2020 Easter Sermon – “New Birth into a Living Hope” (complete text)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

I must confess – I’m pretty disappointed.  This was supposed to be my first Easter Sunday as the new Lead Pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando, and I was excited!

During a pastor’s first year at a new church – even though First Church isn’t exactly new to me (previously serving as the Youth Director, thirty years ago) – there is something about getting through all of the “firsts” that are really important for a “new” pastor – the first wedding, the first funeral, the first baptism, the first stewardship campaign, the first Christmas Eve, and of course, the first Easter Sunday. Usually, after Easter, a new pastor feels like they’ve “arrived.”

We’d already planned the Easter service.  I was working on my sermon.  I was excited about the crowds.  We’d made plans for special advertising, inviting the community.

But, not this year.  Coronavirus and the need for social distancing ended those plans and hopes.

So, here we are.  This is NOT the Easter I’d hoped for.  I’m disappointed, to say the least.  What a let-down!  I suspect you feel the same.

The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is often called “Holy Saturday.”  It’s the day Jesus was sealed in the tomb, dead.  It’s the day the disciples were hiding:  isolated, afraid, behind closed doors, not really knowing what to do next.  Holy Saturday is the day between the horror of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday.  That first Holy Saturday must have been a very long, dark day of shock, isolation, fear, an unknown future, and deep disappointment.

Honestly, as we’ve been “distancing” ourselves from each other, stockpiling groceries, and watching the news and social media, this has felt, to me, like a VERY PROLONGED Holy Saturday.

How are we supposed to celebrate Easter at a time like this – in circumstances like this?  How do celebrate Easter, when it feels more like Holy Saturday?

At times like this, whether it’s actually Easter Sunday, or not, it’s important to remember, regardless of circumstance, we’re always Easter people!  Easter is every Sunday – in the best of times, and the worst of times.  Actually, Easter is EVERY day!

Theologically, spiritually, Easter really isn’t the celebration – the lilies, the big meal, the new clothes, the big worship services, the Easter baskets, the flower cross.  Those are all great, of course.  But they’re just accessories to the main point.  Easter is about one essential truth – Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  Jesus Christ has conquered death and the grave.  Jesus Christ is the victor over sin and death!

“Where, O death, is your victory!  Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

That’s the truth of Easter, and it’s true every day, in every situation, in every circumstance!  That’s what Easter’s really about!

Easter is our TRUTH – even when it doesn’t feel very Eastery!

Easter is our TRUTH – even when the daily news only speaks of sickness and death.

Easter is our TRUTH – even in the midst of our disappointments and fears.

Easter is our TRUTH – even when the church doors are locked, and we have to celebrate in isolation.

Because Easter is about Christ conquering death – and NO circumstance, including a global pandemic – can change that!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumph of Easter.” I suspect he would say the same about Holy Saturday.

Again, what is the truth of Easter?  Death – the great enemy – has been defeated, by Jesus, once and for all!  The cross – representing evil and suffering – doesn’t get the last word. In Christ’s resurrection, there’s ALWAYS the hope and promise of new life and new beginning!  There is promise and hope that morning always follows the darkest night, joy follows the deepest sorrow, dancing follows weeping.

Peter writes, “(We have) an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4) That is our truth!

On Easter, we usually sing the Charles Wesley hymn, “Christ The Lord is Risen Today.”  I’m reminded of the verse that says, “Lives again our glorious king.  Where, O death, is now thy sting?  Once he died our souls to save.  Where thy victory, boasting grave?”

In today’s text from 1 Peter 1, the Apostle wrote, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… (we) are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials.” (1 Peter 1:5-6)

Hear this line again, “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Do you remember Peter?  The Peter who promised to never abandon Jesus?  The Peter who said he’d die before leaving Jesus?  The Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times, the night Jesus was arrested?  The Peter who hid on Good Friday and Holy Saturday?  The Peter who seemed mostly dazed and confused at the empty tomb?

But, when the reality of Easter finally hit him, Peter said, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

I’m especially struck by the timeliness of Peter’s words for today: “(We) are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials.” (1 Peter 1:5-6)

I don’t know what trials Peter was writing about.  Probably, some form of persecution.  But, I do know what we’re going through.  Undeniably, this is a difficult, trying time.  Frankly, it’s unlike any I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve never been through a major war.  I didn’t experience the Great Depression.  I’ve never been effected by an epidemic.  But, this coronavirus, and all of the ways it’s impacting our lives, may be on the same scope and scale as a World War or the Great Depression.  I don’t know.  No one does.

Though only time will reveal the severity of this crisis, even 9-11 and the last recession seem mild by comparison.  Coronavirus.  Sickness and death.  Unemployment.  The economy.  Separation from loved ones.  It all pretty terrible stuff!  These are scary, disconcerting times, for all of us, in so many different ways.  And, as of today, it seems as though the situation may get much worse, before it get’s better.

And, to that fear, to that uncertainty, Peter reminds us of the power of the Easter Resurrection story, “(We) are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials.” (1 Peter 1:5-6)

Though this is certainly not the Easter I’d hoped for, maybe we need the truth and message of Easter now, more than ever.  Not because everything is perfect for this Easter Sunday.  It’s not.  Not because we can all be together.  We can’t.

We need Easter today, in the midst of this terribly difficult time, to remind us…

  • God is still in control
  • Death has been defeated
  • There is an eternal promise for all of us
  • This too shall pass

I think the word for the day – the word Peter offers – is HOPE.  Again, Peter wrote, “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

“New birth into a living hope.”  Those are exceptionally powerful words.  “New birth into a living hope.” 

Hope, of course, is future oriented.  Whatever your current circumstances may or may not be, hope is for something different, something better.  Peter says, we’ve been given “New birth into a living hope.” 

In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes, Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25)

That really speaks to me, right now, in what feels like a hopeless situation.

Pope Francis writes, “Never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished.”

Anne Lamott writes, Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” 

Did you hear those words?  Discouragement?  Darkness?  Sounds familiar.  And, that’s where hope is born…

  • Hope for this crisis to end.
  • Hope for no more people to get sick and die.
  • Hope for the doctors and nurses and scientists who working on saving lives.
  • Hope for a new beginning and a new day.

Why do we hope?  Because we’ve been given “New birth into a living hope.”  Because Jesus Christ died, and rose again!

Friends, I know this is a difficult time.  Maybe you know someone who is ill from coronavirus.  Maybe you’ve lost your job.  Maybe you’re worried about your finances.  Maybe everything about this season has you on edge.  Maybe you’re worried about the future.  EVERYTHING about this is hard, for all of us.

So, I’ll simple leave you with this.  If we believe in God; if we believe that God is good; if we believe God came to us, in his son, Jesus Christ; if we believe Jesus died, and rose from the dead, conquering sin and death, and permanently opening the gates of heaven and eternal life; then, we can trust God can handle coronavirus, too!  If God can conquer death, God can handle this!

We can hope, even now.  After all, it’s Easter!

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