Sermon Preached by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar
Photos provided by Pat Sirois and Megan Gaul
In a time of emptiness and grief, the women at the tomb are amazed by an unexpected surprise.
We’ve heard this story before, so we tend to focus on the joy of the surprise – Christ is Risen!
Yet our scriptures tell us that the women were afraid.
They were not sure what to make of the empty tomb and the angel –
They were a bit overwhelmed.
We remember too that while the women went to the tomb,
Most of the men were locked away in an upper room,
Terrified that those who had killed Jesus would come for them next.
The first Easter took place when the disciples were locked away and scared.
While we are not literally locked away, perhaps this year, more than most, we can relate to the scared and shut away experience of the disciples on that first Easter.
Some congregations decided to celebrate Easter when everyone could return to the sanctuary together.
On some level I understand the desire to celebrate the return with great fanfare –
And Easter at home feels quite different than Easter in the Lilly-filled, people-filled sanctuary.
And yet, the Risen Christ did not first appear to a crowded sanctuary.
He did not appear in the middle of the Roman marketplace.
According to Matthew he appeared to the women at the tomb,
According to John and the longer ending of Mark he appeared to Mary Magdalene alone,
According to Luke he appeared first to two disciples on the road to Emmaus
Whichever Gospel account you read, Jesus first appears to a very few bewildered and amazed disciples –
Some alone, some in pairs, some in very small groups.
So while I respect the decision of some churches to “hold off” on the celebration of Easter,
I am glad we are celebrating Easter this day –
It is a reminder and testament that Christ Arose during a confusing and scary time.
Even when we are locked away at home, Christ is Risen.
Even when fears of the pandemic swirl about, Christ is Risen.
Even when miss what was, Christ is Risen.
To proclaim that Christ is Risen even now is a proclamation of faith that God is at work in this world.
Indeed, I’ve been amazed by all God is doing:
Neighbors checking in on neighbors
Masks being made from novice and expert sewers alike
Food banks and soup kitchens continuing to work to make sure people have basic needs.
Creativity and ingenuity on the part of my colleagues, teachers, and people of nearly every profession.
The support, guidance and abundant resources from the SNE Conference of the UCC
And each of you, showing up and tuning every week – staying connected.
Perseverance and patience so many of you have had in learning a new technology.
God is indeed doing some amazing things.
We have been sharing God-sightings over the last few weeks and there have been a lot.
What has struck me about them is that many are simple, even small gestures of kindness –
A smile from a stranger has taken on a deeper meaning.
A call from a neighbor has lifted our spirits to a new degree.
The gift of a roll of toilet paper has never been so valuable.
The small has taken on miraculous dimensions.
While small gestures have taken on deeper meaning,
I have found that everyday objects have taken on a deeper sacredness.
A living room will never quite have the expansive and embracing sacredness of a large sanctuary,
Yet this time of leading worship from home has sharpened my eyes to see the sacred in everyday objects.
Ordinary vases are now symbols of Jesus’s nourishment in the desert.
A tan table cloth and sand are symbols of the desert.
I have watched as some of you have taken a look at your own spaces and rearranged with creativity
And sought out ordinary objects to craft a space that feels a bit more sacred.
Decorating the space each week has encouraged me to think anew about the sacred meaning and symbolize of everyday objects.
As small gestures and everyday objects are viewed in a different light at this time,
So too can we look upon the empty tomb or even this desert time in a new way.
Throughout Lent we have talked about this time being like a desert time –
Barren and open.
As the empty tomb looks different depending on your perspective,
The desert can look different depending on what we focus on.
The empty tomb can signal loss, but we have come to see it as a sign of new life and the Risen Christ.
The desert can symbolize desolation and wandering,
but if we look closely we also see in the desert hardy life.
We see cactus and creatures who have adapted to the harsh conditions –
Life that sticks with it.
Usually we have Easter Lillies to symbolize Christ’s resurrection.
This year I have these little cacti –
They are resilient and strong, able to survive without water for weeks
And according to the internet novice gardeners like myself are less able to kill them.
I think the cactus is a very fitting plant to symbolize Christ’s resurrection,
For Christ persevered through desolation and desertion and horrible trials.
Christ survived. Christ lives. Christ is Risen.
This is the whole point of the Easter Story – the Christian faith –
Christ not only perseveres, but blossoms.
Christ brings life –
In the desert places in our lives
Christ brings life –
Amid trials and suffering – when we are scared and locked away –
Christ bring life –
Beautiful, everlasting, hardy, life.
As the governor declares schools and non-essential businesses closed through most of May,
We are not quite out of the desert.
May we rejoice in the hardy life growing in this desert time.
May we rejoice in a God who insists on surprising us with simple amazements.
May we rejoice in the Risen Christ who promises us everlasting life and love. Amen.
All Desert Pictures Compliments of Megan Gaul, the First Church Woodward House Resident, currently staying safe back home in Arizona with her family.