“Is the Fish Safe for the Resurrected Body?” Lectionary Sermon for 3rd Easter B, April 22, 2012 on Luke 24:36b-48

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were

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seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

If the gospel stories were made up fictions, I think they would be very different.  For one thing, they would try hard to get the story straight.  Like accomplices in a crime, they would agree on one version of the story to tell.

But like witnesses of an auto accident, each sees Jesus from his own perspective, and each tells the story as he remembers it.

So, with all of the variation in details, it is fascinating to me to notice a detail they all include: the fact that it was hard to grasp that Jesus had actually risen from the dead in bodily form.  Even though Jesus had predicted it, they had not understood, or had not believe it, or maybe a bit of both.

First, Peace

So, when they saw Jesus, they were surprised, confused, and terrified.  Jesus first has to calm their fears before anything else happens.  Luke tells us:

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were

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seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

If this were simply a fictional account, I would think the authors would say they  felt surprise, but then great joy – hugs all around – a group hug.  There would be amazement and people would say things like “We are so happy to see you!  We missed you.”

But the gospels tell it more realistically.  In their culture, you were either a living person or else you were a ghost, a disembodied spirit – which was a scary thing, not a welcome presence.

Our Doubts

Have you ever doubted that Jesus really rose from the dead bodily?  Well I have too.  And so did the disciples who knew him best, even when he was standing right there in front of them.

I am aware that there are many people who think the resurrection was merely a spiritual truth – like Jesus’ spiritual presence here now, and in the bread and the cup in the Lord’s Supper.  But I think that is a mistake.  And I think it is actually important to us that Jesus rose bodily, and we will get to that in a moment.

But the fact is that believing that someone can rise bodily from the dead is not easy, not now and not then, because that is simply not what happens in our experience.

Proving He is not a Ghost

Jesus is well aware of the problem, and so he gently takes the time to satisfy their skeptical minds.  He knows they think he is a ghost, so he says:

Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.”

Is that all it takes?  Look and see?  Touch?  No, because illusions and hallucinations happen.  Visions happen.  Dreams happen.  Who knows what tricks your eyes and mind can play on you, especially in an emotionally distraught condition.  So Jesus goes one step further:

While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece

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of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”

Ghosts don’t eat fish.  In fact they don’t eat anything.

Is that enough?  Matthew tells us that even when they are back in Galilee on the mountain, on the last day Jesus was with them physically:

When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matt 28:17)

Doubt – even after seeing him, touching him, and watching him eat fish.  If you have trouble believing in a bodily resurrection, you are not the first, and you are not alone.  In fact you are in quite good company.

God and the Physical World

But it is important that Jesus rose, not as a spirit, but as a physical body.  Why?  Because the Christian story is that God, the Creator of the physical world, the world with trees, stones, and physical bodies, loves the physical world that he made.  He kept pronouncing it “good” in the Genesis creation story.  In fact, “very good.”

God made us, his human creatures, in his image with a spiritual side.  We can look at the Gulf of Mexico, or at the sun setting behind the clouds, and feel overwhelmed by his “eternal power and divine nature” as Paul says nature teaches us.

And yet we are aware too, of the distance between us and God.  We humans turned from God and chose to eat the forbidden fruit – which we all do – and so our spirits long to re-connect with God.

Redemption of the Whole Person

We know we need redemption.  We need redemption not just for our spiritual selves, but for our physical selves as well.  We are not spirits who inhabit bodies – like the way Plato thought of us – as if the body were the “prison house of the soul.”  That may be Plato’s story, but that is not the Christian story.

We are “living beings,” as the creation story tells us, with the breath of God in our physical lungs.  And so, to redeem us, God came to us as a fully human being.  The eternal, divine Word became real human flesh and lived among us” – as John’s gospel announces.

When Jesus redeems us, he redeems all of us.  All of our humanity is taken up by his  humanity, so that all of it can become what he is, a true child of God.

And this is exactly what the scriptures of the Old Testament, the Law of Moses and the prophets were pointing to – but it’s much easier to see it in hindsight.  So, back to the story; Luke tells us:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,”

Could it be that God would become flesh – to the point that God-in-the-flesh could suffer and feel pain, like we do?  Jesus continues:

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,”

He came to us, not as Athena comes to Troy in the guise of human, but not really one that could suffer pain or die.  He came to us as a physical human, suffered pain as we do, and death as we all will.  He was raised bodily, as we all will be.

Resurrection of the Body

This is part of why it is so important that Jesus was raised bodily: he is the firstfruits of the resurrection we will share.

We are physical, and therefore mortal.  We know that we will all die.  But death is not the end.  We know that we will be with the Father in heaven, but

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then, at last, we believe that God will make a new heaven and a new earth and that we will have resurrection bodies to live in on that new earth.

We will not just be spirits floating in space.  We will recognize ourselves and each other, just as the disciples recognized Jesus.  We will be re-united with those we love who have gone before us.

Think of what this means: the God who made a good physical world, and who became part of that physical world to redeem it, will one day make a new heavens and new earth for our resurrected bodies.

To put it theologically, the incarnation (that is, God becoming flesh) and the resurrection of Jesus’ physical body, both show how important this physical world is to God.

The Physical Planet God Made and Loves

This leads us to the inescapable conclusion that caring for this physical world, this planet not an option for us.  God values this physical planet that he made.  He put us in charge of it, like his personal landscaping crew, to tend it and care for it.  This planet is our responsibility to manage.  We have a mandate to use this planet well.

We have admitted that our story includes the fact that we all eat the forbidden fruit – we all do wrong.  We all sin.  When we believe that the reward is big enough, we do what we know is wrong.

Big rewards are what entice people to take risks and even to purposefully desecrate our planet.  Big rewards, like big money, tempt people to rush the drilling process to the point of making dangerous mistakes.   The rewards are bigger if you don’t spend the money on a drilling an emergency relief well from the start.

Big rewards lead people to justify just about any amount of damage to the environment in the name of profits for the company and return on investment for shareholders.

The Two Master Alternative

This is one place where it is abundantly clear to all of us that “no one can serve two masters.”  No one can serve both God and money.  One will aways loose.  When money is on the table, people will take ridiculous risks, and people will be bad.

These folks must not think that they will ever have to face the Creator of this word and give account.  They must not understand incarnation or believe in resurrection.  They will have some surprises ahead, just as the disciples did.

This is one of the ways in which we need repentance.  This is one of the areas in which we need forgiveness.  This is part of the reason the resurrected Jesus said,

repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations”

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Celebrate Earth Day

This is Earth Day.  This day is special for us as Christians.  We know who made this world, and we know our place in it.  We know that we have been

redeemed by God who cared so much that he became one of us physical humans.

We Christians know that there is a future for this planet, so we are called to care for it, even at the risk of facing less financial gain.  But we know our priorities and we know whom we serve.  We know that we are called to keep this planet clean enough that the fish will be safe to eat in our resurrected bodies.

“Touch and Go” Lectionary Sermon for 2nd Easter B, April 15, 2012 on John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

At least for the moment it looks like we avoided a new shooting war in Asia.  North Korea’s rocket blew itself apart, so Japan didn’t have to do it for

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them.  It didn’t fly over South Korea, so they didn’t have to take action either.  At least one of my current fears has been eliminated.  But there are many others.

I worry about what Israel might to about Iran and how that might involve us.

I worry about the conflict in Syria which has the power to ignite a Sunni vs. Shiite civil war across the Middle east.

I worry about Afghanistan and its future and our people there.

I worry about our economy and I worry about my sons’ futures.

I worry about what we are doing to our planet.

I worry about the future of the institutional church.

I worry about personal things too – health, the future, all kinds of things.  I know I’m not alone in any of these fears.  Sometimes hiding in a locked room seems like a decent plan.  I do not feel superior at all to those disciples in that locked room.  Fear has reasons.

The Roomful of Fear and Doubt

This text begins with fear and doubt.  There are two scenes: the first without,  and the second one with Thomas.

This is the text that gave him the famous name “Doubting Thomas.”  It’s so unfair, because all of them doubted – the room was locked “for fear” after all.  In fact they even doubted Mary’s eyewitness testimony.

Thomas famously says:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

I don’t feel superior to Doubting Thomas.  I have had plenty of times of doubt.  I have not seen the risen Jesus with my own eyes.

The most odd thing about this story is that it does a great job of showing the problem of fear and doubt, but the solution to it seems completely unavailable to us today.  Thomas and all the others had their doubt-and-fear problems solved because they got to see Jesus.  We don’t.  How can this story help us today?

I believe it can help us, so we will look at it together.

Easter Evening

How does it start?

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week,”

It’s still the day of Easter, Sunday, the first day of the week.  The disciples are gathered in one room.  Why?  Are they having church?  Well yes and no.

Many times John tells the story in such a way as to demand that we read it on two levels – the realistic and the symbolic.  Like when Jesus turned water into wine, using the water from the jars set aside for Jewish purification ceremonies.

So here too, the symbolic significance abounds.  It’s Sunday, and it is also Sunday the next time Jesus appears, when Thomas is back together with them, one week later.  I think John wants us to read this with eyes open to the symbolic level – he is telling us something about us as a church.

Jesus is Present (then and now)

What happens on this Easter Sunday evening?

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

When we gather for worship as the church, with all of our human doubt and fear, we too become aware of Jesus’ presence among us.  How?  As we look at the cross and remember what happened there – to Jesus’ hands and feet and side – we become aware of his presence among us.

Blood and Water: Eucharist and Baptism – Sacraments

When we think back on the Passion story, how, when the spear went into Jesus’ side and the blood and water flowed out, we consider that the blood of Christ is signified for us in the Eucharistic.

When we hear of water pouring from Jesus, we recall that we are named as a part of his family in the waters of baptism.  In fact we recognize how these sacraments, as Calvin said, seal the word in our hearts; they make it more real to us.  (Yes, this is another one of those places where John wants us to read both levels, the surface and the symbolic).

Peace

And it is true; when we gather in worship of the crucified and risen Christ, we sense in a new way his “peace,” his “shalom” his healing wholeness.  It is with reason that in this story Jesus says “peace to you” three times.

Fear and doubt can be replaced by his peace when we see him sacramentally present in worship.  (This is one of the reasons Calvin had for wanting his church in Geneva to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.  It was his sorrow that his elders rejected that plan).

It does help us, the ones who have never seen Jesus face-to-face, to read such a realistic story of how difficult belief in resurrection is. They all needed convincing.   It helps us to hear Jesus pronounce a blessing on us, as he said to Thomas:

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I don’t know what fears and doubts you brought with you here today.  Look at the baptismal font and remember you were baptized in his name.  Look at the communion table where we break bread and drink the cup.  Let the empty cross on the table remind you that he is risen.

The Spirit

But Jesus is physically absent from us now.  There is more to this story that we need to hear.  John tells us

“he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

I have said that John needs to be read on two levels.  This is another case in point.  We all know from the book of Acts that the Holy Spirit came on the disciples 50 days after Easter (which is the time of Passover), on the day of Pentecost.

We also know that Jesus had promised his disciples, while they were in the upper room, before his arrest, that he would send the Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate, so that they would not be left as orphans without him.

Well John did not have it in mind to write a volume two like Luke did, who wrote Acts did, so he had to somehow show that Jesus’ promise of the Spirit came true.  In this text Jesus symbolically breathes his Spirit into the disciples.

New Creation

John tells us this in language that echoes the way God breathed life into Adam in the Creation story.  Are we to understand this as a new creation moment?  Yes.  As Paul says,

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation”  (2 Cor. 5:17)

This is the second way in which we can overcome our doubts and fears: the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ has been given to us, his disciples.  The Spirit is with us, always.

The Spirit is here, now, in our worship, and the Spirit is with us as we leave, at lunch, at home, everywhere.  The Spirit is active within us, helping to calm our fears and relieving our doubts.

Sometimes we are keenly aware of the presence of the Spirit.  For me, in my early morning prayer time, when the house is quiet and it’s still dark outside, I am often aware of the presence of the Spirit.

But when things are busy, noisy, when the news is on or when I’m in traffic, often I am not aware of the Spirit’s presence.  But either way, conscious of it or not, the truth is that God is still present, everywhere and always, by his Spirit.

The Sending “As…So”

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On this Easter Sunday evening in that locked room where there was fear and doubt, one more event happened which is of utmost importance to us.

After announcing “Peace be with you.”  Jesus said these remarkable words:

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

This is utterly unexpected.  They were cowering behind a locked door out of fear.  They had misunderstood him when he predicted his death and resurrection.  They had abandoned him when he was arrested.  How could Jesus ever have imagined that they could go out and do anything useful?

It was amazing enough that he came saying “peace be with you” instead of saying something like, “You bunch of wimpy knuckleheads!  Shame on you!”  But not only did he not condemn them for their past failure, he commissioned them with job to do.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

No Volunteers

Notice Jesus did not ask for volunteers.  Jesus did not make it optional.  There is no back door here.

When we have nominations for session we always have to make sure that the person is willing to serve, if elected.  Jesus did not play by Roberts Rules.  He had died for these people, he had been vindicated by resurrection, and now he assumes he has the authority to send people; even people like us.

When we say that we have a mission here to “love God, grow in faith, and share Christ’s love” we are not kidding.  Just as Jesus was sent by God the father so we have been sent.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

His Mission is Our Mission

This means that Jesus’ mission is now our mission.  He has sent us to be his hands, his feet, his voice and his eyes of compassion.

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In a moment we will affirm our faith using the words that come from “A Brief Statement of Faith” that describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  In it we will affirm that,

the Spirit calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.”

Then it goes on to list some of the ministries we are all called to.

In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced and to work with others for justice freedom and peace.

All of us have been called.  None of us is too old to pray for people in need, to call, to write cards, and to show Christ’s compassion.

Most of us are in a position to use our resources to help alleviate hunger, poverty, and injustice.

Many of us are able to use our voices to be advocates for the needs of the homeless, the people discriminated against, the people who are despised and neglected among us.

Some of us are healthy enough to serve at the Christian Service Center, to play bingo with shut-ins, to visit prisoners and to help build and repair homes, to tutor children.  There are an infinite variety of options for us, but all of us has been called into mission by the risen Lord.

This is the powerful truth of Easter: fear and doubt are forgotten by people who know of themselves as baptized believers, strengthened by worship and sacraments, infused with God’s Spirit, and who are actively engaged in Jesus’ mission.  There just isn’t any time for fear and doubt for these people, and by God’s grace, that is who we are!

“Hope and Emptiness” Sermon for April 8, Easter Sunday, 2012 on John 20:1-18

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed

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from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The text we read starts with the utter realism and seriousness that we live: it begins in the darkness.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb”

Darkness In Us

There is a darkness in us, that much we know.  The dark thoughts we have – the darkest ones we never share; what we could do, would do, under the right conditions.  The dark wishes directed toward others; the anger; the dark fantasies of vengeance.  The deep darkness of personal despair.  Dark desires present themselves to us; dark voices coax us.  There is darkness in us; we know that much.

Us, in Darkness

And we are in darkness.  Is it the times we live in, or is it my age that makes me notice it?  I don’t know which, but I hear more dark hopelessness in these days than I ever remember hearing.  My life has been shorter than most of yours, your list is longer, but I lived through  enough that you would think were worse times.  I remember the riots of the civil rights movement.  I was in Ohio during Kent state. I had my radio on to hear Nixon resign.  Those events were all happening during the MAD days of mutually assured destruction; the Cold War.  But I never heard so much dark hopelessness as I hear these days.

There is darkness within us, and there is the darkness we are in today.  What do we make of it?  Not all darkness is created equal.

What kind of Darkness?

What kind of darkness is it?  Whether it is the darkness of the theater before the curtain rises, or the darkness inside the coffin after the lid is closed, makes all the difference.  Whether the darkness in us is the hour before a new sun rises, or the darkness after the last one sets, is the question.  Womb and tomb – they rhyme simplistically like a Dr. Seuss couplet, and both share darkness in common, but only darkness.  Otherwise, they are polar opposite places; one is the place of preparation for life, the other is the “final resting place” (we euphemistically say) of the dead.  Yet both are dark places.

There is darkness in us, that much we know.  And we are in darkness.  It is the darkness of the soil beneath the earth.  Are we there as planted seeds, or as bodies, buried?

The Hope difference

The difference is hope – or rather, the difference is whether or not there is any reason for hope.   One kind of darkness ends the night; the other ends the day.  Hope is the difference.  The

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only question is whether there is any reason for hope.

Whichever kind of darkness it is, before the difference is revealed, all darkness feels the same: empty.

The Story Starts in Darkness

Mary arrives in darkness at the tomb, and it stands open, and empty.  Empty like her expectation.  People were not stupid in those days.  Everybody knew what death was.  Everybody dealt with it as we still do.  You do what has to be done.  You make arrangements.  You inform people.  You will-yourself into the mode of acceptance, because no amount of crying “No!” is going to change anything.

“[she] saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

What other conclusion could she come to?  It’s still dark.  Not just for her.  For Peter and the other one too, it’s simply dark.  There were no lines for anyone to recite on the script for this scene in their minds; this scene was not supposed to happen; the page entitled: “Expectations for the future” was now blank.   Empty.  Dark.

3 “Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together”

Apart from sports, when do grown men run?  Only when the house is on fire.  Only when a child is wandering towards the curb, only in moments of intense stress.  This is such a moment.  Of course they both ran.  And of course they found the tomb as empty as their expectations.

From Total Darkness to a glimmer

Only not completely.  It’s not completely dark anymore.  Peter enters the tomb first.  Indeed it is not empty.  Not entirely.  Grave clothes are still there.  The wrappings nail the coffin shut on Mary’s grave-robber theory, at least in Peter’s mind.  Robbers do not wast time rolling up wrappings.  Could these be a sign?   A reason for hoping that this darkness is impending light instead of concluding doom?  It is not as dark as it had been, but still the light is dim.

10 “the disciples returned to their homes”

Mary’s Story

The next scene is set in dim light, blurred by tears.

11 “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb”

Perhaps she was prepared to see angels (would I have been?).  Is this vision; a crack  of light in the dark sky?  A first ray of light over the horizon?  Anyway, the vision is confusing; it solves nothing.

14 “she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.”

The kind of darkness Mary has been in is still empty of hope, and so she is not prepared to see what she sees.

The End of Expectations

This scene shatters all expectations.  If you were to set out to write the story of God coming to earth, as John did, the “Word made flesh” – how would it end?  Look at how the great

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painters of the world have depicted it:  Bright lights bursting forth from the mouth of the tomb; an exultant Christ, scarred by nails, thorns, and spear, but rising triumphantly upwards, people struck to the ground with awe all around.

Perhaps they are theologically accurate, but those paintings do not touch my life.  But I can imagine myself there in garden in the early morning darkness, empty of hope, plus confused, like Mary at this point, not even sure I can see anything clearly anymore.

Knowing Names

But then  it happens.  Jesus speaks.  Not like the way God spoke to Moses on the mountain in thunder and lightning, but like a completely human person, Jesus speaks personally to Mary:

“Ma’am, [as we would say] why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

16 “Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).”

It happens so quietly.  No angel choirs break the silent sky open.  No earthquakes, no voices from the clouds.  Only a recognizably human voice, saying the one thing that changed everything for her: Jesus called her by name.

What kind of darkness has she been in?  The curtain in the dark theater has risen an inch – it is enough; light streams out; the drama will begin.

A little green pokes up from beneath the darkness of the earth: it is enough.  There will be spring – and if spring, then a harvest to come.  The first fruits of a future with hope reveal themselves.  The emptiness has been replaced by presence, and the present one is the sign that the new age has come. Hope has returned. He is alive!  He is risen!

“The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”  Is. 9:2 

Drawing Conclusions 

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Yes there is darkness in us – that much we know for certain, and there is nothing to be gained by denying it.  And  yes there is darkness around us; hopelessness that does threaten to flatten us under its weighty emptiness, but we are not without hope.  The darkness is not entire, nor is it as empty as they say.

The God who is the source of the world, the creator has come into our world; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; lived life with us, ate our food, drank from our containers, and knows our names.

He knows our darkness; he experienced everything we experience, even God-forsakenness on the cross, he knows even the reality of death that we will not escape; but God raised him from the dead.  Now, the meaning of the empty tomb is that our lives do have meaning; we have been named.

We are no longer in despair or utter darkness.  Though we have many unanswered questions, many days of doubt, nevertheless, we now know that the full sun-rise is coming.  We have hope.

Mary’s (Our) Commission

And in the mean time, like Mary, we have been sent out on on a mission. Jesus commissioned Mary, saying,

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“go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

We too have been sent out on a mission.  We who have hope have been sent into a hopeless, dark world with the message that darkness is not final.  God is at work in this world.

We have been sent out to spread the light and hope of God’s love and grace into every dark corner of this world.  We have been sent out to proclaim the Kingdom of God is at hand. We have been sent out to bring light to the darkness all around us, to spread hope to the poor, the hungry, the marginalized and the despised of the world.

We who have been named by the risen Lord are sent out to call by name all who need the dignity of a human voice who can speak light into their darkness.

People of hope, hear the good news.  Light has come into the world.  Hope is real.  Christ is risen!

“I am Thirsty” Good Friday 2012 meditation from John 19:28-29

John 19:28-29

8  After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”  29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put

Israel: wilderness

a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.

All four gospels tell us that they offered Jesus sour wine to drink.  Only John records Jesus’ words,

“I am thirsty.”

And only John draws attention to a scripture from the OT, the book of Psalms which, in some sense, he says, is being fulfilled here.

After everything that has already happened to Jesus, to highlight his thirst is almost jarringly trivial.  Why mention it?  It could be that the offer of sour wine, the common drink of soldiers and the lower classes, reminded all the gospel writers of the Psalm that John specifically draws attention to.  The parallels are, indeed, uncanny.

I have lived in Eastern Europe where it is common for people to make their own wine.  It is also common that the wine they make is of poor quality – sour to the point of tasting like vinegar.  It makes you more thirsty.

In Psalm 69:21 the writer says,

“They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”  Who did that?  Why would they?  This psalm is about a righteous person who is being persecuted mercilessly.  He says, “Save me, O God… I am weary with crying, my throat is parched, my eyes grow dim…. Many are those who would destroy me.”

There are two main types of Psalms: Praises and Laments. This is a lament.  Psalms of lament, with only one exception, all end with a glimmer of hope. The writer, even in agony and pain, is able to imagine a future in which God has heard his cry, and  has acted to save him.  So he imagines himself offering praise to God in some future time, after he has been restored.

This Psalm says

 “I will praise the name of God with a song.  I will magnify him with thanksgiving.  This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull… for the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own that are in bonds.” (Psalm 69:30)

Why does he make the point that songs of praise are as good as, maybe better than the animal sacrifices that the law of Moses requires?  Because the only place sacrifice can be offered is at the temple, but in this moment, there is no temple.  It has been destroyed.  The psalm ends with the hope that God will rebuild the cities of Judah.  They too have been destroyed.  This is the time of exile.  The writer is in the bonds of captivity in Babylon.  His enemies are those who have conquered Jerusalem.  His defeat is their victory.  His pain is their pleasure.  They give him vinegar to drink, mocking his parched thirst.

So Jesus, from the cross, identifies with the lament of the righteous sufferer of Psalm 69 who believes that even in  his suffering, God is still present.

statue: Galilee, Israel

God can hear his cries.  God can bring a future with hope.

On the cross, Jesus suffers as a righteous person, unjustly persecuted.  In this way he fulfills the agony and the hope of the righteous sufferer of the Psalm.  In this moment, Jesus feels the pain of all who are persecuted unjustly.  Jesus knows the suffering of all whose pain is caused by others.

In this moment Jesus knows the pain of the battered wife and the despair of the girl who has been trafficked.

In his cry,

“I am thirsty.”

Jesus understands the agony of those who sit in prisons without being charged, without defense, and without hope for justice.

Jesus knows the pain of the victim of the predator and the victim of torture.

Jesus identifies with the suffering of the refugee, the collaterally damaged, and the pain of a family who buries a son, whose crime for which he died, can only be explained by the the neighborhood watcher who killed him.

Blessed,” Jesus had said, “are those who hunger and thirst” for a world without victims.

Who thirst for a world without the tears of those who gather around crosses looking up at the innocent.

Blessed are those whose thirst is met not by the sour wine of soldiers, but by the sweet wine of the Kingdom.

Blessed are those who offer that wine of healing, restorative justice to the victims of senseless suffering, in the name of the one who said,

““I am thirsty.”

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“Fearful Faith” quotes from Moltmann’s “The Crucified God”

It’s Holy Week, and I’m reading Jurgen Moltmann’s “The Crucified God”.  Here is what struck me as so poignant for today (it’s hard to remember that he wrote this in 1974, almost 30 years ago).

Fearful Faith

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“Faith is fearful and defensive when it begins to die inwardly, struggling to maintain itself and reaching out for security and guarantees.  In so doing, it removes itself from  the hand of the one who has promised to maintain it, and its own manipulations bring it to ruin.  This pusillanimous faith usually occurs in the form of an orthodoxy which feels threatened and is therefore  more rigid than ever.  It occurs wherever, in the face of the immorality of the present age, the gospel of creative love for the abandoned is replaced by the law of what is supposed to be Christian morality, and by penal law.    He who is of little faith looks for support and protection for his faith, because it is preyed upon by fear.  Such faith tries to protect it ‘most sacred things’, God, Christ, doctrine, and morality because it clearly no longer believes that these are sufficiently powerful to maintain themselves.  When the ‘religion of fear’ finds its way into the Christian church, those who regard themselves as the most vigilant guardians of the faith do violence to faith and smother it.” p. 19

“Anyone who reads the ‘signs of the time’ with the eyes of his own existential anxiety reads them falsely.  If they can be read at all, they can be read by Christians only with the eyes of hope in the future of Christ.” p. 21