This is kind of a weird day here at St. Swithin’s. I am sure there are a ton of conflicting emotions going on out there. If you are a visitor with us today, I hope you are feeling the joy of the risen Christ in your life. But I am sure there are also feelings of sadness, anger, possibly betrayal, and maybe even abandonment. All kinds of feelings out there. But if we think about it, would this be all that different from the feelings that disciples would have been feeling on that first Easter morning?
The disciples would have been in shock. They probably would have been wondering what had happened. They had followed a very charismatic leader and were out to change the world. They had given up jobs, lives, and families to follow this man. They had a promise; this teacher claimed to be the Messiah, the one sent by God. This leader was to be the great leader in the line of David! But on that first Easter, the disciples were not jumping up and down, telling the world of the resurrection, they were confused. They were huddled together wondering what they were going to do now that their leader was gone and it looked like they were going to be the next ones to be pursued.
For me, this may be the first Easter where I can truly feel the sense of “What now?” that must have been going through the disciples’ heads. Last year, I was shouting “He is risen!” to the rafters, but this year, there doesn’t seem to be that assurance. Tombs seem to be closing up more than opening up. Our building is becoming more and more empty as the various items gathered over the years are removed. The life of the congregation is slowing down rather than ramping up. Spring seems to be a sign of the end rather than a sign of a new beginning. For those of you who have been here since the congregation was established, this sense of “what now?” may probably be even stronger. For you, this may have been the only church home you knew. So the sense of loss, fear, and unknowing could be very strong. In our world, we know the story of Easter and we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. But on that first Easter morning, the resurrection was not a sure thing. This sense of unknowing would have been the experience of those early Christians on that first Easter morning. “What now? What is going to become of us? What should we do?”
At times like this, we can become like Mary. We can get so caught up in the events circling around us that we loose our bearings. When Mary was at the tomb, that first Easter morning, she was talking to Jesus but she failed to recognize him. She was upset about what she found, and in her distress, she wasn’t able to see that Christ was standing right there, right next to her.
Often, we are so wrapped up in the events of our life, our world, our congregation that WE are not able to see Christ standing right next to us or to hear Christ’s voice in our heart. Life, in general, can get in our way. Our daily life so often seem to be full of stressors that can pull us away from listening to the speaking of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And when we add additional, unexpected stressors, we can become more distracted, more pulled.
Just a few days ago, Frank Gorshen and I were talking. We were talking about how this Lent has been quite different from past years. I had also mentioned how it really didn’t seem like Easter could be here. Frank said that the whole thing had a very surrealistic quality. I would have to agree with him. It has been surrealistic. When we approach Easter we are supposed to be preparing for celebrations not for closures. What we are experiencing is not what we would be expecting. And since it is not what we would expect, we may have difficulty seeing what is going on.
Mary was confused. She was not expecting to see Jesus, he had died. She was not expecting to encounter the risen Christ; that would have just been beyond comprehension. So we should not be surprised that Mary did not recognize Jesus on that morning. The concept of the risen Christ would have been beyond her comprehension.
And Mary stays confused until Christ calls her; says her name. When Mary hears Christ speak her name, she suddenly comes to the realization who is calling her. She comes to the realization that what seems impossible is, in fact, possible! When Mary is called, she is then able to see clearly.
As we move forward, we need to keep our eyes open, but more importantly, we need to keep our hearts open. What is Christ asking of us this Easter morning? What may we be looking at, directly, but not seeing because it is not what we are expecting? What may we be missing because we cannot get our minds around what is happening?
We also need to remember that even though we may be lost, confused, scared, or whatever, that we have knowledge that the disciples did not have. We know that Christ did indeed rise from the dead. We know that the promises that were made to the disciples were, in fact, fulfilled. We know that the expectation that the disciples had did in fact come to be. This group of disillusioned, down-trodden, scared people would be the seeds that start a movement that will change the world. We know that what looked like death to this group would become a source of life and vitality. We know this, because we are here this morning. What looked like it might have been the death of the church even before it started is not what has happened.
Granted, we are looking at the closing of our congregation, but I also would like to think that we are seeing a promise: Just as the disciples may have thought Christ’s death was their end mission, we may see our closing as the end of our mission. But also, just as Christ wasn’t finished with the disciples, Christ is not finished with us!
Last night, our Bishop, and rector of this congregation, talked about finding life in the celebration of Easter. He talked about how Mary went to the tomb expecting to find death, but what she found was life! We may think we come to church this morning expecting to find death, but because we are followers of Christ, we need to count on finding life! Christ is alive! And because Christ is alive, we will find life too!