Livestreamed service

John 20:1-18

        If you’ve never gone to the Northampton Pride parade and festival, let me tell you: It is something to behold. Held every first Saturday in May for 38 years running, it was a guaranteed celebration of love, pride, joy, community, and freedom.

        Feeling sad? Go to NoHo Pride, where joy flows like a river.

        Feeling lonely? Go to NoHo Pride, where some 40,000 people of all races, gender identities, and sexual orientations will celebrate—loudly and proudly—the unique creation that is you. College students, families of all kinds, and children will line both sides of the street, cheering you on. The turban-wearing Sikh man and his wife who run the package store near the underpass will give you a free water or soda. Some people will be so overcome at the sight of someone like you that, their eyes filling with tears, they will run into the street to give you a hug.

        Want to see life in all its vulnerability and glory? Go to Pride.

        Over the years NoHo Pride also became the place for churches to join the raucous affirmation of queer life. Pride was a way for us to share God’s love with people who, underneath all the pride and joy, carried scars of rejection and exclusion. Pride was an opportunity for us to say, “See? We, too, are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and more. Come feel and share the love.”

        For most of the past decade, the First Church Amherst Pride contingent numbered somewhere between 20 and 30 people. We marched along the parade route, and we paid to have a booth at the Fairgrounds. There we would give away buttons and lemonade, answer questions, and offer blessings and communion to go. It was a lot of work, but it was holy and fun and life-giving.

        And then came the spring of 2020, and with it the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. In an amazing demonstration of commitment  and adaptability, the NoHo Pride organizers declared that Pride would go on, if only virtually. We and other participants were invited to submit brief video clips, which organizers stitched into an online Pride celebration.

        Spring 2021 came and went; Covid vaccines were available, but many people had yet to receive them. Most people were still not gathering in public. There was no Pride observance, not even a word of explanation.

        Meanwhile, organizations, businesses, and communities of faith continued to adapt and innovate. We endured the Delta spike and the Omicron surge, welcoming folks to in-person events while continuing to live-stream for those who needed to stay home. Conditions remained challenging, and pandemic fatigue was both real and deep, but we were making progress.

        And then came the recent word from NoHo Pride: “The same parade and festival that we’ve all known and loved for many years has become an incredibly challenging undertaking for our small group to plan.”

        No “what do you think?” No invitation to join the work to make Pride happen this year. Just a simple, straightforward announcement: This year, when multiple states are passing “don’t say gay” laws and criminalizing the support of trans kids, there would be no Pride parade or festival. There would be no online celebration. There would be nothing.

        It was as if, while remembering how hard the work was, the organizers had forgotten what joy their work produced. It was as if, in struggling to maintain their own lives, they had forgotten that Pride was an invaluable lifeline for others.

        Now I don’t mean to be harsh, and I certainly don’t want to pick on individuals who’ve done a great job for many years. But sometimes something happens that clarifies things. Often we can see self-sabotaging behavior in others that we fail to see in ourselves. And every once in a while, even the most discouraging news can open our eyes to an important truth.

        And this, my friends, this—thank God—is where Easter comes in.

        Easter means many things, of course, among them that Love is stronger than the powers of empire, violence, greed, and hatred. That death and defeat are not the end of the story—because God is at work in every every story, and God is love. That the cycle of death and violence can be broken when we, like Jesus, turn away from the human love of power and, instead, surrender to the power of love. That new and transformed life can be ours, and that this is what God wants for everyone. That Love always wins, eventually.

        We come to this Easter Sunday more than two years into a deadly and discouraging pandemic. We come to this Easter Sunday almost two months into a brutal war in which Russian forces have shown no respect for Ukrainian life.

        This Easter comes to remind us that the Fount of Life and Source of Love has made us and all people and creation for life. We have been made by God not merely to survive, but to live. We have been redeemed by Jesus that we might know life abundant. And we are and sustained and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live as the resurrected, transformed, enlivened children of God, as Easter people.

        And living is not a passive activity.

        It has always taken time and energy and effort to create and participate in the things that give us purpose and meaning, love and joy, family and community, and the hope of peace and justice. But in our pandemic fatigue and general discouragement, many of us have forgotten that choosing to not summon the energy and commitment to create the fullness of life for all will leave us only more tired, more discouraged, and more lifeless.

        It’s enough to make one wonder: After two years of pandemic fear, isolation, separation, and adaptation, have we forgotten how to live?

        Will we manage to break the cycle of fatigue, inaction, discouragement, and death—or will we let it break us?

        Thanks be to God for the empty tomb! Thanks be to God for the Easter call to live with all the love, hope, joy, peace, and community we have been given! And thanks be to God that it is not all up to us.

        One of the many gifts of the Easter story is that Jesus does not rise from the dead by his own power. Jesus does not rise because his disciples understood the mystery, prayed hard, or did all the right things—far from it. Nor is the tomb empty because, as Mary Magdalene believed, the body of Jesus had been stolen.

        Easter reminds us there is a holy power at work in the world that is far greater than what our eyes can see or our minds can grasp. Easter reminds us there is a Love at work in the in the world that is far more powerful than our fear. Easter remind us that no matter what we have done or not done, no matter how many struggles we face, no matter how much we want to give up, no matter how deep the hole we have dug for ourselves or how comfortable our self-made tomb, the stone that separates death from new life has been rolled away by a Love more wondrous than we can imagine.

        Easter assures us that the victory over all manner of death has been won. All we have to do is live as though we believe it. All we have to do is walk away from the places and habit of death and into new life. All we need do is live.

        Like Mary Magdalene, we must remain faithful to the promise, even when it seems that hope has died. Like Simon Peter and the other disciple, we must be willing to investigate each and every report that suggests God’s love is at work. Like Mary, we must bear witness to the mystery with our hearts wide open and, when new life is made manifest, run to share the good news that the Lord of Love, our healer and deliver, indeed lives.

        If we respond to God’s Easter call to come out of our tombs and into the fullness of life we were made for, the question will not be “will it be hard?” but “how can we share the joy?” If we walk by faith out of the tomb of fear and self-concern and into the light of love and self-giving, the question will not be “do we still have to wear masks?” but rather “how will we continue to love our neighbors, to the glory of God and the well being of all creation?”

        Resurrection is rarely an instantaneous event. New life generally happens not all of sudden but over some period of time. But because Christ is risen, we can trust that we, too, are in the process of becoming purer channels of life and love.

        On this Easter Sunday, let us rejoice and give thanks that we have been made for life. We have been made for good. We have been made for love and joy, for far more than our fears would have us settle for. We are made even for glory!

On this Easter Sunday, let us remember that our beautiful but broken world needs people who know what they are made for  and are committed to the fullness of life for all.

        And let us increase our joy by sharing the news: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!