Locked Down but Set Free
The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
April 12, 2020
Easter Year A
All Saints’ Church
Jesus said, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Well, let’s start with the truth. This doesn’t feel like Easter. At least not in the way we’ve known it in any of our lifetimes. There’s no use trying to imprison ourselves by trying to pretend this is normal.
Which is what makes this Easter so special. Here’s a crazy thought: friends, trapped as we are in lockdown, this may be the Easter that sets you free. Amid all the suffering and the sickness of this time, you might actually discover a new depth and richness to your spiritual life. It is possible that this year you may feel the presence of the crucified and resurrected Jesus in ways you never imagined. Jesus came to set us free. We didn’t know what that meant until we were locked in the tomb with him, all together. He has burst forth from that same tomb, and where he goes, we will follow. This is the promise of this day. Let his truth be yours this Easter.
Usually on this day, this church is filled with a spirit of excitement and joy—not to mention people! This liturgy begins with a triumphal organ prelude and hymn. Then the building rings as hundreds of people offer up the great Easter proclamation: Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! We bring our forty day fast of Lent to an end. He is risen; it is the Day of Resurrection, and the strife is o’er.
But this year, the strife ain’t o’er. No way, no how. Everything is mixed up. Not only are we in the midst of strife during the greatest feast of the Christian year, but I don’t even know where or when you are! Usually on this day, we offer a warm welcome to all of our visitors and guests—to those who are long-time churchgoers, those who are skeptical of church, and those of another faith or no faith. I extend this same welcome right now: no matter who you are or where you are or when you’re watching, welcome. Normally we welcome everyone to this, God’s house. But God’s house is empty this morning except for the few of us. That means that wherever you are right now is God’s house. And maybe that’s a good thing. It means we can no longer pretend that God’s great saving act for all humanity takes place just in this place. Instead, you have to look for it where you are right now.
This is what I mean when I say this Easter might be the realest and most important one you’ve ever experienced. You see, the Bible wasn’t written about things that took place a long time ago, in a different world. Christians believe the Word of God is alive and moving. It is renewed in each moment by the power of the Holy Spirit, who breathes new life into it. Jesus wasn’t just a wise teacher from another time, although he was wise and he was a teacher. He died and was resurrected so that he might show us what eternal life looks like and bid us to join him. God is alive and with us, at all times and in all places.
That’s part of what we celebrate at Easter. The resurrection is not just a historical event. It is taking place now. The story is repeated over and over, in every place and time and circumstance. Jesus comes into the world. He teaches us to love, then shows us what love is by offering himself fully for us. He suffers and dies for no good reason. But that’s not the end of the story, because he rises from the dead on the great day of resurrection. You cannot get to the empty tomb without the cross. But the story always ends with the joy of new life.
That great day of resurrection is today. It was 2,000 years ago, but it is also this morning, or whenever you are viewing this Easter celebration. The day of crucifixion is also today. As is the day of keeping Vigil for the joy that is to come. This scrambled up sequence doesn’t fit the calendar. The church has a rhythm of life, and things are done in order. First the repentance of Ash Wednesday and Lent. Then the mystery of Holy Week and the pain of Good Friday. There is the expectation of the Great Vigil that ends in the triumph of Easter. It is a beautiful, life-giving drama that is so dear to so many of us. For many, it shapes our very lives.
But don’t forget that the sequence of our observances was created by the Church to make order out of the chaos of this life. That’s its power—it helps us to stay focused on God’s eternal faithfulness to us through the challenges of this life. It splits the swirling kaleidoscope of this life out into its constituent colors and shapes and puts them in order, one by one, for us to experience and contemplate. The liturgical calendar does this for our benefit, but it doesn’t pretend that that’s the way life actually goes. In reality, we may experience the crucifixion and the resurrection many times, forward and backward and sideways, and sometimes at the same time.
That’s what this year is. Today is the Day of Resurrection around the world and here at All Saints’ Church. But if you stand on the steps of this church today, you would face the triage tent at the hospital across the street. Scores of people at this very moment are struggling for their lives just a stone’s throw from where I am standing. I live next to the church, and I can tell you—all we hear are ambulance sirens, day and night. It hardly seems to end. Struggle and triumph, pain and joy, death and resurrection—they are all happening at the same time, even in the same place, even in the same person.
The mixed experiences of life are all jumbled up right now. But on this day, there is no confusion. Because we know how even the strangest of times will end. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! The apostle Paul writes that all things work together for good. That means that even these horrible things we are experiencing bear within them some measure of redemption. For the sick, the dying, and the dead, these may sound like empty words, and the mystery of their suffering may remain just that to human eyes. For those who have lost their jobs or those who must work and expose themselves to danger, we offer prayers and comfort. God bless you. And for those who are relatively healthy and have enough for the time being, this is a difficult but momentary affliction. But you see, though the joy of this time may be hidden and though it may seem very far away, it is still present, right here and right now, even at a time like this. This is a season of trial. But even now, the seeds of God’s victory are beginning to sprout. It is not ours to know what this triumph will look like. We only have to have faith and keep this Easter hope that mixed in with the sorrow of this time is the joy of the time to come, which will live and reign forever.
It is this truth that sets us free. I will say that I am discovering this truth anew this year. Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection are not metaphors or a nice tale. His triumph over death is not an academic topic to discuss from a distance. It is not a pleasant cultural tradition that can be domesticated by bunnies and chocolate. Jesus’ resurrection is wild and unrelenting. His living disturbs the order of life the way we are used to it. The people who first saw the empty tomb were terrified; we, too, are terrified to discover what the resurrection really looks like. And yet, it is only by witnessing the awe of God’s miracles that we can, with confidence, be set free to leave the tomb and discover the resurrected Jesus, alive and eager to greet us as he did Mary and Mary.
So what can we do this Easter to witness, with them, the resurrection of Jesus? We can adjust our focus and train ourselves to see the world with Easter eyes. Look for life in the midst of death. Look for hope in the midst of sorrow. Offer love and compassion where there is none. Keep vigil as long as necessary, even longer than you ever expected. And never, never lose faith in the promise of new life offered to us by the God of life. That God has never failed us; we will not be abandoned in our time of need.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! Let this cry ring out in God’s house, which is your house. Let this truth set you free, even as you are locked down. Let the tomb burst open, against all odds. Let this be your first Easter, your last Easter, your only Easter. Then wake up again tomorrow morning, and let Jesus be resurrected within you all over again. For he is alive! And by him, we all live and are free to be his. Amen
4/12/2020 03:27:35 pm
Inspiring sermon. Thank you.
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