Today’s world affects ministers’ Easter sermons
The Easter story
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Holy Bible, New International Version, John 20: 11 — 18.
EAGLE COUNTY — A lot about the Christian celebration of Easter is always the same: The story of the empty tomb, the sunrise services, the relief from those who have given up something for Lent.
But there’s always something different in the Easter story, and not just the fact that the date of the holiday varies — we can thank the Council of Nicaea for linking the date to the full moon following the spring equinox for that.
It seems the world is always in some sort of trouble heading into the Easter season, and the state of the world often informs how local ministers craft their sermons for the holiday. This year is no different.
The Rev. Rob Wilson, of the Eagle River Presbyterian Church, said current events seem to put death “constantly in our face.” Wilson’s response will be a sermon he’s calling “Ambushed by Life.”
“We’re used to be ambushed by death,” Wilson said. “Jesus offers the great reversal of that … The women going into the tomb expected to find death, and they were ambushed by life.”
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Celebrating life in the Christian faith is part of all Easter services, of course. But at Gracious Savior Lutheran Church in Edwards, The Rev. Jason Haynes is celebrating some old-fashioned evangelism. That congregation soon will send eight people to Cuba. That island nation has banned the construction of new churches since the current communist government took power in the late 1950s. But, Haynes said, the regime allows in-home worship, services that often are held in back yards and gardens.
That, Haynes said, gives people who go a “glimpse at what the Christian faith is without the church.” That glimpse includes the persecution early Christians suffered. Three members of last year’s group were temporarily detained by the police.
But going to Cuba is way to express that “we all need that message of hope, of new life in Jesus,” Haynes said. “That’s universal.”
The message of new life and hope goes beyond religion.
“Hearts are longing for true belonging,” Calvary Chapel Rev. Tommy Schneider said, whose focus, obviously, is on finding that true belonging in Christian faith. But, Schneider added, the Easter message goes beyond the afterlife.
God’s goal, Schneider said, “was to bring us alive to the full potential of what he’s created us for (in the here and now). The moment we surrender ourselves, the quicker we can start becoming the individuals we were meant to be.”
Weighty Shadow Lifted
Easter also comes after 40 days of Lent, which many Christians observe through penitence, and, in some cases self-denial. That season tracks through the ending days of winter, while Easter is a harbinger of spring, when new life abounds.
The Rev. Brooks Keith, of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Vail, has observed the self-denial of Lent. But he’s also keenly aware of how somber a period the last weeks of winter can be.
“We’ve had a lot going on,” Keith said of his congregation. “It really feels weighty this year — we really have been in the valley of the shadow (of death).”
But Lent isn’t the final word, Keith said.
“It’s the darkness that makes the light shine so bright,” he said. “Can the light of Christ light up a turbulent world? Yes.”
That light is far different than the star that guided the Magi to Bethlehem in the story of Christmas, Keith said.
“This season there’s no star — the light came from the empty tomb, from the inside out,” he said. “That, for me, is part of this Easter … seeing the light of Christ in the community and the people we serve.”
That’s why after Lent, people come to celebrate, Keith said, adding, “The tomb is still empty.”