Monday, April 24, 2017
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Matthew 28:1-10 All Shook Up
He is risen.
He is risen indeed,
The great greeting on Easter in many Christian communities worldwide is a far cry from the words most likely uttered by Christ followers that first Easter morning.
Mary, the Magdalene and the other Mary, met early in the morning and walked together to the tomb of Jesus. I wonder what their conversation consisted of as they walked along the path to the grave. I wonder if they were sharing stories of Jesus that made them smile, like the time he welcomed little children to hear his words and receive his blessings.
Perhaps they talked about the things he had done that they did not understand. Why had he cursed that fig tree? What had he meant by saying they should hate their family?
Perhaps there were no words at all, just a deep shared grief as they went to the place where Jesus was buried.
When they arrived, no doubt, they expected to see a tomb. They expected to see all of the things you see in a burial ground. But what they expected, was not what they received.
As they sit there looking at the tomb, Matthew tells us that a great earthquake shakes the land. This is no random event. Matthew tells us that this earthquake happens as an angle of the Lord rolls the stone away from the tomb.
This is not the first earthquake in the book of Matthew. Just a few short verses before, when Jesus breathes his last breath, there is an earthquake that splits rocks. It opens the graves of some of the saints who have gone before and in tears the curtain in the temple from top to bottom.
These earthquakes, these tectonic shifts in the foundation of earth, are moments when heaven and earth connect. They connect in such a powerful way that the world as we know it is changed, upended, disturbed.
No one is safe from the divine reality that is ushered in at this moment. This moment, when everything is changed, when the resurrection of Christ occurs.
We have all heard the stories, seen the Facebook and YouTube videos, of people who have survived death, or even be resuscitated. We hear of people whose hearts have stopped, who have followed a great light only to be turned back. Perhaps we know personally some of these individuals.
But what happened to Jesus is not a resuscitation. It is not a reviving in the cool of the tomb. God breaks into the world and resurrects Jesus from the dead. New life and life abundant, the living water, life everlasting.
And, my friends, if even death is no longer a sure thing, what else might God have changed?
The angel speaks to the women telling them not to be afraid. Don’t be afraid, though the earth may quake, though the soldiers by the tomb are petrified with fear. They don’t understand that God is at work for good. Jesus is not here. He has been raised! Go and tell. He will meet you in Galilee.
And in Matthew’s account the two Mary’s begin running to tell the disciples what they have seen and heard. They go with fear and great joy. I love that line. I love it because it shows us that fear and joy can go hand in hand, much like doubt and faith often keep company.
The Mary’s are afraid of the unknown, of the tectonic shift in the world, of the earthquake that has just changed everything; but, but they are joyous over the news of the resurrection. They cannot wait to share what they have been told.
Suddenly, there on the road, they are met by Jesus. As they are going to do the thing they have been commanded to do, they find the risen Lord.
I took a youth group on a mission trip to Mexico in 1999. We were going to build a house for a family in the squatter’s section of a border town. We had spent time trying to prepare the kids for the extreme poverty they would witness. We talked with them about the difference between their homes and the 20 by 10 cinderblock home we were building. But there is no better teacher than experience.
Every night we would gather together back at the hotel and have a devotional time. On our next to last night a young man broke down in tears as he told us about his day.
Christian had watched a woman bath her two-year-old boy in a bucket of water that he knew was not clean enough to drink from. He had been shocked. A little later that same mother had come out to our work site with a basket full of homemade tortillas for the workers and a large jug of purified water for us to drink. Christian was overwhelmed by the love she had shown to us as strangers, when she had nothing to spare.
How many of you have had this experience? You go someone where thinking you are bringing the good news of Christ, only to find that he is already there!
These women, go to do what they have been told and along the way encounter Christ. Their response is not to question him about what he is doing there. They do not ask for identification or become frozen with fear. They see Christ and they fall at his feet and worship him.
When the risen Christ enters the world, nothing is ever the same, my friends. When God’s resurrection power intercedes, nothing is ever the same. The world is turned upside down, shaken to its very core.
When the kingdom of God breaks in the ways of thinking, living, being, the philosophies of scarcity, hate and fear, they are defeated.
Droughts are replaced with living water. The blind see, the lame walk. The last shall be first. These things that make no sense in the eyes of the world, are the cornerstone of the kingdom of God.
Today, I pray that we are all shook up by the resurrection presence of Jesus the Christ. I pray that the tectonic plates of what should be shift to what will be through Christ. I pray that the foundations of the earth are shattered, so that we might build on Christ’s foundation of love.
New life my friends, that’s the gift of Easter. New life, that shakes everything up.
Easter, April 16, 2017, Sunrise John 20
In 1650, Thomas Fuller, English theologian and historian said in his travelogue A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine and the confines thereof “It is always darkest just before the day dawneth.” People have debated for hundreds of years whether this is a fact or just a thoughtful notation. But there is no debating that this phrase has captured the human imagination.
There is an element of truth within it that speaks to us on deep levels. We’ve experienced the darkness and we know it can seem the most overwhelming just before the light breaks through.
Mary began her journey in this passage surrounded by the darkness. While it was still dark, John tells us, Mary made her way to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed. The darkness she walks through may indeed be the darkest time of her soul.
She is going to the grave of a man who gave her everything. Jesus had healed her from seven demons. Jesus had given her a spot among the faithful followers, roaming the countryside, sitting at his feet, soaking up the joy of his presence.
What will happen to her now? What will become of the life she has been shown? How will she ever be able to move past the darkness?
I think this is when Mary is the most relatable to me on a personal level. I’ve battled with depression throughout my life. There have been times when the darkness seemed impenetrable. Times when I could not imagine ever seeing sunshine again.
I, like most of us here today, have felt the pain of losing a loved one to death. We understand how it feels to go to the graveside, in the darkness of our grief and sit and wait, gathering that darkness like a blanket around our shoulders.
In her grief, in the dark, Mary went to the final resting place of Jesus, and when she arrived she saw that he was not there.
He was not there. Jesus’ body was gone. I wonder if she took a quick step back and counted the graves, just to make sure she was at the right place.
This past January, I returned to New Mexico for my Aunt Joyce’s funeral and while we were there the family decided to visit my grandparents grave site as well. Only, we couldn’t find it.
I’m sure it looked odd to see close to sixty people walking around that small cemetery looking for a headstone. Each of us remembered that the grave was on the West side, with the name facing the road, one row in from the edge. But it wasn’t there.
Finally, someone spotted it, two rows in, with the name facing a different direction. The confusion was caused by an extra row of bodies being added since their passing in 1983 and 1997 respectively. But no one can account for the stone being turned.
This confusion cannot begin to compare to Mary’s. Jesus is not misplaced. She has not miscounted tombs. He is simply no longer there.
In her angst, while it is still dark, she ran back to tell the disciples. Peter and John, the beloved disciple, return to the tomb with Mary. They ran to the tomb and find it empty, just as Mary had said. They entered the tomb, found it empty and believed. Believed what exactly? I think they believed Mary. They believed that Jesus’ body had been taken. They believed the darkness. The next verse says, “for yet, they did not understand the scripture, that he must be raised from the dead.”
Peter and John return home, still in the dark, still unaware of what this might mean. Still bound to and by the darkness.
Mary could not leave the place she last saw Jesus. She began to weep outside of the tomb. She cried tears of frustration, of loss, of fear, of love. It was bad enough to have Jesus die, but to not know where he body was? To not have a concrete place to take her thoughts and memories? This was like losing him all over again!
She looked into the tomb and saw two messengers, angles, dressed in white, one at the foot and one at the head. And in her darkness, she didn’t even seem shocked or surprised. She asked to know where Jesus’s body had been taken.
She turned around from the tomb and bumped into a man. And supposing him to be the gardener she asked, “If you have carried him away please tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”
In the darkness, she could not recognize who was speaking with her. In the darkness, her grief kept her blind. In the darkness, she was bound to earthly understanding.
In the darkness, we too sometimes do not recognize the voice of Jesus. In the darkness, we too allow grief and loss to keep us blind to truth. In the darkness, we are bound to earthly understanding.
“Mary” With a word the sun began to shine. With a word, the scales fell from her eyes. With a word the creator of the universe reminded Mary of who she was, and whose she was.
“Teacher.” She responds. In that moment, the sun shined out. In that moment, Mary not only identifies Jesus, she also identifies herself; for what good is a teacher without a disciple?
“Do not cling to me,” Jesus told her. Don’t cling to the old way of understanding. Don’t let the darkness, the past, hold you captive any longer. You are free of all that darkness now!
This is the message for us as well my friends. As the sun dawns brightly in our lives, let us set aside the darkness that clings so tightly. Let us be unbound, set free.
And when we have been unbound, when we have faced the dawn, let us go and boldly proclaim “We have seen the Lord!” Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!