Surprise!

A Sermon for Easter; Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12

Last Sunday a fire broke out at St. John’s the Divine, in the undercroft forcing 100 people to evacuate. There was little damage, but St. John’s had to quickly find and set up a place to hold their 11 am observance of Palm Sunday, which they did (Ferré-Sadurní). Last Monday fire destroyed the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral. There was great damage, but not as much as could have been. Not long before the Fire Department had rehearsed a plan to remove the Cathedrals treasures and relics in case of fire. It worked. Later Monday a fire broke out in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, in a guard’s room near the roof of the Marwani Prayer Room. The firefighters contained the blaze before it could spread (Solly). We now know all these fires were accidental. At the time, the news of the fires was a surprise that made me wonder “What up?”; and I still wonder.

Jaylesya walks every day from her home in a Trailer Park to work at Bojangles. No matter the weather, hot, cold, rain or shine, she walks 6 miles work, spends her 8-hour shift on her feet, and then walks 6 miles home. One day she notices a Sheriff’s Deputy car is following her. She is worried she has done something wrong. The deputy pulls up beside her and asks her to stop. She is afraid to stop but more afraid to keep walking, so she stops. The deputy asks her a few questions and asks if he can give her a ride to work, warily, but gratefully she accepts. From time to time the deputy would stop and give her ride. One day he pulls up alongside and asks her to stop. She does, curious, but no longer concerned. He walks to the back of his car, opens the trunk, and takes out a bicycle, a Schwinn Fairhaven women’s cruiser, donated by a local Wal-Mart. A surprise that began with worrisome caution, ends with joyful thanks (Wilson Times Staff).

On April 6, Mark Edington was consecrated as Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. I expect the congregation was surprised by the title of the sermon, which begins “Go Away ….” The preacher, Andrew McGowan, is a long-time friend of Bp. Edington, so there is more to this than it first sounds. McGowan shares from frank information, that is not exactly new: a 2016 survey reveals that 39.6% of the French claimed no religion, and is at the forefront of western secularism, probably a trend-setter, not an outlier (McGowan). He goes on to say

Christendom is over in some places, and on its deathbed in others … [and that] elements of Christian faith [appearing as] part and parcel of the life of the West – is over. But the Jesus Movement is not over, the Way of Love is not over – the Church is far from done.

A bit later he notes that Jesus has a way of saying, “go,” or even “go away.” It is not a dismissal, so much as marching orders, for disciples to “go away” and make disciples of all nations. McGowen began his closing

so Mark, welcome, and “go away.” Go away, not because we are pessimistic but because we are hopeful, not because we think God has abandoned us, but because we know God will lead us.

This morning Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, and other women, who had come with Jesus from Galilee, leave to go do their duty to properly bury their friend, their hope, their future. The last two days have been horrific. Jesus was betrayed, arrested, beaten; subject to a sham of two trials; one a Jewish religious trial, the other a Roman judicial trial; both are replete, full, of fake news, and fake testimonies, so many Pilate doesn’t believe them; nonetheless Jesus was crucified; wrapped in linen cloth and put in a tomb. Then there is the long Saturday as the shadow of death covers a Passover celebration. Their morning begins with expectations of deep sorrow, and hopelessness.

Then they are surprised. The stone in front of the tomb has been rolled away. What can this mean? They go inside, and Jesus’ body is gone, ~ nothing good can come from this. Suddenly two men are with them, they remind the women of what Jesus had taught them, and they do remember ~ everything!

They all go away to share with the disciples what they have experienced. All but one shrug it off as idle chatter. But Peter, in an act of renewed commitment, runs to the tomb to see for himself. He is surprised, all there is in the tomb is the linen burial shroud. Then he returns home amazed by, wondering about, what has happened.

Surprise is the theme of the day. It has come to me that Gospel surprises come in many forms and ways, but generally, fall into a few broad categories. There is the surprise we experience when we realize that Jesus’ wounded hands have grasped ours and is pulling [us] away from whatever coffins [we] are in, from whatever deaths [we] know and fight and fear (STW).

There is the surprise of go away which requires our attention to be fixed on Jesus; If we look for life and direction and meaning anywhere but at the risen Lord—then our hearts will be divided, and our energy will be scattered, and our rising will be slow (STW).

There is the surprise of receiving a simple gift, that transforms your life, something as simple as a bicycle that revolutionizes your daily journey to work.

There is the surprise that leaves us pondering what it means, like a string of seemingly unrelated fires.

There is the surprise when pondering all this we realize we are free;

  • free to simply be free,
  • free focus on Jesus,
  • free to go,
  • free to give away a simple gift,
  • free to be a gift,
  • free to live on a new earth under a new heaven (Isa 65:17),
  • free to ponder the fullness of life alive in Christ (1 Corin. 15:22)

all with glorious the chant proclaiming

Alleluia Christ is risen

          [the congregation joins]

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

for all the world to hear.

Amen


References

Ferré-Sadurní, Luis. “Fire in Basement Crypt at St. John the Divine Forces Palm Sunday Worshipers Outside.” The New York Times (2019). https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/14/nyregion/st-john-the-divine-fire.html.

Liggett, James. Outstretched Arms, Easter Day. 21 4 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

McGowan, Andrew. “GO AWAY: APOSTOLIC MINISTRY, INCLUSION, AND THE FUTURE OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH.” 6 4 2019. http://abmcg.blogspot.com. <http://abmcg.blogspot.com/2019/04/go-away-apostolic-ministry-inclusion.html&gt;.

Solly, Meilan. “A Small Fire Broke Out at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque as Flames Ravaged Notre-Dame.” 17 4 2019. SMITHSONIAN.COM. <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/small-fire-broke-out-jerusalems-al-aqsa-mosque-flames-ravaged-notre-dame-180971983/&gt;.

Wilson Times Staff. “Deputy donates bike to woman who walked 12 miles to and from.” 28 8 2018. wilsontimes.com. 17 4 2019. <wilsontimes.com/stories/deputy-donates-bike-to-woman-who-walked-12-miles-to-and-from-work-pqq14,139562>.

 

 

 

The Wisdom of the Empty Tomb

A Sermon for Easter; Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8

Happy Easter!
April Fool!
Which is it?

Speaking of surprises, I grew up with surprises. My earliest is when to our mom’s dismay our grandmother brought out his enormous plate full of chocolate balls with cotton centers; we were surprised.

One Sunday lunch a fabulous a carrot frosting cake came to the table, everyone was excited; only my grandmother couldn’t cut the cake pan beneath the frosting; we didn’t see that coming.

One Christmas morning, after the appointed hour we all rushed down the stairs into the family room; it was gone! the tree, the stockings, the mountain of presents, the plate of cookies, the glass of milk all were gone, Christmas was gone! We had not been Grinched everything had been quietly moved to the living room still, we were really surprised.

For her 40th birthday, 40 individual small happy birthday cards were taped to our back door, all from mom’s best friend to her complete astonishment. Not to be outdone, 40 individual thank you cards were clipped to the bush by the friend’s back door, who was flabbergasted.

One Tuesday, when one of mom’s best friends was coming over for coffee all three sets of 12 settings of china/dishware were missing; they could find a cup to drink anything out of, they couldn’t believe it.

One day after school I got to the school parking lot, my blue Chevrolet Impala was missing, I was completely shocked; I caught a ride home when I got there ~ there it sat; for a second time, I was completely shocked.

A dozen rose stems were to be delivered for mothers’ day, she wasn’t home, she never expected them, but wasn’t in near as much shock as the prim and proper neighbor who had to deliver them.

At midnight one April 1st a gruesome groaning emerged from the 20-foot-high atrium in my parents’ front entry; while investigating they came upon a 12-foot-tall knight; my folks were astounded.

We enjoyed April Fools day, no matter what date someone decided it may be on. All the surprises were followed by uproarious laughter, and we still enjoy reliving the stories. The only criteria limiting our imagination was trying to gauge the response of the person to be surprised. I grew up with surprises This morning’s gospel continues the Gospel surprises.

Jesus giving a loud cry and breathing his last (Mark 15:37) was a surprise. All his followers, hiding in the dark corners still expected the Messiah to prevail, no one sees Jesus’ death coming. The Centurion overseeing the soldiers, completely used to crucifying Rome’s troublesome people, is so taken aback he says Truly this man was God’s Son! (Mark 15:39). The Temple authorities and priests, cleaning up after Jesus tirade, are smug in their knowledge that the upstart rabbi will die and would no longer disrupt their carefully crafted ways. The darkness covering the land catches their attention, the moment of deepest darkness, when the earth shakes so hard that rocks shatter, and tombs spill their dead startles them. The wondrously embroidered great curtain of the Temple being torn, ripped in two, from top to bottom, completely shocks them (Mark 15:38, Matthew 27:51, Luke 23:44).

Early morning of the day following next Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to Jesus’ tomb to anoint him. Joseph of Arimathea had gotten Jesus’ body from Pilate, wrapped in a linen cloth, and placed in a rock hewn tomb; but he had not anointed Jesus (Mark 15:43). They were determined to give Jesus a proper burial anointing. They know the door of the tomb is sealed with a great stone and wonder who will move it for them. The women are astonished when on their second look they see that the stone has already been moved; yes, this is unexpected; but now they wonder what other surprise awaits them (Logue)? Entering the tomb, surprise! the women meet a white clad angel who reassures them saying

… you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. … Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:6-7).

His words stagger them. They are amazed and terrified. They flee. They say nothing to anyone. Here ends the Gospel.

Really, here is where Mark’s Gospel ends. Yes, when you look in you in your bible, you will see “The shorter ending” and “The Longer ending” that includes appearances, and a commissioning. But, they are not in the earliest copies of Mark’s Gospel. They have been added at some later date. Apparently, someone believed it is not right to end the gospel with us hanging in surprise. But why not? The empty tomb is a surprise.

Pontius Pilate, governor of the Roman Empire, representative of the empire and all of its power, the personification of politics is surprised. King Herod, who presided at one of Jesus’ trials, representative of a culture economic self-interest is astonished. The Chief Priest, representative of religious aristocracies is amazed. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the teachers and lawyers who rigidly guide daily life didn’t see that coming (Curry). I suspect they would walk through their memories, and may be their records, of Jesus to look for clues that explains this surprisingly empty tomb.

And that is exactly what Mark invites us to do. The angel tells the women to tell the disciples, specifically, Peter, to go to Galilee and Jesus will meet them there. After introducing us to John the Baptist, in verse 9 of chapter 1 Mark writes In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee (Mark 1:9). By the angel’s words, Mark invites us to go back to the beginning and re-read the Gospel story, knowing the ending, and look for the clues that reveal what’s happening (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner; Black; Hoezee).

The disciples lack of faith during the storms at sea, Peter’s inappropriate response to the transfiguration, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denials, the disciples’ desertion, all are driven by fear, isolate them from Jesus (Perkins).

Reading these, and all the gospel stories through the wisdom of the empty tombs reveals that

fear does not have the last word
hatred does not have the last word
violence does not have the last word
bigotry does not have the last word
greed does not have the last word
sin and evil do not have the last word
even death does not have the last word;
the last word is God, and God is love (Curry).

Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb teaches us that the Resurrection matters (Lewis), and that there are no resurrection-free zones or times (Epperly).

Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb confirms the truth of the curtain laying shredded on the Temple floor. The barriers between God and humanity are ripped asunder; the spirit of God is on the loose (Ruge-Jones); God’s love is no longer contained in a temple;

[God’s love] can go anywhere and reach anyone.
Even those who are different from us.
Even those who don’t deserve it.
Even those who don’t believe.

God’s love now permeates the whole universe and continually pulls us from death into life, with each breath we take, from the beginning of time until the end (Cox).

Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb confirms that resurrection is not limited to our future but invades our daily lives right now (Lewis).

Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb highlights God’s shattering all human expectations, all of our expectations (Black).

Reading the Gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb, reminds us that no matter how different tonight is, that no matter how dark the abyss, no matter how stripped of all worth we may feel, we are always more than dust and breath, we are God’s creation lovingly made in God’s image.

Reading the Gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb assures us that more than waiting for you, God/Jesus is with you right here, right now and always will be, even when, especially when, you are terrified, and dare not speak to anyone.

Reading the Gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb draws the Hallelujah from our hearts (Cohen).

Hallelujah He IS risen!

(congregation)The Lord is risen indeed, Halleluiah!


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 16:1-8. 1 4 2018.

Cohen, Leonard. “Halleluiah.” Various Positions. Columbia, December 1984.

Cox, Jason. “Sacrifice, Sunday of the Passion:.” 25 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Curry, Michael B. “Presiding Bishop Curry: Easter 2018 Message from the Holy Land.” 26 3 2018. episcopalchurch.org. <https://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/presiding-bishop-curry-easter-2018-message-holy-land&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 1 4 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 16:1-8. 1 4 2018.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 1 4 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection Matters. 1 4 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Logue, Frank. Look Again, Easter (B). 1 4 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Roth, Diane. “April 1, Easter Sunday .” 5 3 2018. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org/article/living-word/april-1-easter-sunday-mark-161-8>.

Ruge-Jones, Philip. Commentary on Mark 14:1-15:47. 25 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

Townes, Miles. “When Easter Sunday falls on April Fools’ Day.” 21 2 2018. christiancentury.org. <https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/when-easter-sunday-falls-april-fools-day&gt;.

 

 

 

Rekindled Hope

A sermon for Easter Morning: Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:12, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12

It is a glorious day. We all have our Easter finest on. There are expectations for all sorts of joy-filled, exciting, happy moments throughout the day. But remember, this is not how the day begins for the Mary Magdalene and the other women. This morning does not feel mystical; this morning did not feel sacred, as mornings usually do. The customary morning prayers don’t help. Still, there is work to do; there is a burial to tend to (Johnson). The women lament as they walk the lonely dusty road to Jesus’ tomb.

Holy Week’s, Daily Office, Old Testament readings come from Lamentation. Chapter 2 verse 6 generally reads “festivals and Sabbath have been abolished.” Festivals are the community’s celebration of God’s presence, and their efforts to restore divine-human relationships. Sabbath is an individual’s and/or a family’s rites of celebration and reconciliation. They are gone. The people are cut off. As this morning begins, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women going to bury Jesus must feel cut off; their hope is gone.

Ti’kva, who is a cashier at Wal-Mart, is having a terrible day: she has relatives in Brussels and doesn’t know their fate. This is a 5-week shopping month and stretching 4 weeks of money to 5 weeks of groceries is always a challenge Her daughter lost her glasses, and even with a store in the store, with her working two jobs there is no time to get her an appointment, and it wouldn’t matter because there is no money for the glasses anyway. Ti’kva feels cut off; her hope is gone.

The women arrive at the tomb. The stone is rolled away. Jesus’ body is gone. They are perplexed. Why would the authorities do this? What could this possibly mean? What trouble is lurking? It’s one more blow to their hopes; they ca not even properly bury their friend (Johnson). Suddenly the tomb is full of sizzling light from two angels who simply just appear. They ask the women

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
Remember how he told you…

They do remember! They remember Jesus’ macabre stories of how he will be betrayed, be given over to the authorities, crucified, and on the third day ~ rise again. They remember! It is the third day! The tomb is empty, so Jesus has risen! They run back to the rest of the disciples; full of surprise, excitement and growing hope they shout out

It’s the third day
remember what he told us
the tomb is empty; it’s empty,
It’s the third day!
It’s the third day!

The other disciples cannot believe them; they do not believe them. There never has been, and even now there is no reason to believe the dead rise to life (Craddock).

I don’t think the women are overly concerned. Their newly kindled hope empowers them to put themselves in a precarious situation by proclaiming the clearly preposterous story of Jesus’ resurrection. But that doesn’t matter, their new hope overwhelms the mystery and uncertainty of Jesus’ resurrection, empowering them to share their experience (Brown).

At this point, Luke has introduced the experiences of encountering the empty tomb. He has shared the women’s surprise. He has told us about the others’ doubt, and, however, impetuous Peter goes to see for himself, and that he is amazed and surprised. Luke has not yet spoken to belief. At the moment, all we know about is the women’s and Peter’s experience, their surprise and relighted hope.

Ti’kva’s day is furthered harried because it is unusually busy. There is no reason; it just is. James, a frequent customer, notices the unusually high number of customers. As most do, he generally ignores the crowd and goes about his shopping. He doesn’t know Ti’kva, which, by the way, means hope (Aish). He does know some cashiers by sight, not this one. It is his habit to leave all cashiers, in every store, with a blessing the simple one-word ‘blessings.’ This time, he tweaks it. He notices a Star of David hanging from Ti’kva’s neck and, making friendly eye contact, simply says shalom as he leaves. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees that Ti’kva beams; someone noticed, someone cares; there is hope. It’s a smile, that catches James by surprise, and changes not only his shopping experience but also his day.

A minute ago I said Luke has not yet written about belief. At this point, the story is about rekindled hope for the disciples. I’ve introduced Ti’kva’s rekindled hope. In the weeks to come, we will hear bible story’s that are all about growing belief. But for this moment, I invite you just to live in the rekindled hope. Allow yourself to be still, don’t worry about what all this means, don’t worry about what Jesus’ resurrection implies, don’t worry about explaining it all. I’d go so far as to say do not even worry about sharing

 It’s the third day
remember what he told us
the tomb is empty; it’s empty,
It’s the third day!

 with everyone you meet.

You might consider James’ story. You might consider offering everyone a simple ‘blessings’ or another divinely inspired, spirit fired word of tenderness. We might be surprised how a mutual exchange of hope changes the world. Hope arising from a surprisingly empty tomb has enthralled the world ever since. His tomb is empty; it is a blessing so be blessed.

And oh yes, Alleluia!

 


 

References

Brown, Michael Joseph. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 22 3 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Craddock, Fred B. Interpretation, LUKE A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Louisville KY, 1990.

Culpper, R. Alan. The Gospel of Luke, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections. n.d.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 9 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

JOHNSON, DEON K. “Practice Resurrection, Easter (C) – 2016.” 22 3 2016. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

 

 

I know what to expect

A sermon for Easter Day

Acts 10:3443, or Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:12, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

Mary, Mary and Salome know what to expect. In the 1st century death was much closer to home. It was not unusual for what we call graves to be at home or in homes. It was also customary for family members to prepare bodies for burial. This is still customary today in some parts of the world; it’s a traditional and religious rite that complicated stopping the spread of Ebola. So it is not unusual for Jesus’ family and friends to tend to his body. They will have spices, and a linen shroud. They know that after three days well there may not be a stench, but the tomb is likely to be unpleasant. These ladies are witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion, they know how their beloved’s body looks ~ they know it will be unpleasant. Death is common, a family experience. Burial is common a ~ family responsibility. Mary, Mary and Salome know what to expect.

I know what to expect. My dad’s a retired doctor. In high school I worked weekends and two summers in the local hospital, primarily in the Emergency Room. I was on teams that drilled holes in skulls to relieve pressure on the brain, that worked at a vigorous pace to save young lives smashed in traffic accidents. I was present when kids my age died. I was present when children died. In seminary my CPE time was at the Veterans Hospital in Atlanta. I’ve served as a volunteer chaplain in every hospital in every city I’ve served. I know hospitals. I know ICU units. I know what to expect. Part of a lung has been removed, the incision will not be three little laparoscopic spots, there are chest tubes, oxygen tubes and multiple IV’s. I know what to expect.

Mary, Mary and Salome don’t talk about how they are going to go about their responsibilities. They are concerned about the stone that traditionally seals a tomb’s entrance. In another Gospel Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener they know or should know someone will be there, why else the mistaken identity?

To get to G’s room, you go down the hall, and turn left. For three days, at every left hand turn, my first physical motion was to the right.

Mary, Mary and Salome know the stone can be moved, their concern is a distraction. I know my left from my right, right is a distraction.

The human brain is remarkable. It has developed ways to protect us from all kinds of danger, physical and emotion, actual, and possible. It’s why we reflexively react so quickly to quick shadows or flashes at the very edge of our peripheral vision, or jump at sudden noises. Neuroscience is learning that our experiences actually build brain structures. Danger and risk create structures rapidly, contributing to our survival as a species. Happy and joy create structure, far more slowly. And all these structures can be passed on from generation to generation. That’s why children are afraid of lions and tigers and bears, without being taught. A stone, and mistaken direction are brains trying to protect us.

Mary, Mary and Salome don’t see what they expect, what they fear. The stone is moved away, the tomb is open. And Jesus isn’t there; who is there, seems to be an angelic being with the astounding message that Jesus, once dead, is raised, and that he expects the disciples to meet him in Galilee. And yes, fear is an element of their response, but so is amazement. They came expecting death, what they experience is life, and hope beyond expression.

After correcting myself, I made my way around the nurses’ station and looked the short distance across the ICU to far corner to the open door, of a darkened room. With every step the soft light reflecting off the back wall the combine light of LED’s and displays of numerous devices add a gentle muted illumination. With every step her face grows clearer and clearer. Quietly I exhale. Slowly, softly one considered step at a time I allow myself to move into her presence. What I see is her sweet face, relaxed, her hair loving brushed, and soft breaths.

Even knowing what I know, I ‘m not sure what I expected; what I see, is my daughter precious, full of life. What I see is a smile break across her face as her eyes open and she recognizes me. There is no fear like amazement. There is relief, there is life, there is hope.

And that is why we are here today.  We all know life is full of dark, dismal abysses. Death, in all its many guises is ever present. It’s why we turn right, or flee the unexpected. We here today to have written in our hearts the light that is not over whelmed by the dark, the dazzling which triumphs over the dismal, the divine relation  that bridges the abyss. And like our Eucharistic sacrament, it is far more than a celebratory memorial. This is a reliving, this is a divine rewriting on our hearts and in our minds that the love of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus is always present. Sometimes it is manifest as a displaced stone and a mysterious young man, sometimes it is manifest in a softly illumined smile, and sometimes, who knows, save its always there, the prevailing joy the triumphal hope for all forever and that sings Alleluia.

Every day, go.

A sermon for Easter

Acts 10:34-43, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

A couple of nights ago, they built a fire, it was cold. This morning, it is cold. So why are Mary and Mary going to Jesus tomb? Unlike other Gospel stories, in Matthew’s Jesus is already properly buried, more importantly, the tomb is sealed, and under guard; the frightened Jewish leaders really want to make sure this Jesus person, stays dead; makes you wonder, if they wonder if there is any chance, the tiniest chance, Jesus’ teachings are true. So, why did they go? Matthew doesn’t tell us. But then again.

Ah I see. ‘See’ has many meanings, one is the result of looking, all that amazing stuff that happens when light strikes the backs of our eyes and rods and cones do whatever it is they do and our brains make sense of it all and we see. Then again, ‘I see’ can express understanding or perception. In Greek the word translated ‘see’ can also carry the meaning ‘to consider’ and Melinda Quivik posits ‘to keep vigil.’ [i]

So, Mary and Mary could be going to: look at, to keep vigil, or seeking to perceive, and to understand. Just perhaps, like the Jewish leaders a couple of days ago, they too they wonder, though hopefully, if there is any chance Jesus’ teachings are true.It’s interesting that none of the men have such inquiring vision.

When they arrive they are surprised. There is suddenly a brilliant flash of light, and an earthquake. It is so terrifying, the guards are frozen, unable to interfere with the women, which is why they are there; so much for  the best laid plans  of entrenched authorities in their efforts to thwart God’s works.

An angel, a divine messenger, who is described very much like Jesus transfigured on the mountain top, which Mary and Mary don’t know, but we, and Matthew’s readers  know, or should know, speaks: don’t be afraid, you are looking for Jesus, he isn’t here, go – and see; then go tell the disciples  to go to Galilee, Jesus is already in his way. In fear and joy, and in this case ‘fear’ is the scriptural meaning of awe; in fear and joy they go. Equally suddenly Jesus appears greets them, and Mary and Mary worship him; then Jesus repeats the angle’s instructions to tell the disciples to go to Galilee and he will meet them there.

 Some initial observations:

  • It is not wise to try to thwart God’s works.
  • The brilliant clothes of a divine messenger reaffirm Jesus identity as divine.
  • When you are in God’s, or Jesus’ presence the ground will shake,  if not literally then metaphorically, the foundations of your life will be shaken.
  • Worshiping Jesus supplants worshiping the emperor, or any other secular authority.
  • Courage is not the lack of fear, it is the ability to act any way.
  • The word ‘apostle’ means sent. In all four Gospels women are the first sent to share the good news, the gospel, of Jesus’ resurrection. Women are the first Apostles! Therefore women have an equal share in the church continuing Jesus’ ministry.  Not news for Episcopalians, but it is for others. It’s also scriptural referent for equality of genders, and yes that extends to pay; but I wander.

What caught me up this morning start’s in Bp. Benfield’s Easter message, a copy of which is on the table in the hall, he begins saying that Easter is not a historical event. He continues:

  [we] celebrate is what happened to the people who found the tomb empty. They started seeing the risen Christ in all sorts of places and faces… [ii]

 The second inspirational seed comes from Scott Hoezee  [iii]  as he explores the implication of Jesus message to the disciples to go,  in particular to Galilee. Why Galilee, why not some place in Jerusalem?

The disciples are already there, and it is a long trip, a couple of days, to Galilee. Moreover, Jerusalem is where the Temple, the home of God on earth, is. It is also the capital, the seat of all secular authority. Wouldn’t you start there? I would, most revolutionaries would. Then again Jesus is all about something else,  endless surprises. Hoezee continues noting: The first Easter began with a long journey. There is no reason our continuing Easter experiences won’t include journeys of some sort or another.

Easter is a morning of many surprises, two are paramount. The first is the angelic pronouncement of the empty tomb, Jesus – the Christ – is risen. The risen the living Christ, literally is transforming all creation, the entire cosmos. Note I said transforming, meaning the work is still on going, meaning we are works in process. I know that is good news, I don’t know about you, but my process is still in process.

The second is GO! Mary and Mary the least likely apostles are sent to share the good news, the Gospel, that Christ is risen. Even more of a surprise is that you too, not the most likely apostles, are sent to share the good news, the Gospel, that Christ is raised. I don’t know about you, but every time I realize this I get blinded by the light, and my whole world is shaken, because Easter is not a historical event,  it is an everyday event.

Every day our resurrected Christ meets us on whatever road we are on and sends us on to tell it out He is raised, and everything is being made anew. And that really is good news. Alleluia!

 

 

 

 

 

[i] 4/19/2014 Matthew 28:1-10 Commentary by Melinda Quivik – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL)

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1990 1/3

RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index

Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10

Melinda Quivik

[ii] Bp. Larry Benfield, Arkansas, 2014 Easter Message

[iii]Scott Hoezee,  cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching