Easter 2020

Here are elements from our online service Easter Sunday, 2020.

Photo from the Campus Religious Center (Friday, April 10)
















ONE: Jesus is resurrected — because his message of love, justice, healing, and liberation transcends time and space.

MANY: Jesus is resurrected — because in his story we hear our own stories of suffering and struggle and sorrow.

ONE: Jesus is resurrected — because we need to be called back to love our neighbor as ourselves; to see the inherent worth and dignity of every person; to fight for justice; to hope for a better world.

MANY: Jesus is resurrected — not because he is The Messiah, The Son of God, The One and Only Savior of all Humankind — but because in his time, and our time, and all time, we need hope.

ONE: Jesus is resurrected — proving that hope is eternal.

ALL: Hallelujah! Jesus is resurrected.


“Easter Happened, Easter is Still Happening,” Susan Ryder

Last year during my Easter message, I began with a walk down Easter memory lane, recalling themes from previous years. I shared two things I realized looking back over previous reflections:

  1. My favorite Easter story comes from Mark, as it is the one I’ve reflected from most often. I like it best because the original ending had no post-resurrection appearances, and therefore leaves it up to us to finish the story.


  1. Bob hadn’t preached on Easter Sunday since 2013 – “…so fair warning Bob,” I told him – “you’re up in 2020!”

Well 1 out of 2 isn’t bad. Obviously my second realization didn’t hold up about Bob preaching for Easter this year.  To be fair, he’s done last three reflections in a row as we transitioned to online services so I could put together the video-conference version of our worship. But Easter 2021 – Bob, that’s all you! My first realization still holds true, though, so listen as I share the reading from Mark once more.


Mark 16:1-8  When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint Jesus’ body. Early on the first day of the week when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb for us?’ But when they arrived, they saw that the stone (which was very large) had already been moved. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in white sitting on the right side. They were alarmed, but the man said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is not here. He has been raised. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell Peter and his disciples that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will find him, just as he told you.’ So the women went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Arthur Dewey of the Jesus Seminar: “Easter will not be business as usual this year. Curiously this very situation allows us to tip-toe back to those ancient stories of the women visiting the tomb. Don’t stop with the gospel scenes, go back farther in time to when the custom was in full flower. The Greek rituals of women visiting the tombs of the recent dead were carried out centuries before the story of Magdala was told. But there is a common thread in all of them, including the tales of the early Jesus followers. Women were still trying to weave sense out of intense sorrow by a simple gesture of care – pouring oil on the grave of the lost one. In those silent moments human actions take on an incandescent element.”

REFLECTION – Let’s begin by considering what was going on in the minds of those women as they visited Jesus’ grave. They were grief-stricken and afraid. Their friend and teacher had been brutally executed, and life as they knew it was in disarray. Their own lives were at risk for even being associated with Jesus, and now that he was dead they didn’t know what to expect – but things didn’t look promising. As women living in a society ruled by men, they must have felt especially vulnerable. Jesus had offered them hope for a better world, a purpose, a movement – but now he was gone. It was completely reasonable for them to worry. Still, despite their grief and fear, they held to the custom of honoring the dead – walking to the grave early in the morning after the Sabbath to anoint Jesus’ body. Adding to their concerns, they wondered if there would be anyone to help them roll away the heavy stone that covered the tomb so they could perform their rituals. But of course, what they found when they arrived was that their business-as-usual expectations were obsolete, and their rituals of grief and tending to the dead were unnecessary. The kindness and wisdom of their Rabbi could not be contained by the grave. The power of Jesus’ wisdom and love lived on, and lives on still.

Art Dewey is right – Easter will not be business as usual this year. Not only are most congregations gathering online or otherwise outside of their normal worship space, like the women on their way to pay their respects to Jesus, we gather for worship with very real concerns of our own. The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging us in ways we never expected. Our lives have been cast into disarray, interrupted, fragmented – jobs and careers, education, sports, prom, graduation and other school activities, access to family and friends – all put on hold, possibly never to be quite the same. It’s perfectly reasonable for us to wonder what comes next; perfectly reasonable to feel as if the future we had hoped for has been locked away in a cave, sealed off by a stone so heavy we can’t imagine how it could be moved.

Yet even as we gather this very Easter morning there are a thousand acts of compassion and love and creativity springing up in the very midst of the pandemic. Messages of hope and optimism are written like scripture on sidewalks. Birthdays and weddings and anniversaries rejoiced over, spread out across balconies and streets and sidewalks as people keep their distance and celebrate nonetheless. Sirens and bagpipes and trumpets exclaim gratitude for those working long hours tending the sick, stocking groceries, keeping up roads and bridges and communication lines. All around us people are rising to the challenge… rising!  We’re finding we’re stronger than we knew, inspired by one another through a shared sense of common good, a shared attraction to generosity and kindness. So very many are working to create a kinder and more compassionate world precisely because of the pandemic – just like love rising from a tomb that seemed to be sealed off forever only the day before.

I don’t believe who-or-whatever God is created this pandemic, or ever intentionally causes suffering. For that matter, neither does God spare us from pain and suffering. Life includes pain and loss; it includes challenges and struggles that we wouldn’t have volunteered for and don’t deserve. Yet Easter reminds us that the Sacred Mystery, that incandescence Dewey speaks of – CAN bring about resurrection even in the midst of life’s most painful experiences. That gives me some hope for our future, as we, like the women who showed up expecting to anoint Jesus, are sent out of the tomb to sew love in the wake of sorrow with simple gestures of care – as neighbors check in on neighbors; seamstresses make masks for first responders; landlords waive rent; and homeowners leave hand sanitizer for postal workers and other delivery personnel.

We are on the cusp of something significant, either of a new global awakening or irredeemable chaos. At times it feels as if we are either on the edge of creating a new world, or on the verge of losing our world. The word we use over and over to describe this experience is “crisis.” We are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. We have a global health crisis. We are facing an economic crisis. Sometimes knowing the root of a word can be helpful. In this case, Rev. Cameron Trimble points out the word crisis comes from the Latinized form of the Greek word krisis, meaning “turning point.” Today we are experiencing political crises (plural), an ecological crisis, and a global health and economic crisis with the coronavirus pandemic. And while these types of crises aren’t new to human history, what is new is that they are all happening at the same time. Perhaps considering this crisis as a turning point – as an opportunity for a new awakening, rather than a calamity we cannot overcome, is what can help us through. Maybe this great turning point will inspire us to try and weave sense out of it by performing simple gestures of care along with colossal movements of justice and compassion.

So far this crisis, this turning point has, if only for a moment, has compelled us to a live a more contemplative life. We are bound to our homes, invited into solitude. We are required to “socially distance” and shrink our worlds to the immediacy around us. Everything is slowing down as we try to slow down the spread of the virus. The engines of the world are grinding to a halt – and with it, our skies and waters are clearing, as mother earth benefits from a well-deserved rest. And from it all … from the end of life as we know it, at least for the time being, from this crucifixion comes resurrection. New Life. A Great Turning. “The ancients would say that this is an occasion of unveiling, exposing the pretensions of our world as well as possibilities of hope.” (Art Dewey)

Somehow, Art Dewey writes, “we are more alive now than we thought we were. For we are now hyper-sensitive to the tiniest gesture of kindness and care. We are quite moved when we hear of others looking out for the elderly who live alone. We are brought to tears when a highway officer gives a speeding doctor a sober warning and then offers her his respiratory mask. Now, we have eyes to see and ears to hear, and so we go out in the evening and salute with applause those on the front lines of this epidemic. We have realized what truly is essential.”

Easter was ever and still is about hope. This epidemic throws us all aback. Everything we usually associate with Easter has been stripped away. Like the women visiting the tomb that early morning, we arrive concerned and our first impression of Easter leaves us disoriented. Some might point out there are no angels hanging about to explain things to us; no heavenly intercessions to cast things in a more optimistic light. But is that true? What do we see and hear in this fearsome moment if we search with hearts tuned to the incandescence of the Sacred? What are the sights and sounds that shiver our spines and crack open our hearts? What realm do they open up for us all? (Paraphrased from words by Art Dewey)

Mark Sandlin: “Easter should remind us that we are called to live resurrected lives. Easter is not just about Jesus; it’s about us; Easter is not about death; it’s about life. Easter is not about the past; it’s about the future. It is not just about the story of a Resurrection that happened then; it is about the resurrections that are happening now. Ultimately, Easter is about how hope breaks into a world that can seem overwhelming and oppressing. It is about how hope can and will overcome death – and not only actual death but the metaphorical deaths that confront us every day. It is about how those deaths aren’t the end of things but the beginning. With Love, death is never final; hope is never lost; there is always a new way, a new path, a new life.” Amen!


Sacred one, we lift into your care the joys and concerns of our hearts, those we carry in silence as well as those we have spoken aloud to one another.  Well we know and accept that you do not promise to spare us from danger or misfortune.  Likewise are we mindful of the many blessings we take for granted or fail to notice at all.  On this Easter morning, Lord, make us glad to know that the resurrection is not best understood as a once-and-for-all event confined to a single time and place, as if your will we’re subject to the constraints of history.  Rather, let us rejoice that Christ’s resurrection is a continuing perspective; a maturity to be attained; a way of life to be embraced for seeing that execution and death could not defeat Jesus’ reign of compassion.  This morning we pray that the grief of our collective heart would allow for the breaking in of a renewed spirit among us. We pray that our common struggles might break open a world that is more generous and just. We pray that our wounds and losses might become the opening through which we approach global healing and reconciliation – understanding people of every nation and race and condition as Jesus did, as sisters, brothers, neighbors in your great commonwealth.  Like the women at that tomb that long ago morning, let us see that against all odds the stone has already been rolled away, and so transform our fears and doubts into a love that draws confidence from your unfailing presence.  All this we lift up in gratitude to Jesus – the risen Christ – who taught us to pray together saying, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.


ONE: Two friends were walking along the road to Emmaeus when they were joined by a traveler whom they did not recognize. And as they walked, they discussed the amazing events of the day.

MANY: When the friends drew near their destination they said to the third, “It is late. Please join us for a meal and stay overnight before continuing on your way.”  So they sat together at the table and shared supper.

ONE: Near the end of the meal the stranger took a piece of bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Suddenly their eyes and hearts were opened and they recognized the Lord. It can be like this with us.

ALL: When we break bread together, when we share the cup, we recognize the sacred one in our midst, and know the presence of Christ in our lives.  Let us keep the feast!



The Stone Has Been Rolled Away
Francis Brienen, United Kingdom

When the broken come to wholeness,
when the wounded come to healing,
when the frightened come to trusting,
the stone has been rolled away.

When the lonely find friendship,
when the hurt find new loving,
when the worried find peace,
the stone has been rolled away.
When we share instead of taking,
when we stroke instead of striking,
when we join around the table
the stone has been rolled away.

In you, Christ Jesus,
love breaks through hatred,
hope breaks through despair,
life breaks through death.
Hallelujah, Christ is risen!