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From Wilderness Into The Garden

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection HERE.

View the Time with Children share on Easter morning HERE.

The story begins like this: At day break, two people walk towards Jesus’ tomb. I wonder, was the morning crisp and cool, with a gentle breeze and a burst of color on the horizon as the sun rose? Or was it cold and damp? Gray and rainy? Like this Easter morning is for us?

I suppose what the weather was like that morning doesn’t really matter. Except, during this pandemic, I have found that the weather greatly impacts my emotions. Especially my sense of grief around all that has been lost during this time we cannot be together face-to-face. The past month abruptly brought an end to the social gatherings we are familiar with… at least for the time being.

This morning, as we step into a garden space, with its curated paths and vibrant colors, we find that the tomb is empty. This Easter, the church is empty. I showed an image of the empty sanctuary during the Time with Children. The space is stripped bare. A simple white cloth hangs on the cross.

The sanctuary is silent. Tomb like.

No splash of flowers scattered about for Easter.

No worship service packed with family, friends, and visitors, handshakes and hugs.

There will not be special choir music filling the space.

No Easter egg hunts outside for the kids (although those plans likely would have changed due to the weather anyway…).

There is no Easter brunch with all of the good smells drifting about, inviting us to Fellowship Hall.

There are no family gatherings to prepare for after church. Or, at least the preparations we have made have not been normal. Grocery shopping is different. I know that what I am about to say is a privileged comment, but the food items we expect to find on the shelves aren’t there. That is a privilege I have taken for granted.

The pandemic has been for us, as read in the Gospel of Matthew this morning, an earthquake. Our way of life has been shaken. Church as we have known it, has suddenly changed. There is, as in Jesus’s time, a crisis of Empire. Political, financial, and religious expectations have been turned upside down. There have been… and will continue to be… deaths due to the coronavirus. What we are undergoing challenges us with a seismic, global shift in how we are to interact with one another and with the earth.

Thus, the story of the two women who walked along that morning two thousand years ago resonates (even though in that moment they probably didn’t walk 6 feet apart). Here are the two Marys who just a few days ago watched Jesus die a horrible, public, death.

But they are here. These women have persisted in their grief… and their faith… they needed to be there. They needed to show up. To be at Jesus’ tomb. To mourn. To pray. To cry. To do… who knows what… but to show up in that space of loss.

The tomb is empty.

The church is empty.

But look! Jesus takes our loss and transforms it. You saw snippets of that transformation during the Time with Children. We have experienced it together as we have shown up for worship digitally the past few weeks, with all of its technology challenges, frustrations, and smiles. In this virtual space, we have been Church.

Yes, there remains a great deal of uncertainty in what lies ahead. For us. For our loved ones. For our country, and the world. But what we are feeling today is sooooo like the response of the women in the garden outside of Jerusalem who must have had a hard time wrapping their minds around what had happened: The death of Jesus, their beloved rabbi. That grief was too great. What do you do with it? How does life ever get back to normal?

And then? Then the earth shakes. Oh my gosh. How can another disaster unfold right on top of the first? Life seems to be tossing them… and us… catastrophe after catastrophe. There isn’t anything familiar onto which we can grasp. Even the ground beneath our feet isn’t firm.

Then we realize, as the women realized, the tomb is empty. That’s gotta be the last straw. Our minds, our souls, our emotions, can’t event go there.

But wait! there are a couple of more twists in the story. There is a heavenly being. An angel. A vision. A hope. An unbelievable message. A message for us: “Do not be afraid.”

How are we supposed to respond to THAT?

Here is my suggestion: I think we should consider following the example of the two Marys. Do you remember what they did? They went RUNNING! They RAN. They ran in fear and great joy, out of the garden, onto the streets.

And I get the tension between those two feelings—fear and great joy. For we too are experiencing feelings of fear and great joy during the coronavirus crisis. The fear is wide and deep in the unknown. Yet there are also all the positive stories of neighbor helping neighbor. You heard about all the things our youth and families are doing in the Time with Children. Multiply those examples times thousands and millions around the world.

All of this has happened so fast, the past month it has felt like we are running. Running in a place of fear, yes, but also great joy.

The other twist is that it was while the women were running that they encountered Jesus. He met them where they were. Jesus does that for us too. He meets us wherever we are. Do not be afraid.

This is a story that does not end with Jesus’ resurrection. In our own time, the conclusion to the pandemic is not yet known.

But I do know that over the next 50 days the Easter season continues, and Jesus continues to show up in people’s lives. He shows up in our lives too. And everything is changed. The world is transformed.

So watch. Watch for Jesus. Watch for God. Watch for transformations.

Because the Easter story, an empty tomb—an empty church—is just the beginning. Watch for that God does next. 


~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Matthew 28:1-10 offered Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020