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Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Philippians 2:5-11; John 20:1-18
BIGFORK COMMUNITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
April 12, 2020 – Easter A
It’s a day like no day that was ever before,/It’s a day that we see clearly that less is more. /We come to the church’s holiest day/with nowhere to gather and worship and pray.
But the Spirit is strong and our hearts unfold/To hear, once more, our story retold.
It is an Easter like no other. We stand at a moment that historians will see as a great divide, to describe what went before and what came afterwards. The world has been changed, not by war or an ice age or a meteor or some spectacular volcanic activity, but by a virus.
The virus is a coronavirus, meaning it has spikes on it, like the points on a crown. We are gathering for virtual worship this Easter Sunday out of respect for what it can do and how sneaky it is in transmitting itself from one person to another and one place to another.
But we also come to worship the man who wore a crown of thorns just as the coronavirus is peaking in our region. Most stores are closed. We are sheltering in place and keeping a social distance.
Our choir has not met for a month now. This room has not been filled with people greeting and praying and singing and worshiping in all that time.
More and more, meetings in the community are being cancelled or held online. We hold our worship services are entirely online until further notice. The world has been turned upside down.
There have been many plagues in human history. The Bible mentions plagues throughout the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. They are only mentioned in the Book of Revelations in the New Testament, and then the author John of Patmos is describing a time to come.
What is unique about this outbreak of disease is that we can now travel so far so quickly, and we do. The virus attached itself to us and spread all the way around the world in a few months.
Welcome to the first truly global pandemic in human history. This has halted global trade and we have witnessed the largest increase in unemployment in history.
It is a time not entirely unlike the time that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. From that day forward, the earth was a different place. Historians have long used this event to divide the story of humanity by describing what came before and what happened afterwards…BC and AD.
There was a sense in the air then that things were going to change, or had already changed. The Promised One had come. God had broken into human history. Things were never going to be the same.
Jesus stepped into the moment in time that God had set before him and did what only a true savior could come to do.
His was a magnificent ministry around Galilee. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, preached good news to the poor, and set the captives free.
This is the one of whom Isaiah and the prophets spoke at the time of the Exile. And now, here he is, to restore the fortunes of Israel.
He saw what needed to be done and he did it, knowing the cost and striving for the gain. Even as he hung on the cross and breathed his last, a Roman Centurion who witnessed it exclaimed that “surely this was a righteous man, or an innocent man, or a just man or a good man.
We had arrested him and mocked him and whipped him. By then, we had betrayed him and deserted him and denied him. And we hung him on a tree… the fate that Deuteronomy says proved that was a man accursed by God.
He suffered all things to save all people/And became the church, without stones or a steeple./We tore him down and lifted his bruised body on high,/But he declined to condemn us/His love never died.
He took it all without complaint. His life showed us that so much more is possible with God than we knew then…or know now. He showed us if we can envision something, we can achieve it…if we are true and if we are willing to pay the price.
He showed us that the good we do is not just for ourselves, but also benefits others…even though we did not intend it…whether they are worthy of it or not…and it benefits us as we give freely to our neighbor.
We have people today who are following Jesus example and risking their lives to do it. There are healthcare workers in the world and in this county who are afraid to go home at the end of a shift out of concern that they might be bringing the virus with them…to their families and their neighbors.
Even more amazing: there are also healthcare workers out there who have gotten on a plane and flown to New York City to help…from their relatively safe communities to the epicenter of the outbreak…and exhausted New York healthcare workers have agreed to go, after the crisis has passed there, to help other places when the wave hits them.
What can we do when the worst comes to pass?/Who can we turn to when our gold turns to brass?/Is there within us a spirit of hope/ When no one is able to share mass with the Pope?
Are we just flesh or is there more/ When we have to sit behind closed doors?/Who can we turn to who knows our despair/When we pray for the world and bleed our cares?
It is a terrible time, but a time when wonderful things are happening. The worse things get, the better people get…and people are very, very good right now.
And it’s not just healthcare workers. It seems like people all over the country started making face masks for whoever wants one and are giving them away.
Many have found new owners after being given to us for a while, and we have still more to give away.
People are calling each other to check on their friends and to watch over anyone who might need a hand today. It started as a good idea, but everyone acted on it at once.
I sleep more soundly…even in the midst of a pandemic…knowing this kind of connecting is good medicine for those who get the calls, and for those who are making the calls… and that there are many calls being made and received.
We are intentionally praying for each other, for our neighbors and for the whole world. We are reaching out to serve one another, and keeping our distance to protect each other.
We are all riding into Jerusalem together these days. And no one is complaining. This is a time when shy people get up and do what needs to be done.
It is a day when we have chosen to be a little gentler and kinder to those we meet because we know that we all have a lot to process right now.
ACES is handing out meals to anyone who comes by on week days and they are keeping their staff employed.
Yes, it’s a hard time, but it is a magnificent time, too. We are witnesses to a moment when what is happening is an undeniable matter of life or death and the two-part question is whether (a) we can bring ourselves to believe it, and (b) whether we are ready to reconcile our lives to it.
For the moment, the answer is clearly Yes. What the future holds remains to be seen, but for now it is something to behold…and it is a time we will all remember the true beauty of the human spirit.
An old memory came back to me Friday night as I walked home from the church. Zoe and I come up early and late to make sure everything is okay here, and it must have been about 10:00 p.m. Friday when we stepped out to go back home.
It was quiet and the air was cool, and that is when I noticed how fresh and sweet it smelled. My mind whooshed me back to days growing up in Shelby to remember air that clean.
I noticed yesterday that I can see the Salish Mountains on the other side of the lake as clearly as I used to be able to see them…not in the 80s or the 70s, but all the way back to the 1960s.
There was a scent of innocence in it, and a vision of what could be if we recognize the opportunities that the crisis has presented and the problems it has revealed that we were ignoring before.
Can we bring ourselves to believe it? Are we ready to reconcile our lives to it? Or will we be like the guy who is late for a meeting downtown and he really needs a parking place on the street.
He prays to God that he will always go to church, he will tithe every year and he will pray every day if he just gets that parking place. He pulls around the corner and there is a spot he can just pull into and get to his meeting on time.
He looks up and says, “Never mind. I just found one.” Are we going to be like that or are we going to be like the disciples we read about this morning who were so moved by what they had seen and heard that they risked their lives to live out the Good News into a world that didn’t want to hear it or see it?
Until Jesus was arrested everyone thought he was going to chase the Romans out of town and make Israel the most powerful military presence in the Middle East, if not the world.
But he didn’t do that. Instead, he opened our eyes every step of the way to the power of truth and the saving nature of love. There is a life beyond this one and there is a lot we can do in this life to make ourselves better, our neighbors happier and our world healthier.
The good news is that we are already doing it…giving away face masks, food, rides, our time. It’s time for us to not satisfy ourselves with capitalizing the word Resurrection and to be about the business of living it out as common people in an uncommon time…or as uncommonly good people who were able to rise to the unavoidable challenge that confronts us.
This is not a time for weeping, as Mary found out when she went to the tomb and found it empty. This is the time to preach the Good News to everyone we meet…and to use words if necessary.
So we come to worship in front of a screen,/Standing and singing where we can’t be seen/Emailing prayers full of hopes we mean/From days gone by and for years unseen.
We come to the altar knowing we are all poor,/Seeking the one who has given us more/Than the riches of worlds as yet unborn/In spite of the way the world showed him scorn.
May we worship him as one,/
Though our work is undone./May we love God completely and comfort our neighbors/As we give thanks to the Lord for sending our Savior.
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …through me…this day? Amen.