This past Wednesday I read the Easter Gospel in preparation for today and also for the Inclusive Christians campus ministry group at University of Victoria. We met via Zoom for our last official worship gathering of the semester. Typically worship revolves around discussing the gospel reading for the coming Sunday. Ruth one of the chaplains mentioned how strange it was to read the Easter Gospel as we were preparing ourselves for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. She was right. It was entirely out of place and disorienting. In some ways Holy Week and Easter are disorienting in general one year into a pandemic. I’ve heard other colleagues and friends comment on feeling out of sorts this year. Last year Holy Week and Easter were also online, but it came as such a surprise we didn’t have much time to think about it. A year later we see things differently. Although we’ve also heard several hopeful comments from people otherwise unable to join in person worship due to mobility and health issues. For some online church has been a blessing, bridging a gap that had been missing earlier. As a result we’re being careful to value both in-person and on-line worship. Both are real, legitimate forms of worship. It’s okay to long to gather again in-person. We lift up the day we can do so again, while keeping in mind that some people will continue joining us on-line. We remain committed to livestreaming worship after the in-person worship is allowed again. Some good news for Easter wanting to reassure folks who have found joy joining us online.
Another thing that happened last Wednesday before Inclusive Christians worship, I read the gospel reading for today and then went for a quick run from the church to Mt. Tolmie and back. For those unfamiliar Mt. Tolmie is the high point near us with a panoramic vista of much of Victoria and its coastline, about 1.5 km from the church. Mt. Tolmie seems as good as place as any in search of inspiration. There is also the tie-in with Easter sunrise services of previous years, when we’ve gathered at Mt. Tolmie’s expansive plaza. When I got to the top I slowed down to take in the view and then God surprised me with something unexpected. There was a shirtless man wearing black jeans. Before I had much time to think about it, he stretched his arms in the air and took off sprinting down the mountain shouting, “Ooh, Ugh, Ooh, Ugh. Ooh, Ugh,” as he pumped his arms. There were other people running and cycling who didn’t attract half as much attention as this guy. Halfway down I caught up with the person who was taking a break and trying to light a cigarette, using his hand as a wind block, to no avail. I continued down the hill and then again, I hear this person speak-yelling the words to a pop song. It could have been Taylor Swift or Lil Nas X for all I knew. By the time I got to the bottom of the mountain his voice trailed off. The disruption of what was to be a meditative run was disorienting, not quite the mountain top inspiration I was hoping for, and at times gave me a minor level of panic.
How fitting that today’s Easter gospel ends in panic and confusion. Truly it is a pandemic Easter gospel. The women, and let’s remember it was women who were the first to discover the empty tomb, encounter a strange scene. The tomb where Jesus is laid has the stone rolled aside and a young man wearing a white tunic daintily hanging out in the empty tomb. We often speak about this young man as an angel. Who else would have been able to roll away the stone and calmly inform the women that Jesus’ body is not there for he is risen. Who can blame the women for fleeing the tomb in terror?
The angel tells the women to go tell the other disciples, but we don’t have any reassurance this happens. Instead the Easter gospel concludes with the narrator explaining the women didn’t tell anyone about what they saw because they were afraid.
Here we are, listeners to the Easter gospel some 2000 years later. Eventually the women must have told somebody because the story got written down. Now we’re charged with fulfilling the angel’s command to go and tell others what has happened.
What is the Easter gospel we are proclaiming this pandemic? We too feel out of sorts. We too feel various levels of panic and anxiety depending on the day. We’re on this constant rollercoaster of updates. One day the vaccine rollout gets our spirits up. The next day Covid infection rates leave us anxious. We miss friends and family we haven’t seen in some time or with whom we cannot gather comfortably indoors. We think about rampant racism against Asian, Indigenous, Black neighbours, and more.
Nevertheless it is Easter and Jesus is risen. Jesus’ love grounds us amidst our confusion and disarray. This is the resurrection love that promises a better world. God defeats death between Good Friday and Easter. Executed by the state, Jesus lives. And his love lives in us. The terror of the empty tomb reminds us through God all things are possible. The love of Easter does not depend on how we feel. That we are not responsible for the resurrection, but rather is something accomplishes Godself for us and all creation.
Through God’s love it is possible welcoming refugees and immigrants in Greater Victoria and beyond.
Because Jesus is risen we are living into our calling as a queer-affirming and anti-racist congregation.
Through the power of the Spirit, we imagine a world in which we bring Covid under control.
Because of an empty tomb, we trust we can create a better world in which we check in with our neighbours both within the congregation and in our neighbourhoods.
We have this strength to rise up is because we are Easter people. This is part of our habit body as we trace the stories through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. In fact the other day I heard similar words on the radio including the Rev. Aneeta Saroop, who many of you know. She is a former intern at Church of the Cross and now pastor at Spirit of Life in Vancouver. She was a guest on the Kindness Factor, a CBC Radio special with host Michelle Elliot. There is a link to the segment on the church FB page. Together with an imam and rabbi, she spoke about how kindness in the Christian tradition is not simply an instinct but a practice. It is something that we live into through the doing of it. A practice that arises through daily repetition.
We think about the women who through their faithfulness are the first to make kindness and love a practice after Jesus dies. They are the ones tending to Jesus’ body and the first to discover the empty tomb. They keep showing up in the most challenging of circumstances. They are models of embodying the kindness as followers of Jesus.
What are ways we keep showing up this year? Whether it is joining for worship online, programming over Zoom, calling folks to check in on them, doing the work of the various boards and committees through which we care for the congregation and wider neighbourhood, Pr. Lyle and I see you continuing to show up in different ways. Even if it’s a struggle just to care for yourself and maybe you even rely on other people caring for you, these too are practises in kindness.
Sometimes we need to care for ourselves before we are able to care for others. Sometimes our plans will be disrupted. the Spirit surprises us. We plan a time for meditation and self-care and a shirtless man runs charging down the hill, singing his own workout soundtrack. The same is true during a pandemic, so much is out of our control. Remember that however you feel this Easter, you are loved by God, and sustained by grace. The first disciples ran away afraid and they are remembered as saints. So no matter how much you might think your life is falling apart in different ways, know that’s okay too. You are sustained by God’s love and we sustain one another in Easter love. Amen.