“The strife is O’er.
The battle done.
The victory of life is won.
The sound of triumph has begun.
Alleluia!”

Oh, we would sing, and we would shout,
“Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

It’s Easter.
But it doesn’t look like it.
It doesn’t feel like it.
It doesn’t even smell like it.
But it’s Easter anyway!

To be sure, there is no Easter bunny in malls.
To be sure, there are no crosses now adorned with beautiful flowers by children from Sunday School.
There are no crying babies in churches, no wiggling children, no old and young alike packed into and into seats.

The pews are empty.
The church is quiet.
Even the sounds of trumpets on great organs, even if they sound, they bounce from wall-to-wall, echoing in empty churches.
For there is sickness and hardship in the land, there is death and destruction, there is sadness and fear, anxiety. As the old slaves used to say there is a weeping and a wailing.
But it’s Easter anyway!

II

Think for a moment.
That first Easter. It was Easter, but nobody knew it.

The Bible says, early in the morning, Mary Magdalen got up and went to the tomb while it was still dark. It was dark and she wasn’t exactly sure how to get there, but she went anyway. She didn’t know for sure that the rumors about soldiers, having been posted to guard the tomb to prevent anyone from doing anything, she didn’t know if that was true. She knew that there was a stone rolled in front of the entrance of the tomb. She got up and went anyway.

Luke’s Gospel says that Mary of Magdala and several other women were well-to-do women, who actually helped to finance and pay the bills, if you will, of that Jesus movement. Jesus had touched her and their life and she never forgot. She loved him. They loved him. They were actually living the love that he had taught them because they had heard him. They had heard what he taught.

They had heard him say, “Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit.”
They had heard him say, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
They had listened.
They were listening when he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, that God’s righteous justice might prevail in all the world.”
They listened to him when he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
They listened when he said, “Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you.”
They were listening when he said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.”

And Mary and those women followers of Jesus were there when he was dying on the cross and they saw him love, even in death.

They probably heard him, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
They probably heard him cry out himself, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
And then they heard him make sure his mother was cared for, “Woman, behold your son, behold your mother.”
They had heard him to that revolutionary thief on the side of him when he said, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.”
They had heard him cry, “I thirst. It is finished. Father into thy hands, I commend my spirit.”

Oh, they had listened to him.
They learned from him and they saw in him, as that old hymn says, “A love that would not let them go. You shall love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself. This is the way to life.”

They had listened. They had taken it in.

And so Mary and those women got up in the dark, not knowing for sure what was going on, just doing what love does. Love can’t change the fact of death, but love can live through it and thereby defeat death. And so they got up and went to the tomb just to do what love does. They didn’t understand what was going on. They just did what love does. They went to make sure, as folk used to say, “Make sure Jesus had a proper burial.” They went to anoint his body and to make sure that the linen shroud was still clean and to give him a new one if necessary. They went to the tomb that morning, just to do what love does.

They didn’t know. They really didn’t know that Easter had happened. He had been raised from the dead. He was alive, new, transformed, not walking dead. He was alive, new, the new creation beginning. He was alive, but they didn’t know that.

It was Easter, but it didn’t look like it.
It didn’t smell like it.
It didn’t feel like it.
But it was Easter anyway.

III

Stay with me. The amazing thing was that it really was Easter. Jesus really was alive. God had been somehow behind the scenes all along, working through the chaos. They just didn’t know it.

All that Mary knew was that Jesus was dead. She knew where he was buried. She knew the stone was there. She knew there might be guards there. She just knew where he was buried and she just got up to do what love does. And when she got there, she found the tomb was empty. The stone had been rolled away. The soldiers weren’t there. What Mary didn’t know, was that Easter had happened anyway, in spite of what her eyes could see, her ears could hear, her nose could smell, her hands could touch. Easter had happened anyway, and maybe that is the way of God, that somehow behind the scenes, in ways that we may not fully behold at the time, God is there. And not just there, but somehow working in the midst, even of the mess.

The Psalmist in the Hebrew scriptures, Isaiah, says, “Surely, God thou art a God who hidest thyself.”

William Cowper in the 18th century, Christian poet and hymn writer, said it this way:

God moves in a mysterious way.
His wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

This just seems to be the way of God.

One of my favorite poems from the 19th century from James Russell Lowell, who was very much involved in the movement to end chattel slavery and in movements to right grievous wrongs, and who stayed with it even when the odds were against it, wrote a poem in which he said,

Truth may forever be on the scaffold
Wrong may forever be on the throne
But that scaffold sways the future
And behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own

Easter had happened. Mary didn’t know it, but she did what love does anyway. She got up, went to the tomb to do what love does. And though she and the other women didn’t know it at the time, because they were acting on their love for Jesus, their trust in him, even when they didn’t understand, they found their lives aligned with the very life of God. The God who the Bible says is love. And in so doing, discovered faith, hope, and eventually, Mary would actually see Jesus alive, raised from the dead.

The late Howard Thurman was arguably one of the great spiritual masters, if you will, of the 20th century. He was a close advisor behind the scenes to Dr. Martin Luther King. And it was greatly Howard Thurman and the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who behind the scenes, were quiet, spiritual counselors to King in some of his darkest moments. Thurman wrote a book entitled, “Jesus and the Disinherited”. Dr. King carried a copy of that book with him wherever he went. In that book, he tells of a time when he was a little boy growing up in segregated Florida, growing up poor in a rural community.

When Halley’s Comet had come, people didn’t understand what this comet was and what it meant, and people were frightened, anxious, not knowing what to do. The store down the street from where Thurman grew up was selling comet pills that were supposed to immunize you from the comet. But most people were just frightened. Late one night, Thurman was in bed and his mother came and got him out of bed and asked him if he wanted to see the comet in the sky. So he got out of bed and went outside with his mother, looked up to the dark sky, saw this comet blazing in the heavens. He said, “Mama, are we going to die?” And she just said, “God will take care of us.”

Later he wrote:

simple-hearted mother of mine, in one glorious moment you put your heart on the ultimate affirmation of the human spirit! Many things have I seen since that night. Times without number I have learned that life is hard, as hard as crucible steel; but as the years have unfolded, the majestic power of my mothers glowing words has come back again and again, beating out its rhythmic chant in my own spirit. Here are the faith and the awareness that overcome fear and transform the fear into the power to strive, to achieve, and not to yield.”*

It may not look like Easter.
It may not smell like Easter.
It may not even feel like Easter,
But it’s Easter anyway.

And trusting that, we can make it.
A little song says it this way.

(singing)

He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands

God love you. God bless you. May God hold us all in those almighty hands of love. It’s Easter. Amen.

*Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
Copyright © 1976 Howard Thurman
Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press, Boston Massachusetts


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