On-Line Easter Service:  “Were You There?”

Texts for the Day:  John 19:40-42, 20:1-18

Pastor Dave Fish of North Bergen Presbyterian Church also shared his message during the sermon time.  What follows is what Pastor Jim Renfrew preached:

Were you there?  A beautiful, soulful, even haunting spiritual song originated by people suffering in slavery.  The song transports us right into the story of crucifixion and resurrection that happened two thousand years ago.  Whoever created the song realized that the real power of the Easter story is not just hearing it told, it is by being in the story that Easter really happens.

So when Jesus shares the bread and the cup you are there with him.  So when the mob cries out for crucifixion you are there to hear every word of condemnation.  When the rooster crows the third time you are there to hear it.  When Jesus is mocked and beaten you are there with him.  When Jesus is raised on the Cross you are there to hear the hammer pounding the nails into the wood.  When he is laid in his tomb, you are there as your tears pour out.

You were there.  And no matter if you were courageous, cowardly or only an ignorant bystander, as these events unfolded, you were there. Listening to the song sends chills up and down every spine as we wonder what we would have done, what we would have said, as the tragedy of Jesus’ murder sinks in.

The song brings us to the tragic ending, when they laid Jesus in the tomb, a moment when not only Jesus had died, but every hope we’ve ever had for a better world seems buried with him.  We were there, we saw the entire tragedy, and now his defeat is also our defeat.

I suspect the song “Were You There?” was created by an enslaved preacher, who saw daily evidence of defeat, torture, death and absence of hope.  But that unknown song writer could not end the song there; a final verse had to be added.   “Were you there when they crucified my Lord”, “were you there when they nailed him to the tree”, were you there when they laid him in the tomb, “were you there when they raised him from the grave?”

The final verse in the song is everything.  We are there when Jesus is raised.  We’re not hearing it third-hand, we’re not reading it in a book, it’s not a far-away rumor. We are there as the sun rises and the tomb is found to be empty.  We are there when they raised him from the grave.”

Were you there?  Maybe this is hard to grasp because right now none of us can really be anywhere due to the virus.  The only place we can be these days is right where we are, safe at home, but so far from others whom we care about.

But this is what I love about being a Christian: the Spirit of our faith cannot be contained.  Not by the four walls inside our home, not by physical distancing, not by precautions and warnings, and not by fear.  Our radical Christian faith is able to bridge the gap between where we are right now and that long-ago story when the tomb is discovered empty and what are yet to become.  We can’t come to church this Easter morning, but we can be the church!

Were you there?  Are you there?  Will you be there?  Yes! Amen. Yes, O Lord!   Yes, yes, yes!  We are there when you raise Jesus from the grave! He’s alive, we’re alive! Amen.