What has become clear to you this Easter?

PHOTO: By Ann @Unsplash

Happy Easter! It feels like we have been in Lent for over a year now. Thank you for staying faithful. It has not been easy being Church at the very time that the message and mission of the church has been more important than ever. Episcopal priest and spiritual leader, The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, once said “Hope is a song in a weary throat.” Thank you for all the weary throats that have sung out hope this year.

Ten years ago, while I was a priest at Grace Church in Millbrook, NY, our daughter Grace was a freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It was a year when spring break was just a week before Holy Week. We really enjoyed our time with our youngest daughter and on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, I was driving Grace on the four hour trip back to school. On the ride she asked me, “Dad when will you be getting me home for Easter.” I was surprised by the question and said, “Oh Gracie we can’t get you back home for Easter. You have classes up to Friday afternoon. Good Friday. Mommy and I are both priests. Holy Week is really busy.” She sadly said “Ok, Dad.” A couple of hours later we were in Carlisle stopped at a light, just a couple of blocks from campus. There was one of the signs saying “Episcopal Church this way.” Grace noticed it and said “Look Dad. There is the Episcopal Church where I will be sitting all by myself on Easter Sunday morning.”

Betsy and I got her back home for Easter.

I tell that story knowing many of you are sitting all by yourself this Easter. Very soon some of our churches who can do so safely will be open for in-person, indoor worship for limited numbers. It is my sincere hope by the fall that all our church buildings can be open.

But today we are still physically apart. I’m going to turn to the great spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, for a word of hope and grace. Merton looked at the origins of the word “alone.” He says it comes from “all one.” All one. Even when we are alone we are all one. All one with God and with one another on this Easter Sunday and throughout this year of Lent.

Ralph Waldo Emerson used to greet friends he had not seen in a long time and would ask them this question: “What has become clear to you since we last met?” A great question for all of us to ask each other when we see each other in-person as this pandemic ends. For me, what has become clear is what Merton says. We are all one.

And I think that gets us to one of two key insights of the many, many life changing insights from the Resurrection of Jesus we celebrate this day.

In John’s telling of that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene recognizes the one she thought was the gardener to be Jesus. And although the text does not say it, she must have hugged him. Jesus responds. Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and say to them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

At first, we feel sorry for Mary. She wants to hold on to this person she loves so much. But Jesus’ answer is good news. The Risen Christ will not be confined to any one place. He will be with God the Father and that means he will be everywhere.

You know who really understood the power of this truth? St. Patrick. In the hymn attributed to him we sing these words: “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me , Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in the hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

We used to say that prayer with our children when putting them to bed. Our son Geoff loved that prayer and if he didn’t want to go to sleep yet he would keep the prayer going: “Christ in the basement, Christ on the roof, Christ at my school…” He was doing that to stay up, but he got the point. The Resurrection and later Ascension of Jesus means he is now, as Fr. Richard Rohr says, “the Cosmic Christ.” We are never apart from Christ. Our life and our death are now incorporated in the life of the Risen Christ.

And here is the second insight from the Easter miracle. I’m taking this from an opinion piece in The NY Times written by Esau McCaulley. This article was sent to me by The Very Rev. Jim Munroe, the former dean of our cathedral.

Looking at the empty tomb stories in all four gospels, he points out as I did in my Easter Vigil sermon last night, that the first Easter morning was a time of grief and anxiety. Even after being told Jesus was alive they left the tomb in fear. McCaulley writes: “The women did not go to the tomb looking for hope. They were searching for a place to grieve. They wanted to be left alone in despair. The terrifying aspect of Easter is that God called these women to return to the same world that crucified Jesus with a very dangerous gift: hope in the power of God, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and an abundance of love. Who could believe such a thing?”

McCaulley then brings the first Easter to this Easter of 2021: “To listen to the plans of some, after the pandemic we are returning to a world of parties and rejoicing. This is true. Parties have their place. But we are also returning to a world of hatred, cruelty, division and a thirst for power that was never quarantined… As we leave the tombs of quarantine, a return to normal would be a disaster unless we recognize we are going back to a world desperately in need of healing. The work that Jesus left his followers to do includes showing compassion and forgiveness and contending for a just society.”

Friends, what has become clear to you since we last met? What has become clear to you this Easter? A theologian once said, “The resurrection is in part about the sheer toughness and persistence of God’s love.” 

May we rejoice today Easter 2021 in the toughness and persistence of God’s love. And may we recommit to going out into the world dedicated to Jesus’ Mission of Mercy, Compassion and Hope. Amen.