Easter Sunday 2020 - Death will not stand
I’d like an angel just now. I’ve never been a particularly big one for angels, but I’d really like an angel to pop up in the kitchen just now. Even if they had to keep social distancing, it would be great to see an angel. Angels only pop up at really important points in Jesus’ life. When Mary was given the job of becoming his mother. On the night he was born. When he was in the wilderness thinking about his ministry. When his friends got a glimpse of him in glory on the mountaintop. And now, at Jesus’ empty tomb. Angels almost always have the same opening line. ‘Do not be afraid.’ ‘Don’t be afraid.’ At the moment I am afraid. Lots of us are afraid. We are afraid of this horrid disease called COVID19. We are afraid for the health of people we love. We are afraid that our hospitals won’t cope. We are afraid that exam marks won’t be fair. We are afraid that there will be no job to go back to, that we won’t be able to pay the rent, that there will be no food in the shops. We are afraid that life will never be the same again. Wouldn’t it be great to have an angel that pops up in the kitchen and says ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Because if anyone else says that to us; mum and dads, friends, family, chief medical officers, the government, it doesn’t really work. Not really. Don’t be afraid. Being told not to be frightened doesn’t make us less frightened. A bit like being told to calm down never makes us calm down. That’s why it would be good to have an angel, a messenger from God. Someone who when they say ‘Don’t be afraid’ we can believe, because they can be sure, they’ve seen the end of the story. But the amazing thing is that even though we are afraid, good things are happening. Hope is popping up all over the place. Even though we are shut in our houses looking at the four walls and an uncertain future, even though we are afraid, light is breaking through the dark. Neighbours are looking after neighbours they have barely spoken to before. People are phoning old friends and new acquaintances to let them know they care. In myriad acts of kindness and connection, people are shopping and phoning and picking up prescriptions and volunteering and praying and clapping and sewing and loving. Medical staff are risking their own lives for us by simply turning up at work. Light is breaking in. Good is coming from this Coronavirus, and if we get to the other side, when we get to the other side, we may find a world that is poorer but more gentle, more thoughtful, more generous, more Christ like. But that’s not the Easter story. That’s not what the angels talk about when they give the message ‘don’t be afraid.’ The good news of Easter is not that God’s plan is to use Coronavirus to teach us how to be better people. That’s nonsense. God doesn’t work like that. The good news of Easter is something else. The empty tomb tells us something else. The resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us that good coming out of Coronavirus is not enough. Good deeds and community spirit and an out pouring of neighbourly love are signs of the resurrection, of God transforming the worst of things into the best of things. But they are not enough. Because all this good, and there is good, is not enough, it is just the first grey fingers of dawn breaking the dark. All the good we can see does not, cannot justify the death this virus brings. God doesn’t use Coronavirus as part of some celestial lesson to make us better people. Instead, God takes death and smashes it apart. God takes the tomb and smashes it open with the unstoppable power of eternal life. God says ‘death will not stand.’ In the resurrection, God says ‘I will not allow this virus, any disease or disaster to take the people I love from me.’ When the angels say ‘do not be afraid’ they are not saying ‘everything will be OK, don’t worry. Nothing will go wrong, everything will turn out for the best.’ No, because that’s true. Not yet. Instead, the angels promise that whatever we face, God is with us, God is the end of the story. Do not be afraid. This resurrection means that God will be with us, God is with us. God will carry us even through death, so that death is not the end. In this resurrection God carries us right through to the other side. So, maybe I don’t need an angel after all. Maybe all I need are those creeping fingers of dawn, enough, just enough so that when I bend over and look into the tomb there is enough light to see. To make out that the tomb is empty, Jesus is risen, death is destroyed.