Easter Sunday is traditionally the largest attendance Sunday of the Christian year. Newtonville United Methodist Church is typically packed, with both parking and seating at a premium. I recall one year when we had children sitting on the floor because there was simply no more room in the pews. That said, in the past I’ve mentioned that I have a recurring nightmare that we make all of the preparations for Easter worship and then no one comes.
This year I am having to confront that nightmare. When I stand to greet the congregation for worship on Easter morning the only people present in the sanctuary will be my family and our director of music, Doug Esmond. Six of us, that’s it. There will be no rich display of flowers, no trumpets, no people in Easter finery, no choir, no communion. There will be a lot of silence, a quiet stillness, a simple cross draped with white, and a camera.
When the women went to the tomb early in the morning expecting to find Jesus’ body there and ready to make preparations for a final interment, they found nothing. There was no stone covering the opening to the tomb, no body lying there, no stench of death and decay. There were a few women, a quiet stillness, some grave clothes laid aside. There were no throngs of people, no wall-to-wall seating, no trumpets and choirs, no flowers.
Resurrection doesn’t happen because of what we do. Resurrection happens because of what God does. This year on Easter Sunday we will find what those first women found. This year on Easter Sunday we will meet the resurrection as they did, with fear, trepidation, confusion, angst. This year we will encounter the risen Christ on his terms, not ours, and perhaps in this new experience we will learn something about ourselves, and something about God.
And, when this is all over and we are back together in the pews we will celebrate the resurrection together. No matter when that happens it will be Easter, because the body of Christ will be gathered together in one place to worship and celebrate together. When this time apart ends we will have flowers and finery, choir and communion. We will remember our fear and suffering and longing and waiting, and we will celebrate the new life we have together in Christ.
The Service of Death and Resurrection that we use for funerals has a line that says, “Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord.” May we all live with the full trust and confidence that in even death we go forth to live.
Peace for the journey,