Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Somewhere down the line we changed what Easter was. We never meant to, and it happened with the best of intentions, as all foolish things usually do. We wanted to build Easter up. This day matters more than any other. Paul says it’s our everything. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is in vain. If Jesus didn’t rise, we need a new religion. So we wanted to point out how important it was.
We put extra flowers here. We decorate the church. We all actually showed up for once. We even dressed up. Even the people who swore they could love Jesus just fine without ever being in His house put on their best and came to hear the good news. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia! Let’s hide eggs and make kids find them. Don’t ask questions. There’s candy in there. None of it makes the holiday, but it shows we think it’s important.
The problem comes in when all of that stuff becomes the measurement of the thing it all points to. If there are no lilies, can it really be Easter? If you don’t get to sing I know that my redeemer lives? If you can’t echo the refrain, He is risen, indeed. Alleluia? If the sanctuary is empty? If you’re wearing sweatpants and watching from your phone and everything feels wrong, is it actually Easter? We act like the things that point to Jesus rising from the dead can put Him back in the tomb if they’re taken from us by someone eating an undercooked bat.
We try to laugh it away, but the feeling lingers. The things that point to Jesus are good. When they’re missing, that’s bad. When you feel alone, that’s scary. When the world’s a scary place full of too much about today I don’t like and too much about tomorrow I don’t know, that’s paralyzing. Even when you secretly feel relieved you don’t have to put on your best, most uncomfortable, clothes and spend time with family you don’t get along with and pretend everything’s amazing when you’d rather just dig a deeper hole to hide in under the guise of self-quarantine and you’re actually more afraid of having to go back to normal than you are of the corona virus because you’d rather wear a mask made out of an old t-shirt than the one made out of a fake smile, you’re allowed to acknowledge you have problems that eggs with chocolate in them can’t fix.
But if any or all of these things are true, you’re also allowed to hear the real story of Easter. Two women go out to the tomb of their greatest hope. He was murdered in front of them, but they have to anoint his body. They’re alone. They’re afraid. They’re lost. They don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. They’d rather stay in hiding, but they have an obligation. They have to anoint the body of Jesus, even though they never even thought about how they’d move that big stone. There are no Sunday bests, crowds to sing, or eggs. But there’s no dead Jesus either.
An angel of the Lord descends from heaven, rolls back the stone, and makes a case for shorter sermons everywhere. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”
Do not be afraid. Christ was crucified and He is risen. This is Easter. Every year, with or without the trappings. This is Easter. Every Sunday, with or without the extras. This is Easter. Every day, with or without the grocery list of everything wrong. Easter and the words our risen Lord echo as angelic sermons cry out, Do not be afraid. But even if you are, it’s still Easter, because Christ is still risen.
We do the whole thing backward. Easter isn’t a chance to check off a list of extra nice things to prove He’s risen. It’s a chance to grab the list of everything wrong, hold it up to the tomb, and ask a real simple question. Can anything that’s wrong today put Jesus back in the tomb? If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is in vain. But if He is still risen, then the only vain thing left is fear.
So take the corona virus, the fear of tomorrow, the secret sins and insecurities, and the building anxiety and hold them up with all your sins against that empty tomb where Angels preached to terrified women and dare to ask, “can any of these things change the world so profoundly that they build a time machine, travel back 2000 years, and put Jesus back in the tomb?” Because if they can’t, everything’s going to be ok.
This is the Easter joy. This is the thing all the extras point to. Death itself has been destroyed. The seal of the tomb was rolled away by the angels who watch over you today. You will see your Lord again. He is here. He is for you. To bring forgiveness so real you can bathe in it in the waters of your baptism. Touch it. Taste it. Eat and drink it in body and blood. Come alone and afraid today and receive it. If you’re not ready to face the world yet, that’s fine. Hear it and know it. None of this can put Jesus back in the tomb. The risen Jesus heals, forgives, strengthens, and renews. He delivers the peace He promises in word and sacrament. He brings them through time and space just for you, so when everything feels wrong, when you feel scared and ashamed, when everything’s falling apart, we can lay it all out there and ask a simple question. Can any of this put Christ back in the tomb? Do not be afraid, because none of it can. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!