(A Meditation for Easter Sunrise, March 27, 2016, based on Luke 24:1-12)
For all the jokes we make about getting up this early in the morning for worship, I have to say that I cannot imagine Easter Sunday without a sunrise service! There is something appropriate and exhilarating about greeting the Christian festival of resurrection in those moments just as a new and beautiful day begins; even if we’re facing that day more to the southwest than to the east! But given that we’re surrounded with such beauty and quiet, it’s most certainly the perfect place and time for us to find our first alleluias this morning!
Of course, the risk in all this is that the weather does not always cooperate; and trust me, for that reason alone I’ve been checking the long range forecast every day for the past two weeks! There’s actually one sunrise service that stands out in my memory in this regard: it was one I attended years ago as a youth at my hometown church in Maine. Understand, at this particular church we always held our sunrise services indoors, so the weather shouldn’t have mattered; but it did, and in a big way!
That year, you see, it rained on Easter; no, actually, let me be clear: it was a sudden, torrential downpour complete with high winds, more on the line of a summer cloudburst than a spring shower, with the end result being that everybody came into the church that morning dripping, soaking wet! What I remember was that there was to be an anthem sung at the service by our high school girls’ elite singing group – they were named the “Belleaires,” – and of course, these girls had gotten up early, did their hair and make-up and were dressed to the nines for singing in church. Unfortunately, like everyone else in that sanctuary, the storm had gotten to them as well; and in truth, these girls ended up looking not only rather disheveled on this day of resurrection, but quite angry about the whole situation on top of that! But the topper was when one of the members of our youth group, a senior boy scheduled to do the meditation that year, began his sermon with the words, “We gather together here this morning as a group of SON worshipers!”
Now, obviously, he was making a pun, referring to those who were S-O-N worshipers and not S-U-N worshipers… but in a room filled with wet, tired and somewhat grumpy teenagers, the irony of it was not lost, and despite themselves, they laughed.
But then… maybe it was the aroma of row upon row of lilies wafting through the sanctuary; maybe it was being shaken out our lethargy by the organ chords of Christ the Lord is Risen Today; or perhaps it was the utter scriptural joy of the Easter story. But what I remember so clearly to this day is how suddenly and radically the mood in that room changed: even the girls in the choir had started to get into it (I don’t remember at all what they sang, but they were good and their songs were filled with joy). We all felt it: in the midst of gloom and doom, wet and cold we began to experience Easter… and LIFE came crashing right smack into our wet, sleepy hearts.
Well, friends, I hope and pray that this morning, you will experience Easter. I hope that you will stop for a moment or two out here in the woods to feel the cut of the cold and the sharpness of the new day beginning; that you’ll pause long enough to listen for the rustling of branches and the sounds of birds singing to greet the new morning. And I hope you’ll take a deep breath of springtime that’s unfolding right in our midst.
But most of all, I hope you’ll remember the journey that it’s taken to get to this day: the journey that’s taken us through 40 days of Lent; the journey that’s led us from shouts of Hosanna on Palm Sunday through the agony of betrayal and desertion to the excruciating pain and death of the cross on Good Friday. I hope that this morning you’ll consider that before this bright and glorious day of celebration, there was first a day of sorrow and grief in which our Lord Jesus died on the cross.
Because remember it must have been a morning something like this when the women came to the tomb to anoint his dead body according to ritual; an act of closure, and an emblem of their grief and their lost hope. Yes… their lost hope… for in a very real sense it can be said that their own lives had ended when Jesus’ life was taken from him. Jesus was their hope… he’d spoken of wondrous things… about the kingdom of God in their midst… about the primacy of love and justice and compassion and peace. He’d given them the sure and promise of God’s infinite love come through the Son of Man (!)… but now he was dead… executed at the hand of the very ones he loved. The dream was over, and the hopes of these women… and indeed, the whole world… were gone forever.
But then… suddenly and radically everything changed! The stone had been rolled away! The body of Jesus was gone! And now there were two men in dazzling clothes who stood there instead, and of course, the women were terrified. But the messengers answered this by asking, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!”
In a marvelous, terrifying, redeeming instant, their sorrow was transformed into joy; albeit joy mixed with some fear, since they’d never seen anything like this before! But what was impossible was now real; death was defeated, and Christ was the victor. Jesus had risen!
I have to imagine that every one of their senses were filled to overflowing… because in this one instant, neither life nor eternity was what it had once seemed to be! All at once life abundant had come crashing through their despair, and life eternal had reigned victorious over death!
“Very early in the morning,” scripture tells us, Christ arose from the dead. It is my hope and prayer for each one of us this morning is that we will have that experience as profoundly as they did there at the tomb.
Perhaps you’ve come here with life feeling like nothing more than a trudge through the cold and wet and dark; if that’s your situation today, may the bright sunlight of Christ’s promise of newness of life break through to you and make you see the endless possibilities of God.
Perhaps you’re feeling distant from God; and if that’s your situation today, may you discover in this moment that you are not alone, nor have you ever been, and that right now you are as near to the Lord as your very breathing.
Maybe you’ve decided that resurrection is merely some long ago supernatural event that doesn’t connect with you; well, if that’s your situation today, I pray that you may know that Christ’s rising again is a gift of divine grace and salvation that is extended to each one of us who will turn to him and receive it. May this place in which we worship this morning serve in some small way to be a open gate of eternity for you.
Or maybe, just maybe, for you the power of all this has proven to be all too frightening; or at least a bit too awesome for you to grasp. And if this is your situation today… well, that’s good! It’s good to be filled with awe; in fact, I pray that we all might be so awed that we’ll never cease to be amazed at the utter brightness of this new day that the Lord has made.
What I’m saying is that each and every one of us here might be SON (s-o-n) Worshipers.
Christ is risen, beloved!
Christ is risen indeed!
Amen and AMEN!
c. 2016 Rev. Michael W. Lowry