“Easter 2.0: Easter is Being Held Over”
Luke 24: 36b-48 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~
Northwood United ~ April 25, 2021
“Happy Easter…Christ is risen, He is risen, indeed!” When I offered this greeting, the facial expression on one of our young people was quite telling. We were gathering on zoom on the second week of Easter, and I opened our @ Home Children and Youth Program saying: “Happy Easter…Christ is risen, He is risen, indeed!” There was a noticeable pause in the conversation, followed by the response of this young man. I could see that he politely wanted to take me aside and gently correct my theology, but that’s kind of hard to do on zoom. So, he thoughtfully said: “Umm…Rev. Scott, actually, Easter was last week”. And then I shared the most wonderful news. The news that Christians ponder during these weeks of Eastertide. “You are right. Easter Sunday was last week. But, in the church, we celebrate the season of Easter. It is not just a day, but rather it is a season that lasts for 50 days! We focus on the meaning of Easter because we are ‘Easter people’ and that is much too big, and much too wonderful to take in on any particular Sunday.” And then the minds of our younger members began to open to the possibilities presented. There was a joy and levity that blossomed. What does it mean to have Easter extended? Another family feast? Will the Easter bunny visit again? More chocolates? More presents? What new possibilities will come as we ponder the meaning of Easter being held over?
Post Easter…a spiritual Christ?…a bodily one?
What I would like for us to consider this morning, as we are now into the fourth Sunday in Eastertide is: What would have happened if Easter stopped at the empty tomb? What would have happened if all we had were the empty blood-stained graveclothes left behind? What would have happened if we only had a spiritual relationship with Christ and not a bodily-resurrected one? Oh, I’m sure the church could find alternate areas of focus…a Sunday devoted to our beloved Blue Jays, our wonderful Canucks, or our tireless health care professionals…but I digress. A consideration into the extension of Easter poses significant questions for our faith. Considerations that go all the way back to the early beginnings. In the 2nd and 3rd Centuries, we see warnings from St. Ignatius and Origen of those who focus on a relationship with a spiritual Christ and neglect one with his resurrected body. After Easter a physical relationship does, indeed, continue with Christ beyond the resurrection. And that is the purpose of this morning’s text. To answer some of those questions that I posed earlier. In his life, Jesus taught and loved and healed; cried and wept and bled; was crucified and raised. And…the story does not conclude there. The story continues on to teach us that Jesus continues on, not only as a spiritual being, but also as a bodily one as well. And this text is among the many post-resurrection texts that introduce us to the living Easter Jesus…alive in spirit and in body.
Opening our minds to Easter possibilities
This, of course, is a miraculous and almost unbelievable part of our faith. As I tried to distinguish in my Easter reflection, there is a difference between something that does not warrant our beliefs…is unbelievable and something that is UNBELIEVABLE. The empty tomb was the first UNBELIEVABLE demonstration of God’s power; and the unfolding of the season of Easter is the second! With the post-resurrection appearances, the wonder, the power and the grace…the UNBELIEVABLE nature of our faith continues! Startled, afraid and confused from what had transpired, the disciples lock themselves away with fear and confusion. And the post-resurrected Jesus arrives to ‘open their minds’. Luke, in fact, uses this term ~ “opening their minds” ~ several terms throughout the gospel. He had just used it in the story of meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus and it is used here again. How are their minds opened? Jesus appears in their midst and they are startled and terrified. They think, at first, that they are seeing a ghost; they think their eyes are playing tricks on them. Yet, knowing them as his friends, Jesus greets them: “peace be with you”. They hear this and wonder: “could it be him?” And then he comes closer and becomes vulnerable: “Touch my wounds; come and see.” And as they come closer into his presence, they begin to see more clearly that IT IS HIM! And then, he does a most human thing…he eats fish with them. A turnaround, perhaps, on one of Jesus’ miracles in the past. He asks them to feed him. Jesus comes to them offering a greeting of peace; he offers them his body to touch and see; he eats with them… IT IS HIM! Easter part two…Easter has been held over. The miracle of the resurrection had occurred. The miracle of the resurrected body of Christ is discovered. Easter has been held over…Easter continues! Our Call as “witnesses” The Easter truth that we are wading into has provided the foundation of hope for many, over the generations. The truth of the living resurrected body ‘with us’ can speak to our fears whenever we, like the disciples first did, find ourselves huddling behind closed doors. To the disciples, they had heard the rumours. They were wondering what these strange ‘Jesus sightings’ might mean? Was Jesus, really, still alive and offering hope and new beginnings? To the disciples, they were receiving the very basis of an Easter hope that freed them, amidst their fears…amidst their longings. For us, this has the potential to turn our deepest fear into joy. Jesus opens our minds; we see that death is not the final word, and he commissions us to be his “witnesses.” We become commissioned, empowered, called to unite and be the living resurrected body of Christ.
You have seen the resurrected Christ
Have you seen the living resurrected Christ? I know you have! In those times when one battles a cancer diagnosis… friends and family gathered around that person…and as we do, the resurrected Christ is present. Christ is physically present with us. You have seen him! In times of unemployment, 2 or 3 or more who compassionately gather around that person make the resurrected Christ part of that time. You have seen him. In our times of loss, those caring souls who gather together and hold one another and weep together, make the resurrected Christ present. You have seen him! Christ’s healing, Christ’s love, Christ’s grace is present whenever we follow Jesus’ teaching from this text ~ to be His “witnesses”, to make him present, to be the living / breathing / loving body of Christ in times of fear and pain. I would like to propose that, more than ever before, we need to make the body of Christ present. We need to be his “witnesses.” We are living in a time of profound fear. And while the fear-mongers of our day would like to promote scarcity thinking, our call as “witnesses”…as the living resurrected body of Christ are a sure-fire vaccination for any fear. If Christ lives in our midst, we will find that there is enough to go around. We will find that we will get through this. There is enough love to go around; there is enough compassion; there is enough of everything…if we truly take seriously our role as “witnesses”…witnesses to actively be the living body of the resurrected Christ.
The ‘crisis of loneliness’
Prior to the pandemic, there had been a growing body of research on what psychologists call ‘the crisis of loneliness’. Loneliness is something that is continuing to grow in our world. So many are locked away in our silos and suffer the pain of loneliness. Studies have reported levels of loneliness from one-third of our population and up, depending on age groups. Loneliness effects all ages, all cultures, and all economic levels. Psychologists have documented the casualties of loneliness: declines in our physical health, declines in our mental health as we see growing levels of depression, anxiety, and self-harm. When we, like the disciples, lock ourselves away, we suffer the pains of loneliness so deeply. This crisis of loneliness has now become more pronounced since the days of Covid, as we have needed to adopt social distancing measures. And the call for us to be “witnesses” of the resurrected body of Christ is all the more pronounced. Since the onset of the pandemic, new research has occurred as loneliness relates to social isolation. One study was published just a few months ago in the Journal of Religion and Health entitled “Meaning in Life, Religious Coping and Loneliness During the Coronavirus Health Crisis in Turkey.” It studied a group of, just under 1,000, Turkish adults and lifted up the significant role one’s religious practice can play as an antidote to their feelings of loneliness. This is a time, amidst the pains of loneliness, for us to be “witnesses” and make the resurrected body of Christ present and alive for all. This is a time to allow Christ to walk into our fears, to walk into those places where we are locked away and afraid…and release the Easter gift of healing and hope.
Our call to making the resurrected Christ alive
So, let’s get practical. How might this look? How can we be the gathered body of Christ amidst Covid? How can we be his “witnesses” when part of loving our neighbour requires the practice of social distancing? How do we live this paradox of practicing our faith and adhering to public health measures? I guess it comes down to adaptability and commitment to being the church ~ continuing to be Christ’s witnesses, even now. You have adapted to gathering in virtual ways, for now, instead of ‘in person’. Who ever imagined ‘in-person worship’ would be a thing? Previously, it was something we took for granted: the ability to go to worship, to gather, to sing and pray together. Now we gather for ‘zoom worship gatherings’, we gather as a family bubble and participate in the service watching it on YouTube, I even know of some who listen to it together on the telephone – using their speakerphones to listen in to the service. And the body of Christ has still gathered. While we cannot visit one another in-person, just yet, we still can create community. I am aware of some wonderful connections that will not be stopped by this virus. Connections that continue through phone calls, emails, zoom calls and (good old-fashioned) card writing. And the body of Christ still walks in our midst. This time is a call, more than ever before, for us to be the church; to be Christ’s witnesses; the living body of Christ to one another. Into those fears and places where we find ourselves captive and locked away, the body of Christ comes offering us “peace”. To your uncertainties, Christ will calm them and show you that He is there. Even in the ordinariness of life, when you are doing something as simple as eating a meal, he will be with us. For Christ will open our minds to understand that Easter is not over; Easter is just beginning…if we fulfill our call to be the living body of Christ. Let us be the Easter church which makes Christ alive in the world! Amen.