How unusual are these times?
The church is out ahead of the rest of the world.
I can't ever remember that happening in my ministry before, but here we are, on April 12,
coming out of quarantine, or as we usually call it, Lent.
Lent is the forty day period of prayer and fasting (doing without) in preparation for the fifty day feast of Easter, a kind of spiritual lockdown.
We do this every year, because liturgy is practice for life, and it's good to have some muscle
memory built up when world conditions demand a fast or a feast.
Quarantine is an Italian word from the seventeenth century meaning "space of forty days" – the standard period of isolation for a ship suspected of carrying disease.
An English version of the word, quarentyne, refers to the desert in which Christ fasted 40 days:
our template for Lent.
Today, our Lenten quarantine is over even as our social quarantine continues.
Like Christians of every time and place and circumstance, we are part of two different
realities at the same time.
Therefore we stay home, and we also celebrate.
We live and grieve and isolate in the present with joyful confidence in God's future.
In Paul's words to the citizens of Philippi, our citizenship is in heaven.
Jesus walked through the kingdom of Herod initiating people into the kingdom of heaven.
Two different realities, two different realms at the same time, and we have dual citizenship.
We are part of the world that God so loves that needs us to stay in quarantine, and we are
part of the risen body of Christ that will be confined no longer.
Both spirit and flesh, already and not yet, saints and sinners, Christians and Californians, mortals and eternals, we are now the living bridge between this world's today and God's
If that feels scary to you, you're paying attention.
The first step on this bridge, the initial threshold, is Easter morning, which is drenched in terror.
Too many years of lilies and smiling faces may have obscured this for us, but this weird year
helps us see and feel the overwhelming fear coarsing throughout Matthew's story.
In a cemetery, there's an earthquake and a blinding flash of lightning that opens a grave and starts talking.
For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
The women ran away with fear...and great joy.
They are not mutually exclusive.
Ask a woman who has just learned she is pregnant for the first time about fear and great
It is the natural response to new life.
Internet scouts warn, and promise, that after this pandemic quarantine, life will not be the same.
This is the truth of Easter, which is the birth of a new reality.
That's why the angel of the Lord shows up.
We haven't seen him in Matthew's gospel since chapter 2, directing the faithful when
Jesus was born, which sent the authorities into a panic, which is exactly what happens
next: the priests bribe the woozy soldiers to claim the disciples stole the body.
But lying politicians cannot contain the viral outbreak of new life.
Things will forever be different now.
Easter is the newborn hope the church carries home from a graveyard that God has retooled into a maternity ward with fear and great joy.
Do not be afraid, says a familiar voice, echoing the angel of the Lord, who says that to everyone except Chuck Norris, because they always are.
Do not be afraid, says Jesus, who appears out of nowhere when the women were no longer
looking for him.
Tell the others where to find me.
And where is that?
I will meet them in Galilee.
I will meet them where I first met them.
I will meet them where they live, the place they return when they are scared and need to
feel safe, the place they hide and isolate and try to cling to the familiar and the normal.
I will meet them in food and drink and water and words.
I will meet them among familiar faces in the place they know better than anywhere else.
Tell them that I will show up suddenly in their everyday life; there they will see me.
Tell them that the kingdom of heaven has come near.
Tell them that God is no longer quarantined in a distant sky or a dingy tomb but is with you in your flesh and blood and a loyalty so strong that even death cannot contain it.
Tell them that what the Dread Pirate Roberts said to Buttercup at the bottom of the hill is true:
Death cannot stop true love; all it can do is delay it for awhile.
As the world waits and worries in delay, we hear mixed messages.
Those in power with a vested interest in keeping it will reward us handsomely to spread
Or we can tell the truth, that quarantine yields to connection, that Christ is risen and somewhere out ahead of us to lead us through the terrors to new life, that the world is now pregnant with new hope, and that yes, fear is very real but no, fear is not the last word.
The newborn world, the last and lasting word, is great joy.