Preached in the time of COVID-19
Resurrection according to the Gospel of Mark
Will you pray with me? Holy One, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
We keep hearing it over and over – what we are facing – is – unprecedented. In every news cast, in every interview with an expert, in every conversation I am having and probably you are having as well, there comes a point when someone pauses to underscore what an unprecedented time we are in. It’s like we still cannot really believe it still. We have to say it out loud over and over — so that we can start to wrap our minds around enormity of what we are facing.
And the enormity of what we are facing brings many unprecedented challenges as well. The challenge of getting supplies to our health care workers, and ventilators to those who so desperately need them. The challenge of providing food to those who are hungry and safety for those who are in harm’s way. We are facing the challenge of teaching our students remotely all while trying to be that nurturing presence that is critical in their lives. We are facing the challenge of financial insecurity — of having to lay off or being laid off. I could go on and on, but I don’t need to, do I. You are living these challenges right now. You know them all too well.
But at least we have this? We have our computers, our ipads and our smart phones. We have our platforms and internet, all of which are making connection possible. Who could have ever imagined just a few months ago that we would be celebrating Easter Sunday not in our beautiful sanctuary full of Easter blooms, but here in this virtual zoom room? Thank goodness for the internet and our devices, for zoom and other platforms. They are keeping us connected in this time when we are realizing how interconnected we are and truly need to be.
But recently and with alarming frequency, when we are gathered on Zoom, a message is showing up on my screen. A message of just four words but it is nonetheless a message that sends a shiver of fear down my spine. What is that message? It is: “Your connection is unstable.”
“Your connection is unstable.” Those four words terrify me because of what often happens next when those four words appear on my screen. What happens next is that I suddenly lose you. I fall out of the Zoom room. The connection is severed. Your faces are gone and I am alone. Gone is that connection that brought us together in the midst of this strange and bewildering time we are in right now.
“Your connection is unstable.”
They too must have feared those words. They had tried. Lord knows they had tried. They had left what they had known and set off into the unknown with him. They listened to his every word and walked where he led them. But throughout it all, he was still a mystery to them. He spoke of things that stirred their hearts for sure. But they were things of which they could not totally comprehend. Try as they might. He did things that baffled and amazed them. He healed the sick. Fed the hungry. Comforted those in fear. Wept with those who were weeping. Exposed lies and turned tables. And he did it all with an authority unlike anything they had ever experienced before. He just seemed somehow so connected. So connected to something so beautiful and so powerful. He embodied something that they hungered that they had hungered for and caught glimpses of when they were in his presence.
And then in that dreadful week it was as if that message that appeared on my computer screen, that word of warning began to be whispered to them as well. “Your connection is unstable.”
That night in the garden, the night when Jesus knelt in prayer among the massive Olives trees. That night, Jesus asked the disciples to say awake with him. Stay awake and be with me, he said. But they could not do it. They fell asleep. They left him alone. Their connection was unstable.
Then there was Judas, the keeper of the purse. Judas who was just so sure that they lived in a world of scarcity and that in a world of scarcity it was foolish and dangerous to be as generous as Jesus was being. So Judas betrayed – or rather he turned away even as he turned Jesus in. His connection was unstable.
Then Peter, dear Peter, champion among champions, perhaps even the most connected of all the disciples. One of the first to be called by Jesus. The first to proclaim Jesus as Messiah. One of only three called up the mountain to witness Jesus transfigured into glory. It is this same Peter who denied Jesus three times in order to save his own skin. Peter, dear Peter, your connection is unstable.
It was Fear, a need to be in control, anxiety, a fear of failing, conflict, facing something they did not understand, not knowing what to do, or not knowing what was right, not having enough — All of it was real. All of it was understandable. Their reactions given the situations they were in and the challenges they were facing.
Those that had walked with Jesus, those that had heard his voice, felt his touch, ate with him, laughed with him, learned from him. Even for them, it was hard to hold on. Even for them — the connection was unstable.
When they saw him die, it confirmed their fear. They had hoped. In the midst of the instability, they had hoped. But when he was killed, the connection was lost. His face was gone from them. They were alone.
There was one last thing that needed doing. The women would tend to it. The body needed tending. And so early in the morning they came. They came wearing not Easter bonnets but instead they came wearing masks, and gowns, face shields, booties and gloves. They came to tend to death.
But, as they drew near, they found not death but something else. The stone had been rolled away. The body was gone and a message not of death but of something more, something so powerful that even death could not contain it was proclaimed. “Do not be alarmed” the messenger tells them, this time not whispering but proclaiming. Something has happened here that you may not be able to comprehend but nonetheless is true. That connection you thought was lost? It is not. It never was and never can be. Not even death can take the love of God from you.
“So go and tell the disciples and Peter” the messenger says, “tell them that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
This is a good story. But what if it is not just a story of something that happened long ago that we are to remember. What if it is also our story right now that we are to live?
For while our connections may be unstable, God’s connection to us and to this world, is not. The love of God was, is and forever will be on the move connecting us one to another and to God even in, especially in the midst of the instability of all we are facing.
The Easter story is a story of the power of love to redeem what was thought to be unredeemable. For Jesus did not step out of the tomb and into the throne room of God. No instead he steps out of the tomb, straps his sandals on and heads back to Galilee to meet his disciples and to reassure, renew and resurrect them in the midst of their fears and failings and in the midst of the challenges that they were facing.
Easter is not a once a year celebration but instead it is a way of seeing and living. It is a way of looking for and trusting in a God that will not leave us alone to face our troubles alone, but that instead enters into all we face to work for our healing and redemption and to work for the healing and redemption of all the world. This is the work of love that was, is and ever shall be.
Now as a closing thought. What I love about Mark’s Gospel, and what feels particularly resonate with this time we are in, is that upon hearing this message of good news, of Christ Risen, the women do not start celebrating and writing Easter cards, do they? No, instead what scripture says is that “They fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Isn’t that just perfect? Is that not what we would have done as well? Perhaps what we may be doing right now as well? For resurrection is not something someone else can tell you about. Resurrection is something that has to be experienced for oneself. Speaking of love does not make love real. It is in experiencing love that love becomes alive in us.
And that is just what started to happen. The followers of Jesus started to experience the same sense of connection and power that they had experienced when they were in the physical presence of Jesus. His presence continued to be present to them. The connection they discovered was not severed. It was in fact stronger than ever! They felt it now for themselves, in themselves, and things began to happen. Love began to happen. People were healed, and fed and comforted. Lies were expose and tables turned. Places of death were entered into with undying compassion. So much so that even those those first witnesses to resurrection, who according to the gospel of Mark, said nothing, well chances are they started to whisper about it. And over time whispering became proclaiming, and proclaiming sent the good news spreading across time and space until it reaches even us, this day.
So on this Easter morning, in the midst of the enormity of what we are facing and in the midst of our profound challenges; in the midst of our internet instability and our social distancing; let us be assured – we are not alone. God is with us. God is our connection and that connection will never fail. Love is on the move. I see it. I feel it. Love is making a Way even now.
But please, — don’t just take my word for it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
May Christ’s living presence rise in us this day.
May our lives shine with resurrection’s glory
May the love of God that binds us one to another and to all our brothers and sisters around this beautiful world of ours be proclaimed
And may the Love of God, the peace of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit go and be with us all. And let the people say, “AMEN!”