Risen Indeed!

“Risen Indeed!”

Easter word cloud

Mark 16:1-8 (16:6) – April 1, 2018

            Have you ever had something completely unexpected happen to you? I mean, something so unexpected and unusual it is disorienting? Perhaps it leaves you with your jaw hanging open. I might say that the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series reminds us of that, but, no. I am talking much bigger than that—of cosmic significance! And, much more disorienting. Astounding.

            It wasn’t as if the Rabbi Jesus had kept it a secret. No, He had spoken of it to His followers, a number of times before His crucifixion. But, really, it is a bit farfetched.. Jesus, being raised from the dead? Come on, Jesus. You must be joking. Seriously?

            We know more about what happened on that Easter Sunday from the other Gospel accounts. But, Mark? Not so much. Mark writes in his usual concise, blunt manner. Short on details and description, heavy on action. Let’s take a closer look at our Gospel reading.

            “After the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint the body of Jesus. Very early on Sunday morning, at sunrise, they went to the tomb.”

            We already know the men disciples of Jesus scattered as soon as Jesus was arrested. This was for very good reason! The men were very much afraid that they would be arrested, too! But, this left just the women disciples of Jesus at the foot of the cross, and at the tomb.

            How often is it that women take care of the body of their loved one after death? In many cultures and all around the world, for millenia, washing and dressing the dead body, anointing the body with spices and with perfumes, holding a vigil or mourning or sitting shiva. How often is this the responsibility and privilege of women?

To continue, from Mark 16: “On the way they said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (It was a very large stone.) Then they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled back.”  The big stone rolled over the entrance to the tomb must have been worrying the women. Mark even mentions it. I suspect they already were discussing how their combined strength was probably not enough to even budge the stone. But—what is this? The stone is already rolled away! It’s the first inkling that things at the tomb are not as these women first thought.

            “So they entered the tomb, where they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe—and they were alarmed.“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here—he has been raised!”

I can’t help but smile as I read my commentator’s view on this verse: “seems to be on Jesus not being present because he has better things to do than wait around at a tomb. The “young man dressed in a white robe” (angelic messenger) delivers the good tidings of Easter morning like an administrative assistant explaining why you can’t have a quick word with the boss: “You’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.” [1]

Wait a minute—did I hear that right? Jesus just stepped away? These women are left holding the spices, and they only have a vague idea of where their Rabbi Jesus might have gone.

I realize this whole situation is astounding, but can we put ourselves in the shoes of these women? They had absolutely no idea where Jesus was. Plus, they are faced with an angelic messenger. How often the first words out of any angel’s mouth are “Don’t be afraid!” Angels must be frightening, and awe-inspiring, and enough to make these women shake in their sandals.

Is anything clouding the sight of these women as the angel speaks to them? Is anything clouding their hearts from discerning what it is the angel has to say? We all know the grief and cares of this world, some more than others. What else did the angel say? “Look, here is the place where he was placed. Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter: ‘He is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Again, these women were flabbergasted. Amazed, half in disbelief. As our commentator Dr. Pape tells us, the angel’s instructions to the women “is to tell the disciples, and especially Peter who had denied him, that they had better get on the move (Mark 16:7). Jesus had explained already that after he was raised up, he would go ahead of them to Galilee (Mark 14:28). Now the “young man” reminds them of this scheduled rendezvous. If it’s Jesus they want, they will need to head back to Galilee.” [2]

This is a tall order. The angel orders the women to tell the disciples that they are to go clear across the country, to Galilee, and there they will meet the risen Jesus. I suspect the women already knew how skeptical the men disciples would be of their claim that Jesus was alive. And then, on top of that, the whole group of disciples were told to remove to Galilee to go and meet with the risen Jesus? Kind of far-fetched, if you ask me. Looking at this passage, we read of the women’s response: “So they went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

I wonder how much of the women’s response was fear and anxiety? How much was unbelief? And, how much was other emotion, and distress, getting in the way of them hearing the message of the angel clearly?

Yet, along with the Rev. Janet Hunt, “I find myself wondering about those women now… those who were looking on from a distance: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome.  And I wonder then if it was force of will that kept them there at the foot of the cross for as long as they stayed or if time stood still for them and all other responsibilities just faded away.

“And I wonder about the people who will gather in all of our places of worship this Easter morning to hear again a story many of them have heard over and over again.  I wonder what grief, what loss, what worry, what fear will be clouding their hearts as they step into a place bathed in lilies and the sounds of trumpeted Alleluias.  I wonder if for them this hour shared will be a distraction to be gotten through before they get back to other matters pressing on their minds and hearts or if they will hear in the ancient story retold a promise that will then somehow come alive right before their eyes as they return to their lives in a world.  A world which all too often seems to hold a whole lot more despair than hope, more cynicism than trust, more death than life.  I wonder if some among us, like those women on that first Easter morning, I wonder if we will see God’s promises kept in unexpected ways and places on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning or Wednesday night.”  [3]

We know now, from the other Gospel accounts, that this was just the beginning of the story, the beginning of that Good News, that Jesus has risen, indeed! Despite worry, anxiety, despair, loss, and cynicism, we know the tomb is empty. We know that with the risen Jesus, hope, love, mercy and forgiveness have come into the world again. We can say with the angel in the tomb, “Jesus is not here—He is risen!” Jesus Christ is risen, indeed. Amen, alleluia!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2406

Commentary, Mark 16:1-8, Lance Pape, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/a-gap-in-the-story-easter-thoughts/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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He Is Not Here!

Matthew 28:1-10 (28:6) – April 16, 2017

Matt 28-6 He is not here, cursive

“He Is Not Here!”

Birds. butterflies, and flowers all have something in common: they are all surprises! You might not expect a brightly colored cardinal or peacock to hatch from a plain old egg, but, it does! You might not expect a lovely Monarch butterfly to come out of a drab cocoon, but, it does! You might not expect a colorful tulip or sweet-smelling hyacinth to grow from the lumpy bulb you planted last fall, but, it does!

Birds, butterflies and flowers are very common things. We have become used to their small surprises, every time they emerge from the dull former things to the bright, new life. What kind of surprise do we have, at Easter time? What great big thing has changed?

Let’s go back three days, from Easter Sunday to Good Friday. The priests and religious leaders finally thought they beat Jesus. That upstart Rabbi, false Messiah, calling Himself the Son of God—the religious leaders finally got that Galilean troublemaker arrested. About time, some might say! That Jesus was just a rabble-rouser, speaking against the Romans, stirring up trouble, and protesting against the established order of things. Serves Him right. (Or, so some people said.)

We know the Passion narrative, how our Lord Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers, tried, beaten, jeered at, spat upon, and finally brought before Pilate for the sentence of execution to be delivered by the ruling governor.

We know the Way of the Cross, how our Lord Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows, carrying that cruel cross on His back through Jerusalem. And, the many women and others in the crowd, watching Jesus walk that road out of the city.

We know the Crucifixion, how our Lord Jesus was nailed to that cross, hoisted up, and hung there for hours that Good Friday morning and afternoon. Until, at last, He died on that cross amidst the thunder and earthquake.

What some do not know is that our Lord Jesus was taken down from that cross later Friday afternoon and laid in a new tomb. Quickly, quickly, before night fell on that Friday evening, and the Jewish Sabbath began. A time of God-ordained rest when no work could be done, not even to bury a dearly loved one.

Friday night passed. All day Saturday—the Jewish Sabbath—passed. Saturday night, and nothing could be done. No work, certainly. It was dark, after all!

On Sunday morning, the first day of the week, the two Marys came to the new tomb. I’d imagine they came early, early in the morning, creeping—coming on tiptoe toward the tomb. I’d also imagine that they might have been frightened to come into a graveyard.

We don’t know much about the other Mary (other than her name, which was a very common name for that time), but we do know several things about Mary Magdalene. When Jesus met her, a year or two before, she had a number of demons residing in her. Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, cast the demons out of her! The old, horrible existence she had been living was—gone. Everything had become new. The demons were gone, Mary was healed and free to live the abundant life. The very life she lived was proof of God’s abundant power in her life. [1]

I don’t know about you, but if Jesus had done something that awesomely powerful in my life, I may have followed Him, too, no matter what!

Both Marys were going to the tomb to perform a solemn, loving ritual for their Rabbi, teacher and leader, a ritual of anointing with precious oils and expensive spices. They had not had time to do this loving anointing when they so hurriedly placed Him in the tomb late Friday afternoon.

I suspect the women were also concerned about how to roll away the stone. Possibly, they meant to ask the Roman soldiers. The last thing the two Marys were expecting was an Easter surprise!

As Matthew tells us in his Gospel, an Angel of the Lord had rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. “[The Angel’s] appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”

What about the two Marys? The Angel said to them, first thing, “Do not be afraid!”

Do you notice that? Almost every single time that angels appear in the Bible, they first have to caution people: “Do not be afraid!” Angels must really be fearsome creatures, since they always are saying, “Do not be afraid!”

Let’s go a few verses further. The risen Jesus greets the two women with the same words: “Do not be afraid!” Here, I am certain the women were scared half to death when they encountered Jesus!

Talk about an Easter surprise! No one expected their Rabbi Jesus to be alive again.

What on earth does this mean for us, today? “For children, this simply means ‘don’t be afraid of anything.  I am stronger than the worst evil there is.  And, no matter what happens I will be with you always.’” And for us big people, it can mean exactly the same thing. Jesus tells all of us, “Don’t be afraid!” This is a message we can tell each other again and again. This is a message that we can unpack repeatedly.  “On Easter for children it begins with knowing that no one could kill Jesus forever” and, it’s a celebration of God’s cosmic, unbeatable power. [2] On Easter for us big people it means that Jesus has conquered death once and for all, and lives forever.

We go back to birds, butterflies and flowers, these very common things. God has created them to hatch, to burst forth, to bloom. We have become used to their small surprises, every time they emerge from the dull former things to their bright, new lives.

“Tradition has it that Christ was raised from death to life in the springtime, when the ground and the trees are waking up from the dead of winter and showing the unmistakable signs of rebirth that come every year. But the new life that is in Christ is not really like the new life in nature in spring.” [3] New life in Christ is not only a physical matter, but a spiritual matter.

On Easter, we have a great big surprise, a huge surprise: a dead body coming out a tomb, alive again. Jesus has overcome death. God has done the biggest miracle in the world—in the universe. Our Lord Jesus is alive again. This is the greatest Good News of all!

Alleluia! He is risen! Alleluia!

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/easter-sunday-festival-of-gods-creation

Worship Planning Helps (Easter): Worship & Preaching Notes, Hymn Suggestions and Worship Resources from the United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-easter-sunday-april-21-2014.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/easter-sunday-festival-of-gods-creation

Worship Planning Helps (Easter): Worship & Preaching Notes, Hymn Suggestions and Worship Resources from the United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Words of Wondrous Love

“Words of Wondrous Love”

resurrection Jesus - medieval manuscript

Luke 24:1-12 – March 27, 2016

Have you ever had a very full week? Where a month of experiences have been packed into seven hectic days? At such a busy, sometimes tumultuous time, it’s hard to focus. Difficult to pick up the thread of conversations. Challenging to decide what important thing to do when, especially when there are so many urgent matters waiting for you. Calling for you. Nudging your elbow, clamoring for your attention. Add to all that tumult the trauma of a sudden death.

That is the situation for these faithful women. These women have gone through some gut-wrenching things, these past few days. After the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem just a short seven days ago, these companions of the Rabbi Jesus had seen their leader in debate with some of the most learned religious teachers and leaders of Israel. Jesus had delivered one of His most stirring sermons—the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s Gospel, as well as one of the most poignant—the Discourse from the Upper Room, from John’s Gospel.

As if all of that heavy theology from Rabbi Jesus wasn’t enough, their leader Jesus showed Himself to be everyone’s servant. Since there was no servant present at that Passover dinner on Thursday night to wash the guests’ feet, Jesus did it Himself. He took the position of a servant and washed His disciples’ feet. Talk about a mind-blowing experience. Your Rabbi, your teacher, whom you have been following for several years, hanging on His every word and action. This Rabbi, this Jesus becomes a lowly servant and washes everyone’s feet.

But, wait. We’re only getting started. Their Teacher, Rabbi Jesus did something completely unprecedented at supper that night. He took one of the loaves of bread, tore it apart, and said, “This bread? It’s my body. It’s going to be broken for all of you. Take it, and eat it.” Shortly after that, Jesus took one of the cups of wine and said, “This cup? This is the new covenant in my blood, given for you. Take it, and drink.” Jesus took the familiar Passover supper and instituted a new thing—the Lord’s Supper. What we call communion, the Eucharist.

Things really started to follow in rapid succession. The time of intense prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The betrayal of Judas, and the arrest of Rabbi Jesus. Repeated trials before Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, the whipping and the scourging. I am certain all of this was reported to the disciples in great detail.

Pilate bringing Jesus before the crowd that Friday morning. The crowd yelling, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” So, Pilate sentenced this Rabbi Jesus to death. The Roman death of a criminal, death on a cross. Crucifixion.

Some of Jesus’s followers were there as He bore His cross out of the city of Jerusalem. They saw that agonized walk down the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows. Finally, as the cross was raised on Golgotha, Jesus suffered that most painful death, death on a cross.

All of that heartbreaking trauma, horror, and extreme grief were packed into just a few days. Plus, for all good Jews, Saturday was the Sabbath. Not only a regular Sabbath, but the special Sabbath during Passover. The women—the rest of the disciples hardly had a chance to begin to process all of those tumultuous events. They did their best to rest, to hide, to grieve on that seventh day of the week, on that Saturday.

I include the women as disciples of Jesus. As commentator Dennis Bratcher says, “Luke tells us that these women followed Jesus from Galilee and watched Him die on the cross (23:49). The Greek word for “follow” is the usual word used for a disciple …. It seems that Luke wants the readers to understand these women to be disciples of Jesus.” [1]

After all this, the women—trying so hard to be faithful in their friendship and following of their leader and teacher Jesus—take spices to anoint the body. They go to the tomb where Jesus had been hurriedly laid late on Friday, before sundown. As the Gospel tells us, they found the stone rolled away. And, the tomb was—empty!

Can you imagine how confused they were? Distracted? Astonished? Yes, it was early in the morning. The women had difficulty comprehending what was before their eyes. After all the horror and trauma of the last few days, while the women were talking amongst themselves, things got even weirder. As Luke says, “suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground.”

What would you do if two guys in gleaming white clothes showed up, suddenly appeared right here, in St. Luke’s Church? Pretty scary! Talk about being amazed. Astonished.

The men (we can call them angels, because that’s what they were) said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!”

What did I say, a few minutes ago? How at such a busy, sometimes tumultuous time, it’s hard to focus. Difficult to pick up the thread of conversations, to pay attention. What on earth is going on here? We hear the angels say, “Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”

Then—finally!—the women remember the words of their Teacher Jesus. They run back to their friends, the other disciples, telling them what happened. They are witnesses! They say, “The tomb is empty! Jesus is gone! And, we saw angels!”

I suspect we all can predict the reaction of the other disciples. “What? You saw … what? Are you crazy? What is the matter with you?” Luke tells us, “They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

What must it have been like for the disciples to hear the Good News the angels brought? A little far-fetched. Maybe a whole lot far-fetched. They couldn’t take it all in. They didn’t believe it! They thought what the women were saying was crazy talk!

What is it like for us, today, to hear the Good News the angels brought?

Who do you identify with? Do you identify with the women? Do you believe in those words the angels brought, and run and tell your friends? Are you witnesses to the Resurrection? Or, are you like the other disciples? Doubting. Skeptical. Thinking those words seem like nonsense! Crazy talk! Perhaps the disciples didn’t remember the words of Jesus. No, not yet.

Ah, that first Easter morning. As Luke says, the angels remind us that our Lord Jesus told us what was going to happen beforehand. Our Lord Jesus predicted that He must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again. Those were the words that the women remembered. And just like the women, we, too, can witness to the Resurrection. We can proclaim that powerful, loving, transforming experience that has happened!

What does that message, that Good News the angels brought, mean to you and me? Do we know the wondrous love of Jesus? The wondrous love that led Him to the cross, the wondrous love that pierced Him for our transgressions. And, by His wounds we—all of us are healed. Thank God Jesus died in our place, so we don’t have to be separated from God for eternity. Thank God Jesus conquered death. We have been reconciled to God. That is the Good News of wondrous love the angels brought.

Believe the Good News of the Gospel—Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!       

 

(I appreciate Readings, Analysis of Texts and Preaching Paths, Dennis Bratcher, Christian Resource Institute. Thanks for the assistance in understanding the text from Luke.)

[1] http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Ceaster1nt.html#text2

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!