Easter Sunday – Year A
April 12, 2020 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs CA
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Acts 10:34A; 37-34 | Psalm 118:1-2;6-7;21-23
Colossians 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
This Easter Sunday is so strange. Last year, we had a full church, or close to it, on Easter Sunday. This year, however, we are closed to the public. Due to the order of our autocratic county health officer who did not take the views of the public into account, we can’t even have our choir and pianist here. So Sharon and I are singing the Mass the best we can unaccompanied. Here at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, we customarily sing our entire Sunday Mass. Singing is an integral part of who we are and what we do here. Music is our pathway to God, not only on Easter Sunday, but throughout the entire church year.
The victims of Covid-19 are first and foremost in our prayers, as are the health care workers who are doing the very best to fight this unconscionable plague now bringing the entire world to its knees. We also are praying for the gift of wisdom to the many scientists who are working on cures and vaccines, and of course, we pray for the souls of all the faithful departed who due to this virus are no longer with us. May they rest in peace.
But while the circumstances of this Easter are radically different in form, in substance, our celebration is the same as the Church has been doing for about two thousand years. We offer Mass to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave after His descent into Hell to free those captive there. Resurrection is not just about Jesus himself, but freedom from captivity for all humanity, just like Moses freed the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt under the evil Pharaoh.
In today’s over-rational world, we Christians are often asked whether Jesus actually woke up from death and walked out of the grave. Whether or not that happened, I honestly do not know. I was not a percipient witness. I am unable to testify under penalty of perjury that, in fact, Jesus did what Christians contend that he did. All four Gospels are silent on the issue. None of them present any narrative that has Jesus waking up and walking out of the tomb. From this, we can only conclude that the fact of that actually happening was not important to the authors of the Gospels, which admittedly, contain only the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. The Gospels do not explain what happened between the burial of the body of Jesus and his later appearances. What is more important, however, is what the Resurrection represents, and how its meaning applies to humanity.
We have here at Saint Cecilia’s an icon of Mary Magdalene, commonly known as “the apostle to the apostles” because she was the first person to announce the risen Jesus to the other apostles. She proclaimed the Good News, which is the very first obligation of those of us in ordained ministry. We are here to comfort and to give hope to those in distress, as the apostles most certainly were after the death of Jesus. Certainly, that event makes a good biblical argument for women in ordained ministry, an idea that we love, honor and cherish here at Saint Cecilia’s as we are blessed with the service of Deacon Sharon who shares the Good News to us with her singing of the Gospel and her leadership of the laity of the parish. In this icon, Mary Magdalene is holding an egg, perhaps an Easter egg. In the secular world, we associate Easter with the season of Spring. Winter is the season of death. Spring is a time of new life when the world arises from its deadness, when trees and flowers wake up and come back to life. Spring is the season of the earth’s resurrection.
Eggs universally symbolize the beginning of life. Chicks come from eggs, and grow up to be hens and roosters. In fact, all life comes from eggs, not just birds, fish and reptiles. Humans and other mammals are conceived and born through the union of egg and sperm. Eggs universally symbolize new life. Easter celebrates new life. The egg that Mary Magdalene holds in this icon proclaims the new life of the resurrected Jesus which she announced to the other apostles.
What is the new life we uniquely associate with Easter? In his resurrection, Jesus took on a new existence. As explained in First Corinthians, Saint Paul tells us what is sown as a physical body is resurrected as a spiritual body. Traditionally, Easter was a time for baptism. Baptism encapsulates Holy Week and Easter. In Baptism, we die to sin as we go down into the water, and rise to new life in Jesus as we come up out of the water. In Baptism, we take on a new existence as a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Death is all around us right now. There are piles of dead bodies on the East Coast and elsewhere which have neither been buried nor cremated. We are feeling the same kind of despair the disciples of Jesus felt after Jesus was dead and buried. One can only imagine the joy the disciples felt when Mary Magdalene came to them with the Good News when she announced, “I have seen the Lord.” How I wish someone would bring us some good news right now that would prevent so many people from dying!
Not only were the apostles feeling sad and not see a better future ahead, but they were afraid as well for their personal safety. They had good reason to feel that way. Jesus and his followers were unpopular with both the religious authorities and the Roman Empire. The scared disciples locked themselves in a room, as we will hear in next Sunday’s Gospel.
The disciples were worried. So are we. What is worry? Worry is the act of constantly thinking or being excessively concerned about a particular problem or situation. It is accompanied by a feeling of unease and anxiety and causes a person to become distracted as one focuses one’s thoughts on the possible negative scenarios that may occur.
Worry comes from fear. Today, like on that first Easter, fear is everywhere. Many people are afraid of dying. They open the newspaper, turn on the television, or click on a website and are greeted with the latest numbers of infected people and dead bodies with no hope in sight that the pandemic will end or that some brilliant scientist will find a cure or vaccine.
When you worry about the present situation, consider how Jesus taught us to handle worry. Jesus tells us, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear… seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
Our world has experienced the sad and troubling events of a pandemic and a crashed economy on a scale far beyond the trials of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. The present events involve, literally, millions of people, not just a few hundred or so in the Middle East.
As depressed as we might be, we wonder what life will look like on the other side of the virus crisis. We ought to take our cue from the Jews in Babylon described in the Book of Isaiah the prophet, who prophesized a just government, judgment of corrupt rulers, deliverance from oppression, a land flowing with milk and honey where peace shall reign with swords beaten into ploughshares and prey lie down with predators.
We are a despondent world desperately seeking a resurrection. Yes, many families would like to see their loved ones come back to life, like Jesus did. But more universally, the world will see a more general resurrection of its economy, way of life, and personal relationships. The world economy will arise like the dry bones in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel that represent the people of Israel exiled in Babylon who came back to life when life in the Holy Land was restored upon their return. But what will that resurrection look like?
Last week, I acquired a new Facebook friend named Deborah Doran, a seventy-something retired nurse in Lafayette, Georgia. She posted a list about what life would be like once the coronavirus pandemic became history. Here is a paraphrase of what she said:
Children will go back to school and hug their friends.
You will go back to your place of business and cry with people you barely noticed previously.
You will happily wait an hour for a table at your favorite restaurant.
You will take your family to a ballgame and buy extra hotdogs and soda.
You will go to a concert and dance like you did back in high school.
You will rush to the movies and order extra butter on your popcorn.
You will travel to visit family you hadn’t realized you loved so much.
Servers, stadium attendants, concession stand workers and bus drivers will give you the biggest smiles you have ever seen.
And you will, in your own way, forever pay tribute to the doctors, nurses and healthcare workers because they were the soldiers that protected us from this hideous enemy. Many of them have died in the line of duty. They are martyrs to the service of humanity. They sacrificed their own lives to save the lives of others. They are every bit as heroic as any soldier who fought in a military conflict.
All we have for our future hopes is our faith in God. Faith in God means that God will repay our trust and loyalty in God by making things better on the other side of the present circumstances. We have good reason to be full of hope. The scriptures are full of stories about things getting better after bad things happened.
God stopped the rain and caused the floodwaters to subside so that the occupants of Noah’s ark could get on with life.
God restored Job to his former prosperity and happiness.
God had Moses lead the Israelites through the Red Sea to escape slavery in Egypt.
God restored the Holy Land to the Jewish people after the Exile in Babylon.
God, by the message of an angel to Joseph, kept Jesus safe from Herod’s murders of baby boys.
God sent angels to feed Jesus after he fasted forty days in the wilderness.
And God restored Jesus to life after he had suffered death on the cross.
I know, there’s a natural human tendency to look at a dark sky and fear that it will come crashing down. But Christians should treat fear as an anathema. Fear does not build bridges. Fear does not bake bread. If you live your life based on your fears, you will never accomplish anything worthwhile. This does not mean you should not listen to experts and scientists. Of course, you should. What it does mean is that you should not live based on fear arising from emotion-based perceptions that ignore objective facts, particularly, scientific facts.
As Jesus told us, do not worry. In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” We will eventually see a tomorrow without a virus destroying people and communities. God will take care of us all, as God always does. Like Jesus on Easter, we will rise again. AMEN.