the second Sunday of Easter
April 19th, 2020
Today’s readings are:
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
It is good to be here at our church building this morning, but I have to say: it’s not the same without all of you. It reminds me of when I came into church during the week. Nowadays I work from home, but before our quarantine, I would come to the church each day at around 8:30, and the first thing I’d do was come in here and pray. It’s always quiet here in the morning, even if people are already up and about outside. It’s quiet and cool and comforting, and it’s the perfect place to pray in the morning time. The new sun pours in through the windows and really brings out the beauty of the pews, or casts sleepy shadows in little nooks. And, depending on my mood, I’d either sit down in the glow of the sun or hide myself away in the dark, then turn to God.
But then there’s Sunday morning worship. There’s still the peace and the quiet, but there’s something else. There’s this sense, this sense of something much more than just me and God praying in the quiet of the morning. For on Sunday mornings we all gather together to pray and to worship God, to sit in the morning sun or tuck ourselves away into little dark corners because we wake up a little more slowly than others. There’s the sound of the organ and our voices lifted in song. There’s our Scriptures and prayers read with different voices, not just one, for the Spirit breathes our Scriptures through the community. And there’s the creed, confession, the peace, and all of it leading to the most beautiful Sacrament, the Eucharist, Communion, the Lord’s Supper, where we are brought in view of Heaven itself, where we feast with the saints and angels and Christ himself, for all eternity. Ahh, the glorious Eucharist!
But things aren’t like that now. It’s nice to sit all comfy in the sanctuary like I do during the week, but it’s not the same. And, I know from watching Holy Week from a chair in front of a computer screen, praying at home isn’t the same as sitting here in these pews, listening to my voice from just a few feet away, praying with people sitting right next to you. It’s not the same, and I have to say, it shouldn’t be. And that’s okay.
Easter was hard for a lot of people. Holy Week and Easter were tough. For us Christians, there’s always this sense of relief at Easter, as if we were holding our breath the whole forty days of Lent and can finally breathe again. Helene tells me that it’s like that first sip of coffee in the morning, or even the smell of it while it’s brewing, that first sip that settles the heart and mind in something real and grounded. Or maybe it’s also kinda like shopping on an empty stomach. Have you ever tried to do this? It’s a bad idea. You’re surrounded by all this food that you can’t eat yet, and your stomach is doing flips. Everything starts to look delicious, and, if you’re like me, you buy things that you never buy otherwise, just because they look good. Then you bring it all home, unpack it (still hungry), and make yourself something quick, or maybe sneak a handful of chips, but that first bite – ahh, delicious! Easter is that ‘ahh, delicious’, that first sip of coffee, that dog wagging his tail for you when you get home, that cat ready to sit in your lap and snuggle in, birdsong in the morning, the feel of an old worn book – your favorite – cracked open again for the umpteenth time.
And we probably didn’t get any of this for Easter. It isn’t the same, and it shouldn’t be.
And that’s okay.
In his sermon for Easter morning, our presiding bishop Michael Curry reminded us of something very important: even if we don’t feel like it’s Easter, it’s still Easter. If you haven’t listened to his sermon, you should, it’s wonderful. For bishop Curry reminds us that Easter is bigger than our traditions. It’s bigger than Easter lilies and ‘Hail the Festival Day’ and white vestments. It’s more than just you and me, more than St. James, more than even the Church itself. And that doesn’t mean that those things aren’t important – goodness how important they are. But all these things – lilies and music and vestments – they find their meaning in Easter. They only mean something, and mean so much and are so beautiful, because of Easter. And Easter happens, our salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, it happens whether we celebrate it with lilies or celebrate it sitting in front of a computer screen. God loves you, no matter how you show your love.
And we forget this. It’s easy to forget. We love all the trappings of Easter and of Holy Week so much that we feel that, without them, how can it really be Easter. I remember, once, during my first year in Japan teaching English, it came around to Thanksgiving, and all the Americans were like, what do we do? We couldn’t get a turkey, we didn’t have stuffing or mashed potatoes, and there was no cranberry sauce shaped like the inside of a can. And even worse, on that day when family gathers from every corner of the country, we were literally halfway around the world, alone, knowing that our families were gathered. It was tough.
And so we scrambled around, searching for something, anything, to make our Thanksgiving just like it was at home. And we failed miserably. You know, the only turkey that ended up on our table was little, plastic-wrapped chocolate in the shape of a turkey. Instead, some of us gathered, ate our rice and fish, and felt sorry for ourselves for being so far from home. It wasn’t Thanksgiving, and dog gone it we we were going to feel really bad that it wasn’t Thanksgiving.
Sometimes we are like St. Thomas. Thomas the doubter. Thomas whose grief and horror at Jesus’ death is so painful that he says, “Unless I see the marks of torture and death on my Lord’s body, I will deny everything.” Unless I have it broken, in other words, I don’t want it at all. And so Jesus comes and says, Thomas, get over here. This is my Body broken, but it is still my Body. It is still my Body.
We are still the Body of Christ. We are in different houses, these pews are empty, and none of us took home Easter lilies last week, but we’re still the Body of Christ. We’re worshipping online, and it’s not the same, but we’re still the Body of Christ. We’re not celebrating Communion and receiving the Bread and the Wine, but God still loves you, without a doubt God still loves you. For God can’t do anything but love, for God is love.
We Christians are ‘both/and’ kinda people. We’re ‘already but not yet’ sorts of folks. You may have heard of one cookie now, two cookies later; we’re two cookies now AND two cookies later sorts of people. We are no strangers to making due with what we’ve got while still longing for how things should be. We work to bring the kingdom of God into this world, to heal the sick, to befriend the lonely, to seek out and find the lost, just as our Jesus Christ did when he was here walking around, just as Jesus Christ healed us, befriended us, and sought us out when we were lost. AND, at the very same time, we’re thinking, gee, eternity with God sounds very nice indeed. We’ve got one foot in this world, doing what we can to help and love, and we’ve got the other foot in the next world, learning just what love really means.
And so here we are now, living out our Christian lives, continuing to be the Church, the Body of Christ, knowing that there should be more lilies and vestments and sanctus bells and longing for all those things, but still living the life of the Church here in front of our computer screens. For it’s not the same, and this isn’t how church should be. And that’s okay. It’s still church anyway. We can still love and praise God, even here. Even now.