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>.

 

 

 

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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.