Easter Message 2020

As I write this reflection on the Wednesday of Holy Week (April 8, 2020), it just started snowing again. I was out for a walk a few minutes ago around my quiet neighbourhood in Regina, and I had to quicken my pace and turn my back against the wind to stay warm. Part of the problem was that I put away my big red parka and switched to a lighter jacket earlier this week when a bright sunny day made me think that spring had actually arrived in Saskatchewan.

Some Lutheran colleagues invited me this week to participate in a little video production that will be live streamed on Facebook on Easter Sunday afternoon (at 3:00 p.m. – Central time). It will be 50 ecumenical and diverse voices, each giving a 50 second reflection that begins with “I see resurrection today…” and then completes the thought.

I suppose that someone could have initiated a little project like this any year on Easter. It’s 50 little reflections in celebration of the 50 days of the Season of Easter. But somehow, this year, with this situation that we’re in because of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be a particular need for people of faith to look for signs of hope and new life and resurrection. We need to name them, and to share them with each other and with the struggling world in which we live.

From the very first Easter morning, that’s what Jesus’ disciples started doing. When their lives had been turned upside down, when they were devastated by violence, loss and grief, two women named Mary who were friends and followers of Jesus, went to the tomb where he had been buried two days earlier.

Ask ten Christians why the women went to the tomb that Easter morning, and nine will tell you that they brought spices to anoint Jesus’ corpse—but that’s not the story that Matthew’s Gospel tells. Yes, Mark and Luke mention “spices” and anointing; for them, the women go to the tomb because they think Jesus is dead and they need to make sure that his body is properly prepared for an appropriate burial. But have you ever noticed that in the Gospel according to Matthew, the women go to the tomb because they think Jesus is alive?!

In Matthew 28:1, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” don’t go to embalm a body, but rather “to see the tomb.” The SALT Lectionary Commentary explains that the Greek word here for “to see,” means “to look at” and also “to discern,” to contemplate, to analyze or understand.

These women are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, the kind of thing they have never had to deal with before. Their leader has been killed. Their group has been dispersed. Who knows how much danger the rest of them are in? And the future of their community and their mission is a big question mark, at best.
But these women have been paying attention to Jesus’ teaching, and even if they didn’t completely understand it at the time, they remember what he said. He “must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering… and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And so, they go “to see” the tomb, to look with eyes of faith for resurrection.

They go with great expectation because they haven’t given up on God yet. They see the tomb, they see it open, they see an angel, and then they see Jesus himself. They worship him, and then they go again, as he sends them, to tell the others what they have seen.

I’ve heard some people talking about how different this Easter is going to feel. It’s one thing to have a pandemic during Lent, but how can we celebrate Easter without gathering, without communion, without choirs and passing the peace and sharing food in community?

Could we postpone it until things improve? Until things get back to normal? Could we put it on hold until we have more reasons to smile and to celebrate? I suppose we could, but I think we’d be missing the point of Easter. Because it’s not a celebration of our abundance, of how good things already are.

It’s not a day to rejoice because we have big, beautiful, full churches, lovely Easter dresses, the best music program in the city, and an amazing display of lilies in the sanctuary. Nor is it a celebration of our perfect families, comfortable homes, well-paying jobs, or growing investments.

Easter is a celebration of new life and hope in the context of disappointment, death and despair. And we celebrate Easter best when we, as people of faith, go to see the tomb. We go to the places, and situations, and people who are grieving, who are suffering, who are struggling in our world today—and we look for, and we discern, and we open our eyes of faith to see resurrection.

Perhaps we’ll only see glimpses of it now: health care workers giving their all to care for the sick; community leaders dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and assisting those in need; neighbours helping each other out with groceries and other supplies; strangers leaving encouraging messages in chalk on the sidewalks; researchers working diligently to find effective treatments and a vaccine for this terrible virus.

We can see resurrection today in all of these things and more. These signs, even in the context of the ongoing pandemic, give us hope and confidence that this season of struggle will come to an end. A new season of joy is coming.

It is possible that I may need to give in to the weather and put on my parka or even my winter boots when I go out again tomorrow, but I know that within a few days or a few weeks at the most, the winter will come to an end. Spring and then summer are on their way, and I’m living in expectation of the sunshine and warmth that will come with them.

I already see signs of Spring: the days are getting longer; the snow is mostly melted, and last year’s grass is appearing; birds are out and chirping away; and some of the jack rabbits in my neighbourhood are beginning to look a little less white and a little more brown. Soon there will be buds on the trees, and then leaves and flowers, and I’ll be wearing my sun hat and sandals again when I go out walking.

I love the way Natalie Sleeth uses the signs of spring to encourage us in faith. In the midst of our current darkness, struggle and grief, God is bringing about a season of new life, joy and resurrection.

In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree,
in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
In our end is our beginning, in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing, in our life, eternity,
in our death, a resurrection, at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Like a child intently watching a cocoon so as not to miss the emergence of the butterfly, our job is to go and “see the tomb,” to look for signs of resurrection and glimpses of Jesus himself. During these 50 days of the Season of Easter, may we also go and tell the others what we have seen.

—The Rev. Amanda Currie, Moderator