Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Easter Is Not Canceled

Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10

Is Easter canceled this year? 

You know, there’s been a lot of consternation around what we were going to do on April 12. For over a month now (yes, it’s been that long, already!), we’ve been obsessing over dates. When is this going to be over? When can we reopen? We’ve been kicking the cancelation cans down the road. 

But surely, we’ll make it to Easter. I mean, it’s unthinkable that we’d cancel our egg hunts, fancy suits and hats, the Easter ham, and (for me at least) the post-Easter nap! It’s like Christmas without the trees and presents! Mardi Gras without the beads and king cake! But here we are, the deadline has come and gone, and none of those things are happening—at least, not out in public. So have we failed? Is Easter canceled? 

Well, of course, the answer is no. As many have pointed out recently, “like Christmas down in Whoville, the resurrection will arrive whether we have the normal trappings or not.” [1]

For thousands of years, Christians have been proclaiming the good news that Christ is risen in the face of plagues and pestilence, famine and war. We’ve always been a scrappy, resourceful people—and now we have the wonders of 21st-century technology to help us through.

And so, this Easter, in the year of our Lord 2020, we are a bit closer to the first Easter. It’s quiet and simple. It’s playing out against the backdrop of trauma and pain and death—but it’s also full of surprises.

As Matthew tells it today, the story begins with the two Marys going to the tomb. The grief is very real for them. It was just three days ago that they saw their beloved teacher and friend stripped and beaten, hung on a cross to die. Their whole world came crashing down, what future was there for them? 

You know the feeling… I’m guessing many of you have felt it a time or two recently: the sadness so deep it numbs you, the anxiety boiling at the pit of your stomach, the uncertainty, the fuzziness, the void. So, like all of us, the Marys are seeking something, just one thing that they can control—and so they go off to the tomb, to look at it. To see it. Because at least the grave is certain. At least the grave is reliable.

And that’s where the surprises begin. The first is an earthquake. Not exactly comforting there, God. In fact, it’s so startling that we’re told, the guards at the tomb “shook like dead men.” And then here comes this angel…picture it with me for a moment: all dressed up in this shiny white suit, just coming down all chill, rolling back the stone, sitting there in the midst of all this chaos, no big deal, turning to the Marys and the guards, flipping up his sunglasses and saying, “Hey all you cool cats and kittens, Jesus isn’t here, he’s been raised.”

Okay, got a little carried away there. Maybe I need to lay off the Netflix for a little while. But you get the point, right? This first Easter was marked by a series of shocks. It wasn’t all chocolate bunnies.

The angel gives the Marys their marching orders: “Go to the others, tell them what’s happened.” The story picks up the pace here: quickly, they’re told…quickly, they left the tomb…running to tell the disciples. And it’s in that rush, when they’re head down, power through, that they bump right straight into the biggest surprise of them all: the Risen Christ himself.

I think we’re experiencing Easter in the same way. We’ve been so preoccupied—getting to the store, finding toilet paper, making masks, bending the curve. For those on the front lines of this crisis—the doctors and nurses, pharmacists, grocery workers, delivery people—it’s been even more urgent. We’ve been worried about homeschooling our kids, checking in on our neighbors and relatives, wondering when the next paycheck will come. 

Who knew that we could be so busy, so distracted, so frenzied, with most of us trapped in our homes?

But Matthew reminds us that it is in that moment—when we are at our most fraught, when we are caught up in our work and worry—in that moment the Risen Jesus will surprise us. We don’t have to recreate some picture-perfect Easter to encounter resurrection; it will come to us, right where we are. 

As one writer put it this week: “We don’t have to force an Easter feeling or fabricate a resurrection experience in these COVID-19 Good Friday days. The resurrected Christ might just find us.”[2]

And I don’t think it’s a question of “might,” I think it is a “will.” Jesus will find us right when we need him the most. In the middle of fear and grief, there is the Risen Lord. In the middle of uncertainty and chaos, there is the Risen Lord. In the middle of trauma and death, there is the Risen Lord.

In the midst of all of this, he speaks to us in love: Do not be afraid. And that, my friends, will never be, can never be canceled.

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[1] Rev. Dr. Kimberly Wagner, “Matthew’s Resurrection: Surprise Encounters”, Preaching and Trauma
[2] Ibid.