April 12

Easter at a social distance

By Marsh Chapel

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Colossians 3:1-4

Matthew 28:1-10

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            It is not so long ago that Jesus came to us wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. We murmured with the Shepherds and knelt with the Kings. We sang: “Christ the Savior is born.” We were innocent and young and happy at his birth. True: some noticed the straw in his hair and the stench of the manger, and worried about Rachel weeping for her
children. Mostly, though, we happily received and reported glad tidings of great joy to all people. It is not so long ago that the trees and the greens, beautiful they were, came down.

            It is not so long ago that Jesus stripped himself and knelt in the Jordan. Granted, we have been busy carving our hearts and arrows into the trees of life. Granted, we have been finding jobs and homes and churches and relaxation. True: some of us noticed the mud on Jesus’ face after his baptism, and wondered at the humility of such an act, God stooping to be covered in the icy, rolling, filthy waters of this world.

            Mostly, though, we were happy to greet Jesus at his baptism, and day by day like us he grew. We went on to another month of paychecks and forechecks and last respects.

            It is not so long ago that Satan tempted our Lord. Jesus stood tempted and we with Him: tempted to make of life a scramble to the top, no matter who gets hurt; tempted to make of religion a closed shop, no matter who is closed out, tempted to take up government without a government of the heart. You saw him last month, just up the hill from Jericho, stalking in the wilderness. True: some blanched at the forty days, and pondered the choice of God to lavish love on a twilight world. Mostly, though, we thanked Jesus for his troubles and hoped not to succumb to the temptations he defeated. It was not so long ago.

            It was not so long ago that Jesus preached and taught the mystery and mastery of Love. True: some noticed the somber tone in the verses about hardship to come.

            Mostly, though, we tilled our gardens. And not so long ago. Is it only a few days ago that Jesus completed a life of servant love? Is it more than hours ago that Patience and Humility and Wide Mercy were nailed up to make way for the ‘god of this world’, whose violence has not yet been vanquished in fact as we trust it is in principle. A few—was it you?—spotted the hidden glory in such care.

            Mostly though we went to the market and to the bank, preparing for an earthly future we thought might be without end. We lived, not just the young, but all, as if ‘temporarily immortal’. No, it is not so long ago that the Lamb of God met us in poverty, humility, struggle, teaching and sacrifice. At Christmas, in Baptism, in Temptation, in Preaching, and in Crucifixion.

            And now, Easter. A silent Easter, an Easter at social distance, anno domini 2020.

            Here the Gospel: Christ the Lord is risen today: ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Love crucified is love raised. It is the same worn Jesus whom God calls ‘the future’. No wonder the disciples did not at first believe, and no wonder we have our doubts as well. The preacher leans against the cross on Friday, and leans against the resurrection on Sunday. For the cross is still with us, followed by but not replaced by the resurrection. Jesus is God’s future. His resurrection is our future. This future makes of Easter a change of heart—a saving change of heart—rather than just a remarkable weekend in first century Palestine. On the cross walk, resurrection is yours. On the way of the cross, you walk in newness of life. You receive resurrection eyes, resurrection ears, and a resurrection smile. For this change of heart John Donne longs: I need thy thunder,

            o my God…(Devotions xxi)


            The resurrection of Jesus Christ helps us see that the resurrection is meant for us, to open us to a new way of engaging in the world, being at home in the world, being confident in the world. Your struggle you can see in a new way, with resurrection eyes–if you will. What is most fragile in the world, which is grace, when seen aright, is the toughest, most intimate of entities.
Resurrection eyes see connections, possibilities, welcomes, openings, and spiritual friendships in the offing. We tend to see the world not as it is but as we are, but the resurrection gives us new eyes. All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye. Resurrection eyes see an open future, open to God’s future, who is Christ Jesus. Even at a social distance.

            With such eyes, you can see current sacrifice through Easter eyes. Mom and Dad have sacrificed their New England home, for others’ health. The living room is now a class room. The dining room is now two offices. Institutions, educational and mercantile, have assumed, presumed to take the space—without rental offered, a need in emergency. Easter eyes see a future opened in this sacrifice, a future that saves lives. Aunt Grace is near retirement, but makes her way to the hospital as an RN, a first responder. Hers is an intimate sacrifice, potentially mortal. Death makes us mortal, facing death makes us human. Easter eyes see a future opened in this sacrifice, a future for which lives are saved. You would like to take your mother an Easter lily, today, but she and others have foregone the joy of visitors, today, whether or not by choice, or consciously. Easter eyes see a future opened in this, a future for which, by something called a flattened curve, others’ lives are preserved. Ours in April 2020 is Easter at a social distance.


            The resurrection of Jesus Christ grants resurrection ears, too. On the cross walk, one hears rumblings of justice. It takes resurrection ears to hear it, but the trumpet sound, though far off, is ringing. Wrote Luther, for whom audition was all, and sight not to be trusted. Luther is all ear, no eye (he left sight for Ignatius of Loyola): “here in this life our heart is in too great straits to lay hold of it, but after death, when the heart becomes larger and broader, we experience what we have heard through the Word”. He is sounding forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat! My father, at his best friend’s funeral, said twenty years ago: Death takes the gift of life into an eternal dimension. That sounds like a phrase from his alma mater, Boston University. Death takes the gift of life into an eternal dimension. One leader said recently, “For all the grandness that is so apparent in our time, something is missing. There is a hunger for something to believe in and to hold onto, something grander that can lift our aspirations instead of lowering them. Something that appeals to the highest in us: our generosity, our optimism, our courage”. Perhaps corona distance is reminding us to listen for generosity, for optimism, for courage.

            Easter gives us an acoustical advantage, a better hearing, and affords a sturdier hope. There is a trumpet sound, a silent sound like the silent sound of our campus this morning, this long Lent, a gift from ‘elsewhere’. Elsewhere

            Vaclev Havel: Hope is a dimension of the soul, and it is not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation…It’s deepest roots are transcendental, just as are the roots of human responsibility…It is an inner experience…The most convinced materialist and atheist may have more of this genuine transcendentally rooted inner hope than 10 metaphysicians altogether…Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as the joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather the ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it has a chance to succeed. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere’. (V. Havel, DPT, 23). Take out the ‘as it were’ and you have Easter, in the words of asecular prophet. He heard with resurrection ears.

            The Resurrection brings happiness, too, a resurrection smile. So Isaiah can sing out: ‘everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.’ As part of the alliance of servant love, one really has cause to smile. A resurrection smile—I have no interest at all in how much you actually smile—is a sign that you can risk. You can risk change, transition, a cross road. When the circus came to our little town, growing up, we watched the trapeze artists, enthralled. These aerial acrobats touch something deep in life.

You can swing from one bar to another on the existential trapeze. Back and forth the bars swing, and at least half a dozen times in life you will be changing bars. It’s scary. Waiting for the bar to come, you know you will have to jump. That is the thing about faith. There is always a bit of a leap in it. From home to college. Jump! From college to work. Jump! From single to married or married to single. Jump! From calling to second calling. Jump! From work to retirement. Jump! From chief household executive to nursing home. Jump! Easter gives a radiance to life that loosens us, smiling, for the changes in life. You are a part of the alliance of servant love. Go ahead and jump. Some of us will spot you, and be there to catch if you slip a little. Smile. The risks of change make sense at Easter. And every one of these jumps, courageously made, gives you further confidence in the Everlasting Arms of the last jump, the final horizon. Easter is the promise of eternal life!

            From this pulpit, at Easter, we smile, smile to remember the voice of Martin Luther King: No matter who you are today, somebody helped you to get there. It may have been an ordinary person, doing an ordinary job in an extraordinary way. There is a magnificent lady, with all the beauty of blackness and black culture, by the name of Marian Anderson that you’ve heard about and read about and some of you have seen. She started out as a little girl singing in the choir of the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And then came that glad day when she made it. And she stood in Carnegie Hall with the Philharmonic Orchestra in the background in New York, singing with the beauty that is matchless. Then she came to the end of the concert, singing Ave Maria as nobody else can sing it. And they called her back and back and back, and she finally ended by singing, ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’. And her mother was sitting out in the audience, and she started crying; tears were flowing down her cheeks. And the person next to her said, “Mrs Anderson, Why are you crying? Your daughter is scoring tonight. The critics tomorrow will be lavishing their praise on her. Why are you crying? And Mrs. Anderson looked over with tears still flowing and said, “I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m crying for joy.” She went on to say, “You may not remember, you wouldn’t know. But I remember when Marian was growing up, and I was working in a kitchen till my hands were all but parched, my eyebrows all but scalded. I was working there to make it possible for my daughter to get an education. And I remember Marian came to see me and said, “Mother, I don’t want to see you having to work like
this.” And I looked down and said, “Honey, I don’t mind it. I’m doing it for you and I expect great things of you.” And finally one day somebody asked Marian Anderson in later years, “Miss Anderson, what has the been the happiest moment of your life? Was it that moment in Carnegie Hall in New York?” She said, “No, that wasn’t it.” “Was it that moment you stood before the Kings and Queens of Europe?” “No that wasn’t it”. “ Well, Miss Anderson, was it the moment Sibelius of Finland declared that his roof was too low for such a voice?” “No, that wasn’t it.” “Miss Anderson, was it the moment that Toscanini said that a voice like your comes only once in a century?” “No, that wasn’t it.” “What was it then, Miss Anderson.” And she looked up and said (smiling) quietly, “The happiest moment in my life was the moment I could say, “Mother, you can stop working now.” Marian Anderson realized that she was where she was because somebody helped her to get there. (M. L. King, “A Knock at Midnight”).
That’s power.

            Jesus’ resurrection giving you new eyes, ears and smile. The resurrection, granting new sight, new sound, new soul. Smile! One ancient writer, not an earthly success, not an ecclesiastical victor, nonetheless wrote in the year 160ad: “the resurrection is the revelation of what is, the transformation of things, and a transition into newness (Treatise on the Resurrection). Eyes, Ears, Smile. Today we are set free to wonder at life, to work for justice, to weather change. And to do so with grace.


The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

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