Sermon: A Message and Mission of Hope in the Midst of Calamity and Emptiness

Sunday, April 12, 2020
Easter Sunday
Salem Lutheran Church, Fontanelle, NE
Preachers: Pastor Day Hefner, Pastor Allison Siburg, Pastor Shari Schwedhelm, Pastor Heidi Wallace
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Pastor Day Hefner
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE

Good morning and happy Easter once again to you all!  It has been a delight and privilege to get to gather with these wonderful colleagues as we walk through the journey of these days of Holy Week and now Easter morning together.  

We realized what a neat opportunity it is to have four female preachers coming together to proclaim the good news, just as the good news was first proclaimed by women on that first Easter day, standing outside the empty tomb.  (Admittedly, it did take the lone male of our entourage to point this out, haha.)  So rather than have just one of us give the sermon this morning, we decided that all four of us would offer our own perspectives, and share the good news with you in our own particular ways. 

And that good news – the gospel good news of the resurrection – this morning begins with an earthquake.  And we’re not talking about a small tremor either.  This was an earthquake strong enough to dislodge the massive boulder that had been rolled across the entrance of Jesus’ tomb and sealed there to make sure that no one would be able to break in and steal his body. 

I’ve only ever been in one earthquake, but it left a lasting impression.  I’m originally from Nebraska, where the ground does not shake.  In my experience, the ground had always been solid and stable and trustworthy – so when I felt the earth move and shake beneath me, it was utterly bewildering.  I felt scared and even a little bit betrayed.  I had absolutely no idea what to do or how bad it would be or even how long it would last.  

And this is how the resurrection story begins.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to see the tomb where their friend and savior has just been buried.  Their grief is still raw and fresh; their eyes are still red and puffy from weeping, and their bodies are exhausted by stress and sorrow.  Their whole world has been turned upside down in a matter of days – everything has changed – even before the literal earth begins to shake beneath their feet.  

Yet even in that moment of grief and fear and confusion and loss – even before Mary and Mary and the disciples are aware of it – God has acted.  Jesus Christ has risen from the dead – and they are only moments away from seeing him face to face.  

That first Easter probably did not feel very Easter-y at all – not in the way we are used to experiencing Easter.  And this year, our Easter celebrations do not feel particularly Easter-y either.  I can imagine that you, like me, are longing to gather once again with your congregations for a full and embodied celebration of Jesus’ victory over death.  Like me, you probably long for an end to this pandemic and for life to return to something like normalcy.  

But know this truth: even in the midst of calamity, in the midst of sickness and fear and even death, God is with us.  And the good news of Easter is every bit as true in this moment as it was when the Marys wept, when the earth shook, and when the stone was moved: Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.

Pastor Allison Siburg
Salem Lutheran Church, Fontanelle, NE

When Mary Magdelene and the other Mary heard the angel’s instructions, they knew they had a mission they couldn’t refuse. 

They were tasked with telling Jesus’ disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead, that he’s already out ahead of you in Galilee, and you’ll see him there. Quite possibly with the most important message, these women were quickly off and running. As they ran, they were filled with fear and great joy.

They were over the moon that Jesus did as he said – that on the third day he would rise again, and be alive once more. They were filled with joy beyond compare. 

And yet, talking to an angel… knowing someone was dead but is now alive, and being commissioned to share the Good News… that Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia! – well… with all that going on… no wonder they were a little scared too. 

I know that many of us have been on a roller-coaster lately of being a little (or a lot) scared too, and being filled with joys at little victories, things going right, or good news coming your way. 

This season of Lent has not been for the faint of heart. I’ve seen our high school graduates get their plans postponed for graduations. I’ve seen gatherings postponed, family parties, birthdays, work plans, trips all get cancelled or moved off to a ‘to be determined’ date. I’ve heard you grieve not begin able to worship in person, and know that I too so long for the day when we safely can. 

In this time of pandemic, we have felt it all – scared, joy, relief, disappointment, trying again and trying again and trying again.

But even so, the Easter story reminds us that even in the darkest and most confusing winding valleys, God remains steadfast. 

And not only does God remain steadfast—God’s call remains steadfast. Calling and commanding us to love one another like we heard on Maundy Thursday. Promising to walk with us through the darkness and relentless trails of Good Friday. God’s call, like the call these women hear to share the Good News – God’s call isn’t for the most polished disciples or the most chipper followers. No, this call to be messengers, especially this Easter day, is for you and me, and people like these women, who are at times terribly scared, and who are at times, filled with endless, hopeful unending joy. 

Let us hear our call, and let us feel our feet and our legs and our whole bodies begging to be the next one that might hear “Go quickly and tell the disciples.” 

Pastor Shari Schwedhelm
Salem Lutheran Church and St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Fremont, NE

Grace and peace to you from our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,

Friends in Christ, although we gather this morning in spirit, on the radio, online, and via technology, we know this gathering does not compare to our typical celebration of Easter morning.  This sanctuary is empty. We hear these echoes, and that makes us sad.  Something is missing. It feels wrong.

We live in a world where full is good and empty is bad, but in most cases, full is also fleeting. But I want to assure you that, especially today, on Easter morning, empty is good! And Easter is especially good for empty people.

Throughout his earthly life, Jesus filled empty spaces. He filled empty jars with water and turned them to wine at a wedding feast in Cana. When faced with a crowd of people who had empty stomachs, he took a boy’s small lunch and turned it into a feast that filled them all, leaving baskets of leftovers to spare. Our God longs to fill that ache of emptiness inside each one of us more than any other emptiness in the world. 

For the two Marys, as they approached the tomb that morning, even their hands were empty as they went to grieve.  But what they saw and heard changed the world forever. God used that earthquake and the angel to roll away the stone – not to let Jesus out, but to let us in, to see the empty tomb and to fill our hearts with joy. 

That empty tomb showed us that life would never be empty again. Jesus has defeated death, conquered sin, and set us free. Because Jesus lives, we will have eternal life, and our lives are full of peace, joy, and hope. Jesus fills our lives with his constant presence even when we face challenges, and he brings purpose and direction to our days. The empty tomb provides a very full life.

Like the women at the tomb on Easter morning, we may have come to celebrate today with a bit of an empty heart. We were not expecting much this year. Perhaps these feelings will remind us that our lives are truly empty without Jesus. No matter how we try to fill that emptiness, the result will always be more emptiness.  While the world gives us promises full of emptiness, God gives us emptiness full of promise.  

And so today, we will celebrate Easter and the empty tomb, as we proclaim:

Christ is risen!  He is risen Indeed! Alleluia! And may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Pastor Heidi Wallace
Bethany Lutheran Church and First Presbyterian Church, Lyons, NE

Grace and peace to you in the name in which we are baptized, that of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Of course.  

Of course, in the midst of their grief and despair, there was an earthquake.  

Of course, on top of the coronavirus, today we have a forecast of wind, rain, sleet, snow, thunder, and lightning.  

Of course, today we have problems with the wi-fi.  

The first disciples knew it as well as we do today: things pile up on us.  But of course, there was also emptiness.  And we sometimes name our emptiness as “bad,” or as more specific than that even.  We give it names such as “isolation,” “separation,” “depression.”  And we fail to see that there can be any good in emptiness – until we are reminded.  

And so today, just as the women at the tomb needed to hear it, just as the first disciples needed to hear it, just as all we as Christ’s disciples need to hear it, there is the message.  Of course, it’s for us.  Do not be afraid.  Christ is risen!  Go quickly and tell.  

In the midst of all of this, this is the message we have been given to believe with our whole hearts, with our whole lives.  And when the wi-fi is working, we can go quickly and tell, faster than the women could run, we can send our messages today: happy Easter!  Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!  

Let it come from every time, every place, across all nations around the world.  Let this be our message today and always, in the midst of the bad, in the midst of the empty.  We have a story to tell.  Happy Easter.  Christ is risen.  Christ is risen indeed.  Alleluia and amen.

2 thoughts on “Sermon: A Message and Mission of Hope in the Midst of Calamity and Emptiness

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  1. Reblogged this on Timothy Siburg and commented:
    What happens when four good pastors collaborate for the liturgies, journey, and celebrations of Holy Week and Easter? Well, this is one of the things that happens. Thank you all for sharing the Gospel- good news in a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear! None of these have the last word. We have a story to tell. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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