Image by He Qi
After the President’s news conference was over on Saturday, April 4th, it is said that one reporter made the observation that for the first time in our nation’s history we won’t be celebrating Easter. My social media feeds (admittedly filled with churchy-folk and clergy-types) exploded as the faithful of the nation (or at least of my acquaintance) insisted that while festivities and egg hunts might not go on as usual, Easter—the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ—was not cancelled. They aren’t wrong. Much like Christmas down in Whoville, the resurrection will arrive whether we have the normal trappings or not. The resurrection will be celebrated by individuals and families and, yes, even communities, even if it is through a screen or with a drive-by parade or with socially distanced greetings. Easter is not cancelled; Easter is still on.
But, I think it is important to take seriously this reporter’s sentiment and recognize the same feelings rattling around in our own bodies and the bodies of our socially distanced worshiping communities. It doesn’t feel like Easter. Good Friday—that makes sense to us. We feel the heaviness of death around us; we know well the grief of Mary; we see ourselves reflected in the fear of the disciples that stand far off. And Maundy Thursday, perhaps, takes on a whole new depth of meaning as we recognize the power of sharing a meal and caring for one another’s bodies under the threat of grief and death as Jesus does as when he breaks bread and washes the disciples’ feet. But Easter? It’s harder to muster that Easter feeling when hope and new life and resurrection seem like something worth revisiting in July or August or September or when this whole mess is behind us and we finally have that promised vaccine.
And, for those preaching and leading worship, Easter is not a moment—one day where we have to pull it together and put on a smile and shout “Hallelujah” with all the cheer we can muster. No, Easter Sunday is merely a kickoff to an entire season of Eastertide resurrection texts. So, how do we take seriously the present reality and preach an honest resurrection this year? After all, as Eastertide unfolds, the coronavirus pandemic is expected to only grow worse in the United States. In the coming weeks and months experts predict ongoing social distancing, increased infections, and even more deaths and families impacted by loss. How can we proclaim an honest resurrection in a COVID-19 Good Friday world?
As I have pondered this question, it made sense to me to look to the gospel writers—specifically Mark, Matthew, and John—as guides. After all, they were some of the earliest proclaimers of the resurrection to struggling communities. And I think each of them might suggest how we can preach the truth of the resurrection in ways that take seriously the present, difficult reality.
In linked posts that follow, I will dive deeper into the wisdom each of these gospel writers might have to offer. To be clear, I’m not offering commentaries on preaching these resurrection texts. Instead, I think each of these writers can guide us in how to proclaim an honest resurrection throughout Eastertide with whatever texts we may be preaching.
Mark, I believe, helps us to preach in the tension of traumatic reality and promise with a resurrection that is announced but not yet experienced. (See MARK’S RESURRECTION: LEANING INTO THE PROMISE)
Matthew reminds us that resurrection may surprise us even as we are busy with the tasks at hand. (See MATTHEW’S RESURRECTION: SURPRISE ENCOUNTERS)
And John invites us to see how resurrection may actually be understood as a persistent act of resistance when grief still has a hold and the world feels uncertain. (See JOHN’S RESURRECTION: DEFIANT PERSISTENCE)