April 12, 2020 (Easter Sunday)

Prayer of the Day

God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life. Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (ELW p. 32)

Acts 10:34-43

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

14 The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly; 16 the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” 17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. 18 The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death. 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. 20 This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Colossians 3:1-4

1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Matthew 28:1-10

1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Meggan Manlove, TLC – April 12, 2020

Every Ash Wednesday, I mark your foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross. I take time to point out that one of the reasons we use ashes is because they remind us of our mortality. In my adult lifetime, I have never before experienced a Lent when the global population was so obviously facing our mortality together. We may have begun the Season of Lent by giving some things up voluntarily. But we ended in collective and communal grief for lives and experiences that have been lost or will be lost.

Holy Week itself has been abnormal. Usually this is one of my favorite weeks to wonder in and out of the sanctuary. Members of our altar guild put in hours behind the scenes this week preparing. There is the altar to set for Maundy Thursday. There are bowls and towels for foot washing. The cloth on our suspended cross gets changed from purple to black for Good Friday. And the smells—oil for anointing, candles burning, and of course Easter lilies. I missed all of that this Holy Week. So much has changed for this week, in our daily routines, in our life as citizens of this world.

But today is Easter, and we get to celebrate together what has not changed. And what has not changed is that Jesus has been raised from the dead. The tomb is not only open. It is empty. Jesus is going ahead of us and so we can proclaim, He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

This Easter, I am not going to try to pretend that the four gospel writers do not have their own way of telling the story of Jesus resurrection. And I am not going to hide my delight that this is Matthew’s year.

I love different aspects of all four of the gospels and one of the things I love about Matthew is how he remembered to draw in the natural world. Matthew’s gospel is the one that includes a star leading Magi from the East to the infant Jesus. Matthew’s gospel includes Jesus giving his long sermon specifically from a mountain. Matthew’s gospel is the one that includes an earthquake at Jesus’ death. And Matthew’s gospel has an earthquake at the resurrection too.

I will admit that until this year I did not have a lot of empathy for those guards appointed to Jesus’s tomb. That changed this year. The earthquake Idaho experiences was downright frightening. It would have welcomed a messenger from God telling me to not be afraid, though I might have rolled my eyes.

When we want to talk about life being difficult, we turn to the metaphor of an earthquake. We say things like, “It feels like the ground beneath me has shifted.” That’s what the COVID-19 pandemic has done. There are so many aspects of our lives that have changed in the past few weeks. So much has shifted. It makes sense that rolling a stone away from the already empty tomb would cause an earthquake, cause the earth to shift. The world would not be the same after Jesus’ resurrection.

God chose to resurrect Jesus knowing our human need for it.  Without it, doubts flourish.  God knew that we are like the Pharisees who always asked for one more sign from Jesus to prove himself.  Knowing this, God raised Jesus from the dead.  It’s as if he said, “See, what he was telling you is true.  Nothing can separate you from my love.  I do not lurk at a distance, ready to pounce on you when you fail.  Instead, I walk with you, giving as much as I dare.  Look at Jesus and know that everything he said is true.”

The earthquake at Jesus’ death caused rocks to split.  Tombs were opened and bodies of saints were raised.  There is no question about who will roll the stone away.  When the two Marys go to the tomb there is a great earthquake; “for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”  The guards shook and became like dead man.  The resurrection is an earth-shaking event.

There is more to this angel that rolls back the stone.  There is a fabulous painting that depicts Matthew’s resurrection story.  In the painting the two Marys are looking up the angel who is sitting on a big bolder.  He is looking at them with an expression that says, “Well, what did you expect?  He told you he would be raised from the dead.  He has gone ahead of you.”

The angel speaks to the women with familiar words, “Do not be afraid.”  I could have preached an entire sermon on those four words; how desperately we need to hear the imperative: “Do not be afraid” or “You there. Stop being afraid.” Reject your current state of fear for the angel is bringing you news of great joy.

The angel tells them Jesus has been raised and that they should tell the disciples that Jesus is going ahead to Galilee, where the disciples will see him.  The empty tomb is not the end of the story.  Jesus told his disciples earlier, “But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”  The angel reminds us of that promise and sends the women to a task of calling the scattered disciples to Galilee. The women go with a mixture of feelings appropriate to the perception of this awesome, earth shaking reality—both fear and joy. The women become witnesses and agents of the resurrection.

“They will see me in Galilee.”  The promise of the story invites us to a community where tragedy turns to comedy, where things are all shook up.  Death no longer holds us.  The corrosive crust of our sins is shattered through the forgiveness that comes in the community gathered around bread and wine, where Jesus himself has promised to be.  The resurrection is about the invitation to gather in this forgiving community.  Only the one who has died because of us and who is raised by God has the power to stand among us and say, “Rejoice!  Do not be afraid.  Go tell my sisters and brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

For us today, as for the women at the tomb, Jesus’ promise means that he goes ahead of us to lead us into the world–into a transformative way of life that testifies to the power of resurrection wherever we live.  Jesus is going ahead–not going away.  The empty tomb does not signify absence but presence: it announces the Resurrected One’s presence on the road ahead.

We are to look for experiences of the resurrection presence not only in Galilee but also in Nampa, Boise, the entire Treasure Valley–on all the roads of our lives.  Resurrection means that Jesus, the Living One, goes ahead of us.  Jesus can be found only when we experience that he is ahead of us and that he opens up a future for us.  He transforms our community of followers into courageous witnesses to Jesus’ presence.

What will this community look like?  What does it mean to experience the resurrection?  I find it helpful to return to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus speaks of both guideposts and promises. I preached on the Beatitudes the first Sunday in February in our sanctuary. For me, facing the pandemic, experiencing the earth beneath me shifting, today the Beatitudes sound like something we will all be able to relate to a whole new way.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are those who mourn.

Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are those who hunger and search for righteousness.

Blessed are those who show mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart.

There can be no doubt in my mind that Jesus both walks with us and is ahead of us on this particular Easter Day. And in that we can find deep hope.

Resurrection means that Jesus transforms our community into courageous witnesses to Jesus’ presence.  The resurrection is manifest in the community of Jesus disciples.  They walked through the door into a new world suddenly full of hope and possibility.  Frightened, discouraged, grieving men and women somehow were transformed into brave, hopeful, loving bearers of good news. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession  (adapted from Sundays and Seasons by Keaton Woodcook)

Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

God of resurrection, from the very beginning you give the church the gift of women as your witnesses: as preachers, teachers, and leaders. Open our ears to their proclamation this day and always. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

All your creation praises you—the earth hums, the seas pulse, the stars shine, and the galaxies whirl in glorious harmonies to honor you. Let us hear and blend our voices in the song. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The countries of the world experience disunity and conflict; even amid a global crisis we set our minds on fear and greed rather than on your rule of justice and steadfast love. Convict the hearts of our leaders and persuade them to choose human life over profit or power. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We still weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn. Cradle the fearful, the suffering, and the dying, assuring them of your loving presence, especially those lives threatened or claimed by COVID-19. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Bless the creative service of worship leaders this day: musicians, worship assistants, preachers, readers, and all others who provide welcome and hospitality in the midst of homebound isolation and distress. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Risen Lord, you went ahead of us into the grave and defeated the powers of evil. We remember those who have died. Inspire us to live our lives in this resurrection hope and draw us to you in our final days. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

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