*Transcript of Bishop Russell's 2021 Easter Message. Text reflects Bishop Russell's unique writing style in which he writes his sermons.
"From the Gospel of John 20:11, 'But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.'
I want to take you back 40 days from today to Ash Wednesday. Like most worship services this past year, it was not as usual, even a bit eerie and marked by peculiar protocols including the one that requires everyone to wear a mask. We know that masks are essential, but they sure are a nuisance. Masks cover up so much of our faces; hey hide our emotions & muffle our voices. Masks conceal our smiles. But there is one thing that masks cannot hide…Tears.
I saw a lot of tears on Ash Wednesday this year. I bet you’re not surprised. We are all a bit more in touch with our mortality and our morality. So much has challenged our very existence & what we value in this world. We are weary and we are weighed down by it all.
Philip Yancey once wrote about this weight of life by making the claim that there are 2 great forces that rule the universe...gravity & grace. Gravity is something we learn about in school...it's the force that keeps everything in place…including our very body....gravity is what holds our feet to the earth...& that is a good thing. But there is another aspect to gravity…..a spiritual one….it’s when the weight of life takes hold of our soul and that is not so good.
It may be of our own doing...or it may not be our fault at all. The death of someone we love....divorce...depression...or disease. In truth….it need not be so dramatic…..the ordinary stress of life…..can weigh us down. Whatever it is...the force of gravity is when we get so worn down by it all......so laden w/ grief or guilt or fear....we get stuck in place.
'And Mary stood outside the tomb weeping.' I have always noticed the weeping part. But this year I heard the rest of that verse. Mary stood outside. If you read around this verse you will notice that Peter and the others are running all over the place. But not Mary. Gravity had taken hold of her. She was stuck at that place of death and in that moment of despair.
And why not? Mary had seen it all....she’d watched Jesus die & felt the dead weight of his body in her hands. She had been there the night before he died and felt the weight of his words about leaving them. Even more she was laden w/ the reality of how much had died with Jesus on the cross. His promises of a different way of living and being in the world.
How hard it must have been to get out of bed that morning. How hard it must have been......to walk the streets...knowing what she had to do....her soul is so heavy...she can barely pick up her feet. And then to add insult to injury.....the stone door to the tomb is open...his body is gone. That is the last straw. Mary cannot take another step...the gravity of death takes hold of her...she is stuck in that moment….& she cannot hold back the tears any longer.
Even when she sees Jesus....Mary does not understand, and who can blame her. The gravity of death rules her universe and controls her life, or so she thought.
But then Mary discovers a different force is at work in the universe. 'Mary'......Jesus says. Defying all logic...contrary to gravity itself...Jesus of Nazareth....has been raised from the dead. Jesus is alive....and with his return into time and space....a power has been set loose in the universe......the force of grace.
Easter is when those of us who have known only the force of gravity…begin to taste that something else is at work in this world...and what is at work...is the force of grace.
Easter is God’s invitation to let this force free us from all that weighs us down including our fear of death itself.
Have you noticed how folks are talking about getting a vaccine? I have heard from more than a few people who seemed surprised by their reaction. Tears. Laughter. I have heard from several…and tasted it myself…..what I can only describe as a kind of freedom. I had no idea I was so laden with fear. The fear of getting the disease. The fear of giving it to someone else. The fear of death itself. And how all that fear was weighing on me and shaping how I lived. And as strange as this sounds, I now feel free of much of that.
Please don’t misunderstand me. We need to still remain vigilant and cautious and careful. We still need masks and protocols. But there is something more going on in our midst right now. I wonder if this taste of freedom is what lies at the heart of the freedom God yearns for us all the time. Is this what the power of grace is meant to free us from our fear? And once free, is this how the force of grace inspires us into a deeper, fuller life for our neighbors and for God’s very world?
Grace is the force of heaven that is now at work right here on earth, including in you.
B/c the force of grace is at work...you can be free of the shame and blame of the past.
B/c the force of grace is at work….you can be free of the worries and weight of the future. B/c the force of grace is at work….you can be free of what weighs on you, including your greatest fears.
And once you get a taste of the freedom that grace offers, it is the force that then raises us up…..inspires us…and enables us to go forth and give our lives for God’s way and truth and life in the world. A blessed grace-filled and joyful Easter to you and to all you love."