University Congregational Church
April 12, 2020
“The Resurrection of Hope”
This is an unusual Easter morning with us all in our homes quietly celebrating. For the first time in my ministry, the church isn’t bustling with people, ushers aren’t greeting guests, we aren’t running out of bulletins, I’m not rushing around – harried but excited. There will be no large family dinner waiting at home. No Easter egg hunt with children dressed to the nines. Yet, it occurs to me that this Sunday most compares to that first Easter 2000 years ago…. When Jesus was first discovered to be alive….
• The women went quietly to the tomb expecting to anoint his body – they didn’t want to attract attention
• The men were gathered secretly in a place out of the way in order to avoid capture from the very ones who crucified Jesus. They were hidden and alone
• Judas took his own life in a field away from town, sorrowful and disillusioned
• There were no church celebrations, no parades, no pomp and circumstance; no litanies, no family gatherings, no holidays and no festivities. It was not a holy day
So, our Easter in 2020 truly mirrors that first resurrection day – quiet, contemplative, everyone at home discovering separately what it means to find new life in the midst of routine and even ho-hum-mery.
During this coronavirus stay-at-home order, we have heard plenty of stories of Good Friday death. Each day, our lives are filled with saga and news about how many are infected and dying around the world. I figure it is time for some Easter morning Good News stories! Let’s start with the Biblical story of resurrection, from the Gospel of Luke:
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. Luke 24:1-12
It took some time for the women and for the disciples to understand the significance of what had happened. Not a few hours. Not even a few days. It took weeks, months, and even years for them to process the significance of the life, death, and new life of Jesus and how it changed them. It wasn’t until 30 some years later that the gospels even started being written!
Can you imagine the changes we will experience when the stay-at-home order is lifted? I would guess that we will not actually return to what used to be. We will establish a new normal and it remains to be seen what it will be – but it will not be what it was in January, 2020. There are things we took for granted then that we will treasure more. And there are things that we have learned to live without that we will continue to live without once they are available to us again. It will take us time to process this whole experience and to learn from it. And then, it will not surprise any of us when there is a baby boom around Christmas!
Until then, we must realize that there are resurrection stories occurring in the here and now. We may or may not be aware of them because we are in our homes safe and secure. So, let me share some Resurrection Hope with you today!
Last week, Allen Marshall stood on the corner of the Exxon gas station near the Detroit Medical Center holding a sign that read: “Free Gas for Nurses”. Marshall ended up spending $900 of his own money to fill the tanks of between 50 to 80 vehicles that belonged to medical workers on the hospital’s front lines. Although Marshall had originally been saving the money to buy himself a knife-sharpening tool, he felt inspired to do something nice for the local hospital staffers after dropping his wife—who is an essential worker—off at her shift with Blue Cross Blue Shield. “I just love them and I want them to know that,” he said. After his money ran out, a woman who was identified only as Alana caught word of Marshall’s labor of love and contributed another $200 of her own money to his cause. There is hope in this story! Goodnewsnetwork.org
Trained as a general practitioner, the Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, rejoined the medical register in March so he could offer up his services to the country’s Health Service Executive once a week. Part of the Prime Minister’s work will involve conducting phone assessments in order to free up the work load of hospital front line workers. He rolled up his sleeves and created new hope! Goodnewsnetwork.org
When Opera Memphis had to cancel the Midtown Opera Festival and the production of their Mozart Opera, it was perhaps the worst day of his time as the director of their company. But instead of letting coronavirus halt opera altogether, the company stayed creative, and figured out how to perform six feet away from one another. The group drove to four different locations, stood 6’ apart, and performed the opera (in some cases there were more performers than viewers, but in others, the music intrigued the whole street)
The performances brought people out of their homes, and they dragged porch furniture onto their lawns and the sidewalk. Bikers and joggers also stopped to listen. Some spectators were moved to tears.
Performing for small groups of people brought the company back to Opera Memphis’ core mission he said, of connecting people and serving the community.
At the first three locations, people who weren’t from within the same home maintained six feet of space from one another, mostly staying near their driveways or lawns. Going location to location is not the most efficient way to sing for people the director said, but it will happen again. They may have resurrected opera and hope all at one time! Commercialappeal.com
People in Europe are singing, dancing, creating concerts and neighborhood parties from their balconies. Musicians and comedians are performing from their homes for entertainment on TV specials. Everyone is doing their best to contribute what they can to those on the front line of the pandemic.
After Disneyland shut down, they donated all their extra food to a food bank in Orange County, California. All around us hope is being resurrected!
An elderly man refused to let a coronavirus quarantine’s get in the way of him celebrating his 67th wedding anniversary with his wife, spurring him to show his love in the most special way. As a result of coronavirus guidance on nursing homes, Bob Shellard was unable to see his wife Nancy in person for the occasion.
However, undeterred by circumstance, Mr. Shellard stood outside his wife’s nursing home window with balloons and a sign that read: “I’ve loved you 67 years and still do. Happy Anniversary.” Nancy was seen waving and blowing kisses from her window when she saw the sign. “I wouldn’t want anybody else,” Mr. Shellard said about his wife. “(and) I don’t think she could put up with anybody else besides me.” What a great example of hope and love! independent.co.uk
In our own church, numerous choir students have called to ask if our members can use help with grocery shopping, errands, meals or anything else while they are on stay-at-home orders. It is indicative of the beautiful relationships in our church that students who are themselves in limbo during the end of the semester and struggling through an uncertain class schedule, work environment and many unanswered future questions are willing to offer support! I have found these calls to be among the most selfless and uplifting of any I have received in the last several weeks! They have provided an example of hope and love!
Sarah Kremer, Angela Gleaves, Beth Tiesler, Tanya Dixon and McKenzie Gibson are nurses at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee and they pray together on the roof at the Hospital before their shift, asking for strength, protection and wisdom for everyone taking care of patients around the globe. “I felt compelled to ask my friends to join me in prayer due to the fear and anxiety we’re all feeling every day at work,” said Kremer, who explained she chose the roof for the gathering in an effort to “lay a cover of peace over the entire medical center.” The nurses had only 10 minutes to spare before rushing back to the battleground beneath them. “We want everyone to be comforted in knowing God is always with us no matter what,” Gleaves said. “Our motto right now is faith over fear.” Goodmorningamerica.com
All of these stories are examples of the hope of resurrection and new life in the midst of illness and death. Too often, we only focus on the tomb and miss the resurrection in front of us. Like that first Easter morning, it can be a quiet subdued day when the resurrection happens. Ordinary people like you named Mary, Joanna, Peter, James and John may be involved. And we may be the ones left to decide what it means – this new found knowledge. Is it an idle tale or something we take home with us and are amazed by? What will we do when we realize that there is hope after all of these weeks at home? And what will we do with our new lives when we experience this new freedom?
Whether we realize it or not, today is Easter! In our homes and in our lives, new life is born within us! Hope is resurrected again. Spring has come. Life is bursting forth. We have been given another chance to live. Our faith triumphs over fear! There are signs all around us that life abounds and that God’s grace is enough. Yes, it is a quiet day and many of us are still isolated – just like that original Easter – but that doesn’t change the truth.
I want to close with a poem by Brother Richard Hendrick, an Irish priest:
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing the Halleluia Chorus with me to celebrate the Resurrection of Hope on this Easter Sunday! Sing it at the top of your lungs – because you know you want to and no one will hear you anyway because you are at home!