Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! It is so weird to say those words to a sanctuary that sits basically empty. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, but it is the way it is this year. These pews are supposed to be full. I’d look out and see you wearing your Easter best. Some of you might have fancy hats on. Our children would already be hyped up candy from their Easter baskets. At the sunrise service, we would have flowered the cross. Before and after this service you would have come up to get your pictures taken with the cross. There would be brass, trumpeting the good news of Christ’s resurrection. The choir would be filling the chancel. The band would be huge. The music would be loud. The smiles would be brilliant. I’m so glad it’s Easter, but my gladness is paired with sadness that we have to do Easter this way this year. Now, I completely get why we have to do things this way. I’m 100% sure we’re doing the right thing, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t grief accompanying all of this. If you’re following along in the bulletin that we send in the Friday email, you’ll notice that we’ve set up today’s service in three parts. It begins in celebration because of course it should. It’s Easter. We are a resurrection people, and we believe in the power of God to speak life where there was death. Christ is risen! Of that I have no doubt, nor do I doubt the power of God to speak life even into our challenges in these moments. But the grief and lament are still real. So, we’ve labeled the portion of the service from the Prayer of Confession through now “lament.” Why lament on Easter? With confession, we remember that the sins of the world are what brought Jesus to the cross. We are a part of that, and it should strike within us a profound sense of grief. In my time with the children, I spoke about the meaning of the flowering of the cross, and I’m sure all of us are sad that this can’t happen as it usually does. Then we heard a beautiful poem by Christina Rosetti that is a plaintive reminder that this crucifixion is a source of life for us. Then we had music from the music Godspell, which is a song of exile. We’ll return to celebration, but let’s stay in lament for just a bit longer. This is Easter in exile. It is hard. With our eyes fixed on God’s promises and with all the strength we can muster to carry each other, we will get through this, but this is the first Easter in my life where I feel lament as the chief emotion, not ecstatic joy. We’re not used to anything like this. This season might cause us to reflect on how exceptionally decent life is for us most of the time. Grief and lament are things we only know occasionally – the death of a loved one, the loss of a dream, the hope disappointed. Yet, our faith gives us all the tools we need for grief. The psalms are filled with lament. Almost one-third of the psalms are laments, if you’re ever looking to put words to what you’re feeling. This year I felt myself drawn to one of those psalms of lament—number 137. This psalm emerges from a national crisis, different from ours but a crisis nonetheless. Around 587 B.C. the Babylonian Empire invaded Jerusalem and carried its inhabitants into exile in Babylon. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the Jews. Your tradition tells you that God promised a particular land to your ancestor Abraham. After centuries, Moses leads your ancestors out of slavery in Egypt towards this Promised Land. Your people are finally home. Yet a couple of hundred years later the Assyrians attack the northern kingdom of Israel and claim that land, leaving only the southern kingdom standing. A couple of centuries later, the Babylonians arrive and finish the deal. So, the Jews are hundreds of miles from home. They are under foreign rule. They have lost all that they thought was secure. It’s as though their beating hearts are ripped from their chests. Their feelings are so raw, when they pen these words for worship. 1 By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our harps. 3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? The musical Godspell takes these sorrowful words and turns them into the song “On the Willows” towards the end of the show. Jesus is surrounded by his disciples for the Last Supper. He predicts Judas’ betrayal, and Judas flees to turn Jesus over to the authorities. The song comes at this climatic moment where the present feels lost but where they are hoping for a better future. In the words of Shakespeare “parting is such sweet sorrow,” and Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane alone to entrust the coming hours and days to God. It’s a scene that ties the final moments of Jesus’ life to the Babylonian exile, providing a sense that we are still not home yet. Someday we will be, but not yet. Typically on Easter morning, we’ve jumped straight to the joy of resurrection. The tomb is empty! Jesus is alive! Yet, those aren’t the immediate emotions of Easter, so even now Scripture speaks truthfully into our situation. This is why we work so hard at encouraging the whole church to walk together the steps of Holy Week. When we only hit Sunday, we move from the celebration of Palm Sunday straight to the joy of Easter Sunday. The six days in between those two important Sundays are filled with depths of meaning and emotion that are best experienced piece by piece. When we take that slow walk through Holy Week, we see Jesus’ righteous anger at those who are selling access to God at the Temple. We hear some of Jesus’ most pointed teachings about the kingdom of God. We listen to him predict what is going to happen to him but also some of the trouble that will happen even after his death. We experience the intimacy of the Last Supper, the horror of Jesus’ betrayal by one of his friends, the descent of sadness as Jesus’ is falsely convicted, and the horrific brutality of Rome crucifying Jesus. From that cross, we hear Jesus cry out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” This isn’t triumphant. How utterly terrifying to feel that God has abandoned you in your time of greatest need. Yet, “There is a mysterious irony that God indeed was closest to Jesus in the moments of apparent absence on the cross. Through Christ’s presence in our lives today, we can claim that irony at the pain points of our own experience. The crucifixion and the resurrection together witness to a powerful piece of good news. The reconciling, light-bearing God is never closer to us than during those times when we demand to know why God has stood us up. In our time of need, our risen Lord is our very present help. In tough times, our emotional state may fluctuate from anger to despair to hope. The steady reality of the resurrection grounds us—mind, heart, and body—in the knowledge of a God whose love stronger than death.” When Jesus was crucified on Friday, the grief and the fear for his followers was real. The amazing man who had loved them, taught them, and shaped them was taken from them in a matter of hours through the callous justice of Rome. Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and now Sunday morning, they continued in their grief. Two women named Mary have come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, when they find the stone rolled away and Jesus not there. The first emotions of Easter are grief. Next comes confusion. Perhaps then comes wonder and hope, but Easter begins in grief and lament. Matthew’s gospel is pretty sparing on details of the resurrection, but what he gives is pretty stunning. The women show up grieving. They are greeted by an earthquake, an event that would make any of us remember well what happened afterwards. This is followed by an angel coming down from the sky, moving the huge rolling stone and perching on top of it. The angel shines like the brightest star in the sky. The guards are stunned to silence, but the angel speaks 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.” So, the women’s fear turns from curiosity and wonder. The see for themselves that Jesus is gone. The angel tells them to share the news with the disciples – Jesus has been raised from the dead and he has gone ahead of you to Galilee, which is a couple days’ journey north of Jerusalem. Their day started with grief and lament. It moved to terror and then wonder. Now Matthew reports that they left the tomb “quickly with fear and great joy.” Their emotions are all over the place. Fear and joy. And here’s what I find so interesting. Jesus interrupts even this. The women don’t even get to the disciples before Jesus meets them. He was supposed to be in Galilee, but I think he was so excited to share this news with them, he couldn’t wait. In their moment of greatest hurt and confusion, Jesus met them there. Madeleine L’Engle describes this reality in her own life: ‘The summer my husband was dying, and I knew he was dying, I never felt closer to God. This is something I cannot explain. It was there. That summer, we ate out on the terrace. Night after night, there were the most gorgeous sunsets. There hasn’t been a summer of sunsets like that since. God just laid on these sunsets for us.” Just like that Jesus interrupts our grief. I think that’s the message he has for us this Easter while we feel like we’re in exile. Even into that space, the good news of resurrection breaks in. It comes in at an unexpected time and brings good news. “The truth of the resurrection is made manifest in those who live ‘as if…’ Are we living each day as if God is working to bring good from evil, hope from despair, life from death? Are we living as if God can bring justice to the oppressed? Are we living as if we understand God’s blessing on our lives?” Friends, we are in a difficult time. We are literally in our homes but not feeling at home in the least. We are ready for things to get better. I believe the good news of Easter interrupts us even now. It enters the wash of emotions we’re feeling and calls us to life even now. In the words of another psalm of lament, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14) I believe we shall see God’s goodness soon and very soon. Friends, be strong and take heart. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Amen.