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On Easter 2020: A letter from the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops

Members of Belin United Methodist Church in Murrells Inlet, S.C., created a "live" cross for their Easter sunrise service in 2017. Photo courtesy Austin Bond Photography
Members of Belin United Methodist Church in Murrells Inlet, S.C., created a "live" cross for their Easter sunrise service in 2017. Photo courtesy Austin Bond Photography

I write to you upon the experience of a very disruptive Easter for most of us. Across the world, many United Methodists are unable to worship in their church buildings, because of the pandemic. Many United Methodists are living their faith at great risk in offering health care to the suffering and dying and essential services to the living. And many United Methodists are grieving the loss of beloved family members and friends. Our previous experiences of Easter may be very unlike this year. It is unsettling.

The first Easter was an unsettling experience. We speak of trying to adjust to a “new normal.” Easter is the re-creation of a new world. Easter is not a quiet garden on the edge of Jerusalem. Easter is a busy gathering by the sea of Galilee. Easter is not tying everything into a neat package. Easter is unleashing the power of Jesus, crucified and risen, into the world. Easter is nothing we could have planned or prepared for. Easter, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, is an earthquake (28:2). It is unsettling, and when it has taken place, all of the foundations are being re-established.

Perhaps we are called, on Easter 2020, to return to the story, to the foundations, to imagine what we cannot see. What is God teaching us in our disruption, in our adaptation? How are the emotions of the first Easter — grief, fear, confusion — present in our own lives?

And what is the solid rock upon which we stand? We begin with the simplest and most profound affirmation: “Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed!”

These words frame our story. Easter is a miracle. If there are no miracles, there is no Resurrection. Easter is about the Resurrection. The Resurrection makes no rational sense. It is a category that defies human rationality. Resurrection is an act of faith. The truth of Resurrection is revealed to us, it comes as a gift. The women, on that first Easter, almost stumbled upon it.

If there is no Resurrection, none of this makes any sense. We could conceivably have gospels without the Christmas story — Mark’s Gospel, for example, has no birth narrative, no shepherds, no wise men, no angels’ voices. But without Easter, there would be no good news. If there is no Resurrection, no power beyond and above us, no victory of life over death, none of this makes any sense. Without Easter there is no cross, no flame.

The apostle Paul considered the implications of this. In what is surely one of the longest and most complicated chapters in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15, he insists, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain,” and, “If the dead are not raised, then let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

The foundation of our faith is the Resurrection, new creation, eternal life in the present with the crucified and risen Lord, a gift of God that begins in the present, that continues beyond death, and that never ends. And so, our mission is not only getting people into heaven but also getting heaven into people (N.T. Wright), and then joining the crucified and risen Jesus in his mission in the world as resurrection people.

Easter is the moment when who we are, what we believe and what we do becomes clear. Easter is the power of the crucified and risen Jesus over the forces of death — and in this season of COVID-19, a global pandemic, we claim this promise.

The Easter event, the Resurrection, as reported in Matthew 28. 1-10, was continuous with everything Jesus had said and done throughout his life, every chapter within the book a little Easter. And so, for the followers of Jesus, all of life is continuous with this day, with this moment. Even amidst COVID-19 all of life is Easter, a resurrection, a sign that even amidst a pandemic, the crucified and risen Lord has overcome the powers of death, division, darkness and despair.

On Easter, on this Easter, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, the stone is rolled away and the earth shakes. The old has passed away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5).

I join you in prayer for the world, on this day. In the midst of a global pandemic, we do not minimize the threat to life, the loss of life, the lament of loss. It is unsettling. And yet we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4). In a very different but a very real way, we are given the gift of Easter, when we need it most.

“Christ is Risen. The Lord is risen indeed!” This is our hope!

The peace of the Lord,

+Kenneth H. Carter

Resident Bishop, Florida Conference

President, Council of Bishops

The United Methodist Church

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