Blessed Easter! Each resurrection story in the gospels has its own unique vision. For the Gospel of Matthew, as we just heard, it’s Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who go to Jesus’ tomb. No purpose is given. But this is what people still do. Go to the graves of loved ones who have died, recently or long before. Go to their graves to remember, to be near, to cry, to be comforted, to talk or be silent, bring flowers, or when you don’t know what else to do. Mary and Mary go to the tomb of Jesus.
And we heard what happened. Everything changed in an instant. An earthquake, an angel looking like lightning, all in white (like they’re covered in personal protective equipment) making the guards shake and fall like dead men, but the women are still standing. (Of course, they are!) Mary and Mary, still standing to hear the angel’s astonishing message: the crucified Jesus you were looking for dead and buried, isn’t here! Jesus has been raised. See for yourselves. And go tell others.
And they go! quickly, with fear and great joy. And even more astonishing, Jesus meets them! and says, “Greetings,” (Like it’s just another beautiful day in the neighbourhood!) Then they fall down and hold and worship Jesus’ feet. And Jesus says those familiar words they’ve heard from him many times before, when he was alive before, when things were uncertain, changing, challenging, frightening, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.” Go tell the others, and I’ll see you soon. And they did. They told others, so that we hear it for ourselves: Jesus isn’t dead, he’s been raised, go and tell others and you’ll see him. What are we going to do?
Nothing will ever be the same for Mary and Mary, and everyone who heard what they heard and saw, and for a world because of them. Jesus has been raised. Go tell others and you’ll see Jesus. Nothing will ever be the same. That strikes a chord that resonates with us now. On this resurrection day, and in the midst of a pandemic, and a world and our lives that are still changing and uncertain, for tomorrow, and who knows for how long. This resurrection, this pandemic, changes everything.
And there is plenty of fear about all that is changing. We know it from hearing it countless times a day, or experiencing it ourselves: work uncertainty or unemployment: physical distance from family and loved ones and anyone you walk past on the street; risk of infection and infecting others; working from home, home schooling, or children at home by themselves; financial uncertainty that could impact rent or a mortgage, savings, pensions and investments, or essential needs like food and medicine. Right now, this pandemic has changed most everything and many of us are afraid at one moment or another, to one degree or another. And the risen Jesus meets us, speaks to our fear, and says those familiar words, “Don’t be afraid!” Go, tell others, and you will see Jesus there.
Some are beginning to ask in the midst of all the changes, what is it we want to return to when the pandemic is over or under some degree of control? I have heard politicians and others speak about the hope that the economy will come “roaring back.” Yes, returning to work and secure income for many who aren’t and don’t have that now. But what about the reduced pollution of air and waters, staying closer to home and driving much less, the reduced consumption and strain on the planet, do we want all of that to come roaring back? And, yes, to the freedom to touch and embrace family and loved ones again. And go to school with friends again. Gather for worship and Holy Communion and the embrace of peace together again, join in activities with others again, time together in ways we can so easily lose to over intensity and over commitment that we may not want to return to. Greater concern and compassion for those more isolated, elders, people differently able, those socially and economically oppressed, that we have seen in this time, or for people on the frontlines of hard and necessary work all the time, do we want to return to a time when we did less of these things, and were all less because of it?
Some of you may have heard the interview last week, or on the news yesterday with artist Libby Oliver. Libby is the niece of Ray and Maureen from this congregation, a “relational artist,” by her description, one of her series of works was wrapping people almost entirely in all of their clothing in a “soft shell” that she then photographed and printed into beautiful life-sized portraits. In connection with the Victoria Art Gallery, Libby has been working as artist in residence at Luther Court. Relating to elders there and engaging in different artistic expressions together. Since the pandemic, and the building being closed, Libby has shifted her focus to be a “listener in residence.” She calls and connects with people at Luther Court for conversation, often with a poem or song to talk about together. Libby has expanded the listening to include other volunteers from the community and is inviting more elders from the wider community to be part of the conversations. We talked last week, and I sent an email with Libby, together with a phone list, to some from this community to consider being part of this. What a gift Libby is, and this project is, as a result of everything being different. And the resurrection hope that much of this life and world will stay that way, that nothing will be the same because of what we have seen and heard, beyond our fears, and told others, and have seen Jesus there.
Maundy Thursday was the commemoration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Pastor, underground seminary professor and member of the Confessing Church and resistance during the Second World War. On April 5, 1943, he was arrested along with his sister Christel and brother-in-law, Hans. And 75 years ago on Thursday, April 9, 1945, so very near the end of the war, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Gestapo in a prison in Flossenburg. In the Introduction to Bonhoeffer’s book, “Life Together,” written about the community of the underground seminary Bonhoeffer shared with 25 vicars, John Doberstein writes: “His (Bonhoeffer’s) last weeks were spent with women and men of many nationalities, Russian, English, French, Italian, and German. One of these, an English officer wrote: ‘Bonhoeffer always seem to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive…. He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near…. On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, the thoughts and resolutions it had brought us.
He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, “prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.” That had only one meaning for all prisoners – the gallows. We said, good-by to him. He took me aside (and said,) “This the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.’ The (Bible) text on which he spoke that day was the Hoy Week verse, ‘With his stripes are we healed.’” (Life Together, 1954, HarperCollins, pp. xiv-xv) It is a resurrection story, Bonhoeffer’s words and actions in the face of death.
And his book, Life Together, seemed to me like a book to read this Holy Week and Easter. “Life Together” as a community in Christ, in this Holy Easter time, in the face of a pandemic and physical distance from community together, Bonhoeffer’s little book, both practical and truthful, Biblical and experiential, comforting and demanding, in the words of Elizabeth O’Connor commenting on the book, “gives inspiration and practical guidance to those who hunger for a fuller experience of Christian community. Bonhoeffer’s words strike chords that resound for today’s readers. We, too, live in threatening and catastrophic times. Bonhoeffer’s book from another fearful time will help us create alternative communities that will nurture imagination and give the world the leadership and vision so desperately needed for its healing.” Yes, please, let it be so for us and for this world.
Everything is changed; nothing will ever be the same, don’t be afraid, go and tell others and you will see Jesus, is a resurrection prayer for this pandemic time, and for every time. Resurrection life together is this. New and abundant life in Christ. Happy and blessed Easter. Alleluia! Alleluia! alleluia! God graciously makes it so. In all our relations. Amen.