WORSHIP THIS WEEK: “It’s not fair!” We’ve all said it. We’ve all heard it. This Sunday, September 24, we hear a story that reminds us how incredibly unfair God’s grace is – and how we depend on that unfairness every day. Join us for worship at 10:00 on Sunday, either at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary here: https://www.youtube.com/live/pyQW0rXruqM?si=4Y9usDoGoO4q87Bv
Take a moment. Take a moment to look around. Smell the flowers. See the people who are around you. Let the music from this morning ring in your ears. Notice the beautiful colors, the splendid butterflies on the altar, the table set for a holy meal that we will soon taste and touch.
Let’s pause to be grateful that we are here together, both those who are here in the sanctuary and those who are joining us from other places via the livestream. I do not want us to take this morning’s Easter worship for granted. I want to savor it, to rejoice in the presence of the risen Christ among us, holding us together across time and distance.
Two years ago on April 12, 2020, Easter worship happened at my dining room table with a makeshift altar and some flowers that my friend Mary dropped off that morning because the ones I had ordered didn’t make it in time. Last year, on April 4, we worshipped outside, with our household groups spread out with the recommended spacing. It was festive and hopeful and also a little chilly and a little strange, but we were glad to be together.
This morning we are here. We are here – the people of God giving praise to God for the resurrection promise that death does not ultimately win.
This week for some reason I went back to my Lenten journal from 2020. On March 24, only a couple of weeks after we had shut down the building with no idea what might lie ahead, I reflected on a verse from Romans 8. That verse reads: “If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, God who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through God’s Spirit that dwells in you.”
I wrote simply this: “I am exhausted and sad and afraid. The worst is yet to come, I fear…My mortal body is tired and feels the weight of all of it. But the Spirit dwells in me. That Spirit sustains me. It’s all I’ve got. And it is enough.”
In late March of 2020, I was feeling a fraction of what the women in our gospel must have felt as they made their way to the tomb. They, too, were exhausted and sad and afraid. They had seen things they could not unsee. They felt a grief unlike any they had known before. For all they knew, the powerful people who had executed Jesus were coming after them next. They feared the worst was yet to come.
Their mortal bodies were tired and felt the weight of all that they had witnessed. But they took their tired bodies to seek out another body – the body of Jesus. They carried the spices that they had carefully prepared to anoint the corpse. It was not glamorous work, but it had an air of defiance. The empire had tortured and murdered their friend, had abused him in countless ways. The wounds would still be there: the pierced side, the holes in his hands and feet, the marks of the whip on his back, the scratches along his forehead from the crown of thorns. But the women were going to treat his body tenderly, with all the love and care that he deserved.
They’ve prepared themselves for this difficult, defiant work. So you can imagine their surprise when there is no body. The stone rolled back, the cave opened, no body of Jesus anywhere. Only some shiny messengers who ask the pointed question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
They are terrified and confused – until the messengers tell them to remember. Remember what he told you. He told you that he would be crucified and on the third day rise again. And then they do. They remember. They remember Jesus saying these things that surely made no sense when he said them but are now suddenly coming into focus.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
What do you do when you experience this kind of story? What do you do when you go looking for a dead body and instead find two dazzling messengers who say there is no body? What do you do when death has given way to life?
What do you do with that? Well, first you go and tell other people. Those other people won’t believe you. Some of them will have to come see for themselves. Peter goes running to the tomb, and he finds the same emptiness that the women had – the linen cloths right there, wrapped around nothing.
They don’t yet know – the women, Peter, the others – that they have been given a gift. In their grief and confusion, joy is breaking in. In their fear, there is hope. In the midst of death, there is new life.
We need those things too, don’t we? Joy in our grief. Hope in our fear. Life in the midst of death. We need that joy and hope and life now more than ever. We see the bodies on the ground in Ukraine and other war zones. We see our loved ones ravaged by illnesses of the mind and body. We see the injustices that hurt our friends and neighbors. We know our own complicity in the pains of the world, often by what we have done, and sometimes by what we have not done.
But today we remember. We remember that the grief and the pain are not the whole story.
Musician Jon Batiste has been having quite a year.[i] Of his eleven Grammy nominations, he took home five awards, including the much-coveted Album of the Year.
Like Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women, Jon understands how joy and grief, celebration and confusion can be jumbled up together.
On the same day that Jon got word that he’d been nominated for all those Grammys, he was sitting in a chemotherapy session for the love of his life, Suleika Jaouad [pronounced Joo-WAD], who had recently been diagnosed with a recurrence of her leukemia. Suleika said about that moment: “It’s holding the absolutely…gutting, heartbreaking, painful things and the beautiful, soulful things in the same palm of one hand…it’s hard to do that, but you have to do that, because otherwise the grief takes over.”
That’s the Easter story, isn’t it? Holding the heartbreaking, painful things and the beautiful, soulful things in the same palm of one hand. That’s what we do as resurrection people. We look with honesty and clarity at the death-dealing things of the world and say, “No. You do not have the ultimate power. God does.”
And then we get to work. We defy death by doing all we can to bring peace and beauty and mercy and love to a world that is crying out for hope.
This past February Jon and Suleika got married, using bread ties for rings. Jon called it “an act of defiance,” saying, “The darkness will try to overtake you, but just turn on the light. Focus on the light. Hold onto the light.”
That’s what we do. We hold on to the light. We focus on that light from the empty tomb. We carry the story, and we share it so that others might encounter it for themselves, so that they might run to the tomb and look in and find the light too. We do these things not with our own power, but with the life and light that God gives us today and every day.
And on the days when we’re not sure how to do any of that, we remember: The Spirit dwells in us. It’s all we’ve got. And it is enough.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
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Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!
Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.
Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm
Click here for registration form: