Category Archives: Sermon

Unexpected Shepherds and the Good Shepherd

GOSPEL: John 10:1-10
Jesus said:] 1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… (Read the whole passage)

The early church understood the 7 week season of Easter to be like one great day of celebration. Time kind of gets mushy in Easter, unlike other seasons of the church year where we are so often counting the weeks as they go by. And while many comparisons to our pandemic isolation have been to the season of Lent, there have been also similarities to Easter. Disciples hiding out in upper rooms, sticking to small groups and avoiding crowds, time becoming mushy and hard to keep track of. We just might be living the most authentic Easter season of our lives. 

Today, we are four weeks into the season of Easter, nearly a month since first hearing about the women going to the tomb early on the first day of the week. And yet, today is the first time that we are moving on from that first day. We divert somewhat to familiar images of the pastoral Jesus. Psalm 23, and John 10. Shepherds and sheep. Comforting images of the love and care of God, poured out for us. 

The church that I grew up in had a stained glass window of Jesus the Good Shepherd, a blonde hair blued-eyed Shepherd lovingly gazing at the lamb he is holding in his arms. An imagine imprinted on my mind, that often surfaces on this fourth Sunday of Easter, or when I hear psalm 23. 

And there is a certain amount of comfort and safety that we imagine into the image of the Good Shepherd, especially in times of struggle and hardship… such as in this moment in time. 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives us another comforting image of the Shepherd, who is known by the sheep. The Shepherd who lays down as the gate to the pen to provide protection for the sheep. 

Yet, Jesus isn’t talking his disciples or the hungry crowds about the Shepherd, but rather the  Pharisees. The Pharisees who have just criticized him for healing the Blind man… a story that we heard only a few weeks in Lent. Jesus is speaking to those who bear responsibility for caring for the sheep, caring for the community. To the religious and community leaders who are balking at any change to the social order, even if it comes in the form of  healing a blind beggar in their midst.

As Jesus describes the familiar voice of the shepherd, he also describes the voice and motives of the thieves, bandits and strangers… labels he is applying to the religious leaders. Jesus suggests that not everyone charged with the care of the community is tending to that charge as they should. They are instead more concerned with the status quo, with keeping the power and control in their own hands and out of the hands of others…. Whether it is Jesus wantonly offering God’s love and care, or a blind man becoming self-sufficient. These are voices and leaders who are calling the sheep into danger for their own gain, their own selfish purposes. 

Does this sound at all familiar?

As we enter into week 8 of lockdown and staying at home, the calls to #OpenforBusiness are starting to get louder and louder. Here in Manitoba, we are beginning the slow yet still ambitious move of opening up some businesses tomorrow – hair cuts and restaurant patios and select other businesses will be aloud to open. Even as public health officers tell us it is isn’t exactly safe yet.

This pandemic moment has taught us a lot about the voices that we listen to, the voices who call us sheep to follow. And what is clear is that there are those in our world too, charged with caring for our communities who might not have our best interests in mind. 

And while Jesus declares that the sheep know the voice of the Shepherd, I am not so sure that it is easy for us to recognize. In fact, perhaps what is clear is that most of the voices out there are seeking something from us other than our wellbeing. Our votes, our dollars, our consumption, our attention, our productivity and labour… even our willingness to be sacrificed for the sake of profit and maintaining social order. And all with promises fo green pastures, still waters, prepared tables, and cups running over. 

Knowing the shepherd’s voice is one thing, hearing the shepherd’s voice at all is another. And if the Pandemic has made something clear, it’s that shepherds and their voices are not heard as often as they should be. 

So as Jesus declares that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice, we might be asking, do we really know it?

_______

We always hear Psalm 23 on Good Shepherd Sunday, but there is of course a reason far more common for us to hear this most familiar of psalms. 

Over the years, as I have presided at many funerals, I have often read Psalm 23 as I lead mourners into worship. Pall bearers and casket, followed by grieving family. And in that moment, we enact that what the familiar psalm describes. We walk together into the valley of the shadow of death.

You see the Good Shepherd does not promise us that everything is green pastures, still waters, and abundant tables and cups. Rather, the Good Shepherd is honest about the world, about the dangers and risks. The Good Shepherd tells us that the there are dark valleys ahead, there is the shadow of death in store. And there is no going back, no staying in the green pastures. There is only forward into our future.  

However, the Good Shepherd also promises to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. 

Jesus promises that the sheep know the Shepherd’s voice not because the sheep are good sheep, but because the Shepherd is a Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd whose only concern is the well being and care of the sheep. The Good Shepherd who knows the sheep. The Good Shepherd who gathers and collects the confused and lost sheep, wherever we are going – green pastures or dark valleys. 

And as we navigate this shadow valley of pandemic, there have been voices emerging from the fray, voices whose only concern has been our health and well being. Shepherds who didn’t know they were shepherds only a few months ago. 

Often in this pandemic the voices of Chief Public Health Officers have cut through the fray of the voices out there calling us to follow. And these unexpected shepherds have surprised us by being singularly focused on our health and well-being…  voices that are seldom heard among the leaders of our world. Shepherds that tell us the truth, that do not promise all green pastures and still waters, but who warn of the valley of the shadows of death ahead. 

But Shepherd voices who also promise to lead us through. 

To lead us through the dark valleys to whatever lies in wait for us on the other side. 

To go with us all together. 

And this promise is of course the promise of the Good Shepherd. 

In this pandemic moment, our whole world feels as though it is gathered at the back of a church about to walk into the dark valley. Yet today, the Good Shepherd promises that we do not go alone, that the Good Shepherd will see us through, that the shadows of death will not be the end of our story, that there is life on the other side.  

This is the only voice, the only promise that really matters. 

And so on this fourth Sunday of Easter that on the surface it feels like we have moved on from Easter morning, the promise of the Good Shepherd takes us right back to the empty tomb, right back to glimpse of the other side of the shadow of death. 

The Good Shepherd comes to us in the middle of Easter because the Good Shepherd is an Easter Shepherd, a shepherd whose voice knows the sheep, whose voices knows us and knows what we need, a shepherd who has been through the valley of the shadow of death and promises us see us through, to the other side and into New Life. 

Not Knowing Our Own Easter Story on the Way to Emmaus

GOSPEL: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him… (read the whole passage)

Even before the Pandemic, I was a pretty voracious reader of news. Local, national, international, political news, as well as articles and opinion. And of course as a pastor and blogger, I have been reading and writing about the issues facing Christianity and the church today as well.  

A lot of us these days are news junkies, I am sure, consuming as much as can about every bit of news. And so as this pandemic lockdown extends longer and longer, we know that the question of when and how things are going to start opening up is starting to bubble to the surface. Even as case numbers increase in some jurisdictions, in those experiencing any kind of plateau, the question of returning to “normal” life is front of mind, whether is it governments, business, schools, leisure and of course churches. There are countless articles to read about opening the world back up, not post, but mid-COVID-19.

Yet, plans to re-open while there is no treatment of vaccine for COVID-19 involve slow, socially transformative steps. Everything about the way we interact will be on the table, from how many of us can be together, where we can be together, and how we will need to adjust some of the basic things we long took for granted like handshakes. 

As we arrive on the 3rd Sunday of Easter, I cannot help but feel like we have been hearing a similar story in the gospels. The story of a community that experiences a traumatic, life-changing event – the death and resurrection of Jesus. And this event requires the slow yet undeniable transformation of a community, there is no going back to normal for the disciples and followers of Jesus. Rather, the Easter season story is one of a community transformed by the Holy Spirit for the new reality of an an Easter World. 

For the 3rd Sunday of Easter, we go back again to that first Easter Day, the day of the empty tomb. 

After the women had gone to the tomb and Jesus met the disciples behind locked doors, two disciples are on their way to Emmaus, a town near to Jerusalem. 

On the way, these two are met by another traveller. This travelling companion seems not to know about what has just happened over the past week in Jerusalem, yet then proceeds to explain to them how the events of holy week fit into the Scriptures. These two disciples don’t recognize that the one travelling with them is Jesus. 

It seems a bit absurd that these two wouldn’t be to recognize their teacher and master. Was Jesus wearing a disguise? Were they blinded by their grief? Did God close their eyes to seeing?

I think there might be another explanation, one that relates to us and this moment in time. 

Human beings tell stories, in fact stories are how we understand the world. Stories and narrative help us construct meaning. Stories are the vehicles for us to make sense of things. It is why we go back a rehearse in our mind the events of an experience that we cannot make sense of, it is why we rely on eye witness testimony so heavily, it is why we are enraptured by good movies, books, tv shows, songs, artwork or a good story teller. 

So these two disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus because they didn’t understand the story of Holy Week yet, they couldn’t see Jesus because they didn’t know or understand the story of how he could be walking with them. 

Not understanding our story yet is the reality that we are living too. As this Pandemic unfolds it has thrown us for a loop because we simply don’t have a story to understand it by. Even as unspeakable tragedy has occurred in Nova Scotia this week, this pandemic story has changed the way we understand that story too. Usually and unfortunately we know the story of mass shootings, and we know how to respond too well. But in a physically distancing world, we cannot follow the same narratives, road side shrines, prayer vigils, neighbours and communities coming together. 

COVID-19 is story that we haven’t figured out how to tell yet. And if Jesus were to try and walk with disciples sorting it out here, he would only find mostly empty streets, empty churches, empty public spaces. This pandemic has given us more questions than answers, even as we are in the middle of living through it. 

As the disciples walk the road the Emmaus, they too have more questions than answers. But rather than just coming out with who he is, Jesus takes the disciples back to the beginning, back to the stories they do know. The stories of God’s people. To the scriptures, the stories of faith. Stories told to children from the moment they are born. Stories told in homes and in the synagogue, stories that help to mark the passage of the days and the years, stories that gave frames of meaning, symbols, images and metaphors that helped them to understand their lives and their world. 

And just as the prophets foretold the coming of Messiah, just as John the Baptist preached out the wilderness, just as Jesus himself preached in the towns and countryside while doing miracles, Jesus begins with the stories they know already. And then Jesus interprets the stories in light of the promised Messiah. 

Yet, still the disciples don’t recognize Jesus. 

So finally when they reach Emmaus, Jesus takes the disciples back to Maundy Thursday. To the breaking and blessing of bread, where Jesus had been revealed to his disciples anew in the ancient familiar meal of faith – the passover meal.  

And all of sudden, these two disciples have a story to tell. They have seen this moment before. They have seen this One breaking the bread before. They know this stranger, they recognize the Christ. The Christ who has come to give them a new story of faith to tell. A story that begins at the Last Supper, that descends to arrest, trial and crucifixion and seemingly ends on cross. But now a story that continues on the Third Day with empty tombs, appearances behind locked doors, and revelations in the breaking of bread. 

Jesus has tied all the events of the last week to their familiar stories of faith, and Jesus has given these disciples a new story to tell, a story that makes sense and meaning of crucifixion, death, resurrection and new life. Just as Jesus brought the two stories of his crucified body and resurrected body into one in front of Thomas last week, Jesus brings together the ancient stories of faith to the story of the crucified and risen Messiah.

The story of faith that we have been telling for 2000 years since: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. 

The story that Jesus is taking us back to in this moment, even in the midst of our crisis, our inability to make sense of things and to understand this moment. 

The story of faith that is grafted onto our bones from the moment we are born and then reborn in baptism. The story that is told in homes and at church. The story that helps us mark the passage of days and years. The story that gives us the frames of meaning, symbols, images, and metaphors that help us understand our world. 

And Jesus reminds us that this story of faith has room for us and our pandemic uncertainty. 

The story of the Messiah includes disciples locked away in their homes, fearful of the outside world, unsure of how recent events will change our communities forever. We might not have been here before, but the Christ who meets us on this journey has. 

Jesus walks along side us in our confusion and uncertainty, reminding us that our familiar stories of faith still have room for our unknown stories of our present. And Jesus promises to see us through, to see us all the way to the new reality that awaits us on the other side of this pandemic. 

And Jesus takes us back to our beginnings, to the familiar story of breaking bread that we know so well, that reminds us that Jesus is present and known to us, even when we don’t fully understand what is happening to us and where we are going. 

And so as we search for our story to tell, for the story that will tell us how we move on and move out of lockdown, Jesus reminds that there is a story that we already know. It begins with the breaking of bread, and continues through suffering and death, but surprises us again and again with an empty tomb, new life and a risen Christ. 

A risen Christ who met those struggling disciples on the road.  

A Risen Christ who comes and meets us today. 

Asking to See Jesus

**A sermon written by the Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker (@ReedmanParker on twitter) in collaboration with Rev. Erik Parker and inspired by Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis’ text study “Freeing Thomas” attended via Zoom Friday April 17, 2020.**

GOSPEL: John 20:19-31
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (Read the whole passage)

Today, we are 7 days on from the morning of the Empty Tomb. Yet, Easter has only just begun. Easter is not just a day, but 50 days. Not just a day, but an entire season of the church year. Fifty days to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of Christ. And each year, on the second Sunday of the season, we hear the same story. The story of the disciples hiding out in a locked room and Jesus appearing to them. The story of Thomas missing the whole thing, refusing to believe it and Jesus returning a second time, a week later to appear to Thomas. 

This morning we momentarily return to the day of the empty tomb. For us the woman ran back to tell their story a week ago for the disciples we encounter in hiding, they have just heard the report of the women, just minutes or hours ago. Yet, even with this news, they are still hiding. Hiding because of grief. Their teacher and friend has died, and like so many of us when on of our loved ones dies, they likely found it hard to summon the courage to go out into the world. 

But also hiding because of legitimate fear. Jesus has been arrested, tried, and put to death by the religious authorities and the empire. The disciples don’t know if they are next, if the soldiers are out looking for them. Jesus wasn’t the first Messianic revolutionary figure to be executed by the Romans, and they wouldn’t be the first group of followers hunted down by the authorities either. 

And so they are hiding, with good reason to do so. 

Maybe until now we didn’t fully understand or appreciate the disciples’ response to their situation. Maybe we couldn’t understand what legitimate reasons to be locked down might look like before this moment. 

But we have a better understanding now. Now that we are also locked behind our doors. Now that we fear for our health and safety. Or following the orders of health and government bodies to stay home in order to stay healthy. Or perhaps begrudgingly following the pleas of grown children to stay inside because of the particular risk to seniors who don’t believe they are seniors that this virus poses. 

And so there in the midst of lockdown, as the disciples hide from the world in fear, Jesus appears. Jesus appears bringing peace and breathing into them the spirit. 

Then Jesus moves on. 

The disciples are left with a split experience. A new reality has been revealed to them, but still one that exists parallel to their current one. On the one side is the grief, danger, suffering and death. On the other surprising new life, a teacher and friend returned to them. 

And Thomas misses the whole thing. Unlike the others, Thomas isn’t hiding away on the day of the empty tomb. Perhaps he was dealing with the experience of crucifixion differently than the others, maybe we had accepted this new reality more quickly than the others. 

So when he returns to the group, and they share with him the news that the women had brought them, and then that they had experienced themselves first hand, Thomas is not on board. Thomas refuses to be pinball back and forth, to accept these two competing realities. 

It must have sounded like the most absurd thing Thomas had ever heard. This alternate reality that doesn’t line up with what he knows to be true: Jesus is dead. That’s the world he is living in. It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would be alive. The disciples, his friends, are living in an alternate universe where Jesus is living, while he, Thomas is living in the world where that is simply not the case.

And we get it. For many of us, this world that we are living in seems unbelievable. It is not normal. 

Earlier in the week, our family called Erik’s grandmother to wish her a happy birthday. She is 96 years old, living in a care home in Saskatoon. “What a strange world this is,” she remarked as the kids ran in and out of the conversation, simultaneously signing happy birthday while showing off ninja moves and Easter dresses. Normal conversations in abnormal times.

Split realities that hardly seem possible at the same time. 

It feels like we are living in an alternate universe. Where what should be, isn’t. What was normal may never be again. We are trying, sometimes desperately so, to keep doing the things we’re used to doing in these new or adapted ways, while at the same time knowing that the world we are living in is not the same. Cannot be the same. 

It is almost as if we be believe that this pandemic moment is like a dream, an exception to reality. That life will soon go back to normal and we will all forget this awful time of forced physical isolation, this time of pandemic.

Maybe rather than doubting that Jesus was alive, Thomas knew something that we haven’t quite figured out yet. 

There is no going back, there is no back to normal waiting for us on the other side. 

“We have seen the Lord,” the disciples exclaim to Thomas.

“But I haven’t,” Thomas must have thought to himself. 

Jesus comes to Mary Magdalene. Her resurrection moment is hearing Jesus call her by name.  Jesus appears before the disciples, behind locked doors, and says to them “Peace be with you”. They see the risen Lord and believe. 

Thomas isn’t asking for anything different than what the others have already experienced for themselves.  

The difference is that Thomas asks. In the midst of a mixed-up, fear and anxiety ridden, grief fuelled world, Thomas asks to see Jesus, just as the others have. 

Remember, that in John’s Gospel believing is synonymous with relationship. Thomas is not expressing doubt so much as desire to be in relationship with Jesus. To have the same experience of Jesus coming to him as he has heard Jesus has done for others. 

And doesn’t Thomas express what we all want and need? To know that our relationship with Jesus doesn’t just go away. That Jesus is with us in the midst of grief and death. In the midst of sickness and job loss, of uncertain and abnormal pandemic times. Just as Jesus is in the midst of the joy of new life, of celebrations and life as we have known it? To know that Jesus is with us even when we can’t be together, gathered in our church home, when we cannot touch one another through the sharing of the peace or the handshakes and hugs that we greet one another with week after week? When we cannot sing together, pray or play together as we are used to. 

That Jesus comes to us. Jesus finds us, no matter where we are, or what roadblocks of walls, or locked doors might be in the way. Jesus meets us where we are and reveals himself to us in ways that we can see, and hear, and identify. Even in the midst of death and grief. Even in the midst of pandemic and the unknown. 

Throughout the 50 days of Easter we encounter stories of the resurrection, of Jesus meeting people where they are and revealing himself, alive, to them. And through these experiences, Jesus’ friends and family, his disciples, come to believe: “I have seen the Lord” they exclaim to others: Mary Magdalene to the disciples, the disciples to Thomas and Thomas to the whole world: Jesus is not dead, but lives.

There is No Going Back to Normal after PanDemic or After Easter

** This sermon is a collaboration with The Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker, though we each took the second half in a different direction. Her sermon is also posted on this blog**

GOSPEL: John 20:19-31
…24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”… Read the whole passage

Today, we are 7 days on from the morning of the Empty Tomb. Yet, Easter has only just begun. Easter is not just a day, but 50 days. Not just a day, but an entire season of the church year. 50 days to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of Christ. And each year, on the second Sunday of the season, we hear the same story. The story of the disciples hiding out in a locked room and Jesus appearing to them. The story of Thomas missing the whole thing, refusing to believe it and Jesus returning a second time, a week later to appear to Thomas. 

This morning we momentarily return to the day of the empty tomb. For us the women ran back to tell their story a week ago but for the disciples we encounter in hiding, they have just heard the report of the women, only minutes or hours ago. Yet, even with this news, they are still hiding. Hiding because of grief. Their teacher and friend has died, and like so many of us when on of our loved ones dies, they likely found it hard to summon the courage to go out into the world. 

But also hiding because of legitimate fear. Jesus has been arrested, tried and put to death by the religious authorities and the empire. The disciples don’t know if they are next, if the soldiers are out looking for them too. Jesus wasn’t the first Messianic revolutionary figure to be executed by the Romans, and they wouldn’t be the first group of followers hunted down by the authorities either. 

And so they are hiding, with good reason to do so. 

Maybe until now we didn’t fully understand or appreciate the disciples’ response to their situation. Maybe we couldn’t understand what legitimate reasons to be locked down might look like before this moment. 

But we have a better understanding now. Now that we are also locked behind our doors. Now that we fear for our health and safety, and we are following the orders of health and government bodies to stay home in order to stay healthy.

And so there in the midst of lockdown, as the disciples hide from the world in fear, Jesus appears. Jesus appears bringing peace and breathing on them the spirit. 

Then Jesus moves on. 

The disciples are left with a split experience. A new reality has been revealed to them, but still one that exists parallel to their current one. On the one side is the grief, danger, suffering and death. On the other surprising new life, a teacher and friend returned to them. 

And Thomas misses the whole thing. Unlike the others, Thomas isn’t hiding away on the day of the empty tomb. Perhaps he was dealing with the experience of crucifixion differently than the others, maybe he had accepted this new reality more quickly than the others. 

So when he returns to the group, and they share with him the news that the women had brought them, and then that they had experienced themselves first hand, Thomas is not on board. Thomas refuses to be pinball back and forth, to accept these two competing realities. 

It must have sounded like the most absurd thing Thomas had heard. This alternate reality that doesn’t line up with what he knows to be true: Jesus is dead. That’s the world he is living in. It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would be alive. The disciples, his friends, are living in an alternate universe where Jesus is living, while he, Thomas is living in the world where that is simply not the case.

And we get it. For many of us, this world that we are living in seems unbelievable. It is not normal. 

As most of us are glued to the news on a daily basis, we can feel split between realities. As news producers try to soften the blow of the heavy stuff, we can be ping ponged between tragedy and light hearted stories revealing the human spirit. Case counts and death tolls, documentaries showing terrified hospital staff preparing for protected code blues, example of care homes abandoned by sick, terrified, under supported staff balanced off by stories of pots banging at shift change, rainbows and words of encouragement being pasted to windows, good samaritans braving grocery stores day after day to shop for quarantined seniors.

Split realities that hardly seem possible at the same time. 

It feels like we pulled back and forth between good news and bad news. Where each story we hear seems disconnected from the last. Where what was normal may never be again. We are trying, sometimes desperately so, to keep doing the things we’re used to doing in these new or adapted ways, while at the same time knowing that the world we are living in is not the same. Cannot be the same. 

It is almost as if we be believe that this pandemic moment is like a dream, an exception to reality. That life will soon go back to normal and we will all forget this awful time of forced physical isolation, this time of pandemic. 

Maybe rather than doubting that Jesus was alive, Thomas knew something that we haven’t quite figured out yet. 

There is no going back, there is no back to normal waiting for us on the other side. 

So after the empty tomb, after appearing behind locked doors, Thomas refuses to believe…

And then 7 days later, Jesus shows up again. Jesus shows up and brings again resurrection reality into existence, but this time in front of Thomas. 

Yet, Jesus doesn’t leave the two realities to exist side by side, at opposite ends of the room. Jesus slows down, and stands before Thomas and begins taking both worlds, both stories, both realities into himself. 

“See Thomas, here are my living hands AND the nail marks that they bear. Here is my breathing side AND the hole left by the spear.”

With arms wide and resurrected body on display, Jesus begins the work of tying the two stories together. 

“The suffering, betrayal, and grief that you are experiencing now, the crucifixion that you witnessed on Friday… My body still bears those marks” Jesus says. 

“And yet here I am.” Jesus says to Thomas and the others. “Here I am, in flesh, alive.”

Jesus ties together these experiences that seemed to be so far from each other. The story of crucifixion and death, of hiding behind locked doors in a dangerous world is now the same story as story of resurrection and new life, of empty tombs and impossibly to believe appearances. 

As Jesus stand before Thomas and the others, his resurrected body, scars and all, declares that their story suffering, sin and death is now the same story God’s story of resurrection and new life. 

It is the same way that Jesus stands before us, in the midst of pandemic. When the competing realities ping pong us between grief and hope, despair and release… Jesus reminds us again, that both stories belong to God.

Jesus reminds us that even in pandemic, that death tolls and rainbow window messages, that desperate conditions in care homes and pots banging at shift change, that frightened hospital staff and good samaritan shoppers, that all the good and bad, that all the tragic and hopeful, they all belong to God. 

That when the power of our own spirit is not enough to conquer the darkness, Jesus reminds us that he has gone first through to the other side. That Christ has conquered death, and will bring us through to New Life as well.

God is writing our story anew, and even though we feel like we are bouncing between realities, God is gathering our stories and us into the one story of New Life. The story that began in a manger, seemingly ended on a cross, yet continued on with an empty tomb, and with peace breathed behind locked doors and scars that show us the way to the other side. 

As Jesus stands before us with the scars and wounds of our life on his body, Jesus tells Thomas and us again that our hope lies in the one who makes room for all of creation, our hope lies in the one who brings all of our stories into God, and who brings us to New Life. 

Not Easter as we are used to anyways

*This sermon is a collaboration with my partner in life and ministry, the Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker. You can find her on twitter @ReedmanParker*

GOSPEL: Matthew 28:1-10

1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.(Read the whole passage)

While it was still dark.
While it was still night.
While she could not see.
While she thought death held sway.
While she grieved.
While she wept.
While it was still dark, resurrection began


While It Was Still Dark by Jan Richardson

I imagine Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, walking together to the tomb where Jesus had been placed just days earlier. These were not mere acquaintances of Jesus. These were not even his disciples. These were his friends, his family. 

And they were leaving their homes, leaving their loved ones. Leaving in spite of a lockdown to go to the tomb. To complete the burial rite. 

Many of us have walked that walk. To the resting places of our loved ones: public visitations at funeral homes or in the intimacy of someone’s home. It wasn’t that long ago that it was commonplace to hold a wake, a time to offer prayers, to gather in community to mourn our collective loss, and to offer support to one another in our grief. 

For those of us who have walked that walk know the precarious nature of grief. We know that a loved one has died. We know that life will never be the same. That our day-to-day existence, our relationships have all changed. There is an emptiness in the space between where our loved one was, and is no longer. In the liminal time when when we’ve become aware that death has happened, but before the wave of emotion hits us like a tsunami.

This is how I imagine Mary Magdalene and the other Mary leaving their physically isolated homes to go to the tomb where Jesus lay. 

We know that life has changed. We know that life will never be the same again. But we don’t know how… we don’t know the specifics. All we know is that there was then… and there is now… and somehow, someway, there will be a future we can’t yet see or imagine.

This is not how we usually do this.” 

A phrase that we have been repeating over and over again in the past days and weeks. A month into physical distancing measures and the Coronavirus has taken over our lives, even if we are not infected. 

And yet, we have been practicing for this moment as the church, practicing being disrupted by change, practicing muddling along with unfamiliar technology, unwanted changes, disruptions to our tried and true ways to going about our life as a community. 

But today acceptance of these changes has been forced and accelerated.

Because we are forced to stay home, forced to use the 21st century technology that we have been resisting, forced to re-imagine what it means to be community. 

And so there is also something familiar, or maybe original and authentic about this Easter morning. 

The family gatherings and traditions, the easter egg hunts, and roast hams, the colourful spring dresses and ties, the long weekend outdoors… they weren’t part of the first Easter. 

Hiding out in homes, behind locked doors and fearful of the outside world. That is original Easter. 

On the morning of that third day, the disciples were in hiding. After Good Friday, after the crucifixion of their teacher and friend at the hands of empire and religion, they went into lockdown. 

But it isn’t the disciples, the male disciples that we usually think of who at the heart of the easter story. 

It is the women. 

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. 

The disciples are hiding away, but the women go out into the early morning darkness. They go out because they must. Their friend has died and there is no one but them to tend to his body.

They are essential workers. 

The orderlies and respiratory therapists and radiologists who make their way to hospitals in the early morning darkness because they must. 

They are the childcare providers and animal rescue workers and tow truck drivers who are still on the job every day to keep just enough of the world functioning to fight pandemic. 

They are the researchers and epidemiologists and hockey equipment turned PPE manufacturers working round the clock to save lives, flatten curves and keep us safe. 

They are the grocery store mangers, and civic water filtration engineers and steel distributers making sure the systems that need to function keep functioning so as not to add any other crisis to our collective plates in this moment. 

They are the caretakers of ritual and dignity, the ones who make sure that Jesus doesn’t become just another number on a Roman crucifixion accounting ledger, but is still treated as a person, a human being, even in death. 

The women go because they must. 

And so unsure and afraid, they come to the tomb.

I imagine that if there was anything that they knew from Good Friday, if there was anything they could be sure of, it was the expectation of finding Jesus’ body, even if they didn’t quite know how they Ould gain access into the tomb.

These women, like us, didn’t know what the peak crisis moment would be, they didn’t know that you needed to be on the other side to understand. 

They didn’t know what we already know, they found that Good Friday had something new and unexpected to declare. 

Instead of the body of their dear and beloved friend, they find something, someone else entirely. 

A messenger.
A divine messenger.
“Do not be afraid,” the Angel says. 

How is fear not possible in this moment? When nothing is as it should be? When nothing and no one is the same.

“He has been raise from the dead,” The divine messenger declares.

How can this still be the same world that women live in?

“Go quickly and tell his disciples… you will see him.”

How can this be where Good Friday has taken them? Where the cross has taken them?

Where this empty tomb has taken them?

This divine messenger, this angel has changed their world, changed their understanding of everything that came before. 

But still the old world remains.

There is still empire and oppression.
There are still paranoid Kings and cruel imperial governors.
There are still soldiers in the streets and police at the ready.
There is still danger and persecution
There are still locked doors.
There are still incredulous disciples hardly willing to believe the word of a woman. 

Empty tombs, and Angels from heaven and shocking news of resurrection don’t make those things go away. 

Not then.
And not today.

On this Easter morning:
There are still news conferences with case numbers and death tolls.
There are still politicians playing games with our lives.
There are still deniers in the streets and anxious shoppers waiting in line.
There is still fear and anxiety and uncertainty.
There are still our locked doors, and lonely easter meals coupled with seemingly empty hearts.
There are still the empty feelings of our lives, the emotional and spiritual cost that physical distance demands.
There is still the thought of when things go back to normal… back to the before time.

Empty tombs, and Angels from heaven and shocking news of resurrection don’t make those things go away either. 

Sin and suffering and death don’t just go away. 

“Do not be afraid” the Angel said, even in the midst of all these things. 

And if empty tombs, and Angels streaming down from heaven were not enough, 

Jesus greets the women too. 

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus says. 

Because the things of this old world that remain, do not have the final say.
Because the empty tomb changes our world.
Because resurrection transforms all things.
Because new life found is where should only be death
Because the risen Christ has the final say.

Empires and oppression, news conferences and death tolls; cannot put down the Risen One.
Paranoid kings, cruel imperial governors, game playing politicians cannot control New Life
Soldiers and pandemic deniers in the streets cannot keep Jesus from us.
Danger and fear, persecution and anxiety are not more powerful than empty tombs.
Locked doors and lonely meals do not limit Christ’s access.
Unbelieving disciples and the emptiness within are not the story that Christ writes for us.

Today is still Easter, even if the women weren’t expecting it, even if we don’t feel like it.

Not Easter as we are used to anyways. 

Yet, today is the day of Resurrection, the day of New Life, the day of New Beginnings that we need. 

The Easter that the Risen Christ brings to us today. 

Amen.