The following is a transcript of the Easter Sunday sermon delivered by podcast from the pastor of the Federated Church in Edgartown.

I was newly ordained.  It was my very first congregation and my very first Easter service. I’ll never forget it. A seven-year-old boy and his mother came to church. The sanctuary was packed — 300 people dressed in their finery, the flowers, the trumpets, the booming organ. The young mother settled her little boy into the front pew and gave him a crayon and a coloring book to keep him busy — that is, to keep him quiet. And then everyone rose and sang, “Christ the Lord is risen Today.” The instant we finished the little boy looked over at his mother and, in a loud voice, said, “Hey mom, I thought he rose last year?”

The congregation burst out laughing. And that was great, because laughter, even in difficult times, unites us and lifts us up. At the same time, that little boy’s words forever changed the way I think about Easter and how critical it is that the hope and love of Christ rise every year, especially this year.

It is so different today, isn’t it? Not being able to gather together in person in our beloved church. Not being able to shake hands or pass the peace or go out for Easter buffet brunch. Instead, we are alone at home, or at the very most, with a handful of family or close friends. So honestly, as much as today is supposed to be all about victory and joy, deep down we still feel sad, worried and afraid. And yet, it occurs to me, that’s exactly the way it was on the very first Easter, which means this story contains a hopeful, life giving message for today. Let’s take a closer look:

When the curtain opens up Mary is weeping outside the empty tomb. She has come feeling sad, worried and afraid. The last week was devastating. She had lost the Lord of her life. And to make it even worse, just like today, she can’t even have a proper wake. As she wept, she bent over and looked into that dark tomb and saw two angels. “Why are you weeping?” they asked. Mary replied, “They have taking away my Lord, and I do now know where they have laid him.” At which point Mary turns around and sees Jesus, who she mistakes for the gardener. And she fails to recognize him until he calls her by name. So, it is not seeing Jesus, rather it was the familiar sound of him calling her name, in her darkness, that caused her to experience a new found Joy and peace.

What’s going on here? Why does John insert a gardener in his gospel? And why can’t Mary tell him apart from the Jesus? I believe that John, the most mystical of all the gospel writers, is sending out a love letter to the future. Consider the following. Way back in 1636 Rembrandt painted this exact scene. Mary is standing outside the empty tomb. Jesus is there next to her. He is wearing a white robe and is bathed with a heavenly light from on high. But that’s not all. In this 384 year-old-painting, Jesus has a spade in his hand. And there is a pruning shear tucked in his belt. And my favorite, Jesus is sporting a broad floppy gardening hat! Now that’s my kind of Lord and Savior.

Can it be that Rembrandt is suggesting that this blurry Jesus/Gardener figure is both historical and futuristic, that the Word of God made flesh is with us past, present and future? Is that why Jesus stops Mary from hugging him? “Don’t hold me” he says to Mary. Is this some kind of first century social distancing? Was Mary unable to embrace Jesus because the risen Christ is the Christ of the future? Thanks to Rembrandt, I believe so. I believe the message here, going forward, is when the future is opaque, like it is today, we need to be still and listen for the voice of God through the familiar voices of other people and other sounds — a teacher, grandparent, little boy in church, gardener and even nature.

A week ago, my wife and I took our dog Luna for her morning walk along the beach. Honestly, this coronavirus thing was really getting me down. That morning I woke up at early dawn, when it was still dark, and just like Mary, I went straight to the cave. I went straight to the television, sat down and looked in to see how many more people had died overnight. And I would have stayed there all day, looking into that dark tomb. But Luna had a schedule to keep. She was nudging me hard, to take her on her 9 a.m. walk. So, that’s what we did. The three of us walked down to the beach. And that’s where it happened. Luna came bounding over a dune with a dead duck in her mouth. Not what I needed. My immediate thought was, “Lord knows what germ that thing is carrying!” So, we lured her over with a handful of treats and told her to drop it, which she did. I knew if I left the bird laying there, she would eventually find it again. So while Barbara held her back, I picked the dead duck up by its two legs and walked 40 yards down to the water. And looking out over the surf, I knew that I had to throw it beyond the breaking waves, of an outgoing tide, so it would not wash back in. So, that’s what I did: I wound back as far as I could and threw it underhand as hard as I could. And up it went over the breakers. And that’s when it happened, something completely surreal. Suddenly, I heard this familiar sound, the beautiful sound of a bird vigorously flapping its wings! With my arm still extended, frozen in time, I stood there watching as that bird rose up and disappeared over the water. Then I looked over at my dear wife’s face, which, in that moment, was also the face of Mary, a beautiful human face expressing joyful, disbelief.

Did the duck suddenly come back to life? No. At least I don’t’ think so. Although, I still can’t believe I carried it in my hand 40 yards, and it didn’t even twitch. But it doesn’t really matter either way. Because, the truth is, I knew that Luna has a lot of retriever in her. I knew that she has a soft bite and she is not interested in killing things. Rather, she simply wanted to proudly bring the animal to me, because, somewhere in her DNA, that’s her job. And I also knew that birds, including some ducks, play dead. They know that if they struggle the animal will bite down even harder. However, because I was so deep into that dark cave, I couldn’t think or see straight. So, it wasn’t until I heard the familiar flapping of those wings that I woke up, and my dark veil fell away.

Sometimes, hearing is believing. When the lights have gone out in our life, it is ever so helpful to be still and listen. With this new stay at home rule, things have gotten very quiet, and it’s not all bad. With very little traffic, people in major cities, who have been hit the hardest, are actually hearing spring birds singing for the first time ever, songs that are bringing them hope, joy and peace.

There are new sounds in the evening as well. On March 31, thousands of New Yorkers flung open their windows at 7 p.m. at shift change and vigorously cheered and clapped for health care workers all over the city. A clapping that sounded a whole lot like thousands of birds — thousands of angels, vigorously flapping their wings.

Sometimes hearing is believing. That’s why The Federated Church is producing these podcasts. Actually, it’s me, and our wonderful music director Peter, recording on my daughter’s old laptop using a $12 microphone I bought on Amazon. The invitation is simple. We invite everyone to be still and just listen — listen to God’s word of hope via music and story and symbol. Honestly, it’s changed me. In the past month my appreciation for music has exploded. For the first time in my life I am sitting still and really listening to the complexity, depth and beauty of an ancient pipe organ. For the first time in my life, I am sitting still and listening to the futuristic voices of our choir’s 2012 European tour — their “love letter” for today . . .

Sometimes just hearing connects us to a spiritual realm like nothing else. While I was preparing this sermon, I received an email from Mary Jane, one of our longtime choir members, whose husband Glenn, also a choir member, passed away three years ago. Mary Jane had just finished listening to the Palm Sunday podcast which featured another choir selection from that same 2012 European tour. Mary Jane wrote the following, which brought tears of joy to my eyes.

“Dear Richard and Peter: Thank you so much for the wonderful Palm Sunday Service. It was so uplifting. On a very personal note, thank you for including the anthem we sang a few years ago.” And then she wrote this: “I swear I heard Glenn singing! (even though he would not like me saying this, as he did blend in!)”

Sometimes hearing connects us to the spiritual realm like nothing else. So, friends, please hear the good news on this Easter morning. Two thousand years ago, Christ rose. And yes, little boy, he rose again last year. And Christ the Lord has risen today! He has risen indeed!