Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Sunday: The Very Best News of All!

Scripture text for Easter: John 20:1-18

I had the best news ever to tell!

But they didn’t believe me.

Maybe it was because at first I didn’t believe it myself.

We stayed with him as long as we could.  At the cross, following Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb.  They wouldn’t let us prepare his body.  They said they were already ritually unclean; there was no point in us becoming unclean as well.  They had linen and a hundred pounds of spices.  They could prepare the body.

We didn’t like it, but we saw their point.  It was almost the Shabbat, this especially holy Shabbat of Passover.  Mary, his mother, had to be able to do the Shabbat candle ritual, the rest of us to serve the meal.

We waited as long as we could to leave.  Watched Joseph and Nicodemus and the caretaker of the garden roll the stone in place.  The men then hurried us off – we had to be back to the upper room before Shabbat started.

As we left we made plans to come back the morning after Shabbat.  We just wanted to make sure Joseph and Nicodemus had done everything right.  It had to be perfect – for him, everything had to be perfect.

It was a strange Shabbat.  On this most festive and holy Shabbat, we sat shiva.  Asking questions: why did it have to end like this, what did his death mean, what would happen to us now.  All the questions that get asked when someone you live who’s still in their prime suddenly dies and your whole world is turned upside down.

Sharing memories: “Nathaniel, remember when you came and told you me you found the Messiah and I said what good could come from Nazareth, then he came and told me about myself, and I saw?”

“How about that time he took the fish and bread from that little boy’s lunch and fed 5000 people?”

“What about healing that blind man?”

“All the run-ins with the Pharisees.  I guess that’s what made them want him dead.  I never thought they’d do it.”

The talk continued as we remembered what he did and what he said and how he loved us.

Then Peter turned to me – “Mary, I remember how you raved and cursed and spit just before he cast those demons out of you.  Remember how you clung to him after?”

I remembered.  How could I ever forget that moment?  It was like being born again.  He gave my life back to me.

The entire Shabbat, I was edgy, restless.  The hours dragged, minute after slow minute.  When would Shabbat be over?  When could I go to where my heart was – back to where his body laid?

In the last hour before dawn, I could wait no longer.  I had to go, to be there to weep, to pray.  I wanted some time alone, before the other women got there and our work began.  So I slipped out and made my way in darkness to the tomb.

And stopped in disbelief when I saw that the stone had been rolled away, the tomb lying open.  How could they!  How could they dishonor him again by taking his body!  Couldn’t they just leave him alone now!

Tears blinded me as I ran back to the upper room.  Burst in, waking everyone.  

They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

The disciple he loved, and Peter reacted first.  They raced out the door.  I ran after them, shameless hiking up my robe to free my feet, my legs so I could run faster.

I was almost to the tomb when I saw the disciple he loved was looking in it.  Peter had just got there before me and he stopped short.  Then the beloved disciple motioned Peter to go in first and he followed him in.

By the time I got to the entrance, they came out, their heads bowed.  And they walked slowly home.  I looked in and saw that the body was gone.  Strangely the linen wrappings were still there, the cloth from his face rolled up and in a corner by itself.  Why would they have taken the time to unwrap him and lay the clothes like that?

I couldn’t think.  I was outraged, shocked.  I was crying so hard I couldn’t see.  When I saw the two beings sitting there, I thought my grief was making me see things.  Two angels – they had to be angels, they radiated such light! – were sitting there on the place where he had laid. They looked puzzled and one asked, "Woman, why are you weeping?"

I thought it a ridiculous question for angels.  Surely angels would know that Jesus was dead!  Don’t angels mourn like we do? Maybe not.  So I explained my human grief to them.

“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him!"
They seemed to glow brighter and their faces were suffused with joy.  They were looking behind me.  I turned.

And saw the garden caretaker.

Yes, I thought it was the caretaker.  Why would I think it was Jesus?  He was dead.  They had taken his body away.  I was looking for the body of my loved one, not a living man. It would have been easier to believe that Jesus was one of the two angels than this living man standing there. Yes, I had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, but how could someone who was dead raise himself?  Impossible.

This man’s question seemed as ridiculous as the angels. "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?"

I was standing there at a tomb.  A disturbed tomb.  Of course I would be weeping.  Of course I would want to know where my loved one’s body has gone.  He should have made sure his body was safe!  It was his job to make sure the tombs were undisturbed.  Desperate and angry, I cried out, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

Then with a look of pure love and compassion, he said, "Mary!"

Just that one word.

I heard his voice. I heard him call my name, and just like a sheep know the voice of the shepherd, I knew it was him!  Incredibly, amazingly, beyond all hope, he was alive!

And just like that day when he said to the demons, “Come out of her”, my life was new and fresh, filled with hope and joy!

I cried out, "Rabbouni! My beloved Teacher and Lord!"

And rushed to hug him.

He stopped me.  "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.'"

Later we wondered why I was not allowed to touch him when just a week later, he would invite Thomas to place his hands in the wounds from the cross.  He said he had not yet ascended to God.  Maybe he had not yet received his resurrection body.  Maybe, just like he took time from the cross to care for his mother, he took time during his resurrection to care for me.

He told me to go and tell the other.  His disciples – now not just students of the Master, but his brothers and sisters.  Then he was gone.

I ran back to the upper room one more time, this time tears of joy blurring my vision.  I burst in one more time.  "I have seen the Lord.  He’s alive!  He has risen from the dead!  He was there, in the garden.  He called my name, and said to tell you he was ascending to God.”

The very best news in the world.

And they didn’t believe me.

I guess it takes time to see resurrection.  They had to see Jesus, to hear his voice.

We had time during the next few weeks to eat with him, listen to him teach, hear him explain those things he told us before he died and rose again that we didn’t understand.

We had to learn to look for resurrection.

We had to learn to expected to see Jesus in those places where we least expected to see him.

And now I share my story with you.

I have seen the Lord.

He is risen, just as he said.

The very best news of all.

Do you believe?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: Washing the Feet of the Unfaithful Faithful

Reading for Maundy Thursday:  John, chapter 13

Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end.

All of them.

Even Judas.

in whose heart, Satan and the power of evil was moving.

Judas who walked with Jesus, shared meals, shared life.

Judas who sat at his feet,  followed him, called him master and teacher.

Judas who paired with another disciple, was sent out, two by two, to go ahead of where Jesus was going, proclaiming the good news, healing and casting out demons.


Who loved Jesus.

But somewhere along the line, sin got the better of Judas.  John tells us that his objection to Mary using that very expensive perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet, was because he was a thief and stole from the common purse.

The one who was trustworthy enough to keep the common purse, began to embezzle from it - maybe it was love of money that was Judas’ downfall.

Or maybe it was a misguided attempt to get Jesus to claim his kingdom.  Some think that Judas was disappointed that Palm Sunday procession and clearing out the marketplace in the temple didn’t grow into Jesus openly declaring himself to be king, raising the people to fight against Rome.  So Judas’ actions were a way of forcing Jesus to assume his kingship.

What ever it was, Jesus knew what was going on.  He knew what was in Judas’ heart, what his plans were - most of all Jesus knew that it was time.

And knowing this, he had one this last meal with his disciples.

Gathered around the table, telling stories, joking. Remember that time when....

Even Judas.

And after the meal Jesus got up and took a towel and started washing their feet.

I think he probably prayed as he did. I think each name was a cry.

James, John, always seeking advantage. Help them understand what I am doing, that to lead is to serve.

Phillip, Nathanael- will they be able to see through the fear of the next few days?

Thomas, Simon, James, Thaddeus, Andrew, Matthew, give them courage Father.

Peter needs your love and peace so much -he will be so ashamed that he denied me.

Judas, oh, Judas, Father, walk with him down this dark path he’s choosing.

Father, help them all remember that I did this, that I love them  - no matter what.  Let this act give them strength to seek forgiveness.  To forgive one another.  To care for one another.  

After this example of loving service, Jesus announced that one of this beloved group is going to betray him.

The disciples looked around the room - disbelief, shock, surely not!  Who could it be?

But they can’t ask - what if he says it’s me?

Finally, Peter nudges John who’s beside Jesus - ask him who it is.  John asks.

Jesus says, “The one who I give this bread dipped in oil.”  

A gasp of disbelief - when the host of a dinner gives someone a morsel of bread that he himself has dipped in oil, it’s a mark of honor.

Even then, the disciples can't believe it when Jesus gives bread to Judas.

As clear as Jesus was - the bread is going to the one who betrays me - here Judas, take the bread and do what you have to do - the others don't understand.  Maybe Judas is going to give alms, going to get something needed for Passover.

Judas takes the bread, that mark of honor, and gives into the darkness in his soul, and leaves.

Jesus then begins his long good bye.  To give his friends, these ones he loves so dearly something to hold on to in the days ahead.  Something to give them strength, give them hope.  To explain.

What's going to happen is God's doing,  God's glory will be shown, God's power will be revealed.  I am going - I have to do this alone.

I know you don't understand.  You'll look for me, but won't find me.

Just do this- love one another as I have loved you.

As I have loved you...

washing the feet of those who will shortly abandon me,

showing honor to the one who betrays me,

giving a look of compassion to the one who denies me,

forgiveness for those who set this in motion, and perverted justice, and 
mock me and who will nail me to the cross, and for those who just stood by and let it happen.

Wash one another’s feet.

Do as I have done to you.

Love as I have loved you.

This is love beyond warm fuzzy feeling, beyond passion, love greater than mere emotion. This is love in action -loving regardless of feelings, loving despite long-held grudges, loving through fears.

That’s the kind of love we’re called to - to forgive and care for those who betray us, abandon us,deny us, wrong us in any way.  

Loving as Jesus loves us - this is what these three days are about- a love that knows no bounds: 

Love that is patient, 

not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, 
does not insist on its own way,
not irritable or resentful,
does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth,  
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  

Steadfast, unconditional, self-giving love.

Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Palm/Passion Sunday - It Wasn't Supposed to End Like This- Or Was It?

Reading for Palm/Passion Sunday John 12:12-50 and 19:23-42

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

Just five days ago, they crowded around him, cheered into him as he rode into town triumphantly.  Crowds waving palms and shouting, as the prophet Zechariah foretold:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Now five days later they are now they were scattered and silent at this unexpected end of his journey.
One by one they had abandoned him:
Judas leaving their final meal together, leaving early to betray him.
The rest of them running for their lives from the garden where he was arrested.
Peter, following to the high priest’s house, but denying he was a disciple

Now just a few are remain with him as he hangs on the cross,
The women standing, at the foot of the cross,
with his mother Mary,
and the disciple Jesus loved-
   some say this was John, some say Lazarus.

Imagine Mary’s pain watching her son die-
every parent who’s lost a child knows that pain.
She wishes it was her instead of him,
each stroke of the hammer driving the nails into his hand, his feet,
-the trusting hand she held, the baby feet she kissed -
was a sword piercing her to her very soul.

The women there share Mary’s a pain.
This is a woman’s lot -to stand watch in the dying hours,
to wash and prepare him for burial.

A bit further away are the chief priests and religious leaders,
witnessing this death, satisfaction on their faces.
They have done their duty -
the threat to the faith and the people is dying on that cross.
Joseph of Arimathea is with them,
Nicodemus is there too,
their faces saddened and puzzled.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

One by one, the disciples (except for Judas)
made their way back to the upper room,
an ordinary room now sacred to them
because it’s the last time they shared a meal with him,
It was their last happy hours together.

Peter, comes in last.
He’s unusually quiet,
They don’t know he’s filled with shame
filled with guilt.

They begin to talk.
He said he was going to the Father’s house
to prepare a place for them (John 14:1-6), 
- surely dying on a cross was not what he meant,
was it?
Could it be?

He said he would come back and take them to the place prepared for them.
How does someone come back from such a death?
What kind of place does his death prepare for them?
And would they even want to go?

He said they couldn’t follow now,
but that they would know the way,
because he was the way, the truth and the life.

He said that no one had greater love
than to lay down his life for a friend.
And now he was dying. (John 15:13)

He said to love one another
as he loved them. (John 15:12)
How could they love each other like that?

He promised the Holy Spirit would come,
and remind them of all he said,
and teach them everything. (John 14:26)
Where is that Spirit?
They want to make sense of this.

He told them to not be troubled, (John 14:1)
that he left his peace with them,
that they should not be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)
They have no peace.
They are troubled,
They are very afraid.
How could they not be so?

It wasn’t supposed to end like this!

But having loved his own, Jesus loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

Even while hanging there on the cross, he loved them,
cared for them.

He looked at his mother,
and the disciple whom he loved.

Woman, here is your son.
Here is your mother. (John 19:26-27)

It wasn’t necessary for Jesus
to make arrangements for someone to care for his mother
after his death -
he had brothers,she had other sons, to care for her.

This giving is intentional,
it’s the beginning of something new,
something birthed in the water and blood
that flowed from his side that day.

At the foot of the cross,
our eyes are on Jesus,
and then we look around
and see we aren’t alone.

There is a new family formed-
Woman, here is your son,
Here is your mother,
Here is your brother,
Here is your sister.

It’s a new family, a community flowing
through water and blood,
a community that surpassed any other on earth -
the family bonds of flesh and blood,
the loyal bonds of friendship,
         the allegiance to tribe and nation,
         or any other earthly tie.

Through the blood of Christ
and the waters of baptism
we become the daughters and sons of God-
loving each other as Jesus loves us,
sharing each others joys and sorrows,
figuring out how to live and love as Jesus taught.

This new community begins to come together
at the foot of the cross -
the women sharing grief at the cross,
bearing witness to Jesus suffering,
watching him being buried,
not being able  to prepare the body themselves,
planning to come back on Sunday morning.

The beloved disciple
gathering the mother of Jesus to his heart,
walking away together,
taking her into his home.

Joseph, no longer a secret believer,
boldly facing governors and powers,
professing his commitment
by claiming Jesus’ body for burial.

Nicodemus,no longer in the dark,
professing his faith in the perfume
of a hundred pounds of spices,
an extravagant, abundant offering of gratitude.

This new community begins to come together
in that upper room,
where they comfort each other,
share their grief,

trying to figure out what it all means.
Why did he die?
When will he come back?
How can a man defeat death,
only God can do that…
does that mean
they have been in the presence of God?

During Lent,
our eyes are turned to the body of Christ,
broken for us, the blood of Christ shed for us.
And at the food of the cross,
we also discern the Body of Christ
here on earth
this community of believers
entrusted by Jesus care for one another,
commanded by Jesus to love one another.
lean on each other in times of  trouble,
bear each other’s burdens,
support each other in those times when we can’t see any hope
     and all  we have are promises we don’t fully understand.

We are the beloved disciple-
Some say that John didn’t give this disciple’s name
so that the beloved community could see that
this most loved disciple
is them,
is us.

We are the beloved disciple,
    whom Jesus
knew fully as God’s good creation,
    beloved sons and daughters of the Father.
even in those moments when we betray,deny or abandon him,
         in those moments when we run away in fear
         in those moments when we have no hope
and can’t begin to understand his promises.

         loved us
to the end
by laying down his life for us.