Easter Day – Anglican lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 or Jer 31:1-6 (1st Reading), 118:1-2, 14-24 (Psalm), Col 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43 (2nd Reading), John 20:1-18 or Matt 28:1-10 (Gospel); Catholic lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 (1st Reading), Col 3:1-4 or 1 Cor 5:6b-8 (2nd Reading), John 20:1-18 (Gospel)
by Rev. Dr. Luiz Carlos Teixeira Coelho, Igreja Episcopal Anglicana, Brasil
SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS
This passage belongs to a section of Jeremiah often called “the book of comfort,” for it anticipates the joyful return of exiled Jews. It conveys a sense of happiness and joy, and is clearly meant to be understood as a piece of poetry or music. Therefore, it has a psalm-like aspect, and possesses the basic qualities of a good prayer: it expresses feelings of lament and joy, it is proclamatory, it reminds people of the power of God despite all sadness and despair and it announces their liberation. It can be especially linked with the joy of Easter, and the return of all people who once felt despair and pain to the bosom of God.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
This section of Psalm 118 echoes the same sense of joy and thankfulness found in Jeremiah. It is fully proclamatory and praises a God who has liberated God’s people. It is especially suitable for Easter, for it presents many references to salvation and new life. It also anticipates answered prayers, and can be put in context at a time we all pray for a return to our normal daily (and Church) cycle.
This reading presents us with a God who is at work. This God may be linked with past experiences of the people of Israel, but is a living God who still brings peace to our hearts and forgives sins of those who give witness to the Gospel. This message follows the conversion of a Roman centurion. Peter’s sermon reaffirms that God is not only the God of a chosen nation but is also Lord of all. At Easter, all of us who have inherited this faith are called to continue giving witness to the Resurrection, knowing that the Spirit of God is at work, and that the Risen One is still calling new people to join a new humanity, united by Christ and in balance with the created order.
This highly metaphoric text may be better understood if put in context. Right after the initial verses, the author asks the community of faith to leave behind certain sinful behaviors. The passage, however, clearly explains why the people of God should follow such moral imperatives. They must do them because they are resurrection people, and because they have been raised with Christ. An ethical behavior expected from all Christians is a consequence of the work Christ did on the cross, and of Christ’s victory and triumph.
This longer Gospel reading is centered around the witness of Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles. Yes, there is a rather concise narrative on Simon Peter and the beloved disciple coming to the tomb, but the key element of the passage is Magdalene. She is the one who initially bears witness to the empty tomb, and she is the one who remains at the tomb until she has a true encounter with the risen Lord. Her witness parallels the witness of many faithful women who work from behind the scenes to keep the Church alive and spread the Gospel message around the world. A preacher might want to emphasize the witness of so many Magdalenes in our midst and how all of us can still proclaim that Christ is risen in all we do, becoming resurrection witnesses, and Gospel bearers.
This shorter Gospel reading presents a rather different narrative from the Gospel of John. Here, Mary Magdalene is not followed by two male disciples, but by another woman, who stays with her throughout the encounter with the angel and with the risen Lord. In this case, they are repeatedly told not to be afraid. In that sense, the preacher might want to explore how Christ repeatedly tells us not to be afraid. Instead of acting like frozen bodies, out of fear, we are encouraged to announce the Gospel and spread the message of Christ’s redeeming love.
SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
These are difficult times. Most preachers who read this will probably have to preach to a computer screen or some mobile device, since in most parts of the world, strict quarantines have been put into effect against the spread of COVID-19. This may sound like a very un-Paschal celebration, but it also provides many opportunities for preachers to pastorally engage with congregations that are suffering from anxiety of fear.
Some liturgical scholars have been arguing that we should postpone Easter until we have the opportunity of fully gathering all the people of God in a celebratory manner. I strongly advise against it. Postponing Easter may be pastorally unwise. On April 12th, many faithful will have been under strict quarantine rules for at least a month. It is important to emphasize Christ’s victory over death despite all difficulties we have been facing. It is important, as well, to find joy in the Resurrection and spiritual communion despite social distancing measures. We may not be able to celebrate Christ in sacraments at this time, but we can certainly find Jesus in the Word and encourage the People of God to continue carrying on, for he is risen.
The reading from Jeremiah tells us of a God who liberates God’s people at the end. It can be used as an encouragement for the faithful to trust God above all things and proclaim victory, despite the frail world that surrounds them. However, since the Psalm expresses pretty much the same eschatological hope, the preacher might be tempted to pick the Acts reading, which has some very deep theological meaning. It can be very well coupled with the reading from Colossians, in order to convey a message of continuous conversion, and of bearing witness to the resurrection in this world.
Gospel witnesses point not only to a sense of awe but also to a continuous trust that death does not hold the final word. There is hope in the resurrection. People must not be afraid. The preacher might explore how people must leave behind all sense of fear and trust God that they will be reunited again, and life will get back to “normal”.
This is not all, however. Normal life after COVID-19 cannot be the same “normal” we experienced before. Humanity has the opportunity to change its ways as we reflect on the lasting effects of this pandemic. It is important to instil in the faithful the idea that bearing witness to the risen Christ means changing our ways and leaving behind sinful behaviors. The spread of this disease has shown how vulnerable the poor are to any economic instability. Poor people, and people in poor countries, are the ones who suffer the most from unemployment, lack of quality healthcare, hunger and desperation. If we don’t offer solidarity to them, and provide the means for them to survive this crisis the same way we do, we fail in bearing witness to the risen Christ.
Also, many diseases such as this one, are linked to poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and unsanitary contact with wild and domestic animals. As we commit to changing our lives and proclaiming Christ in all we do, we must promote a proper ethical way of dealing with the created order. The Church cannot be silent on issues regarding the exploitation of wildlife, unethical treatment of all sorts of animals and unsanitary farming activities.
SECTION THREE: ADDITIONAL MATERIAL
This video, originally posted by the Anglican Church of Canada, captures the essence of Easter Joy:
Also, the preacher might ask his/her congregation to send pictures of “Easter moments” in their family and community life. These can be arranged as a presentation or short video, which can be coupled with a prayer or song. The importance behind these images is to let people know life will get back to “normal,” but it must be a renewed normal, i.e. lives transformed by our shared experience and a renewed sense of solidarity and unity.
by Rev. Dr. Luiz Coelho, Brasil