April 6, 2020
This joyful Eastertide,
away with sin and sorrow!
My love, the Crucified,
has sprung to life this morrow.
Had Christ, who once was slain,
not burst his three-day prison,
our faith had been in vain.
But now has Christ arisen,
arisen, arisen, arisen.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #391]
The assigned lectionary readings for Sunday, April 12, 2020, the Resurrection of Our Lord, are as follows:
As I sat down to write this reflection, it struck me that I have not preached an Easter sermon in six years. Since becoming bishop I have spent Easter Sunday morning sitting in the pew, next to my wife, at worship in my home congregation. We have also found meaning in attending an Easter Vigil on Saturday evening at another congregation, since I didn't have preaching obligations anywhere.
So, like many of you, I find myself in a strange place this year, not having a choice in where to attend Easter services. Like you, I will observe at home, in lockdown, as we all observe what seems to be a perpetual Good Friday.
Several years ago, evangelist Dr. Tony Campolo wrote a book titled, It's Friday, but Sunday's Comin'!
How appropriate that title seems for what we are living these days. It's Friday, but Sunday's Comin'!
We have been living Good Friday for a number of weeks, to the point that one day runs into another with little difference other than the increase in numbers of those affected by the deadly Coronavirus and those who die from it.
We are like the women at the tomb, grief-stricken and fearful. We are like Joseph of Arimathea, who took Jesus' body down from the cross on Friday, and with the help of the women, wrapped the body of Jesus in a linen sheet and carried him to that tomb. Together, they watched as a huge stone was rolled across the entrance of the tomb, sealing the dead Jesus in his grave forever, so they thought.
We are united in our fear. This deadly virus respects no one. No matter what class, race, ethnicity or gender, all are vulnerable. However, as with many illnesses, the elderly, the poor, the migrants and refugees, suffer in greater proportion.
It's Friday, but Sunday's Comin'!
Our sisters and brothers in the Jewish community begin their celebration of Passover on Wednesday. In Canton, where I live, a local retired Rabbi is planning a "virtual" Seder, the Passover meal that celebrates Israelites' liberation from slavery following a series of plagues inflicted upon their Egyptian captors. He jokingly told our local newspaper's religion writer, "who would have believed that Passover would be canceled by a plague."
A Seder concludes with a final prayer asking God to bring the Messianic Era, when all Jews will be gathered to Jerusalem and all humankind dwells in peace. They all shout, "Next year in Jerusalem! Next year, may we all dwell in peace!"
In that hopeful appeal, we hear strains of, "It's Friday, but Sunday's Comin'!"
I once wrote in a sermon years ago that we'll never know the joy of Easter or experience it on the same level as the followers of Jesus knew it and as they experienced it on that first Easter Sunday morning.
Perhaps this will be our most genuine Easter experience. Not this Sunday necessarily, but the day when the stay at home orders are lifted, and we are able to gather in our church buildings once again.
Matthew's gospel states that the women, "left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell [Jesus'] disciples." [Mt. 28:8]
These are words of hope. And this is how we are called to look at this time of pandemic, with a mixture of fear and joy.
The resurrection is not something that happened 2000 years ago. It is what has changed the way we look at life today. And it has changed the way we look at the future. Though we may fear the present, we face the future with joy. That promise that death does not have the last word is our hope.
We are an Easter people. We live in the resurrection. Inspired by our faith despite the limitations the pandemic places on us now.
It's Friday, but Sunday's Comin'!
The members of our synod pastoral team will once again be videotaping sermons for Easter Sunday. In addition, I will be recording a reflection for rostered ministers in lieu of our canceled Renewal of Vows service, and a special Easter message for congregations, which should be available Wednesday.
A few years back I read a sermon from the famous fourth century preacher, St. John Chrysostom, that is held up as the model of excellent Easter preaching. I offer here a few lines from that sermon that capture the good news which I hope you will hear Sunday morning somewhere:
In Chrysostom's words:
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever.
Christ is risen, indeed!
This week's closing prayer is for those who are on the front lines of this pandemic, the health care workers. There are many of them who worship in our congregations. If you know one, please add them to your prayer list. Many will become COVID-19 victims by the mere fact that they are exposed to this illness daily. This week's prayer is taken from our Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymnal:
Merciful God, your healing power is everywhere about us. Strengthen those who work among the sick; give them courage and confidence in all they do. Encourage them when their efforts seem futile or when death prevails. Increase their trust in your power even to overcome death and pain and crying. May they be thankful for every sign of health you give, and humble before the mystery of your healing grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 85)
+Bishop Abraham Allende