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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter Sunday 04/12/2020

In his latest letter from the monastery up in Eagle Harbor, Father Basil wrote that for them and for all of us, Easter will be more subdued this year, but it will be celebrated. I thought that was a good way to put it but I would add that not only will Easter be celebrated, it may be that this year more than any other year any of us can remember, Easter must be celebrated. The announcement that “Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!” must be made.

It’s different to be sure, more subdued as Father Basil said, because…I’m here at the church which has now become something of a recording studio, and you’re wherever you are, we can’t gather together. Also noticeable today as I came in was the lack of flowers. Because florists aren’t deemed an essential business, we have a few flowers but not the usual array of lilies and other flowers that help to set the Easter mood. But, the lack of flowers and the distance between us doesn’t make the proclamation any less true: He is Risen, and we don’t just say that because we need a little pep talk after one of this country’s worst coronavirus weeks yet; we say it because it’s true!

He is Risen is true and it’s not just an “on this date in history” kind of truth. It’s not like the Fourth of July or 9/11 or someone’s birthday when we remember that something important happened on a particular day. Easter is one of those days on which something important happened, but even more the truth of Easter has to do with what it means. My old friend Walter Brueggemann identifies the meaning pretty well when he calls the resurrection of Jesus the ultimate energizing for a new future.

The ultimate energizing for a new future. What that means is that Friday seemed like the end. Based on previous understandings of reality, the story was over; Jesus was dead and that was that. Saturday then was a day to let it all begin to sink in, a time to think about how to get on with life. But then on Sunday morning something happened that changed all that, something that couldn’t be explained based on any previous understanding of reality. The tomb was empty; Jesus wasn’t there and reality was forever changed. The resurrection was the ultimate act of a God defined by the creation of new futures and new possibilities; it’s a theme that runs through the entire Bible. The truth of that new future is what we celebrate today.

This year we get Matthew’s account of the resurrection. His gospel starts with a genealogy that goes back to Abraham and the beginning of the people of Israel. As I’ve mentioned numerous times since Christmas, Matthew makes frequent use of Old Testament imagery in order to help his readers see Jesus as the logical continuation of the faith history they already knew and connecting Abraham to Jesus in the genealogy foreshadows the other connections. Matthew’s resurrection account doesn’t make an obvious connection to the Old Testament, but you could say that this end to his gospel isn’t really an end at all but instead opens his readers to a new beginning in their history.

For Mary Magdalene and the other Mary though, you don’t get the sense that they were looking for any kind of new beginning and a new chapter in their history. On Sunday morning they were still in Saturday mode, going to visit the grave of a loved one the same way many people do. It was more a part of the grieving process, just a step in the direction of getting on with life and coming to terms with Jesus’death.

What they experienced though, literally and figuratively rocked their world: the earth shook, an angel rolled the stone away, guards put there to make sure nothing unusual happened were so overcome by fear that they became like dead men, and Jesus, the man thought to be dead, wasn’t there, but was alive, having been raised from the dead. Following the announcement by the angel that Jesus had been raised, the women left quickly with fear and great joy. When they encountered the Risen Christ, his word to them was, “Do not be afraid.”

During Lent I wound up focusing a lot on some of the images in the weekly readings in part because more and more I think we can get at the truth of what the biblical writers were getting at by paying attention to the images they use. In his resurrection account, Matthew also throws out some images worth thinking about, images of life and death, images of fear and joy. They’re images that are especially appropriate on this Easter Sunday at a time when the dominant images we’ve been presented with for quite a while have been those of fear and death; unlike Matthew though, the images we’ve been experiencing haven’t been countered by much in the way of life and joy.

Today though, we do counter those images of fear and death. We’re reminded that there is life and joy, we’re reminded that in and through the resurrection of Jesus, fear and death don’t have the last word, but there is in fact a new beginning. That doesn’t mean that we disregard what’s going on. As difficult as it is, as inconvenient as it is, and it’s not going to get any easier right away, it is important that we pay attention to what the disease control experts tell us about social distancing as a means to limit the spread of the virus. It is important that we stay informed. On the other hand, we can’t allow fear and death to define life; we do need to hear, proclaim and live the joy and new life of Easter. We do need to believe in the joy and new life of Easter.

That might be the biggest challenge right now, but maybe it’s always been the biggest challenge. We proclaim that He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! We proclaim the truth of Easter Sunday, that death has been defeated, but then we often live as if nothing has changed. Our proclamation of joy and new life gives way to cynicism that resigns itself to the idea that things are what they are and they’re not going to change which, in effect, puts Jesus back in the tomb.

That’s why Matthew’s description of the two Marys leaving the tomb with fear and great joy is interesting. Fear and great joy are not emotions that you would normally put together; it seems like it should be one or the other. But think about it: hearing the news that Jesus had been raised from the dead would have sparked a sense of joy, they wanted to believe. But then, it would also make sense that there would have been fear, fear perhaps that it wasn’t true or even more, maybe fear about what it would mean if it was true. How different might things be?

Fear and great joy describe pretty well where we are today on this Easter Sunday. We want the hope and joy and new life of Easter to be true; we do believe that “He is Risen,” but at a time like this when it feels like we’ve experienced Good Friday but now are stuck living in a coronavirus Saturday that seems like it will never end, there’s fear that our proclamation is empty.

Life in our world has changed, that’s for sure and with that we long for the joy of a resurrection moment. For most of us what we probably long for is a return to something that resembles what we think of as normal. Today though, we remember that Easter wasn’t about a return to normal; it was, as I said before, the ultimate energizing for a new future, one that wasn’t based on what was “normal.” There could be great joy in that, but also fear like that of the women about how different things might be.

It’s always true, but maybe this year more than ever we need to live as Easter people trusting in the new life and new future revealed in Jesus’ resurrection. Fear and death do dominate the news these days but today we have the most important news of all as we announce that He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, an announcement of life and joy.

Things are different this year; our Easter observance is more subdued, but still we celebrate. In the midst of fear and death, the truth we celebrate, the truth we live is about joy and life because…He is Risen! We are Easter people who live in the joy of the resurrection and…we will not let coronavirus fear put Jesus back in the tomb.

We can’t say it enough: Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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