Tag Archives: Resurrection

Contemplating the Mystics of The Church

Sermon for April 15, 2018:  This sermon developed from the images of Leawood, KS, Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass windows.  The images of those who continued God’s work after Jesus’ resurrection.  Today, the image of Saint Teresa of Avila was the inspiration for this sermon.

How many Christians harbor a seed of uncertainty about the resurrection?   Until we walk the same path that all must walk, there is no concrete evidence our logical minds crave to answer that lingering question.

In the lectionary’s scripture for this week there is a reading from I John 3:1-7.  This letter was written by John the Apostle, whose brother was James and father was Zebedee. Based on writing styles and historical research, the same person is believed to have written the gospel of John.

Scholars believe the first letter of John was written as a circularletter to be shared among churches.  The purpose was to reassure the early Christians and counter false teachings. The letter provides three descriptors of God:  God is light; God is love; and God is life:

Scripture connections:

I John 1:5-7  God is Light

This is the message we heard from Jesus[a] and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

 

I John 3:1-3  God is Love

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

 

I John 5:11-12 God is Life

11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

 

Today’s world is consumed with logical thinking and the need for proof; Christianity is targeted as an outdated concept. Christianity cannot be boiled down to a code that computers can dissect and recreate with accuracy.  Christianity is simple but complex.  It is faith in what is known, but what is also not known.

As the weeks, years, decades, centuries distanced people from the events of that first Easter Sunday, The Church developed, evolved, and continued to share the story Jesus taught the Apostles and the earliest disciples.

The gospel written by the Apostle John differs from the other three and is sometimes identified as the mysticalgospel.  Why?  This gospel focuses on the fact that Jesus was God more than focusing on his physical human qualities.  God is light, love, and life.  The Word.

Scripture reconnect:

John 1:1-5, 9-14

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.[b]

 

     The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

     10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

     14 So the Word became human[a] and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.[b] And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

The Church had the task of continuing God’s work as delivered through Jesus Christ. And The Church continues.  At first there was just the one denomination, as we would call it today, but the reality is that even in the earliest days, believers formed different cells focusing on different perspectives.

Some fled into distant countries to live together in isolated communities.  Others blended into community churches located in homes.  Differences developed based on national cultures, strange practices, eventually creating orders who taught and trained others to continue the work of the Apostles.

Leaders developed into Popes, and The Church that evolved into the most organized arm of Christianity became known as the Catholic Church.  An organized religion developed and The Church grew.  The evolutionary process has seen various movements for reformation and Teresa of Avila, who later was beatified as a saint, led one.

[Insert video introducing St. Teresa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn4v6atYpq8&t=0s&list=PLFlOzfWR7LMU3h-0LlX_QPiZWi_Lx_rFm&index=5]

Teresa of Avila lived during the time of the Spanish Inquisitions and is known as a mystic.  Admittedly this is an uncomfortable facet of Christianity that does not match the 21stcentury mindset.  Therefore, I turned to the Harper Collins’ Bible Dictionary:

Mystic:  one who has a direct experience of the divine presence, an intimate and transforming communion or union with God.  . . . Traces of mysticism are sometimes identified in the Pauline Letters, especially where Paul speaks of union with Christ.

With that definition as a foundation, the writings of John the Apostle can be understood as being mystical, too.  The words from his writings and the quotes from St. Teresa are similar.

As John wrote in his first letter, God is light.  An article from biographyonline.com explains that after a severe illness during which St. Teresa experienced a vision.

In one of her visions she saw an angel pierce her heart with a spear with a golden tip and the pain, instead of being debilitating, became a movement into ecstasy for the mystic.  As she herself wrote, “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”  This event became symbolic of her life, that she was chosen in a special way to share in the pain of Jesus Christ. (Accessed on April 13, 2018 at https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/the-incredible-life-of-st.-teresa-of-avila)

Afterwards, Teresa shared her vision, and some clergy argued the vision was the work of the devil.  She lost her confidence in her own visions and raptures, sometimes called ecstasies.

The article, though, continues to explain more:

However, in the course of time, she became absorbed in deep contemplation in which she felt an ever-growing sense of oneness with God. At times she felt overwhelmed with divine love. The experiences were so transforming, she at times felt the illumining grace of God would wash her soul away. She was so filled with divine contemplation it is said at times her body would spontaneously levitate. Teresa, however, was not keen on these public displays of ‘miracles’. When she felt it happening she would ask other nuns to sit on her to prevent her floating away.

Mysticism is not common in today’s faith discussions, but St. Teresa is accredited with part of The Church’s reformation.  Being included in the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawood, KS) connects her to the evolution of The Church. She is accredited with starting a new order that focused on the values of poverty and simplicity:

She guided the nuns not just through strict disciplines, but also through the power of love, and common sense. Her way was not the way of rigid asceticism and self-denial. Although she underwent many tribulations herself, to others, she stressed the importance of experiencing God’s Love.

God is love.  The gospel of John along with his letters emphasizes that God is love.  St. Teresa’s writings include quotes that echo John’s teachings:

  • “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”
  • “The surest way to determine whether one possesses the love of God is to see whether he or she loves his or her neighbor. These two loves are never separated. Rest assured, the more you progress in love of neighbor the more your love of God will increase.”
  • “We may speak of love and humility as the true flowers of spiritual growth; and they give off a wonderful scent, which benefits all those who come near.”

St. Teresa’s work clearly emphasized that God as love includes being a servant.  A few quotes from her sound very familiar to John Wesley’s most notable quote:

Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can. (Accessed on April 13, 2018 at Wikiquotes.com )

St. Teresa used these words:

  • “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
  • “If we practice love of neighbor with great perfection, we will have done everything.”

St. Teresa knew God as love. She also knew God as life.

“Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life. . . . If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.”

In her visions, she experienced God’s love.  By the union with God through Jesus Christ, she saw God as life.  The metaphor that a nun is married to The Church simply means they are as devoted to the church as spouses are devoted, singularly, to each other. As a nun, St. Teresa’s life was devoted to God; God was her life on earth as well as after death.  In the biography, a fellow sister/nun describes St. Teresa’s death:

“She remained in this position in prayer full of deep peace and great repose. Occasionally she gave some outward sign of surprise or amazement. But everything proceeded in great repose. It seemed as if she were hearing a voice which she answered. Her facial expression was so wondrously changed that it looked like a celestial body to us. Thus immersed in prayer, happy and smiling, she went out of this world into eternal life.”

This final picture helps us to understand the mystical aspect of Christianity.  The Church cannot fully explain the complexity of God:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the figures who have carried the story forward along human history’s timeline, provide glimpses.

Even St. Teresa explains her mystical faith in God:

“They deceive themselves who believe that union with God consists in ecstasies or raptures, and in the enjoyment of Him. For it consists in nothing except the surrender and subjection of our will – with our thoughts, words and actions – to the will of God.”

As Methodists who know the words and works of John Wesley, St. Teresa’s words and work, we see that God is, God was, and God always will be light, love, and life—eternal life. To fully accept God in our lives, we, too, must be mystic at least to some degree.  There is no other way to know the reality than to rely on The Word—through reading scripture, through prayer, and through loving one another in any way that we can.

Closing prayer:

St. Teresa prayer life has also been the subject of study.  She said, “Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”

Now, please join in prayer:

Dear loving, life-giving Father,

As we wake to the sunlight of the morning,

As we lie down to rest in the moonlight,

Fill our souls with light, love and life

Taught us by your son Jesus Christ

And guides us as the Holy Spirit.

May we hear The Word within our minds

So that we, too, may live as your children

Following and reflecting your light others,

Loving one another as we want to be loved,

And confidently believing you are life

Now and forever, amen.

In closing:

            Here we sit in the Midwest in our protestant church.  The story of The Church is filled with saints who carried the Word forward, beyond the geographical home of Jesus Christ.

Here we live in the 21stcentury in a culture far removed from ancient thought, yet the saints kept Jesus’ work alive.

Therefore, when we learn that someone in our contemporary world experiences God in a mystical way, the story can empower us even more.  For some, the following story sounds familiar, for some it will provide encouragement.  This is the Easter story now, in our own world  [Accessed on April 12, 2018 at http://www.carmelites.net/news/resurrection-in-a-kansas-backyard/:

 

Resurrection in a Kansas Backyard

APRIL 1, 2018 | GREGORY HOUCK, O.CARM.

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Easter Sunday is one of the biggest days of the year in the Catholic Church, but for priests like myself it can sometimes be an occasion for sleepiness and maybe some crankiness. We’re cranky because the night before, the Easter Vigil, is a very large celebration in which the liturgy itself and the festivities afterward can go on for hours until early in the morning. Getting up the next morning for 7:30am mass can be pretty difficult.

 

This past Easter Sunday, I was helping out at a Carmelite parish in Kansas. It was a beautiful day; but that didn’t quite cut through the sleepiness. The aisles were choked, every pew taken, and I’m wrapping up one mass and preparing for the next when a man approaches me and asks me to give Last Rites to his dying father. Though this the last thing I want to hear at this moment, I tell him I can be there that afternoon, after the last mass.

 

Afterward, as I am plugging his address into the GPS in my car, I seriously consider blowing it off. I really need a cup of coffee and maybe something to eat. I need some time to rest. ‘I could show up tomorrow morning, no damage done’ I think to myself. But there was something quietly urgent about the man’s request, so I head over.

 

When I pull into the driveway, a crowd of people that could only be family is standing on the front lawn of the house. I think they must be waiting for the ambulance; I’m sure that because I hesitated, I am too late. But I find out pretty quickly that the family isn’t waiting for the doctor – they are waiting for me.

 

“Dad asked us to carry him out to the backyard to enjoy this weather,” the man explains. “We were afraid that if we stayed out back we wouldn’t hear the doorbell ring.” The family members– the dying man’s wife, two daughters, two sons, and a handful of college-age grandchildren – are pleasant enough, and as I am following them out to the backyard, I feel a bit calmer.

 

Out back, the dying man is propped up on a lawn chair. After relaxing in the sun and visiting for a while, I bring out the anointing oil, as well as Communion, in case anybody wants to receive. The Catholics in the group have skipped mass, afraid they’d lose their father while at church, and they are relieved at not having to forgo Communion today. I perform the Last Rites ceremony, and then I talk briefly about the Easter Gospel from this morning’s mass. I talk about the Doubting Thomas story, and about how Thomas’s newfound faith in Jesus is its own resurrection.

 

After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?.’”

 

After distributing communion, the dying man asks to speak with me privately. Assuming he wants his confession heard, the family gets up and retreats into the house, and we are alone. After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?’

 

“I’ve worked hard all my life,” he explains. “I’ve always had one or two jobs to keep food on the table. My kids – I think they knew I loved them, but I never told them that.” He pauses for a moment. He’s looking away from me. “I think they loved me, but they never told me that. We never said these things out loud – we just were a family.” He turns to me again. “But suddenly these last two days, being with them all the time, I know how much they love me. And I never really knew that before.”

 

As he speaks, I can feel my attention to his words sharpening. “I married my wife because she was the prettiest woman I ever saw – but I never really knew that her heart was so much more beautiful than that.” My Doubting Thomas sermon is starting to feel a little silly in comparison.

He stares out into the grass. “And I finally realized what I’d been missing my whole life. Today, after a few days with family constantly at my side, I finally got it. The whole point of life is to love. The reason we are alive is to love – and that makes this the best day of my life.”

 

I begin to understand that this man has just given me a gift – and that clarity like this is contagious. Love itself is a resurrection. The family returns and we sit around chatting for a while, and suddenly I am not so hungry, not so desperate for a cup of coffee. This man is approaching death, I realize, with joy; and that is a gift to his family too. They are not grieving so much as delighting in watching him exit with grace.

The next morning the phone rings in the rectory at an oddly early hour. It’s a representative from the nearby funeral home: “We’d like to schedule a funeral this week.”

 

“I know” I say to the voice over the phone. After hanging up, I’m sitting alone in silence for a few moments when I realize that tears are falling down my face. As a priest, I’m often called to be present when people die but, in truth, I’m generally not much of a crier. It dawns on me that my tears are not in sadness for the death of a man I barely knew. Instead, they are for the grace and privilege I felt at being witness to a resurrection on Easter Sunday afternoon in a backyard in Kansas.

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Mary Magdalene at the The Cross/The Tree of Jesus

Easter Sunday sermon:  The scriptures are embedded in the text, but I would also like to share that I am sharing some of the music from Jesus Christ Superstar during the service, also.  Please listen to Mary Magdalene’s song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and the final song, “Jesus Christ Superstar” at its inclusion.  I was fortunate to see the Broadway production in 1972 with my high school classmates on our senior trip.  The fact that it is going to be a live performance this Easter Sunday on NBC will be a dramatic ending to this Easter Sunday.  

Let me introduce you to Mary of Magdala.  Her image is the final one in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.  She is sitting on a stone, weeping and alone—at least the artist has her pictured this way in the window.

The trial and the crucifixion is over and the very same people who were standing along the road cheering as Jesus arrived on a donkey one week earlier are now in hiding.  Mary of Magdala is not.

Mary stayed beside Jesus as he hung on the cross and died. Joseph of Arimathea takes the body and places it in his personal tomb late Friday just before Sabbath began. The first opportunity Mary and a few other women have to complete the burial practice was Sunday morning:

It was customary to wash the body and anoint it with perfumes and spices, not ever for embalming but always to control the odors. . . . The hands and feet were wrapped with linen clothes (grave-bands), and the face and head were covered with a small cloth and bound.  It was loving friends and relatives, mostly women, who prepared the body.  The Jews did not use coffins and did not embalm. [Accessed on 3-29-18 at http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/burial.html.]

 

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary of Magdala is first introduced by Luke earlier in the story of Jesus’ ministry found in Luke 8:1-3:

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.

 

This introduction immediately follows the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet while at a dinner with the Pharisees.

But who is this Mary and why did she stay beside Jesus only to be the one who witnessed and recognized his resurrection first?

Research shares insight into the character Mary Magdalene, but the reality of this woman cannot be definitively identified with factual details.  The possibility of her relationship with Jesus being more than a disciple is the subject of movies.  The research cannot refute it, but the fact does not change the importance of Luke’s and John’s reporting of her presence at the resurrection.  And, if the possibility of the intimate relationship with Jesus is true, the morning of the Resurrection may actually be more believable.

The Gospel of John reports the morning’s events to the earliest Christians:

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

     Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

     11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in.12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

      14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary came from the city of Magdala, a trade center, and probably was a successful businesswoman in the textile industry. She was afflicted with seven demons according to the scripture.  The story does not explain, but you know the demons that can cause one to lose focus. Maybe she was mentally struggling with manic depression.  Maybe one demon was physical pain from something like endometriosis or rheumatoid arthritis. Maybe she had a strawberry birthmark that caused her embarrassment.

The demon does not matter, but what the story tells us is that Jesus loved her unconditionally and healed her from the demons. Such unconditional love is the message that Jesus delivered.  Mary chose to accept that unconditional love and responded in a manner that she became a disciple—maybe even one of Jesus’ inner circle, an apostle.

Put yourself in Mary’s place on that Sunday morning. Would you have been sitting on that rock weeping?  Or would you have been one who had gone into hiding?

Mary’s story continues as she arrives at the tomb early Sunday morning.  Her sorrow keeps her steps slow and heavy.  Her head remains downward.  She carries the supplies she needs to complete the burial ritual.  There is no joy in her heart, in her step, nor in her expression.  Her eyes are red from the tears shed over the past several days.  Her hair is a mess.  She has no reason to fix herself up.  She is raw.

And as she reaches the tomb, she looks up.  The stone is rolled away from the opening! The exhaustion she feels turns into agitated confusion.  Why is the tomb open?  Why is the tomb empty?  New tears begin flowing now from confusion and uncertainty and even fear.

Then she turns and sees a figure.  Out of context.  Out of a mind.

And the figure speaks to her. Only when he addresses her in that familiar tone she knows so well, “Mary”, does Mary of Magdala recognize Jesus.  In John, the story continues:

     16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

     17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

     18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Tears turn to joy!

Mary carried the news to the other disciples.  She knew where they were.  She knew the importance of reporting what she saw—who she spoke to. The story of Jesus’ ministry must continue and she who may have been the most emotionally connected to Jesus now had to take a new role—deliver the message of his resurrection.  He still had work to do and even though she wanted to hold him, she couldn’t.  Her faith caused her to move into action.

In a male-dominated culture, where Jesus treated the women equally, Mary Magdalene recognizes the truth of the resurrection. Jesus is alive and all the disciples now must carry the story forward.  They must live as Jesus taught them.  You, too, even 2,000 years later are to join in the task of telling the good news, living the Christian lifestyle, and loving one another as you want to be loved.

Why did Jesus speak to Mary that Sunday morning?

Because he lives.  [Conclude with the music, Because He Lives.]

Closing prayer

 

Dear ever-loving Lord,

May we experience the joy

Mary of Magdala did

As Jesus called out her name.

May we hear God call our names

As Mary Magdalene did

Knowing we, too, are with you

Now and forever.

Guide us to understanding.

Guide us to commitment.

Guide us to serve

One another in love,

Unconditional love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

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God’s Mission Never Ends

given on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Story: John 20:1-9, NLT

Early on Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.

 

The Story continues:     John 20: 11-16, NLT

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

 

Reflection on the story:            God’s Mission Never Ends . . .

Reading through the gospel story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, so many thoughts erupt in the mind. First, how? How in the world, especially today as we scientifically study the physical changes in our bodies from birth through death, how can a resurrection happen?

Thousands of years of questions cannot be answered, but the story hinges on the resurrection. Read the scriptures, not only in John, but also in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The stories are eerily identical. The most historical data collected apparently cannot void The Story as recorded in scripture. The Story continues, just as God’s mission continues.

If science and non-religious documents cannot refute God’s story, then the story continues along with the mission. Remember, God created the world but he gave his human creations free will. Sadly, free will lead to evil.

As Satan’s influence seemed to attract more and more human attention, evil became overwhelming. God made a decision that evil had to be eradicated. God now needed a team. As we read in the Old Testament that team was lead by Abraham, chosen for his faithful obedience.

The story continued through thousands of years with the descendants of Abraham and even the prophets. The evil continued and God made the decision to intervene personally with the birth of Jesus Christ.

And Christ, after three short years of ministry made a difference in God’s mission. Just three years, and God confidently decided the faithful were strong enough to carry on the mission independent of Jesus.

During Passover, the most holy of Jewish festivals, the Story shifts from the Jewish traditions to what are now the Christian traditions. Christ knew, he did all he could to prepare the Apostles, but he had to demonstrate his humanness being charged, tried, and crucified.

The details were horrific, the Apostles were confused and frightened, and the reality of Jesus’ death made no sense. Huddled together for a very long Sabbath, one can only wonder what these faithful disciples were saying or what would happen next.

Sunday morning arrived, and the Story continues. Numbly those closest to Jesus took up the typical tasks of the day. Quietly. Slowly. The women made their way to the tomb. . . .

The Story goes on: John 20:19-23

That Sunday evening[b] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Further reflection . . .

            . . . Shock! Fear! Confusion and chaos filled the lives of the Apostles and the earliest disciples. Rumors raced around the neighborhoods. The day’s routine had to be maintained, but at the same time so much was happening so quickly. What was going to happen next.

The women now knew the truth of the resurrection; and the men too had gone to witness the empty tomb. Yet, what were they going to do? What did this mean? How were they going to continue spreading the Word? How?

The questions had to be outnumbering the statements of belief. The chaos of loss turns into chaos of excitement with no clear plan of how to use the new reality. There would be those who believed, but what to do about those who did not. . . .

 

The Story resumes          John 20:26-29, NLT

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

 

Concluding reflection . . .

            God’s mission remains. The Story carries God’s message forward. The Apostles and the earliest disciples were given the mission—do all that you can to love God and to love one another in all the ways that you can for as long as you can.

The Story shares all the different ways evil can attack us. Evil has many faces as close as our own family and even our neighbors. Evil can look so inviting, but the intention turns so revolting. Decisions we make must be based on our Christian beliefs.

And what reality of the Easter story makes God’s mission easy? Christ lived. Christ died. Christ arose from the dead and lives. We, made in God’s image, must believe in the power of the cross. God sacrificed himself for us. By accepting this truth, we are forgiven. God’s mission succeeds when we accept Christ’s sacrifice, we are given life eternal and evil is destroyed.

 

The Story for today        John 20:30-31, NLT

30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe[d] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

 

Reflective benediction . . .

            The subtitle on the last two verses of John 20 is “The purpose.” God’s mission is our purpose and each time we share the Story with others, each time we serve one another in love, and each time we remember Jesus’ resurrection, we are blessed.

Your purpose is God’s mission. This Easter Sunday, as you leave this holy place, may you find the joy in knowing that you are forgiven and you are redeemed by your faith in God.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly, Loving Father,

Thank you for loving us day after day.

Thank you for forgiving us our sins.

Thank you for promising us life ever lasting.

We may not understand the Story.

We may not show our faith openly.

We may not shout out the love we feel .

Yet we love You and one another.

Yet we quietly serve one another in love.

Yet we believe in Your love and the promises.

May we live our days filled with love.

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Easter Sunday: Who are you?

This sharing of scripture and thoughts ends the Holy Week this Easter Sunday, 2014.  Now Christians have a commandment and a commission to follow.  We need to know who we are to do the best we can.

Who Are You?

 

John 13:33-35 (During the last supper with the Disciples and after Judas left, Jesus went on teaching. . . )

 

“Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

As we sit and look at each other or drive along the highways or rub shoulders in the stores, we see the faces of friends, family, strangers, and even foes. At those moments we register some tiny sense of recognition or evaluation of how they fit into our personal world.

Have you ever considered what others might think that same moment they see you? Would ‘Christian’ be the first descriptor that registers in their mind? Who are you in God’s eye?

Granted we often say we do not care what others think of us, but what if what we do, how we live, or even how we think is the key to whether or not God considers us his disciple?

In my study of these three verses during this past Holy Week, one of the study notes included a checklist of sorts for whether or not we are living this commandment:

Love is more than simply warm feelings; it is an attitude that reveals itself in action. How can we love others as Jesus loves us?

  • By helping when it’s not convenient,
  • by giving when it hurts,
  • by devoting energy to others’ welfare rather than our own,
  • by absorbing hurts from others without complaining or fighting back.

This kind of loving is hard to do. That is why people notice when you do it and know you are empowered by a supernatural source. [p. 1461, The NLT Chronological Study Bible]

 

John 14:15-17 (Jesus continues teaching during that last supper with his disciples.)

 

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. . . . “

 

Who are you? Are you living your life in such a manner that others recognize you as a Christian? Do you know who you are yourself? Are you Peter? Are you Mary Magdalene? Are you Nicodemus? Are you Judas? Are you a Pharisee? Are you Paul, the Jewish leader or the converted Christian missionary? Are you Lazarus? Are you John, the Apostle?

We are asking the same questions today that were asked over 2,000 years ago. If we were walking the dusty paths of our community, would we have recognized Jesus?

Would we have been one of the Jewish faithful still waiting for a Messiah? If we were, wouldn’t we be wanting to hear this man talk? Or would we have looked at him and thought there is no way he could be the new tribal leader.

Would we have judged this man Jesus and his odd set of followers? I certainly cannot imagine what the setting would have been, but today such a person might be traveling in a tour bus or flying from stop to stop. If one man came out of the door and was followed by all these others who did nothing more than what he told them to do or to just sit and listen, I am not sure I would have recognized him.

Would we have been worldly Roman businessmen who happened to be in Jerusalem on business and witness this confusing power play between two religious groups?   If that were the case, would we have stuck to our business meetings and simply ignored the local hubbub or would we have been so curious we checked it out? In our society today, it would be reported on the local news station or posts would popup on Facebook sharing opinions. It would be difficult to hear and to make decisions based on just our own evaluation of the situation.

Who are you today? This Easter morning do you sense the renewal Christ offers us each and every Sunday as we come together for worship? Or do you walk away simply to resume your busy daily life with little regard to spiritual maintenance?

 

John 19:38-42 (The crucifixion was finished, Jesus was dead, and the Sabbath was just about to begin.)

 

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about 75 pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

 

Who are you? Are you one of the faithful disciples who steps up even after Jesus has been crucified to take care of burial details? Have you been keeping your beliefs hidden? How do you suddenly have the nerve to show your loyalty even after Jesus is dead?

Trying to understand the events that unfolded that fateful Passover week takes knowledge of the Jewish customs and laws as well as the Roman laws. The situation was complicated and trying to fit all the details together is challenging, but Jesus died and on Friday, the day before the Jewish Sabbath, was the only time there was to do the work necessary to complete burial.

The Apostles and those closest to Jesus were all behind closed doors and in shock. Would you have been there with them or would you have been the secret followers who decided to take matters into your own hands and bury Jesus? Who are you?

John 20:1-2 (After Sabbath, the Jewish people resumed the business week on Sunday morning.)

 

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

 

            Jesus’ disciples included women. Mary Magdalene had already used perfume oil to cleanse Jesus’ feet earlier in the week, but she was considered a prominent, even wealthy, businesswoman and disciple. She and the other women, listed in the other gospels got, to work that Sunday morning because that was what was traditional. Some probably just walked away thinking that the trial and crucifixion meant there was nothing more to know. But not Mary; I wonder just how many women knew that Jesus was the Messiah and were strong enough to carry that belief forward even when word got out that the body of Jesus was missing.

Who are you? Just how do others describe you? Is Christian one of the first descriptors? Or do other words come to mind first such as businessman, farmer, professional, friendly, cold, judging, honest, two-faced? The list goes on and on how people describe each other, but the only thing that truly matters is whether all we meet know us as Christians first and foremost.

I want to be there right at Jesus’ feet. I don’t want to do everything he asks, but I am trying to do it anyway. Who I am depends on knowing why the rock was rolled away from the tomb’s door that day when Mary Magdalene arrived there that first Easter morning. I know Jesus lives. I know that God and Jesus are one. And I know that with the Holy Spirit I can deal with the messiness of this world the way God wants me to—by loving one another just as I want to be loved.

Who are we? We are God’s children and are loved by our father beyond our worldly comprehension. We are God’s hands and feet working with and for each other. We are one huge family who meets to worship together. We are one of so many who seek to know God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost so well that we recognize them in every shape, form, and color there is. We are the ones who understand how a rock rolls away from the tomb’s door so Easter morning we are given the gift of eternal life.

 

John 20:11-18 (To end the Easter morning story. . .)

 

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

“Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

 

Closing prayer:

Dear Father,

Dear Jesus,

Dear Holy Ghost,

Praise and thanks we give to you

this Easter morning.

We acknowledge all the work,

all the pain,

and all the heartache

given for our salvation.

Open the hearts of those here

and those not here.

Help each one of us

find ways to model Jesus,

to reach out to those strangers

yet to meet you.

Let this Easter morning

reveal to us our true selves.

Let this Easter morning

show us how your love

is for all people.

Let this Easter morning

refresh our faith,

renew our energy

to be your disciples today. –Amen

 

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