“Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” Luke 24:8-9
There is an old philosophical question that asks, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is close enough to hear it, did the tree make a sound when it fell?” That question is really asking whether sound is something that naturally occurs all by itself, or if sound occurs only when there is a hearer. Under our present quarantine with the COVID-19 Virus, we could pose a similar question—“If you don’t go to the church building on Easter Sunday—have you truly celebrated the resurrection of Christ?”
I can guarantee you that every Pastor worth his/her ordination has fretted for weeks, wondering if the single biggest Sunday in the Christian Calendar will be radically altered. For now, it appears that our traditional celebration of Easter, a sunrise service and a packed sanctuary with families in bright Easter attire, will not be taking place this year. (Our deacons will be meeting after April 5th to discuss Easter plans, so please stay tuned for an announcement by April 8th.) Because we are under the state of NC “Stay-At-Home” order until April 30th, it certainly appears unsafe, unwise, and illegal to try and gather in the traditional way for Easter Sunday worship. So, the first thing we need to accept is that although we don’t like it, change is inevitable in life. Even our richest traditions and our best laid plans sometimes must evolve and adapt. This Easter won’t be the same in HOW we worship; but Easter will still be the same because of WHO we worship! The good news of the gospel—Jesus Christ risen from the dead is still true and is needed, now, more than ever.
As you examine the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in the gospels there are some details that vary from one account to the other. Each gospel writer tells the story in slightly different ways. But what makes the story profound was not only what happened at the empty tomb, but more so what happened in response afterwards. For example, in Luke’s gospel, Chapter 24, a group of women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James, and others) go to the tomb of Joseph, where Jesus was buried, to anoint his body with spices and ointments. When they arrived, they discovered that the stone had been rolled away. Luke says that they were perplexed and terrified (emotions we might be feeling during this pandemic) when two angels appeared and told them, “He is not here, he has risen!” The words of these heavenly messengers jogged their memory and they recalled how Jesus had promised that he would be raised from the dead. As soon as they remembered, they responded by leaving the tomb to go and tell the other disciples.
In each of the gospel accounts, what took place at the empty tomb was not as important as the response after they left the tomb. The first eye witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection overcame fear and doubt to begin telling others that Jesus is alive. Yes, we will surely miss the traditional celebration of Easter as a high and holy day of worship. We will miss our choir singing an Easter Cantata and seeing packed pews for worship. We will miss the feeling of joyous victory when we would sing, “Because He Lives.” But we must remember what is most important in the gospel mission is not what we experience when we go to the church building, but rather how we respond as the church when we leave. Like those women on that first Easter morning, we must recall and respond to the words of our Savior when he gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”
The promise of Easter is that the risen Savior, the Lord of life, is with us through it all. This pandemic pales in comparison to the deadly plague of human sin (100% mortality rate) which Jesus defeated at the cross 2,000 years ago. The grave is overcome and our redeemer lives! The gospel mission is not “come and see”, but rather, “go and tell.” That’s what we must focus on this Easter Sunday. We are not able to “come” but we are still commissioned to “go” share the good news. We will still worship our risen savior on April 12th but in a different way via livestream. Our worship will then empower our witness to tell others this good news of sins forgiven, death defeated, and life ever-lasting through Jesus Christ our Lord.