‘How can we celebrate Easter?’ – 12th April 2020 – Easter Day Evening

Matthew 28.1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

The Sermon

How can we celebrate Easter?
How can we sing Alleluia...
When we cannot physically meet up with family and friends?
When we cannot gather together in our churches to worship God?

How can we celebrate Easter?
When many people are preoccupied with the health of loved ones,
whom they cannot be near in their time of crisis?
When friends and family members die alone,
are buried or cremated without mourners,
or stored in temporary morgues?
when even our Prime Minister has been seriously ill in intensive care?

How can we celebrate Easter?
When jobs are lost, businesses collapsing, the economy floundering?
How can we celebrate Easter?
How can we sing Alleluia?
In these times of crisis it’s perhaps worth thinking back to that first Easter...

The first Easter was not euphoric or enthusiastically celebrated.

No one dressed in their best clothes to visit the temple.

There was no chocolate, no egg hunting, no fancy bonnets.

Jesus’ closest friends had fled and deserted him.  One of them had betrayed him, then, filled with remorse, taken his own life.  Another had denied even knowing him.  In three of the gospel accounts, not one of them had been with Jesus when he died.  He was buried hurriedly, without ceremony, in the nearest available grave.  Some women had looked on, watching, but from a safe distance.

Jesus’ eleven remaining friends holed themselves away in a locked upstairs room.

The women who had watched from a distance came belatedly to the tomb to do what they could for Jesus’ body with spices and ointments.  They came early, before other people were about, distancing themselves from others.

When they saw the empty tomb, and the stranger(s) in white who said Jesus had risen, they were filled with fear.  In Mark’s gospel they flee and tell no one.  In Matthew’s gospel they run to tell the disciples.  In Luke’s gospel they tell the disciples, but most of the disciples are sceptical.  Only Peter goes to see for himself, then goes home, amazed.  Two confused followers journey back to Emmaus from Jerusalem, joined by a stranger they don’t recognise who engages them in conversation about recent events.  It’s late into the evening when they finally see him for who he is – and race back to tell the other disciples.  Only after that does the risen Jesus appear to all eleven.

In John’s gospel there is similar confusion, disbelief then gradual realisation – of Mary Magdalene, of Peter and the beloved disciple, of the other disciples, except Thomas, then finally of Thomas too.

What emerges about the first Easter is that it was a time of great upheaval, a time when in grief the correct customs couldn’t be properly observed, a time of confusion, of disbelief, of rumours.  But eventually a time of gradual realisation...and yes, joy.  It didn’t all happen at the start of that first Easter morning.  No, that’s when it began to happen...but the understanding and celebrations happened, bit by bit, over a much longer period of time.  Not until several weeks later, at Pentecost, did the disciples emerge from the security of their self-imposed lock-down and begin to spread the word enthusiastically among anyone who would listen that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.

How did the disciples celebrate that first Easter?  With hesitation, uncertainty, disbelief and doubt.  With confusion and amazement.  With fear and great joy.

The events of the first Holy Week and Easter completely shook up Jesus’ little community of followers.  Things would never be the same again.  When they were ready to emerge from the security of the upper room, they were a transformed group who would go on to found one of the world’s largest faiths, confidently spreading the good news of the risen Jesus, loving and caring for each other and for many other people.


Being in lock-down for a prolonged time has shaken our nation, and indeed our world, up to the point where we will emerge very differently.  At the moment it’s too early to see exactly what that will look like.  But this drastic situation has forced us to re-evaluate what’s important to us.  We have been forced to let go of things that shaped our daily life and to learn new routines.  Some writers have likened this to the chrysalis stage of a butterfly – the caterpillar spins its cocoon, hides away for a period of time during which its insides are completely transformed – into something new and beautiful.

So if you’re not feeling very much like celebration this Easter, that’s OK.  It’s OK for Easter to take some time to emerge.  There will be more confusion, rumour, disbelief to come.  And once we do emerge from our lockdown state, the new reality will be different from the reality we left behind in early March.

You may not much feel like singing Alleluia.  At least not yet.  But there are other songs we can sing.  John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community composed a hymn that’s really appropriate for an Easter when no one feels much like celebration.  It’s called “Christ has risen while Earth slumbers” – you can find a link to the words, and a meditation on them by Revd. Fiona Bennett of the Methodist Church here…


...and you can find the tune played, without the words, by following this link here…


So let’s hold on to the Easter promise of new life.  Let’s hold on to the joy of the resurrected Christ.  And let us look forward in hope to the new life that will surely emerge from these strange and uncertain times.  Have a happy Easter!

Catherine, Lay Reader

The Prayers

Let us bring out prayers to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in sure and certain hope that he hears us when we call, whether gathered together or scattered in our homes, and answers our prayer in accordance with his will and everlasting love.
On this Easter Day we rejoice in the glorious news of the resurrection of Jesus, lifting our hearts and minds to see what God has done and know that it is marvellous. Bless your church this day, we pray, here and across the world as we celebrate this most wonderful and holy moment in our year in homes, in families, or in isolation. May your Spirit bind us together in the unity of your love and give us peace and joy in our hearts this day.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
We prayer for governments and health officials as they make challenging decisions for the health of nations that they may be wise and fair in all they do. We prayer for all working to keep us supplied with essential goods and for those turning their skills and talents to new lines of production or ways of working to serve their communities. We give thanks for their dedication, resourcefulness, patience and care.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
We pray for those giving vital medical and nursing care that they may be strengthened and protected in their work. We pray for thsoe who are vulnerable, elderly or with special needs that they may receive the care and support they need. Make us all servants of each other in love, that our communities may be strong and thrive even in these difficult times.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
We pray for those for whom this is a time of stress, anxiety and pain; for those worried about money, or whether their business or job will survive and for those struggling to cope with isolation. We pray for families where the stresses of this time feel intolerable and are pushing people to breaking point. Hear the cries of the desperate, we pray, and lead them to your peace.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
We pray for parents with children at home. May they find ways to enjoy this family time together and celebrate the enrichment of shared experience. We pray for those parents struggling to entertain and educate their children that they may find new avenues to create fun and learning together, and for young people whose hopes and dreams appear to be in ruins at present. Lift them up, breathe new life into their dreams, encourage them to look beyond the narrow confines of today and reach out towards a reimagined, freshly inspired future.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
We remember all those who have died, and especially those who have died in hospital away from loved ones. We pray for those whose hearts are breaking with grief and sorrow.
At this Eastertide, may we all know the power of your everlasting promises. Fill your people with the joy and hope of your eternal love that meets us in mysterious ways in the secret places of our hearts and gently lifts the darkness of our sorrow with the softening glow of your glorious light.  May we then shine as lights in the world around us.
Shower us with your love
That our hearts may rejoice.
Lord, you promise that where two or three are gathered together in your name, you will hear their prayers and grant their requests. Hear us as we pray in our homes, our families, in scattered groups or on our own. Lead us into your truth and guide us to your everlasting kingdom.