Index

Sundays
2nd Quarter
2020

 

J Nichols Adams et al

April 12, 2020, Resurrection of the Lord/Easter

 

 

LectionAid 2nd Quarter 2020

April 12, 2020, Resurrection of the Lord/Easter

Easter Hope

Ps 118:1-2, 14:24; Acts 10:34-43 or Jer 31:1-6; Col 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 or Matt 28:1-10

Theme: Fear vs. Faith

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

I have been waiting for a few weeks for Easter Day. It seems as if the past few months of my life have been leading towards this day. To be honest, I have been having a real struggle lately. I have always had the secret idea that troubles come in threes. That has happened to me again. In the last few months so much has seemed to go wrong it made me dizzy. First there was my father’s death, followed a few days later by my wife’s cancer diagnosis, that was followed on again by the impact of the “Covid 19” virus. And this last crisis is ongoing and full of anxiety. With church services now closed, my wife and I had a morning devotional, prayer session and what turned into the best Sunday School class for a while. I read part of an article from Christianity Today. The more I read in the article the more I felt lost and alone. When I finished my wife said to me, that sounds more like the Old Testament, a God who was to be feared and has none of the New Testament, a God of sacrifice and love about it. She then read a wonderful prayer from the wife of a English Clergyman that we know well. It was full of hope and love. The Post-Doctoral students essay left me stranded while the simple and wonderful prayer of a practicing Christian filled me with hope.
There was a sudden moment of revelation or if you will re-framing, re-evaluation, and re-wiring of my thoughts. I suddenly saw God walking with me in the last few months. First as I conducted my own father’s funeral. While writing his funeral service, I suddenly had a clear and enlightening vision of my father that I never had before. Instead of someone to whom I often felt estranged I suddenly realized that his life was more heroic than I could ever have imagined. My very large family of which I am the oldest of my father’s children came together in joy. That is five brothers and sisters. We are so scattered and suddenly we were all together. My family was fractured in so many ways by distance and time in an instant was together. My three sons with their wives brought joy to me as did the many nieces and nephews and their spouses. In the moments after we finally laid my father to rest, I found myself with a sense of warmth and joy on that cold and blowy February day overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. A very unexpected turn of events.
However, there was another cloud in my life. The very day that I went to the church my father attended, to make the final arrangements for my father’s funeral, my wife’s doctor called to say that the test results were back and that she did indeed have cancer. We met with the surgeon the day after we returned and as soon as she could the surgeon arranged for my wife to have surgery. She did amazingly well. The staff of the hospital and the surgeon were wonderful. I said at the time that the surgeon and even the anesthesiologist had personality. So then came the wait to find out the results. The tissue and lymph nodes removed were clear. My wife was cancer free. In just nineteen days, from diagnosis to final results, we experienced our own miracle.
But as I said troubles seem to come in threes. The day we were to leave to celebrate on forty second anniversary a trip we had been planning for two years we realized the pandemic made it impossible to travel so we had to cancel. We have been like many of you self-isolating ever since. And then came the next Sunday when I saw what was really happening. At was at that moment, with a simple pray sent to us by a friend in West Cliff on Sea in England that I suddenly saw what God was doing in my life. I knew that my wife and I were going to get through this with my friends, family, and neighbors. I suddenly had Easter hope. And that Easter Hope is what we are celebrating today. Today is all about resurrection, about the realization, that sudden moment of revelation of the hope and unconditional love of God brought to us in the simple death and resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day.

Exegetical Comments

Matthew, leaving Salome out (from Mark’s account), writes that the two Mary’s went to the tomb just before dawn on the day after the Sabbath. They must have set out in fear, not knowing what the posted Roman guards would say or do upon their arrival at the tomb. Fear must especially have welled up within them when the earthquake struck—an apocalyptic sign that only Matthew of the four gospel writer’s reports. This quake takes place as the angel, dressed in a snow-white garment, moves the stone away from the mouth of the tomb and sits upon it. (Mark states that the greeter was “a young man, and Luke reports that there were two.) The guards were certainly overcome with fear; so much so that these hardened soldiers fainted away, in Matthew’s words, “like dead men.”
To the women the angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It is the same greeting given years earlier to the shepherds by the angels heralding Christ’s birth in Luke’s account of the Nativity. “Do not be afraid, for behold...” After their brief angel-conducted tour of the empty tomb, the women leave at his bidding to tell the disciples that the risen Jesus will meet them in Galilee. They depart “with fear and great joy.” And then the fear melts away as the women are told for the second time that morning, “Do not be afraid.” This time it is the risen Lord himself. He reaffirms the message delivered by the angel.
Matthew, unlike Luke, does not tell of the women’s rushing to tell the disciples their joyful news, but they must have done so, because the gospel writer, after relating how the guards were paid to lie about Jesus’ body, picks up the story of Christ meeting the apostolic band in Galilee and leaving them with the Great Commission leaves and his promise.
How different are the women and the men after their Easter encounter! Fear is banished and joy springs forth. They can no longer live their lives in the same old way but feel compelled to tell the Easter story fearlessly to others, as we see in Luke’s Book of the Acts of the Apostles. It is the fear conquering faith of Easter that has been passed down from believer to believer, transforming the fearful, ordinary people into disciples willing to risk their all for the sake of the Risen Lord. Luke tells us about the men who went forth boldly to preach, even in the face of the angry Jerusalem authorities. Wouldn’t it have been nice if there had been a chronicler of what the Mary’s and the other women of faith did as a result of the banishing of their fear?
We have seen the Easter transformation taking place among us today. A teaching nun in Calcutta leaves the safety of her school to minister to those dying in the city streets. A quiet-spoken woman on a segregated Montgomery bus refuses to give up her seat to a white man, and soon the Montgomery bus boycott is launched, catapulting an unknown African American minister into the national spotlight. Few of us, of course, live such adventurous lives, but there is fear aplenty for us too. Indeed, we could say that ours is a culture of fear. Some of the fear is based in reality—there are real terrorists and child molesters and thieves out there—but much of it is induced by the media and politicians. TV reporters rush to bring us the latest bloody pictures of killings or auto accidents. Claiming to be “on your side,” their reporters bring us stories of defects in medicines and products. Reports that are followed by weather forecasters who breathlessly warn us of what could happen if predicted storm conditions prevail. Our nation went through a hard-fought election campaign in which both sides used fear as the chief motivation for voting for them and against the opposition. Fear, fear, fear, it sells, it motivates, and it distorts. In fact, the Media seems to see its major motivation to be find the faults or even make up some faults about our leaders, institutions, and organizations. There is little praise and mostly fault finding for their own glorification. We live in a world that loves to make us afraid.
Thus, we still need to hear the reassuring words of the angel and of our Master, “Do not be afraid.” These words launch us into an Easter faith based on the knowledge that the world did its worst against Jesus, spitting upon, insulting, humiliating, torturing, and killing him, and yet it is he, and not his enemies, who has the last word. The Risen Christ has overcome all the powers that engender fear. Listen again, as he says to us, “Do not be afraid!”
Everyone above a certain age, in the Western world at least, can remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Many people in other parts of the world will be able to remember where they were and what they were doing at similar moments of great national and international crisis.
Many of us also clearly remember the precise moment when something startling and very, very good happened to us. I have a vivid memory, nearly thirty years ago as I write this, of the telephone call which told me that I had been appointed to my first job, a position I had set my heart on. I remember being, for once in my life, completely lost for words; the person who had called me had to repeat what he’d said before I could eventually stammer out my thanks. I remember the dry sense in my throat as I put the telephone down and called to my wife to tell her the news. I knew that from that moment on my life was going to be different. A whole new world was opening up in front of me.
It isn’t difficult to understand the mixture of terror and delight that gripped the women who had gone to the tomb that morning. Mark and Luke explain that they had brought spices, since the burial had taken place in too much of a hurry (before the start of the sabbath on Friday evening) to wrap the body in the proper way. Matthew simply says that they had come to look at the tomb. At that point in the story they seem simply to be mourners, just wanting to be there, near Jesus, to pour out their sorrow in as much peace and quiet as possible.
Peace and quiet was the last thing they got. Matthew’s graveside scene is easily the most dramatic of the four: an earthquake, an angel, the guards stunned into a swoon, and messages about Jesus going on ahead to Galilee. Some think, of course, that Matthew has added some of these details to make things appear more spectacular; you might just as well say, though, that the others missed them out because, if you’re telling a story like this around the world, you don’t want people to laugh at the details and then think they’ve dismissed the event itself. For Matthew, standing within a long Jewish tradition in which angels tended to appear at great moments within God’s purposes, this wasn’t a problem.
The point, of course, is that what is happening is the action of God himself. The God who remained apparently silent on Good Friday is having the last word. He is answering the unspoken questions of Jesus’ followers, and the spoken question of Jesus himself on the cross. And what God is doing is not just an extraordinary miracle, a display of supernatural power for its own sake, or a special favor to Jesus. What God is doing is starting something new, beginning the new world promised long ago, sending the disciples to Galilee in the first place but then, as we shall see, on to the ends of the earth and the close of the age with the news of what has happened. A whole new world was opening up in front of them.
Though they were thunderstruck with amazement and fear, there is every reason to suppose that they remembered for the rest of their lives what had happened that day. The accounts of those first few moments go back to genuine personal memory, told again and again to incredulous friends and neighbors, in the tone of voice of someone saying ‘I know—I almost couldn’t believe it myself! It still seems totally amazing. But this is how it was.’
Though the angel tells the women that the disciples are to go to Galilee and see Jesus there, they meet him almost at once, there near the tomb. Luke simply records appearances of Jesus in the Jerusalem area; Matthew and John record them both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. (Mark’s final chapter is almost certainly broken off; in the eight verses which are left, he simply has the angels instructing the women, as here, to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to see Jesus there.) But the crucial thing is that Jesus’ resurrection is not about proving some point or offering people a new spiritual experience. It is about God’s purpose that must now be fulfilled. They must see Jesus, but that seeing will be a commissioning, a commissioning to a new work, a new life, a new way of life in which everything he told them before will start to come true.
We cannot today meet Jesus in the way the women did that morning. Of course, it is a vital part of Christian belief and experience that we can and should meet Jesus in spirit, and get to know him as we worship him and learn from him. That personal and intimate relationship with the living Lord is central to what being a Christian means in practice. But we would be seriously misreading Matthew, not to mention the other gospel writers, if we thought his story was just a vivid or coded way for describing that experience. He clearly intended to write of something that had actually happened, something that had not only changed the women’s hearts but had torn a hole in normal history. This event had changed the world for ever. It announced, not as a theory but as a fact, that God’s kingdom had come, that the son of man had been vindicated after his suffering, and that there was dawning not just another day, another week in the history of Israel and the world, but the start of God’s new age that would continue until the nations had been brought into obedience.
Take away the resurrection of Jesus, in fact, and you leave Matthew without a gospel. The cross is the climax of his story, but it only makes the sense it does as the cross of the one who was then raised from the dead. The great discourses of the gospel—the Sermon on the Mount, and all the rest—are his way of saying that Jesus is the new Moses, but much more than that, Israel’s Messiah. He is the one who is giving Israel and the world the new Law through which God’s new way of being human has been unveiled before the world. But all this is true only because the one who proclaimed God’s blessings on his followers, the one who announced God’s woes on those who went their own ways, and the one who spoke God’s kingdom-message in parables, is now the risen Lord.
Think back through the whole gospel. Watch how one part after another springs to new life as the one of whom Matthew speaks is now revealed as the one through whom death itself is defeated. (Wright, T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 2 [2004, London] pp. 197–200)

Preaching Possibilities

This must be one of the most fearful Easters not only in living memory but also in history. This is the Easter that will be remembered. This is the Easter when we needed to shout out our faith and hope. This should be for everyone of your listeners that see you virtually or at a distance. We need this hope now more than for many generations, the major hope for us all. This is the moment Jesus’ resurrection needs to change the world from fear to hope.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

2016 hasn't started as amazingly as we had all hoped. First, music legend David Bowie quietly returned to Mars. And just as we were preparing to take off the black lace veils, Hollywood's best villain Alan Rickman also died.
And because the death of two icons isn't horrible enough, colleagues gathered around watercoolers and friends in your Facebook feed all seem to be whispering – who's next?
There's a niggling belief in the Western psyche that bad things always happen in threes. From natural disasters to household mishaps, if it's happened twice, it's definitely going to happen a third time. Particularly when it comes to death.
And it doesn't seem like an irrational belief – sometimes celebrities do appear to die in groups of three.
In 1997, the world was shocked by the deaths of Mother Theresa, Princess Diana and Gianni Versace. In 2009 it was Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon. And as recently as 2014 it was Joan Rivers, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Peaches Geldof.
So is there really a mystical symmetry at play? Was the award-deserving masterpiece series Final Destination right all along? Does Death have a plan?
Yes. And no. Let's start with the no.
Our fascination with the number three is more rooted in logic than superstition. A twisted logic, but logic nonetheless.
In a 2013 interview with NBC News, John Hoopes, a professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, stated humans are naturally included to seek out patterns.
“Patterns in death, patterns in misfortune – those are things that help us try to understand the universe or reality in a way that makes sense of it,” Hoopes explains.
“In general, we’re very uncomfortable dealing with randomness". (https://www.nine.com.au/entertainment/viral/why-bad-things-happen-in-threes/41412013-99ee-4a7f-9ee6-14409368e5f2)

Think about it this way – look at a bowl of Skittles and instead of delicious individual treats you'll start to see clumps of color. Four yellows, two reds, seven greens. This is called apophenia – the tendency to perceive meaningful patterns in random data.
We're also hardwired to recognize the number three thanks to lifetime of engrained conditioning: three acts in a play; the Holy Trinity; Goldilocks and the three bears; three flavors in Neapolitan ice-cream. Basically, we like the number three. Maybe it has something to with triangles being the basic multi-sided shape…
So while it might seem like celebrities "always" die in groups of three, no such pattern really exists. If you google "deaths in the year of yadda yadda" you will find that, actually, a lot of people died. A ot more than three. And not just "normals", but people who, while not famous to you, were hugely influential in their respective communities.
So in a way, whenever we ghoulishly wait for a third celebrity death, all we're really doing is waiting for something logical and inevitable to happen. Only we're applying meaning to it by calling it a pattern.
Another, less fearful tradition claims that the superstition first arose among British troops during the Crimean War. They learned from Russian captives of the danger of using any light for a threefold purpose. They were told that it was the sacred rule of the Orthodox Church that the three candles on the altar were not to be lit from a single taper, except when the High Priest used it. However, a more likely explanation of the origin of the custom is that British soldiers, entrenched against Dutch foes in the Boer War, learned by bitter experience of the danger of lighting three cigarettes from one match. When the men thriftily used one match to serve three of them, they gave the Boer sniper time to spot the light, take aim and fire, killing 'the third man.'
Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish match king, certainly did not create the superstition, as it has been alleged, but he made the widest possible use of it to promote sales. People, innately superstitious, did not mind wasting a match. After all, there might just be something in it! Certainly, there were millions of pounds of profit for Mr. Kreuger who thus, by fostering for his own purpose a realistic wartime precaution, was able to increase his sales manifold." (https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/32/messages/643.html)

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory disease caused by a novel virus first detected in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the new virus, named SARS-CoV-2, is related to a large family of viruses that caused an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012.1
The most prominent symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, which may appear two to 14 days after exposure.2 The majority of people experience mild symptoms similar to a cold or flu, although it has caused death in medically compromised individuals. The CDC concludes that COVID-19 poses no immediate health risk for most individuals.
Because the virus is fairly weak, tried and true personal hygiene practices can reduce the spread of the disease. The CDC recommends the following:
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Stay home when you’re sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
So far, the news on the coronavirus sounds reassuring. Unfortunately, there’s another side to this story that’s more disconcerting. The outbreak has been spreading globally, verging on a bonafide pandemic. There is no vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 and while the fatality rate is low, it’s substantially higher than the common flu. Global stock markets have seen their steepest declines since 2008 based on speculation that the outbreak could have a significant negative impact on the global economy. The health care systems of most countries do not have adequate resources for detecting the virus or treating a surge of severely affected patients should the virus spread through the community.
Clearly, one does not have to look far to find threatening information about COVID-19. How we react to this mixed health information depends on our preconceived beliefs about disease and our susceptibility to its spread. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-runaway-mind/202003/media-fear-and-the-coronavirus-outbreak)

Fear of Contamination
Fear influences how we react to media coverage of health hazards. Fear of disease and contamination is particularly relevant when it comes to epidemics like the coronavirus. The most severe levels of contamination fear are found in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Approximately 50% of people with OCD have a fear of contamination from dirt or disease that causes them to wash and clean compulsively.4 In some cases the fear focuses on contracting a disease from others; in other cases, it’s a fear the individual will infect other people. In extreme forms of contamination fear, a person may be concerned about coming into contact with droplets of bodily fluid from others or of leaving traces of their own fluid in public places that would cause illness in others. When the fear is this intense, any exposure to public places can be threatening, so the person avoids or washes excessively.
Like most phobias, fear of contamination occurs on a continuum. At the upper end are those with OCD, but at the lower end, we find individuals with little concern about contamination. We can even speculate that the absence of contamination fear might cause reckless exposure to health hazards, thereby elevating the risk of disease exposure for themselves or others.
So a certain amount of healthy respect for disease and contamination is adaptive. But at a certain point, somewhere in the moderate to high range of fear, concern about disease and contamination generates excessive personal distress and interference in daily functioning. It’s for these people that the barrage of threatening media coverage about the coronavirus outbreak may have the most negative impact. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-runaway-mind/202003/media-fear-and-the-coronavirus-outbreak)

Health News and Fear of Contamination
Our information technology society has left most people with a severe case of information overload. The deluge of real-time information coming at us demands that we engage in a continuous process of selective attention and filtering. Health is important to most people so we’re likely to pay attention to information about disease and healthy living.
But media coverage of health issues is biased. The news outlets devote more time to emerging health hazards, like the COVID-19 outbreak, than common health threats.5 Anxious or fearful individuals tend to pay more attention to threat-related information, which then drives up their anxiety and distress. With the media devoting so much time to the coronavirus outbreak, there’s plenty of opportunity for those with elevated contamination fear to focus on the threatening aspects of the outbreak. This will cause a spike in fear and anxiety about the disease. In response, non-infected individuals with OCD-like contamination fear might restore to extraordinary measures to deal with their fear, like self-quarantine or washing with toxic disinfectants. Once their coronavirus fear is activated, the more reassuring information about the outbreak gets filtered out. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-runaway-mind/202003/media-fear-and-the-coronavirus-outbreak)

How to Handle the News
If you’ve been disturbed by the coronavirus news because of a high fear of disease and contamination, there are several steps you can take to lower your fear and anxiety.
Be guided by medical advice and not your feelings: Adopt the health hygiene practices recommended by the CDC. Resist the temptation to go beyond these recommendations in order to feel less anxious or afraid.
Limit your exposure to coronavirus news: Given your bias for threat, it’s best to restrict time spent searching the latest news on the coronavirus. You’ll want to be well-informed from health advisories but make sure your sources are credible.
Avoid compulsive washing: Follow the CDC guidelines for washing your hands. If you find yourself washing until you feel better, this may be a sign you’ve slipped into OCD territory.
Normalize your life: Don’t let fear rule your daily living. As the coronavirus news becomes more urgent, be guided by reason, responsibility, and keep your fears in check. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-runaway-mind/202003/media-fear-and-the-coronavirus-outbreak)

It’s a frightening time. We’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, with cities and even entire countries shutting down. Some of us are in areas that have already been affected by coronavirus. Others are bracing for what may come. And all of us are watching the headlines and wondering, “What is going to happen next?”
For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. We don’t know how exactly we’ll be impacted or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic. But there are many things you can do—even in the face of this unique crisis—to manage your anxiety and fears.
We’re in a time of massive upheaval. There are so many things outside of our control, including how long the pandemic lasts, how other people behave, and what’s going to happen in our communities. That’s a tough thing to accept, and so many of us respond by endlessly searching the Internet for answers and thinking over all the different scenarios that might happen. But as long as we’re focusing on questions with unknowable answers and circumstances outside of our personal control, this strategy will get us nowhere—aside from feeling drained, anxious, and overwhelmed.

When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is in your city or town, but you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk (and the risk you’ll unknowingly spread it to others), such as:
washing your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
avoiding touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth).
staying home as much as possible, even if you don’t feel sick.
avoiding crowds and gatherings of 10 or more people.
avoiding all non-essential shopping and travel.
keeping 6 feet of distance between yourself and others when out.
getting plenty of sleep, which helps support your immune system.
following all recommendations from health authorities.
At times like this, it’s easy to get caught up in your own fears and concerns. But amid all the stories of people fighting over rolls of toilet paper or lining up outside gun stores to arm themselves, it’s important to take a breath and remember that we’re all in this together. As a quote circulating in Italy reminds us: “We’re standing far apart now so we can embrace each other later.”
It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and well-being. Much of the anguish accompanying this pandemic stems from feeling powerless. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life—as well as adding meaning and purpose.(https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/coronavirus-anxiety.htm)

Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote of his own struggle with his fear when the series of threatening phone calls culminated in the bombing of his home while he was speaking at a meeting of the boycotters. None of his family was hurt, but the fear that they or he might be, drove him to procure a gun, despite his affirmation of Gandhian principles of non-violence. Through his Easter faith he was able to rid himself of both fear and the gun, only to have the fear return when he was sentenced to prison—and with good reason, as so many blacks had lost their lives due to various “accidents” while being held in white jails. Again it was the emergence of his Easter faith—”Do not be afraid!”—that saw him through the crisis.

Easter means that God has already taken the measure of evil at its very worst; that He has met the challenge at that crucial point; and that He routed the forces of darkness and thus settled the ultimate issue for those who say “Yes” to Him. (John E. Large)

Christians had lost all fear of death. Since, therefore, the fear of death is the mother of all fear, when it has been destroyed, all other forms of fear are thereby vanquished. (John Sutherland Bonnell)

This Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief
Some of the HBR edit staff met virtually the other day — a screen full of faces in a scene becoming more common everywhere. We talked about the content we’re commissioning in this harrowing time of a pandemic and how we can help people. But we also talked about how we were feeling. One colleague mentioned that what she felt was grief. Heads nodded in all the panes.
If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it. We turned to David Kessler for ideas on how to do that. Kessler is the world’s foremost expert on grief. He co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Kessler also has worked for a decade in a three-hospital system in Los Angeles. He served on their biohazards team. His volunteer work includes being an LAPD Specialist Reserve for traumatic events as well as having served on the Red Cross’s disaster services team. He is the founder of www.grief.com, which has over 5 million visits yearly from 167 countries.
Kessler shared his thoughts on why it’s important to acknowledge the grief you may be feeling, how to manage it, and how he believes we will find meaning in it. The conversation is lightly edited for clarity.
HBR: People are feeling any number of things right now. Is it right to call some of what they’re feeling grief?
Kessler: Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change, and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.
You said we’re feeling more than one kind of grief?
Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.
What can individuals do to manage all this grief?
Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.
Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.
When we’re feeling grief there’s that physical pain. And the racing mind. Are there techniques to deal with that to make it less intense?
Let’s go back to anticipatory grief. Unhealthy anticipatory grief is really anxiety, and that’s the feeling you’re talking about. Our mind begins to show us images. My parents getting sick. We see the worst scenarios. That’s our minds being protective. Our goal is not to ignore those images or to try to make them go away — your mind won’t let you do that and it can be painful to try and force it. The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking. If you feel the worst image taking shape, make yourself think of the best image. We all get a little sick and the world continues. Not everyone I love dies. Maybe no one does because we’re all taking the right steps. Neither scenario should be ignored but neither should dominate either.
Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. This will be familiar advice to anyone who has meditated or practiced mindfulness but people are always surprised at how prosaic this can be. You can name five things in the room. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You are not sick. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really will work to dampen some of that pain.
You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.
Finally, it’s a good time to stock up on compassion. Everyone will have different levels of fear and grief and it manifests in different ways. A coworker got very snippy with me the other day and I thought, That’s not like this person; that’s how they’re dealing with this. I’m seeing their fear and anxiety. So be patient. Think about who someone usually is and not who they seem to be in this moment.
One particularly troubling aspect of this pandemic is the open-endedness of it.
This is a temporary state. It helps to say it. I worked for 10 years in the hospital system. I’ve been trained for situations like this. I’ve also studied the 1918 flu pandemic. The precautions we’re taking are the right ones. History tells us that. This is survivable. We will survive. This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.
And, I believe we will find meaning in it. I’ve been honored that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s family has given me permission to add a sixth stage to grief: Meaning. I had talked to Elisabeth quite a bit about what came after acceptance. I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times. Even now people are realizing they can connect through technology. They are not as remote as they thought. They are realizing they can use their phones for long conversations. They’re appreciating walks. I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.
What do you say to someone who’s read all this and is still feeling overwhelmed with grief?
Keep trying. There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through. One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we’re the first generation to have feelings about our feelings. We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.
In an orderly way?
Yes. Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a “gang of feelings.” If I feel sad and let that in, it’ll never go away. The gang of bad feelings will overrun me. The truth is a feeling that moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us. It’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.
{Scott Berinato is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief?utm_medium=email&utm_source=ecom_12mobuyers&utm_campaign=wfhseries_hbrguidetogettingtherightworkdone_20200409&deliveryName=DM75921}

Although we usually think of the great hymn “How Firm a Foundation” as based on Isaiah 43, the second stanza could very well be the words of the angel to the two Mary’s at the tomb:
“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am Thy God, I will still give thee aid:
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by righteous, omnipotent hand.”
Indeed, they could also be a paraphrase of the last promise that Christ makes to the disciples at the end of this chapter.

One item about the resurrection of Jesus has sometimes been overlooked: he showed himself after death only to those who loved him. (George A. Buttrick)

If Easter says anything to us today, it says this: You can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there. You can nail it to a cross, wrap it in winding sheets and shut it up in a tomb, but it will rise! (Clarence W. Hall)

All of the Joan of Arc films, from the great The Passion of Joan of Arc to the more recent mediocre The Messenger, follow the original court transcript which records that the young prisoner was overcome by fear, thus losing her nerve and recanted, declaring that her voices were false. Her English captors had turned Joan over to an ecclesiastical court determined to find that she was a heretic, whose claim to hear the voices of saints threatened the authority of the church. Joan was not even twenty, and so the forbidding looking clergy treating her with much contempt and threatening her with torture filled her with fear and dread—so much so that the young Maid of Orleans recants and submits to the order of the court. But soon, when she realizes what she has done, and that she will spend her life in prison, she regains her courage, declares again that God had indeed called her to her mission of helping to free her beloved homeland from the English. Her cross is the fiery stake. She dies as a proscribed heretic, but the resurrection of her reputation begins even on the day of her death, with many witnesses convinced by her manner of dying that she was no witch.

Easter resurrection is difficult for moderns to accept or convey, and so in literature and film it is often conveyed in veiled, symbolic ways. For example, in James Agee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel (and in the play and film versions) A Death in the Family, a butterfly symbolizes the loving presence of God and of resurrection hope at the graveside ceremony of a father killed in an automobile accident. The agnostic uncle tells his nephew Rufus of what happened at the cemetery because the boy’s mother, in keeping with the custom of the time, had not allowed Rufus to go to the cemetery. The uncle describes how as the coffin was being lowered into the grave, a butterfly had alighted on it. The uncle speaks in a tone of wonder that borders on belief. The makers of the film Patch Adams borrow from Agee in the scene in which medical student Patch Adams comes to a mountain to pour out his anger and frustration to God. The young fellow student whom he loves has just been killed by one of the patients they had been trying to help in their clinic. Adams rages against God because he believes that God does not care—and then he spies the butterfly and recognizes that it is a sign, long hallowed in the church as symbolic of the Resurrection.

One of my favorite secular Easter depictions is the last scene in Cool Hand Luke. The night before one of the pursuing guards had shot Luke when they surrounded him in an old church following his final escape from the chain gang. Still defiant, Luke had taunted his pursuers, but was cut short by the rifle toting head guard known only as “No Eyes” because no one ever saw his eyes behind the mirror sunglasses he always wore. The Captain (warden) had refused to take Luke to the local hospital, knowing that Luke would bleed to death before reaching it. The next day the convicts are cutting weeds along the road that led by the church. The prisoners ask a big burly man, nicknamed Dragline to tell them again about Luke. Dragline, who had been with Luke the night before, smiles as he says that Ole Luke was “some fellow.” They’d never beat him, he states—and as he talks, we see the many scenes of Luke smiling and getting the best of the guards. Indeed, virtually the whole story of Luke is retold in the one or two-minute montage of Luke’s smiling face. Declaring Luke to be “a world-shaker,” Dragline now seems strangely free. To emphasize this, the camera tilts downward from Drag’s smiling face to reveal in close-up the chains that still bind him. Once he and his fellow prisoners had feared the guards, but Luke had broken and dispelled that fear.

I believe most of us began to worry when the second tower was struck on September 11th. We began to truly be afraid when the third plane attacked the Pentagon for it dawned on many of us that we did not know what else might happen. At the end of that dreadful day, out of the horror of that deadly day, hope emerged in the resolve of George W. Bush, the competence of Rudy Guliani and the heroism of countless rescue workers.

Do Not Be Afraid! On the first Easter Sunday the Roman soldiers were afraid—they were confronted by a Presence clearly more powerful than anything they could imagine. On the first Easter Sunday the disciples were afraid—they were greeted by a Friend obviously more glorious than anyone they could comprehend.

Do Not Be Afraid! This ringing proclamation is always God’s first word to people of faith. This was an announcement the earliest disciples needed to hear. This is reassurance each of us needs to hear. This remains a proclamation we must speak to our neighbors and to our nation.

Do not be afraid of Jesus Christ! His mercy erases your past! His mercy erases your guilt and shame. His faith builds the church on men and women all too aware of their own sin. His love shelters people caught in the bondage of their failures. His words offer the inquisitive a new way of living. His mercy still links forgiving our sins with healing our deepest diseases.

Do not be afraid of Jesus Christ! His companionship enriches your present! His companionship overcomes your depres-sion and anxiety. His courage liberates people overwhelmed by their oppression. His compassion heals people of their diseases. His instruction gives people back to their families. His will meet you on the road of your sorrow and strengthen you for your journey.

Do not be afraid of Jesus Christ! He will teach you to receive the embrace of God’s love! He called God Father. He affirmed God’s providence while being tempted in the desert. He calmed the storms sweeping across an angry sea. He announced his unity with God the Father. He affirmed his status as "Son of the Father”, speaking clearly about his divine authority.

Do not be afraid of Jesus Christ! He will accompany you as you embrace the needs of your neighbor! He will instruct you to be thankful for the loaves and fish you already have. He will assist you in recognizing the depth of new love. He will make good on his promise to free you as you continue in his word. He will help you recognize the depth of a neighbor’s faith. You can embrace this mission because he has already authorized each of you to be an instrument of God’s love.

We have found our moment: our Scripture today portrays a defining moment. Jesus gathers with the earliest disciples where they recognized his resurrected glory and received from him a promise that has sustained faithful people to this very day. We honor Christ best when we trust his promise and obey his instruction. We have found our mission: our Scripture today also contains a defining mission. Jesus instructs the earliest disciples in world-changing task that continues to distinguish his church from all other human causes. We honor our forbearers best by remaining faithful to this mission.

Given events in the life of our nation and world in the past few years and the climate of fear in which so many live, we might do well to remember the words of Franklin Roosevelt from a past difficult time in our nation and world. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

As the centuries pass by, are we still able to hear accurately the good news of Easter morning? Or have we allowed the culture to garble the message for us, so that we end up thinking that Easter is not much more than an occasion for coloring eggs, biting the ears off chocolate rabbits, and dressing up in our finest clothes? Our worship on Easter is our opportunity to compare the message we are hearing from the world around us with the message that the angel spoke on that first Easter day. A story that originated during World War I told of a message that was being passed from soldier to soldier down a trench. The original message was “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance.” Finally, though, when the message got to the last soldier it came across as “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance.” The message changed as it traveled from person to person, but no one was consciously aware that they were altering it. (Andrew Wheatcroft, Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam [New York: Random House, 2003], p. xxviii)

A custom arose in Bavaria during the fifteenth century where priests would insert funny stories into their Easter sermons, causing their congregations to laugh. It was meant to be a way of reminding the people of our ability to laugh at the devil because of Christ’s defeat of him through the resurrection. Some church leaders thought the humor got out of hand at times. Pope Clement X, who reigned from 1670-1676, proceeded to ban the practice.

In some of the more rural areas of the United States, a “snake-handling” movement continues among many churches. The idea is that if you truly have faith, you will be able to pick up poisonous serpents and you will not be harmed. Last Easter Rev. Dwayne Long picked up a rattlesnake during the worship service at his church in Lee County in Virginia. By doing so, he was breaking a Virginia law that makes it a misdemeanor to handle dangerous snakes. A conviction on such a charge can lead to a $250 fine. However, in Long’s case, the price he was made to pay was much more severe—he died. The practice of snake-handling is based on a literal reading of Mark 16:17-18. Although accurate statistics are difficult to come by, it is estimated that “between 70 and 80 people have died from snakebites during worship services since the practice became popularized in some American churches in the early 1900s.” Across the country, it is believed that there are somewhere around 2,000 Christians who participate in snake-handling churches. The dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University suggests that by handling poisonous snakes during their worship services, they believe they are verifying the word of God by saying that if it is not possible to take up serpents, then maybe it is not possible that Jesus rose from the dead. (“For snake handlers, going to church can prove deadly,” Roanoke Times, 4/18/04)

Fear often keeps us from believing what God is saying to us and doing what God is commanding us to do. John Ortberg invites people to imagine that when their lives are over, they will be ushered into a small room where a VCR tape will be played for them. The tape you watch has your name on it and is labeled “What Might Have Been.” Imagine, Ortberg says, watching all the things that God might have done with your life if only you had let God do so. (John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001], p. 47)

Researchers suggest that fear and stress give rise to women. A study, organized at the University of California-Berkeley, concludes that “when an economy turns sour or when a famine strikes a nation, the proportion of girls that are born increases.” For example, in East Germany in 1991, right after the country experienced an historic economic collapse, the ratio of girls to boys reached the highest level since World War II. It is interesting to note that during the time of stress that existed from Good Friday until early Easter morning, the men virtually disappeared from the story, while the proportion of female characters increased dramatically. (U. S. News & World Report, 9/1/03)

In classical Greek, pharmakon was a word that meant both “poison” and “antidote.” In other words, a pharmakon was seen as possessing the potential of great evil or great good. In a sense, Rene Girard contends, Jesus was a kind of pharmakon. While the government authorities and religious leaders considered Jesus a poison who threatened the very existence of their society, on Easter morning we see, quite to the contrary, Jesus was the bearer of good news, bringing healing and hope to all the world. (Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred, tr. Patrick Gregory [Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), p. 95)

The message of the resurrection ultimately turned the disciples’ fears into great joy. Amid all the troubles of our world, however, joy is not always found in abundant quantities. One group that is trying to change that fact is the Secret Society of Happy People, an organization boasting 6,000 members worldwide in the United States, Zimbabwe, India, Iraq, and twenty other nations. The group is most well known for instituting Admit You’re Happy Month, which is celebrated in August each year and is recognized in 19 states. In order to combat the pessimism that seemed to spread over the world in the wake of 9/11, the group is now promoting National Happiness Happens Month. The organization’s leader says, “The job is no longer to admit you’re happy, but to recognize that happiness still happens.” In order to celebrate the month, group members wear silver sunglasses and hand out candy wrapped in silver foil, so that they can communicate the idea that every cloud has a silver lining. August 8 has been designated as National Happiness Happens Day. (Newsweek, 8/9/04)

Although the date of Easter changes from year to year, we are able to consult calendars and almanacs that are able to tell us years in advance when the day of resurrection will come. The first believers had no such luxury. When we read the Gospels, we discover that one of the reasons they found the resurrection so difficult to believe was because they did not foresee that it would happen. (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995], p. 214)

When we realize how awesome God is—as God demonstrated on Easter morning—all our fears should melt away: “Men who fear God face life fearlessly. Men who do not fear God end up fearing everything.” (Richard Halverson)

The only way to overcome our fears is to put our complete trust in God, having faith that God is able to overcome even our fear of death: “The cure for fear is faith.” (Norman Vincent Peale)

One of the great dangers that occurs when we allow fear to creep into our lives is that we become less able to see the truth that is set before us: “Of all the passions, fear weakens judgment most.” (Cardinal de Retz)

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Leader: Hallelujah! Christ is risen!
People: Christ is risen indeed!
Leader: O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Leader: I shall not die, but I shall live,
People: And recount the deeds of the Lord.
Leader: This is the day the Lord has made!
People: Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Prayer of Confession

(based on Colossians 3:1-4)
How can we ignore the risen Christ? And yet we do! How can we think of earthly things? And yet we do! How can we ignore the new reign of glory into which Christ has carried us? And yet we do.
Have mercy on us, gracious God. Lift our eyes to Christ, now seated at your right hand. Let us never despair. Fill us with hope and joy and peace. Forgive us our doubts and fears. For you have won victory over sin and death. Thanks be to you, O God, for the majesty of your forgiving love, for the life eternal which causes all our sins to pale before your goodness. Let your mercy wash over us like cleansing waters, and the good news of eternal life drown out the dark strains of regret. Hosanna in the highest! Praise be to God on high! Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Out of the most profound gratitude, we bring our gifts to you, O God. You have given us life eternal in Christ. How can we ever repay you? You tell us this is a free gift, given simply out of the depth of your love. How can human ears ever truly hear this good news, how can human hearts truly receive it?
Consecrate this treasure, a token of our gratitude. Nothing could ever match your generosity. Take these simple gifts and use them for your purposes, to your honor and glory. But receive even more our profound thanks for the gift of Christ. As living Lord he reigns in our hearts, as servant he has set our example, as High Priest he has reconciled us to you and to each other. Bless us that we may be a blessing, in the Spirit of Christ, Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

(based on John 20:1-18)
Like Mary in the garden, sometimes all we expect to be able to do, Lord, is our duty. But Resurrection Day reminds us that there are surprises. As Jesus met Mary in the garden, so we meet you daily, in the unexpected epiphanies of our lives. As Mary learned faith in life eternal, so we trust in you to grant us this gift. As Mary was for a moment unable to recognize Jesus, so we know that at times we are blind to your presence.
On this joyful day, we come to you in gratitude for vindicating our Lord Christ, and for vanquishing sin and death. In the glow of morning, in the promise of this new day, we are renewed and reborn in our spirits. In gratitude for these gifts, we seek to live for you. In gratitude for your forgiving and empowering love, we receive fresh encouragement to love our neighbors, and never to despair. At the cross, there was despair. But the empty tomb breathes life into our tired bones, lifts us up, fills us with hope, and sends us out to serve.
Such good news is the spiritual antidote to discouragement. And so, this glad day, we recommit ourselves to your reign of love and justice. As the caterpillar becomes a glorious butterfly, so we shall be reborn in immortality. As the new day dawns, so shall we rise in splendor on the day of glorious resurrection. The rising of Christ from death confirms this in our hearts. Hallelujah! Amen!