Posts Tagged ‘easter’

Easter 2016

March 26, 2016

What did they expect to find, I wonder?  A body, certainly – Jesus body, in fact – bloodied and broken.  That is the situation for which they have prepared. Their task was one of affection; to anoint their friend for burial.  But the continuing cruelty of Jesus death is that it occurred on the eve of Shabbat – and in the midst of Passover. No work, of any kind, was permitted to the observant at such a sacred time; not even the necessities of grief.

Adding to their confusion are these dazzling strangers, absolutely out of place.  “remember how he told you…” they begin – but Galilee was so long ago, and so much had happened since.  But yes, they remember, and slowly hope spreads; first through the gathered women, and then, more slowly, among the remaining disciples…The women are ready to believe.  The others, less so.  Peter must see for himself, but no confirmation waits for him except the scraps of cloth that had been used to hurriedly wrap Jesus body.  Peter’s amazement is incomplete.  All he knows for sure is that Jesus is not in the tomb.

What do any of us expect to find on Easter morning, I wonder?

Saviour of the world rides into town on a giant rabbit to offer chocolate and forgiveness…of course not, but what DO you expect?

Gifts arrayed and food prepared; family gathered and good times shared; Churches (mostly) full and malls (mostly) empty.

Two thousand years of preparation have given us some clarity, I think, and Christians generally agree on the facts of the matter:

Jesus, who was dead, has been raised.  Hallelujah!  It’s when we try to make sense of this glorious event – when we look for meaning in things like crucifixion and resurrection – that things get…complicated.

To some, it is GOSPEL – Good News, and that can mean only one thing; sinners saved and promises kept, and particular freedom meant for those who “accept Jesus into their hearts”; death undone by righteous blood, that’s the majority opinion.  Others find it an idle tale and cannot credit it; that God somehow required this murderous miracle to “make things right” seems a dangerous representation of Divine love and justice.  Still others within the Christian family find it comforting that God knows the pain of loss and even death, having experienced both at the hands of those ‘…created in God’s own image…’

And there are those who would dispute that God could live or die according to mere human terms…

Luke’s gospel doesn’t care about such things – not yet.  There is no attempt to turn this new state of affairs into a theological treatise.  The author’s job is to drive home the mysterious reality that met the women and then Peter: “He is not here!”

The women are challenged by a simple question; “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Had they not been left speechless, they might have answered ‘we didn’t know he would be raised’ – except Jesus had told them (more than once, according to Luke’s account); the Son of Man betrayed, dead, then in three days, risen!  The truth is, they didn’t believe – they couldn’t believe – that Jesus might be raised from the dead.  They had seen it all – the brutality, the finality, the terrible truth of the tomb cut from stone.

True, some of them had been present for Lazarus’ miracle; but Jesus had come to Lazarus’ rescue, and so far as they knew, there was no one who could return the favour fro Jesus.  There was nothing in their lives that prepared them for new life.

What did you expect to find this morning?  Good news, to be sure – especially in light of the story that has unfolded in our worship over the last three days.  Good news, considering the horror and terror that has been the only word from Belgium and Iraq and countless other places.  Good news for lives touched by sadness and fear and no shortage of doubt.  Good news is not a whitewash of certainty – all negatives somehow transformed instantly and magically into positives – rather it is the promise that God is intimately acquainted with the worst this world has to offer, and still, God prevails.

You want certainty?  What I know for certain is that Jesus is not in the tomb.  As the morning grows into afternoon, Jesus friends will find him; along the road, behind closed doors, at the head of the table, breaking bread. This is the true mystery of resurrection; that Jesus will find us; that we will meet him where he is least expected; and the truth of his empty tomb stands as a permanent and constant reminder of the power of God’s love to overcome our deepest fears and our darkest days.  Thanks be to God, Jesus is not where we expect him to be – not among the dead, but among the living.  He is risen; he is risen indeed.

Alleluia!  Amen.

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Fear and amazement, then and now.

April 4, 2015

The week begins as the Friday story ended – in fear.

The women have come to the tomb at first light of a new day; a new week;

ready to return to something familiar.

Their unbelievable experience with Jesus –

the roller-coaster ride

under the guidance of this radical teacher, their compassionate friend,

has come to an end with his death at the hands of the authorities.

It is not to be forgotten.  Their time spent with Jesus was incredible –

a time of hope and promise; a time of new ideas and fresh energy.

They watched as over and over again the impossible became common-place:

Broken people were made whole; the outcast were made welcome;

the promises of the God of Abraham

were lifted off the page and brought to life in spectacular fashion by Jesus.

They could almost imagine that the righteous kingdom had arrived…

The events in Jerusalem brought all that crashing down.

Human reality has pushed aside Divine possibility.

Jesus was dead, thanks to the combined efforts of civic and religious authorities.

The revolution of compassion and real righteousness

has been ruthlessly laid to rest.

So the women, in the early light of dawn, return to what they know.

Gathering spices, they go to honour the body of their friend and teacher.

They go to mourn in the custom of their community,

hoping that attention to the rituals of death might put them back on familiar ground.  They can’t forget their experiences with Jesus,

but they long to find safety and stability again –

to ‘go back’ to patterns and habits that had been their refuge.

But they have met, in Jesus, something unique – something ‘other’ – 

and there is no going back.

For starters, the stone has been moved; the grave is already open.

Alarmingly, a young man meets them in the tomb;

radiant and confident, the essence of life and hope.

The women are met with astonishing news:

“Don’t be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.

HE HAS BEEN RAISED; HE IS NOT HERE.”

Consider this, for a moment.

These courageous women,

looking only to honour their dead friend and express their deep grief,

are expecting something normal –

some hint that the world hasn’t gone completely mad.

They already know what we know:  everything that lives will die.

They know that the powerful will stop at nothing to maintain their power.

The status quo is not always what we want, but it is familiar;

we prefer (as a species) known chaos to unknown chaos.

What they find at Jesus’ tomb is the announcement of the death of ‘status quo’.

The bright stranger who surprises them at the tomb

tries to take the edge off their surprise.

He reminds them that Jesus told them this was coming.

All his kingdom-talk – this compassionate revolution

with a thirst for the things of God,

was going to change the way of the world and upset the status quo.

But they had not understood this while Jesus lived,

and their fear makes it impossible for them to hear it now, in this place.

The fear that the gospel captures is understandable.

New things are frightening things –

especially when they defy our expectations as an empty tomb does.

It’s not hard to imagine that terror might be a typical reaction to resurrection,

but fear and amazement is, in fact, an appropriate response

to a radical departure from our expectations.

And our expectations are what keep us from understanding

the significance of this day.

Two thousand years of celebration have taken the edge off of Easter.

The resurrection of Jesus no longer inspires fear and amazement as it should, because we have reduced it to just another sign of spring

– a festival of new life –

without a real appreciation for what this new life might be.

Easter is the reminder of God’s desire for grace and life,

set against the things we have settled for –

the things that we assume are normal and ordinary,

and which cannot (in our imaginations) ever be changed.

The world spins on, and humanity follows a destructive path.

We are content to be consumers of creation

and our competition for those things that God called good

lead us to evil choices.

In such a world as ours,

where dangerous radical thinkers wreak havoc on ordinary citizens,

it seems as though we can only watch and mourn.

In a world based on our expectations, we are left to conclude that our only hope

is to grasp a little glory for ourselves –

to leave our mark and hope we are remembered well.

This is only part of our modern reality,

because we also inhabit a world

that has witnessed the real power of God in the resurrection of Jesus,

and that means we cannot be complacent, and we are no longer powerless;

in the face of great evil, or in anything else.

Our Easter celebrations should arouse the fear in us;

fear that comes when we recognize that he world is not always as we imagine it.

Our response to the news that Jesus is risen should move us to amazement,

for the empty tomb is proof that God is still at work

seeking peace and showing mercy and offering grace.

Our status quo has been torn apart, and today is our annual reminder

that although new things are difficult, and often dangerous,

God is still at work, renewing and refreshing all things

through this one mighty act of defiance.

Easter is nothing less than God’s defiance of our expectations;

The empty tomb is God’s answer to our certainty that nothing can be changed, because in the moment when grief and (acceptance) turns to fear and amazement,

anything is possible – joy is possible – life is possible.

Thanks be to God that Jesus is Risen – he is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!  Amen!

Jesus is for real. Easter 2014

April 19, 2014

Heaven is for real.  That is the bold declaration of young Colton Burpo –now the subject of two books and a movie.  The movie is all the rage – cleverly released during Holy Week; one of the rare times that religion is an acceptable subject in the mainstream press.

It is an interesting book – though I confess I’m in no hurry to see the film – the story of a minister’s son who has a vision of heaven during surgery.  Heaven is everything that a four year old can imagine, and more, and his plain and persistent descriptions change his father’s faith.

I read the book at the request of a friend, who was dying.  He wanted to know what I thought…it was a request I couldn’t refuse, but oddly, we never got round to discussing the testimony of young Mr Burpo.  It turns out that we were already convinced that our eternal destination was in God’s hands, and that knowledge, as it turns out, is comfort enough.

But this week, amid the rave reviews (and careful critics) of a movie unashamed of its Christian convictions, I was struck by an odd thought.  The message that “heaven is for real” may offer comfort to those who are afraid of death, but the gospel entrusted to the church, and the truth about God revealed by an empty tomb, is for those afraid of life.

This morning we gather to celebrate resurrection!  Today, the message of the church has little to do with heaven.  The good news contained in our statements of faith; our hope and our joy; our prayers and our praise; all are founded on our discovery that Jesus is for real!  The mystery of faith concentrates on this life, redeemed by resurrection.

Remember how John’s gospel describes the moment: people gathered in sorrow, preparing themselves to live with their grief, are met with the unthinkable challenge of an empty tomb.  In time, the risen Jesus – no illusion, no ‘spirit-man’; “I have not yet ascended to the Father”, Jesus assures the startled Mary  – Jesus ‘for real’, speaks to Mary and turns her grief to joy.  The risen Jesus leads his disciples to life renewed!  Because Jesus is real, his friends find new purpose, new energy, new life.  Fear is forgotten; faith is the fuel for their lives from this point on; heaven is an afterthought.

Because we know that Jesus is for real – a risen and living presence even now – our lives are guided by faith, not fear.  Heaven may seem like the prize for all our devotion, but the real prize – the point of Jesus teaching and suffering, and dying, and rising – is life!  Abundant, present, and (like everything touched by the love of God) Eternal.

Those who have been touched by this love, and drawn to this life have no time to contemplate heaven; once and for all it is clear that “the home of God is among mortals…”[1]  The promised “new Jerusalem” comes from heaven to earth ; heaven has found us!  The gift of God that meets us in the Risen Christ, is a gift for the here and now.  Claim the gift.  Live as a people redeemed in real time.  Tell the world that Jesus is for real.  Thanks be to God.  Amen

 

 

 

[1] Revelation 21: 3

Amazed at what happened – Easter 2013

March 30, 2013

His friends have seen to his broken body.

The preparations are made; the Sabbath, observed,

there was only one thing left for them to do.

But here on the first day of the week, these most faithful women are left in confusion.

The stone has been moved – Jesus body is gone!

 

Though Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for this, they cannot grasp it.

“Remember what he told you…” say those men in shining white,

and gradually, the good news dawns.

The men, of course, don’t believe what the women have seen.

Peter, being Peter, must see for himself,

and he comes away “amazed at what had happened.”

 

That, for me, is the best description of the Resurrection.

If this story; our involvement with it and, our devotion to it,

do not leave you in a state of continual amazement,  then I’m unsure of what might excite you.

For if you are an interested citizen of the planet,

The resurrection of Jesus -whether or not you believe in him or claims made about him –

has captured your attention at some level.

 

Whether or not you trust in the various gospel accounts;

whether you are a devoted and faithful member of the body of Christ,

or a casual visitor to your local service of worship,

you have been changed by the significance of this enduring tale of death defeated.

I would go so far as to say that the Resurrection is the most influential event in recent human history.

 

It has affected our calendar, our early exploration, and patterns of conquest.

It has spawned protest movements

and helped prepare the way for other methods of religious expression to gain momentum.

 

The church propped up governments and hauled them down again.

Christian thought developed new ideas about government, ethics, morality, commerce, education – you name it – all because the tomb was empty.

 

From my position within the faith, within the institutional church,

and as someone personally invested in the gospel message and its wider meaning,

I am still amazed at what had happened.

For on that morning, so long ago,

deep devotion to a murdered friend

blossomed into faith in a merciful God,

and all because the tomb was empty.

 

If it were just about the principal of “love justice, do mercy and walk humbly with your God”,

the movement that had grown around Jesus

would have faltered and settled back into the Galilean dust.

If it were only a matter of a new philosophy of religion, as proposed by Jesus the rabbi,

his name and his teaching would have been added to the volumes of rabbinic work

that continues to sustain the Jewish faithful to this day.

 

But this man of God – faithful and fearless – was dead and buried;

And suddenly; painfully; amazingly, the body is not where it should be,

and neither are our expectations.

 

For if God, in faith/through faith can conquer death,

what else might be managed in that same faithful spirit?

Amazed at what had happened, Peter returned from the tomb to a world up-ended.

Amazed by the work that God would do in spite of their grief and all they had witnessed,

the disciples of Jesus became the first witnesses to a new reality.

Jesus is raised – he is not here.

 

The love and the promised kingdom

that had been his message since the crowds first gathered ‘round him,

have now been given flesh and breath in a world desperate for hope.

 

It was amazing then – it is amazing now.

Not because it is the magic solution to all our ordinary problems – it is not.

We must still untangle the messes of our social relationships;

we must face the damage we have done, are doing, and will do to ourselves and the planet –

Resurrection or not, our redemption is always a work in progress.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is amazing

because it forces us to see the world differently, whether we want to or not.

Death is a different kind of mystery now.

Faith contains a new component.

God has made an indelible mark on human society,

and it is up to us to deal with that.

 

It is a mark of profound beauty and grace – a mark that has nothing to do with our privilege,

and everything to do with the height and breadth of God’s great love for all Creation.

It is a mark that we all bear, to some degree –

the baptized and those who are not – the faithful and the pagan – apostle and agnostic

no one escapes this statement that God has made.

Christ is Risen, and we remain amazed by what has happened.

Alleluia!  Amen.

Violence against the innocent…

April 22, 2012

In our culture, it is common to complain about rising violence, and perceived dangers – especially in “big cities” – but it is rare for an instance of violence to touch us personally. When it does touch us – as with the death of Amber Kirwan,

or the steady stream of news from the Tori Stafford murder trial,

or, this past week Raymond Taavel,

our ideas of safety, of justice, and even our faith are challenged.

 

It is violence and the death of the innocent that brings out in us the highest emotions –

the sharpest sense of the need for justice (or vengeance).

While every death is a cause for sorrow,

the violent death of the innocent and the hands of the powerful

sharpens our sorrow into action and outrage.

 

But we feel powerless, don’t we…no amount of worrying, no amount of vigilance,

not even hundreds of prayers and pleas for peace, healing, deliverance or justice –

nothing seems to change the fact that those individuals (or institutions) intent on doing harm

will eventually have their way.

We dream of another reality – we long for a better world for our children and grand-children –

but the urge to oppress is to strong – prejudice is too deeply rooted –

the ‘us versus them’ pattern is too much a part of the “way of the world” to ever be overthrown –

and so the innocent continue to die – old prejudices are re-ignited – new fears are formed;

all because the world we inhabit fails to live up to the world as we imagine it should be.

 

The answer for some is to stop dreaming.

 

They argue that since my actions, my prayers, my desires seem to have no influence, I accept defeat.

With this attitude, neighbours ignore neighbours –

parents cloister their children – schools become fortresses –

the blame is dispensed among government agencies

and the general notion that “the world is changing” becomes an excuse for inaction.

 

We who would follow Christ have no such excuse.

That the world is changing is precisely the message that Jesus brought to his disciples in life –

and his resurrection confirms his teaching.

There is no going back – no hiding behind old prejudice – no running from the truth

in this changed and changing world that is revealed in the gospel according to Luke:

“And Jesus stood among them and said to them ‘Peace be with you.’

And they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:36b)

 

We cannot really understand the sense of astonishment that Luke is trying to convey.

Dead is dead, after all. And particularly violent death, like Crucifixion, brings mortality into sharp focus.

But to these gathered disciples, the idea of mortality has been torn to shreds.

Jesus lives – he should not, but he does.

Walking – talking – eating – comforting and yes, still teaching.

Jesus returns to a world gripped by violence – captive to an attitude of fear and resignation –

and calls us to reach out – to touch his risen body – and claim the dream of a world changed for the better – a world changed by the power, grace, and mercy of God.

 

That is the lesson of the resurrection.

Jesus , Luke says, opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

He showed them that the way of the world was no match for the persistent grace of God –

revealed in the faith of their ancient ancestors, and the proclamation of the prophets –

But most importantly, Jesus affirmed the triumph of Divine love

over human tendencies to selfishness, violence,and hate.

 

That is a lesson that we are especially ready to hear.

We have been beaten down by the seemingly constant stream of stories of human despair.

The current wisdom advises us to keep our heads down, our noses clean, and our own safety and best interests at heart – isolation is the only safety; that is what our experience in society tells us.

But our experience with Christ should tell us something else –

our willingness to live lives that are open to hurt and honest about pain and fear

will lead us to an experience of the living God – whose activity was not deflected by the violence of the cross, or the lonely finality of the tomb.

Our willingness to be involved in what the world calls lost causes –

things like the battle for equality – the fight against racism, sexism –

the ongoing struggle to come to terms with diversity of thought, lifestyle, religion,

and the urgent need for compassionate care for the mentally ill –

all of these things will put us in harms way –

but our devotion to the gospel of Christ compels us

to open ourselves to harm, ridicule and difficult personal choices, that God might be revealed.

“Thus it is written that Messiah is to suffer…”

to show us the way to the grace-filled kingdom of God –

that is found, not on some lofty cloud in some distant dream –

but in the midst of this hurt and harm.

 

The violent death of an innocent person –

in Jesus case, it galvanized people around the power of God.

It moved disciples and friends to speak out in favour of repentance, forgiveness and love,

in spite of threats and persecution and ridicule and death.

Jesus death and resurrection opened a new conversation about the ways of God

that has continued – unstoppable – for two thousand years.

Which is why, in our current cycle of distress within the institutional church (about our future)

and the questions from outside about the usefulness of the church,

we need not fear.

The conversation that followed the horrific death of Jesus of Nazareth is still going strong.

His story still inspires – and God still moves people who hear it to lives of service and devotion.

This story is still able to change lives – to encourage repentance and renew faith.

It is our story, and it will continue to calm fears and open eyes

to the glorious possibilities of God’s promise.

Fear and Amazement – and the foundation of faith

April 7, 2012

Nothing is going according to “the plan”

Not that it didn’t start out well –

  • Arrive in time for Passover: check
  • Seder dinner with best friends: check

but after that, it all went south…

Dinner ends with an argument about who will be faithful.

Jesus is troubled (worried) to death, so he retires to the hills for some quiet time –

his friends seem indifferent.

One of those ‘friends’ turned Jesus in as a revolutionary,

and arrives after dark with a lynch mob.

He was rapidly tried,

convicted of blasphemy, treason and causing a general nuisance,

denied amnesty, and sent to be executed.

Nothing had gone as planned.

It’s no wonder that the women are distraught – not thinking clearly.

Sure – Jesus spoke of an alternative – a kingdom of divine justice and mercy

Love one another – and love God with your whole heart,

but look at where that got Jesus…

The plan is in tatters, and these women hope to salvage some respect

for the memory of their teacher and friend by ministering to his remains at the tomb.

What meets them there, in the early hours of this brand new day makes no sense.

An open grave – occupied by a surprisingly lively young man dressed in white.

The messenger brings distressing words –

He is not here – then reminds them of Jesus promise to see them down the road in Galilee.

It’s no wonder they fled.

Terror and amazement – hand in hand – because neither one on its own is adequate –

our Christian Faith is founded on such primal emotions as these.

But for all the fear and amazement found in this morning’s gospel,

this act of discovery is not the most important piece of the puzzle.

Though it is the last act in the oldest versions of the gospel of Mark –

it is not the final word;

the empty tomb is not the definitive moment for the few who happened upon it.

Do I have your attention now?

On the day that the Christian community throughout the western world

breathe a collective sigh of relief,

and celebrate of the Resurrection of Jesus as the most significant event in the history of creation,

I am telling you that the discovery of the empty tomb is not really that important.

The stone is moved – the body is gone – the disciples are terrified…

and the most important thing is what happens next.

In fear and amazement, the women left.

They went home – trembling; terrified.  They wondered what it meant –

they considered that an empty grave might change the way they looked at the world.

What happened next is they lived with the consequences of Jesus empty tomb.

Only then did they see him.

Only then was the living, Risen Christ revealed to their eyes.

The gift of faith was a direct result of their fleeing in fear –

their amazement  is answered in the real world, on the streets of the city –

in their homes, on the beach…

The life of faith follows the path of fear and amazement;

each in equal measure responsible for our openness to the mystery and majesty of the living God.

Our fear of abandonment draws us into relationship and community.

Our amazement as we glimpse God’s glory in creation invites us to offer praise in worship.

Just as the first disciples came together

to (reluctantly) share their stories (and their sadness),

only to discover that something wonderful beyond their imaginations was happening.

The tomb is empty, and Jesus is among us –

and the most important thing is what happens next.

We gather today to remember the start of something wonderful –

and the most important thing, is what happens next…

God’s glory is loose in the world – God’s messenger has been raised –

death, it seems, is no barrier to the promise of God,

so what are you going to do about it?

We will continue to worship – in churches, in homes, in hospitals, in parks.

We will gather together around the Sacraments –

we will be both frightened and freed

by the promises offered at Baptism and by the hope expressed at the Lord’s Table.

We will reach out to our neighbours and our enemies,

because the love we’ve discovered knows no boundaries.

Will you join us?

Our gathering today is significant – full of faces -full of joy – full of life

But for many who gather today, tomorrow will be ‘just another Monday’,

But the tomb is empty – Jesus, it seems, has Risen –

and that means our former reality has been altered.

The powerful can still take a life, and snuff out rebellion, and demand obedience

But God has been revealed as more powerful than they.

The cross is now a sign, not of torture and submission,

but of the failure of human authority.

The grave is no longer the finish line – but our new starting point.

And the most important part of the story is in our hands – with God’s help.

What happens next is up to you and I.

In the ongoing story of God’s work among us, we represent the newest chapter –

our lives and our stories will be the foundation for another generation of fearful, faithful people.

All because he is not where they laid him;

He is risen.  Risen indeed.

Hallelujah!  Amen.

Easter 2 C – Incarnational

April 10, 2010

This week, my status as a technological dinosaur was confirmed.

While replacing my cell phone, whose contract had expired, I made the mistake of asking for “just a phone” – not a camera – not a mini computer with a full ‘texting’ keyboard not a combination GPS – web-browsing – book-reading smart phone – just a phone.   The sales rep gave me a look of combined shock and sympathy.

I don’t mind being a dinosaur – it doesn’t mean I’m anti-technology; (I have a cell phone, don’t I?)

I can run a computer, and I appreciate the internet for what it is – a big distraction with occasional bits of useful information, through which I can do my banking, order books and book flights and hotel rooms and rental cars.

No, my resistance to a technological takeover is theological.  I don’t believe God is anti-technology either – any more than God is anti-industrial, or anti-recreation – my theological argument boils down to one word – Incarnation.

Incarnation is a big deal as far the Christian Church is concerned- you might say it sets us apart from the crowd – for God chose to appear – in the flesh, as we understand it – in the person of Jesus, whom we call The Christ.

Having tried several other applications – burning bush, pillar of fire, thunderous heavenly voice, badly dressed desert prophets – God ultimately chose to ‘take a meeting’, and that has made all the difference for us.  Incarnation is what makes the church different from the culture – especially this culture, that has come to believe that technology can make everything (including relationship) simpler and better.

Now, I have encountered people in on-line forums with whom I have had meaningful dialogue.  I have reconnected with classmates, caught up on the news, discussed and debated the state of the church.  But none of these things, in the end, are as satisfying as a meeting over lunch, or a conversation shared in the course of an otherwise tedious road trip.

Nothing beats seeing the look of discovery on a friend’s face when you tell them your good news; there’s no gift like an encouraging smile when you share your dreams, or confront your fears with someone you’ve come to trust.

That is the gift that the disciples receive on this day, in that locked room.  The technology of their world, rough as it might seem to our advanced eyes, has been turned against them.  They are no longer welcomed in the usual social circles.  In the eyes of the world they are accomplices, not apostles.  They are isolated and afraid, and rightly so, when Jesus comes into their midst.

Yet He would banish their fears by being with them.  He will set their minds at ease by showing them his reality – letting them touch and wonder.  He will do this as long as it is necessary – one week later, for Thomas, he offers the same solution.

That personal contact and gathering together – to share the good news that all is not lost – to remember the world has not conquered – becomes the hallmark of the followers of Christ – the backbone of the Christian church.  The church remains different because we share this passion for personal contact.  Because we insist on gathering together, sometimes in fear (though rarely with the doors locked these days) so that we might see and believe that Jesus is raised – that hope is not lost – that God is with us.

In an article in the Christian Century (discovered on-line) on the importance of Incarnation throughout the story of Jesus, Margaret Geunther writes:

“Jesus’ appearance in the midst of his frightened friends is a story of incarnation, and reminds us that God came and comes among us, experiencing and loving our humanity. We are aware of this at Christmas, when we hear that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Then the churches fill, and even nonbelievers are drawn instinctively by the powerful image of God coming among us in the perfection, loveliness and vulnerability of a baby. Yet Good Friday is about the incarnation too. Jesus on the cross is an icon of suffering, a powerful statement about the flesh and particularly about its terrible vulnerability. His Passion reminds us of our almost infinite capacity to inflict and suffer hurt. Easter comes as a real relief from the uncomfortable physicality of Good Friday…He still comes in everydayness. He still says: see my hands and my feet. Don’t avert your eyes from my wounds out of politeness or disgust. Look at them. Put your finger here. Don’t be afraid. Remember the incarnation. I came among you first in human flesh–flesh that can be hungry and fed, flesh that can be hurt, even killed. Flesh that can embody God’s love.” i

We can’t have this experience on-line.  There is no application – no phone smart enough – to convey that sense of peace and assurance that we get when we gather together, to remind one another of God’s activity among us.

Gathered as a body of believers, the wounded, risen body of our Saviour is made real to us.  Only then can we find the courage we need to face the world for whom he died and was raised.

Amen

iMargaret Guenther “Mediated through the flesh – John 20:19-31 – Living by the Word – Column“. Christian Century. FindArticles.com. 10 Apr, 2010. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_n12_v112/ai_16847106/

Easter 2010 – No idle tale…

April 4, 2010

Old Testament – Isaiah 65: 17-25

Responsive Reading – Psalm 118

Epistle – 1 Corinthians 15: 19-26

“Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,

that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified,

and on the third day rise again.”

These are the words that start the ball rolling toward belief in the impossible

for those brave women at Jesus’ tomb.

Impossible, because the world simply did not work that way.

Dead was dead, and there was nothing that could be done.

They had their own experience and the weight of cultural opinion on their side.

They knew everything about life and death that there was to know –

they lived in a very advanced society; they were firm in their convictions…

and as it happens, on this morning,

on the first day of this brand new week, they were wrong.

History confirms that we are able (and willing) to believe any number of things.

We believed quite firmly that humans beings were unable to fly.

That the earth was the centre of the universe –

and that if you sailed far enough, you would fall off the edge.

At various times we have believed that the colour of a persons skin determined their worth

that you country of origin determined your character.

We were able to convince ourselves that women were property, not people

that our emotions were controlled by our blood –

that diseases were divine judgement – and natural events could be ‘controlled’ by ritual sacrifice.

Some of these beliefs continue in altered form –

some things are so firmly fixed in us as to be immovable.

Others change as our knowledge expands and our understanding adapts.

We have figured out how to use power, wind and wings to remain airborne;

we have adopted a model of the universe that is infinitely larger that we once imagined –

and does not place us at the centre

we have circled the globe and have begun to accept that,

while not everyone is the same, everyone has value.

Our beliefs can and will change as new evidence is revealed to us

and in that ancient graveyard, on the first day of the week,

these women received news that altered the way we see the universe.

Life and death have long been unchangeable mysteries

what lay beyond death brought all kinds of religious speculation

in nearly every recorded culture.

If life brought fear and hardship and uncertainty, death brought even more.

And here at Jesus tomb, his friends brought all those fears and doubts

only to have them thrown aside by the words “he is not here – but is risen”

Could the world suddenly be so different?

Can the rules change overnight?

Can there possibly be something more powerful that death?

The answer to all those questions on this day, is yes!

Without understanding how it works,

these women, on the strength of their own senses, are moved to believe in the impossible.

The world is different – absolutely different –

because death is not the last act (but rather, an intermission…) in the drama of our existence.

The rules as they knew them have been cast aside –

God has proven God’s power over the thing that holds us all captive –

death (and fear of it) – by springing the trap and raising Jesus.

The proof will come for these women – and for the rest of the disciples.

Jesus will once again move among them – eat with them – teach and bless them –

but belief does not need proof. (Belief is an act of the imagination).

Today our imaginations are once again being fed. In this act of great power that we remember this morning, God, through the resurrection of Jesus, invites us to re-imagine the way the world works.

Today we are reminded that our notions of how the world works might be wrong:

death is not the end – and therefore should have no power over us.

God is greater than our greatest fear – Christ lives, and though we cannot (yet) see him, the evidence of his living is overwhelming. Lives continue to be changed – all because we chose to believe what seemed ‘an idle tale’ – He is not dead – he has Risen.

Alleluia – Amen

Who will roll away the stone?

April 10, 2009

Often, our most difficult moments are reduced to the simplest of questions;

what will we do next?”

such simplicity flies in the face of our troubles – lives torn apart, future uncertain, hopes dashed

yet when those questions are too big – too overwhelming – we concentrate on the necessities,

the next breath – the next step.

Rather than trying to rebuild in the midst of the wreckage,

we look for the simplest way to clear the building site – but,

who will roll away the stone?

We are praised for our willingness to forge ahead,

whatever the obstacles.

We counsel one another to “keep on living – to get back to business”

as the best remedy for a multitude of tragic circumstances.

But to everyone there comes a time when the load is just too heavy.

There is no way around, over or through.

When that time comes, are we any more able

to hear words of grace, or to notice that the weight has just been lifted?

Who will roll away the stone?

That was the pressing question,

among the many questions of these friends of Jesus.

The stone was heavy, and given the circumstances surrounding Jesus death,

they had every right, as friends of a convicted trouble-maker,

to expect trouble with the authorities.

Their day was full of trouble, and the sun was barely risen.

Imagine the surprise – the terror –

on finding the tomb standing open…

their only fear replaced by the unspeakable;

what more could the authorities do than kill Jesus?

Who would have opened the grave?

An open tomb is not a comforting sight

when your mind is clouded with grief.

Mark’s gospel does not let those clouds disperse.

The women maintain their fear and amazement.

The spices are forgotten,

for the young man in white has given them new questions to ponder;

the gospel concludes in silence and fear – but that fear cannot last.

The open grave has become, in this moment, the entrance to life.

The miracle of Easter is not that the tomb is empty,

not that the women meet what must surely be an angel,

nor is the miracle simply that Jesus is risen.

The miracle of Easter is that our every question – our every difficulty

is met with a single response;

The stone has been rolled away.

It was a task we could not manage, and yet it has been accomplished.

God has lifted the weight from us – done all the heavy work

and left us to wonder what comes next.

We want to see Jesus – to find that proof which will settle our racing hearts

and clear our clouded minds – and we will,

but the miracle of Easter is in that freedom of spirit we find

when we discover that our most difficult and worrying obstacles

have been effortlessly shifted in the night

and that our way ahead is now clear.

What we could not imagine – the one thing that stood in our way

is no longer an issue.

Death itself has lost its power over us;

God has sent an unmistakeable message.

The tomb is open and empty;

our teacher – our saviour waits ahead for us.

He is not here, he is risen, just as he said.

Alleluia – Alleluia – Amen.