Bestowing Life – Br. James Koester
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Romans 6: 3 – 11
Matthew 28: 1 – 10
I’m sure that we all know someone like this. Maybe it’s even yourself. We all know someone who isn’t very good at telling jokes. Sometimes that’s about timing. Maybe their timing is off. Perhaps they don’t have a sense of irony, and take everything too literally. Then again their humour might be too clever, or too dark, or too dry, for you to find funny. Sometimes if the punch line is too obscure, and the joker has to explain things, the joke falls flat, and no one finds it funny, except perhaps the teller. And some jokes, are just really terrible, or even cruel. There is a lot to making a good joke funny, especially if it is one that is retold over and over again. While some jokes never seem to be funny, other are funny no matter how many times they are told.
These last few weeks, I have the feeling that I have been trapped in the middle of a really terrible and cruel joke. This physical distancing, quarantine, self-isolation is wearing really thin. I am so done with it all. I want it to be over. If this pandemic is someone’s idea of a joke, it’s not a very funny one. If COVID-19 is someone’s idea of a joke, it’s a pretty cruel one. Things aren’t funny anymore. They aren’t even fun, and the novelty, or entertainment factor, lost its charm a long time ago.
For a number of people I know, perhaps for you as well, the joke is no longer funny, if it ever was. This has been a very strange Lent, and life under lockdown is no longer fun, or funny. It is certainly no joke. I expect that Easter will be more of the same, neither a joke, nor funny, nor even fun. It will simply be strange. With our churches closed; our ability to gather reduced to only those with whom we live; our opportunities to worship reduced to what we can do remotely, Lent has taken on an unfamiliar quality. It is like no other Lent any of us have ever known before. Even for us Brothers, the absence of anyone other than other Brothers, has had a profound effect on our daily worship. While we have been able to maintain the daily rhythms of our corporate worship, it simply has not been the same, and we have worked hard to use this chapel creatively, so that we don’t simply feel lost in it.
With all this in the background, or more to the point, right in front of our eyes, it would be easy to say that Lent hasn’t felt like Lent this year, and Easter will feel even less like Easter. Sure the weather is improving, but just seeing a few photos of Palm Sunday, or listening to an audio stream of Tenebrae, or watching a webcast of Maundy Thursday is not the same as being here. Participating in something remotely, is not the same as being here in person. Yes, we can watch, or hear, or see, but that does not compare with the sense of connection, inclusion, or participation, that comes when we are actually there.
For a lot of people then, perhaps for you, Lent has not felt like Lent, and today perhaps does not feel like Easter. After all, where are the crowds? Where is the feeling of community? Where is the joy we have in sharing something significant with those we know and love? How on earth can today be Easter, if none of the familiar touchstones are present?
There is a story told of Father Benson, our Founder. Some parishioners were away for a few Sundays, perhaps visiting family or friends. When they came back they reported to Father Benson that while they had indeed been to Church while they were away, it was not feel the same as the Sunday Eucharist at Cowley St. John, where Father Benson was the Vicar; it did not feel like Church; it did not feel like the Eucharist, they reported to him. Far from being sympathetic to their plight, Father Benson’s response was telling. If the Eucharist did not feel like the Eucharist somewhere else, no amount of feeling would make the Eucharist the Eucharist at Cowley St. John. For the Eucharist to be the Eucharist at Cowley St. John, then it must also be the Eucharist wherever it was celebrated, regardless of feeling.
We say in our Rule of Life that the power of the [Eucharist] is not dependent on our mental clarity or warmth of feeling. The same could be said of Easter. The power of Easter is not dependent on our mental clarity or warmth of feeling. The truth of Easter lies, not in how we feel, but in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
It may feel at the moment as if we are living in the middle of a terrible and cruel joke. Yet still Mary Magdalene and the other Mary make their way to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. It may not feel like Easter today. Yet still there is a great earthquake. We may feel lost, alone, and frightened. Yet still the angel comes and rolls away the stone. Life may not be the same as it was last year, or even last month. Yet still the guards shake and became like dead men. We may feel sad, and perhaps not a little depressed. Yet still the angels say to us, do not be afraid. We may be worried about ourselves, or someone we know, and love. Yet still the angel proclaims to us, He is not here, for He has been raised. 
We may feel as if we are living in the middle of a truly terrible and cruel joke. Yet Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! It may not feel like Easter today. Yet Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! We may feel lost, alone, and frightened. Yet Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! Life may not be the same as it was last year, or even last month. Yet Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! We may feel sad, and perhaps not a little depressed. Yet Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! We may be worried about ourselves, or someone we know, and love. Yet Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
The truth of Easter lies, not in how we feel, but in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
We may feel any number of things today, and still Jesus Christ is risen; for if He is not risen today, when all seems dark, and lost, and sad, then he was not risen last year, or the one before that, or the one before that.
Today is Easter, not because it feels like Easter, but because the promise of God is life and love, and we see that in Jesus Christ. Today is Easter, not because it feels like Easter, but because the promise of God is wholeness, and healing, and we see that in Jesus Christ. Today is Easter, not because of how we feel, but because Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.
Life may feel like a cruel joke today, but Jesus Christ is risen. You may not feel like Easter, but allow those faithful women who went to the tomb early, on the first day of the week, as the sun was dawning, and a new day was breaking, to carry you along with them. You may not feel like Easter, but allow those faithful women to show you what they saw. You may not feel like Easter, but run with those faithful women, who ran with fear and great joy. You may not feel like Easter but through your tears and sorrow, your fear and worry, your dread and anxiety, look for risen Jesus who stands before you, saying Greetings!
It may not feel like Easter, but still Jesus Christ is risen today! Alleluia!
 This story about Father Benson was told to me by Father Mark Woodruff. I don’t know his source.
 SSJE, Rule of Life, The Eucharist, chapter 17, page 35
 Matthew 28: 1
 Matthew 28: 2
 Matthew 28: 2
 Matthew 28: 4
 Matthew 28: 5
 Matthew 28: 6
 Orthodox Paschal Troparion for Easter Day
 Matthew 28: 8
 Matthew 28: 9
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