Easter Day 2020
O God, who for our redemption gave your only–begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection … from the Easter Collect
What is the enemy the Easter Collect speaks of? Satan, we might think, right? The reality of evil in the world is a powerful one. We in the 21st century world, including the Episcopal Church, don’t talk about things like Satan or the reality of evil in the world. But Jesus did talk about evil and had his famous battle of wits and wills in Luke and Matthew with the Devil, he who offers us not life but that which leads to death and/or disconnection and separation from God. Our Collect for Easter tells us that Jesus, who died horribly and violently for our sake, for our sins, for our brokenness, has triumphed over the ultimate enemy: Death. Death that is sin, death that is separation from God, death that causes us to believe that God no longer cares about us, no longer sees us, no longer loves us … or the death that comes when we cease to believe that God is not God any longer.
The Easter promise is a potent one, the promise of Life in all of its incantations, the reality of new life, remade, reimagined, and to be rejoiced in. Life with God is made possible, in all of its fullness, because Christ has broken the bonds of Death, with a capital ‘D’ and, well, a small ‘d,’ too. Enemies of life, death in forms of our widest experiences, have been defeated as the One who died, was buried – the One whose name is above every name – has, by God’s unending grace, Risen. Alleluia, we can say, pray, whisper or shout. Jesus is Risen, death is overturned, and we are called into new life because of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s mercy. Alleluia.
Now, I do realize that we are all feeling, perhaps, a bit muted today. Today is like no Easter in our memory where any who wished to be in Church could be. There will be no throngs of folks in their Easter finest, looking dazzling on the day of Christ’s Resurrection. There will be no happy hordes of little folk running nosily around the church green, collecting eggs and eating cake in the parish hall. No, not this year. And, to me, that feels a little like death, a loss. But one of my daughters, Mary, who goes into a hospital, working often with COVID–19 patients – there is pride, huge in scope – but there is also fear and worry on a grand scale. My fear is replicated by the families of health care folks working all over the country, from nurses to doctors to custodians trying to keep ahead of the virus; cafeteria staff, technicians … and the real fear of the practitioners themselves is real. They are dealing with illness and death, with a big ‘D.’
We continue to struggle, in our homes and businesses, too, with the now exhausting reality of how coronavirus has changed our lives. I bumped into a parishioner in a store during Holy Week. We saw each other and simply looked and then said hello, from a “safe distance.” She looked a bit sad to me and later, when I messaged her, she said exactly what I was thinking: I just wanted to give you a hug. I miss the hugs of parishioners, the handshakes, the touches of blessing when I see folks I know or meet outside, in our seemingly shrinking world. Yes, our depression, isolation, angst, feels like death, maybe with small ‘d’ but it still feels suffocating sometimes, the longer it goes …
And people, more than 20,000 now, I think, have lost a loved one to this pandemic’s virus, not even able to hold a funeral, if they are so inclined. I heard of a priest who needed to give last rites, extreme unction as we once called it, over the phone recently, because no one could risk being together at a time when we really need to be together. Millions and millions of people have lost their jobs, businesses, small ones particularly – which give neighborhoods and towns a family and communal feel – are very much in jeopardy and we should support them whenever and however we can. It all feels a lot like our old enemy – and this is not going too far I don’t think – death. God may seem too far away from us and we feel stymied in our ability to share the love of the One who made us, with the rest of the world.
Hey, you might be thinking, this is Easter, Father George!! Where are the alleluias, man? Well, here they come. The prophet Jeremiah tells the people Israel, the people in exile: “… when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again, I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again, you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again, you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.” [Jeremiah 31]
God’s promise to us isn’t that life will look the same to us after this pandemic is over or after we have lost someone that we love more than our life. Life is not that simple and that, thank God, is not the way our Creator works. The people of Israel were in exile for approximately 70 years. Many were born, lived, and died in captivity and never knew Jerusalem. But for some who were old enough to remember Israel, as well as those who had never seen it, there was a palpable sense of what they had lost … a feeling like death. But the prophets of the exile, like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, carried with them the reasons why Israel was lost, what the challenges were and would be, and they also proclaimed the overwhelming goodness and life of God. God’s love meant that once again they would play, dance, grow, and work. There would be an end to the suffering time. The Temple was destroyed, the city was in ruin. It would be rebuilt and it would be magnificent, but it would not be the same.
Resurrection means that life doesn’t – and won’t – look the same after we pass through our times of challenge. It is victory that makes life new and alters our reality. We may be longing for the world that we have known, before this pandemic, to return; it probably won’t, not in exactly the same way. But our God is never–changing: God is still and always will be God and, because of Christ, we are at one with Him. Christ’s victory over death means that we can be fully alive, open to all the possibilities of God, even when life gets crummy or seems downright impossible. Resurrection’s reality is that we are never separated from God: not in challenge, not in pandemic, not in ruin, and not even in physical Death, the end of life itself. We belong to God – that is the Easter promise – and if we trust in God and believe in God’s goodness, then the life that God offers to us in Jesus Christ will see us through any trial. We are, because Christ rescued us from Death, at One with God. We are new creations and the victory Christ has brought us, now, is also ours.