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Hosea 6.1-3

I Corinthians 15.1-8

3 Days, 3 Years

Easter Day

An article in Monday’s Boston Globe turned out to be more entertaining than I think it intended  to be.  The headline was, “The Pandemic Stole the Last Years of My 20’s.”  Here is an excerpt:

“With a pandemic engulfing our lives for the past two years, I couldn’t enjoy many things I thought I’d still have time for in my late 20s: traveling with my then-new husband, enjoying date nights, frivolous brunches every weekend.  Now it feels like I’m jumping headlong into real adulthood, thinking more seriously about babies and our mortgage, skipping sadly over what were supposed to be carefree times — the best years of my life.”

Now, before you go all “OK Boomer” on me, and as much as I have to stifle a wry smile and keep my eyeballs from doing a 360, let me say, I get it.  I get what it means to lose a chunk of what you think are the best years of your life, even if, at 30, they are still ahead of you.  We have all lost a chunk of our lives to the pandemic, years that we will never get back.  Still, I can’t help but think that for a 30 year old, there is a much greater percentage of your life yet-to-be-lived than those of us of a certain venerability.  A dear friend of mine in her mid-seventies said the other day what she grieves the most are all the concerts she has missed, and how few are likely to be in her future.  Still, it would be wrong to minimize anyone’s sense of loss.  My heart goes out particularly to the people at the extremes:  our older folks who have missed two years of seeing children and grandchildren, and the youngest among us, the children who have had to adjust to unfamiliar ways of going to school and maintaining friendships, who only now are able to play together unmasked, and to be inoculated themselves.

Friends, this is the first Easter in three years you and I have been able to worship together  in person, in this sanctuary.  I vividly recall, when the pandemic and its attendant distancing first struck in 2020, thinking to myself, “It’s probably only temporary – we should be back together in time for Easter.”  Remember that?  And when that first Easter came and went, we thought, “Oh, well, we’ll definitely be back by next Easter.”  And again, we weren’t.  After that I’m not even sure I allowed myself to think about today, which is the next-next-next Easter.  But I couldn’t help but notice the parallel between the resurrection story and where you and I find ourselves this morning.  That is, it hasn’t really been three entire years since we’ve been together, any more than it was three entire days between the crucifixion and the resurrection.  Old Testament prophet Hosea splits the difference:  “After two days, [the Lord] will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”  And Paul’s language around the resurrection does not read, “after three days,” but rather, “on the third day.”  Just the same, we are in the third year, and we are a resurrected people.   Some of us are busting out of that social distancing tomb with a vengeance, masks fluttering in the wind of our wake.  Others of us are still testing the waters, peeking around the corner of that rolled-away stone, perhaps wondering just where that next variant might be lurking.  You can count me among the latter; we’re having 18 for dinner this afternoon, and every one of us will have taken a rapid Covid test before arrival.

Those of you with long memories may remember that four years ago, on our first Easter together, we heard the resurrection story from Mark’s gospel – Mark who tells about an empty tomb but who never presents us with a resurrected Jesus.  The following year we read Matthew’s story, about the Pharisee’s fake news that Jesus’ body was stolen, and that’s why the tomb was empty on Sunday morning.  On our first remote pandemic Easter, we read from Luke how Peter didn’t believe the women and insisted on seeing the empty tomb for himself.  And last year we let John do the honors, who describes a race to the tomb which, naturally, John wins.  Four gospels, four resurrections stories.  But there’s a fifth resurrection story in the New Testament, the one we heard this morning from the apostle Paul, who narrates an arc of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances and laments that he is the last to know:

 “He was raised on the third day, and he appeared to Cephas [or Peter], then to the twelve [disciples].   Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time [at Pentecost], then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me [on the Damascus road].”

Paul introduces his litany of Jesus’ appearances with an old Hebrew phrase:  he says, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received.”  In other words, he heard the gospel from one source and he is handing it on to the next; this is how stories and lessons were passed along in Jewish faith and tradition.  The apostle is telling us what someone has already told him, and the implication is clear – when you and I hear the old stories told and retold, it is then up to us to pass them along to others.  “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received.”

I want to zero in on the way Paul tells the story this morning, because eventually it becomes personal.  “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”  Paul’s Easter story was a personal encounter, a personal experience.  And I wonder how Jesus appears to us this morning.  Because he does – and we are here because he does.  For me, Jesus appears in all of you.  It is wonderful to be together in the name of the Risen Christ this morning, whether you are here in the pew, or somewhere else in Chester, or wherever you are, it is wonderful to be together.  Many of you have been in worship all along, back when we were remote-only and then when we regathered in May.  For some of you, this may be the first time back in the pew since 2020, and it’s great to see you.  Some of you – a pretty good number - have been worshiping with us since we went virtual and yet have never stepped foot in Chester, and it is wonderful to be together with you as well; we are grateful for your presence.  And who knows, maybe some of you in the pews are saying to yourselves this morning, “So that’s what he looks like in real life.”  And it’s good to be with you too.  This is how Jesus appears to me this Easter morning, in a personal way like Paul did, in the person of all of you, and in the experience of all of us together.

How does Jesus appear to you this Easter?  When you walked into church this morning, did the scent of the lilies speak to you of Easter?  Or what about the bright daffodils and forsythia on your way to church today?  It seems like they’re everywhere and especially colorful this year!  Or the music – the music!  I’ll repeat what I said Thursday night, it is so nice to have our choir singing once again.  I know a lot of folks find God in music.  Or maybe you’re going to see family today, maybe it’s the first time you’ll be seeing some of your extended family since 2020.  Or maybe God’s presence for you is in the fact that today is Easter, that Jesus is an important part of your life every day, which makes this day that much more precious, that much more special, that much more holy.  However you receive Jesus on this Easter Day, may it be a blessing for you.

And remember to pass your blessing along.  Paul wrote, “I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received.”  How will we hand on what we have received.?  Living the good news of Easter is not limited to our hour together this morning – how will we pass along the blessings we know we have?  I’m going to guess that for some of us it will be in the telling, like Paul.  I had a grandfather who never tired of passing his wisdom and experience along, even when it was something elementary and yet impossible like, “Never get old, Alan.”  Well Pop, at least I tried!   For others it will be more in the doing, in the sharing of what we have with others, or as the United Church of Christ puts it, “making God’s love and justice real” for everybody. 

However we choose to hand Easter on to others, whether to the next person or to the next generation, let’s take something away from church this morning and shine the resurrection light where someone else will see it, and know that Christ lives – in you, in us, in them.

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