This is an incredible moment for us today. Do you know that it has been three years since we were able to celebrate Easter in this space? Together? Three years. Two of those years spent shifting from pre-recorded services in my backyard, to parking lot worship, to pre-recorded here in the Sanctuary, to in-person, to live-stream without people, back to parking lot, back to in person, back to live-stream only, and finally again in person. So, before we truly move on from this pandemic—if that’s even possible—I want to take some time to simply take stock.
Feel free to close your eyes and cup your hands. Consider all that has changed in these past two years. Lift up the lives that have been lost. Perhaps you were able to be with them in their final moments. Perhaps not. Lift up the hospital staff who offered comfort during those final moments when no one else was allowed in. Lift up the times you visited, but through a window or a door. Lift up the zoom videos and facetime calls that allowed you to stay connected.
Lift up the teachers who faced daily challenges far surpassing those of simply imparting knowledge. Lift up the students who longed to play but couldn’t—who ached for friendships but were kept at a distance. Lift up the leaders who were derided for making unpopular life-saving decisions. Lift up the families imprisoned within unsafe homes. Lift up the businesses that couldn’t continue. Lift up all the ways in which your community, your church, your family, your home has changed.
Now, take a deep breath, and as you let it out, open your hands and let it all go. Breathe in the new life present right now. This is a new day. This is a resurrection. This is Easter. You can open your eyes. Every year, Easter is my favorite holiday or season—primarily because it happens in the spring. The days are getting longer, the flowers are blooming, the trees are budding, the birds are singing, the air is warming. And I feel as if I’ve been holding my breath against the cold and darkness all winter, and now I can finally breathe.
Only it feels more like we’ve been holding our breath for two years, and now, perhaps, we can finally breathe. It’s Easter. Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
In Luke’s resurrection account, he tells of the women coming to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. They had been nearby when he died. They had seen him take his last breath. But the hour was getting late, and there was not time before Sabbath to do what needed to be done. They had to wait. They rose early in the morning and set out, their arms laden with the spices and ointments and herbs. But when they reached the tomb, nothing was as it should be. They had been prepared for rituals and laments and prayers. But there was no body.
What do we do when we are faced with something completely unexpected? How do we move forward when all that we know has been taken from us? In her commentary from our Full to the Brim devotion, Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia writes: “We open ourselves up to the unexpected as we arrive at the tomb and realize we have to lay our own spices down, letting go of what we know how to do to step toward whatever is next.”
What have you held that is keeping you from moving into new life? Is it anger and resentment? Anxiety and fear? Grief and hurt? How does one lay down the only responses we have for death? We do it lightly. We lay it down gently. We place it inside the tomb and turn our faces toward the unknown just beyond the opening.
All of those things we hold—they really hold us. They hold us so tight that it seems we can’t breathe. They hold us back from forgiveness. They hold us hostage to the expectations of ourselves and others. They hold us down, making any movement forward feel impossible. They hold us in the past, pretending that what was is always better than what is now. They hold us in fear. They hold us like the weight of a stone.
But Christ has rolled the stone away. You have been set free—free to no longer fear the weight of death and loss.
I want to share part of a prayer by Walter Brueggemann called “But Not Held.”
We watch this Jesus, set deep in the grip of death…but not held!
held over night,
but not held;
held two nights,
but not held;
Because the power of death could not hold him.
We know ourselves to be held,
over night, for two nights, too long,
held by fear and anxiety,
held by grudge and resentment;
held by doubt and fatigue;
held by too much stuff,
by all manner of the forces of death. Held, powerless…but turned toward you. You in your risen-ness, make Sundays even for us,
even among us,
no longer held. Amen.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour's Lutheran Church