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Easter Sermon Starter: 5th Sunday of the Pandemic



These reflections are a part of ELCA World Hunger’s Sermon Starter series which is published via email every Monday. You can sign up for the weekly email here on the right side of the page, if on a computer, or near the bottom of the page, if viewing on a mobile device. Pastor Tim Brown is the writer of these reflections. Pr. Tim is a Gifts Officer and Mission Ambassador for the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a pastor and writer out of Raleigh, NC. You are invited to use the message below for personal devotion as well as prompts for sermon writing. 

April 12- Easter Sunday

Jeremiah 31:1-6

Should you decide not to preach on Matthew’s resurrection account, my suggestion would be to choose the Jeremiah offering (the alternative option) rather than the reading from Acts as the basis for the sermon. And the choice is purely contextual, if I’m honest with you, because fine Easter sermons can be crafted from either text.

But the Jeremiah reading has this wonderful cadence that dances a bit on this day of celebration, and the wonderful theme of “Again” used in the text can be played with to craft a sermon of resurrection hope that might be most impactful in this strange time of wilderness.

“Again, I will build you…” says the Lord. “Again, you shall take your tambourines…” says the Divine.  “Again, you shall plant…” says the Holy Gardener.

“Again” might just be the message your people need. For though it is Easter, it is also “The 5th Sunday of the Pandemic” for most of us, and perhaps the third or fourth Sunday of “shelter-in-place.”  These realities must be spoken of, too.

In fact, I dare say that every year, Easter speaks to these kinds of realities; we just fail to recognize that fact most years from the comfort of our new dresses and freshly pressed suits with floral print ties.

Your people will gather together, in person, again.  Your people will be able to embrace one another, again. Families separated by quarantine will be able to kiss one another, again.

It will happen again! There will be a time after this pandemic. If there’s one thing Easter makes abundantly clear, again and again, every year, it’s that there is always an “again.”

Neither life, nor pandemic, nor crucifixion nor death can stop that. On this Sunday above all others (but also, all the others!) this is the Gospel message.

A final lovely nugget hidden in this prophetic text is the heavy but heartening truth that the people of Israel didn’t just find grace after they were through the wilderness period, but rather, as Jeremiah says, they found “grace in the wilderness.”

There is grace in the wilderness. And I’m not talking about silver linings or optimism or “glass-half-full” sort of grace, but rather the kind of grace that knocks you off your feet and helps you survive another day sort of graces.

I’m talking about Easter-sized sort of graces.

Reminding people that though shopping is suspended, and socializing in person is suspended, and yes, Easter sunrise service is suspended in these days, grace is not suspended.  God’s grace is never suspended.

Grace is found again and again, even now, even in these days.  Which is worth celebrating and shouting “Alleluia” for this morning.

Again we will hold hands. Again we will join together. Again there is grace to be found, even today.

Again and again and again — and no quarantine, no shelter-in-place, no tomb will ever cause that not to be true.

Matthew 28:1-10

On this Easter, many churches around the world are empty, just like that tomb was empty in ancient Palestine on that “first day of the week.”

In this pandemic, the most honest sign of love that the Christian world can give to the greater world, and to one another (and by extension, to the God seen in the risen Christ), is an empty church building. I’m serious.

There may be a few places in the world where the pandemic has not yet reached levels where churches are empty; places that may be far from you geographically but, through the faith that connects us, not so far at all. If there are, they will gather together in body for the rest of us as we all gather together in spirit on this Sunday.

Perhaps this is a good Sunday, the Feast of the Resurrection as it is formally called, to remember that our church gatherings are both local and universal, every time we gather. Our communion liturgy connects us both with one another, but it also connects us across continents and cultures, and with the distant past and with the future, as we join the “saints of every time and place.” That “every” there really does mean every, Beloved.

This is what our theology tells us.

Notice how Matthew’s resurrection account opens a very poignant and timely door for us today, a door upon which the sermon can hinge. The angels, when greeting the women, tell them the resurrection news and instruct them to go tell the disciples to meet Jesus back in Galilee.

And then, the text says, they go “with fear and great joy.”

We often, I think, assume that great joy and fear are mutually exclusive, but this text reminds us that they need not be. We can be both fearful and joyful, which is probably where a lot of your parishioners are at in these days, right?

Yes, we may be quarantined, and there is some fear around the future, but on this Easter Sunday we are also filled with great joy because we remember the promise that the love of God cannot be stopped by anything, not even death.

Yes, we may have to shelter-in-place, and there is some fear about what that is doing to the economy, but on this Easter Sunday we are also filled with great joy because we remember the promise that God resurrects bodies, and they are paramount, and we are saving people’s lives in these days, just as all of us will one day dance bodily with the risen Christ.

Yes, we may be separated from one another, and there is some fear and anxiety about when we can be back together, but there is also great joy on this Easter Sunday because we remember that every Sunday leading up to this, we’ve been practicing in our souls and hearts for the day when we truly, truly need the Easter story, and by God, it’s today.

On this Easter Sunday, do not take the easy way out and present a rosy picture; Easter isn’t meant for rosy days.

Easter is meant, necessary even, for days of fear and tombs and women gathering in the darkness unsure of what they’ll find.

Easter is meant for today, by God.  Alleluia!

Children’s Message

Online Children’s Messages can’t reliably lean on congregational participation, especially if the kids aren’t old enough to type in a chat box or if you’re incapable of hearing them.  I’m going to continue assuming that you’re recording this for them to experience online.

Have a huge Alleluia banner, or even a sheet of paper with an individual letter spelling out the word Alleluia, on it.

Welcome, everyone!

(name) here, and I’m so glad you’re here on this Easter Sunday! <pretend to look into the camera> Wow!  Look at all those Easter dresses and fancy clothes you all have on.

Well, oh, and someone is still in their pajamas! Which is great! God loves us no matter what we’re wearing.

And, in fact, God loves us no matter where we are! And just because we can’t be together today doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate Easter, right?

Now, there’s one word we haven’t been saying all of Easter. It starts with an A and…wait, I have something to show you. <pull out the Alleluia banner, or at least the first letter of the word, if they’re on individual sheets of paper> Here it is!

Alleluia!  It’s kind of like yelling “Yeah!” to God.

So, what I want you to do is shout it with me. Everyone. On the count of three.  Ready? 1-2-3 <hold up the banner> Alleluia!

You know what? If we all shouted that at the same time, we’re more connected than ever!

Can you do me a favor? Ask a parent or guardian to video you giving your biggest Alleluia. You can say it loud, sing it or even take a picture with you holding an Alleluia banner that you made. Can you do that? Have them send it to me.

Because on Easter we celebrate that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and that even though we might be separate from one another this Sunday, we won’t stay that way forever, and that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

So, send the church those videos or those pictures, and let me see those resurrection smiles! Oh, and don’t worry. You can wear your Easter best or your PJs…God doesn’t care.  Jesus is risen, which means we can celebrate no matter where we are or how we are!

Post the videos, with permission, to your social media sites.