He is Risen!
Welcome to Easter here at St. Thomas. For whatever reason you find yourself in this place today I am glad you are with us. So many of us hear the stories of Jesus’ resurrection and are puzzled or amazed or yes even skeptical. I have always felt a bit melancholy on Easter Sunday. I know the women are thrilled to know that Jesus is alive, just as he has promised. But I can’t help but feel a little sad, that it all had to happen in the first place. Whatever your theology is regarding the crucifixion, it is still a sad thing that Jesus had to die.
But over time I have realized my problem is the one so many others have, which is the Jesus of the cross. The Jesus who we focus on during Lent is Jesus crucified. The reason our cross is empty today is that we believe in a risen Christ. We believe in the empty tomb because it means death does not have the last word. Jesus kingdom will have no end. Today is a beginning of life, not the end.
What does it mean though for those who question? And there is nothing wrong with let’s not say questioning but rather wondering. They run to the Upper Room where the men are hiding and gasp out the good news. They have seen an angel who has told them Jesus has risen. Even going so far as to ask them why do they seek the living amongst the dead. Standing in front of them still panting, they stare at them and then they tell the women what they are saying is garbage Lros is the Greek term and it is the only time it is used in the Bible. We translate it to mean nicer things “idle tale” or “nonsense.” 'Women' the disciples harumph 'hysterical women.' The women stand there confounded by the men’s disbelief after all don’t they remember Jesus’ words about rising to life again?
The only who believes them is Peter. He runs out, all the way to the tomb. His footsteps beat out the rhythm of please let it be true. What is Peter looking for? Peter is hoping Jesus is alive because he will feel redeemed. His denial of his friend has weighed heavily on his heart. He has spent countless hours since the Passover dinner of chastising himself, afraid to go to the others for what they might say. The blame and anger heaped upon him. Rightfully so he knows. When he gets to the tomb he is overjoyed marveling to himself as he went home of what has happened.
It is marvelous, isn’t it? The promise Easter holds for us is the same as it was long ago. The promise that Jesus is with us. Jesus will always be with us no matter how anxious or sad or hopeless we feel Jesus stood up and walked out of that tomb forever changing how we see death. Christ has walked out of the tomb, grabbed us by the hand to join him in this life-changing moment. We are asked by him to live a resurrection life. A life that is not spent focusing on Jesus hanging on the cross but rather one which is eager to embrace the good news of the empty tomb.
Eugene Peterson tells the story of his friend Brenda who went to visit her daughter’s family in Chicago. Brenda was especially excited to see her granddaughter Charity. Charity is a bubbly precocious five-year-old. Brenda was arriving on the heels of Charity’s paternal grandmother who was a very devout Christian. She took her mission of bringing Charity up with a religious grounding very seriously.
The morning after Brenda’s arrival Charity came into her room at 5 am and climbing into bed looked into Brenda’s eyes after peeling them open and said, “Grandmother, let’s not have any God talk. I believe God is everywhere. Let’s just get on with life.” I like Charity, Peterson writes. I think she is on to something.
So many of us tie ourselves up in knots about whether the resurrection happened. The bigger question is what does the resurrection mean to us? How does hearing this story shape how we think and act in the world today? What does it mean if we believe or don’t believe? The bigger question is this: does it really matter? The resurrection tells us to get on with life.
The resurrection story is not one day in the year it is every day of every year and if we miss that we miss the point of Easter. Each of us here today is to live out the resurrection story to believe in something bigger than ourselves and to put into practice those attributes that form a resurrection life. A life which is not separated from God but rather a life which is so interwoven with God’s presence, we are in perfect sync with what he desires for us.
Just as the women gave witness to the disciples in the upper room that early morning, we too are here to give witness how God is present in our lives. We are witnesses to resurrection today and every day. We are witnesses and participants to what a full life in Christ can look like, feel like and be like. We will find these witnesses throughout our lives. People we work with, meet on the street unlikely people in unlikely places. Who would have ever thought that Mary Magdalene of all people would be a witness to the risen Lord? Exorcized of seven demons and one of Jesus' most faithful followers, she is witness to the Good News of a resurrected Jesus.
Her witness is a model for all of us this Easter Sunday as we proclaim Christ has risen indeed. Now let’s get on with life!
Palm Sunday Meditation
Today we begin loudly proclaiming Jesus as King. Crowds cry out "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"Palm branches wave cloaks thrown down on the rough rocky road. Jesus sits on a donkey or colt. He looks preposterous. But isn't this the point? Roman authorities show their might sitting on mighty steeds, their breastplates blind people with the sun glinting off them. But the soldiers and Jesus share one thing, their faces are inscrutable. The soldiers through might and Jesus through knowing. Knowing human nature and all it is: loving one moment, fickle and hate-filled the next.
This is exactly how Jesus life plays out. The crowd roars their approval one minute and calls for his death in the next. It happens all the time, the most popular and well-liked is suddenly hated and avoided. Ostracized by his peers. It only takes a few to change the way things are going. A couple of whispers here, the spread of gossip there. Lives are ruined and reputations are tarnished, sometimes forever.
Rene Girard names this the Scapegoat theory whereby to restore communal order someone has to bear the sins of the community and be expelled much like the biblical theory of scapegoat. The biblical theory is a sheep or goat "takes on" the communal sins of the village and is run out into the wilderness. While it does not work, communities naively believe it restores communal peace. Jesus' trial and crucifixion was how the authorities in the temple and Rome thought order would be restored to society. It is something we still do today. Society is always looking for a victim to right the wrongs of society. The hope is order will be restored, which it is for a time. Then the whole thing begins again.
In the documentary "Panic: The Untold Story of the Financial Crisis" we are reminded again how close the world was to financial collapse. The story unfolds for people wanting a scapegoat for the greed of society. The scapegoats rightly or wrongly were those who were trying to fix the system. The burdens they carried now seem almost cruel. But when it was all unfolding, the over riding thought was someone needed to pay.
History does have a way of repeating itself doesn't it? Someone needed to pay in 33AD and that someone was Jesus. Guilty or innocent. It didn't really matter, order needed to be restored, peace at any price. How many of us look for a scapegoat when things are not going as we wish they did? How many of us want someone, anyone to take on the burden of the group? How many of us say we would never be calling for Jesus' death, only to have someone whisper something in our ear and we too are calling for his crucifixion? Think it couldn't or wouldn't be you? This week I invite you to think again.
Judas the Buzzkill
Today our gospel reading is two dramatically different views of love and abundance. Jesus is at the home of Martha, who is the owner of the house, Mary and Lazarus whom Jesus has just raised from the dead. It is of course a happy occasion. Not only are Lazarus’ sisters rejoicing but Lazarus himself has to be rather happy. He was DEAD! Now he is alive. The party is going raucous laughter spills out of the room into the courtyard. The wine flows and the food is plentiful, the table is heaving. Martha the hostess, did I mention she owns the house? Is thanking Jesus the best way she knows, by throwing a dinner in his honor. Yes this is the same Martha who is chastised for being a worker bee while her sister sat at Jesus’ feet. But all that is forgotten for now. They are HAPPY!
Mary is so happy her brother is alive, she takes a pound of costly perfume which we know to be nard. Nard comes from the Himalayas, the full name is Spikenard. It is a mood elevator and enhancer that calms anxiety and heals emotional and psychological trauma and pain. Its calming, soothing and mood elevating qualities perhaps were used to help Jesus prepare himself spiritually for his upcoming ordeal on the cross, and his subsequent death and resurrection. It is equal in price to Clive Christian No. 1 Imperial Majesty Perfume which sells for $12,721.89 per ounce. A fragrance I know we all have in our cupboards.
Mary lavishly pours the nard over Jesus feet and immediately the room is filled with the spicy aroma. Everyone relaxes a bit due to its soothing elements. Once a raucous room, it is now quiet. The disciples stop talking, drinking and eating to watch Mary not only anoint Jesus’ feet but then to wipe them with her hair. They are as the Brits would say gobsmacked by her behavior. It is indeed a holy moment.
The moment is lost though when Judas cries out, “hang on a minute here. This is a terrible waste of money.” The disciples look over at him and roll their eyes. “After all” he sputters, “that could have been sold and the money given to the poor.” In an instant an act of lavish love has been sullied. Thank you Judas, the buzzkill. This is foreshadowing for Judas’ next role of betrayer. Tonight he is the Devil’s Advocate. You know the one who believes it is his or her place to argue the contrary opinion. So he chastises Mary for her act of generosity. For a moment their minds drift to the idea of, “Yeah Judas is right Mary. What were you thinking?” They don’t say anything but on can imagine some probably agreed with Judas’ assessment of the situation. But Jesus pulls Judas up short and reprimands him in front of everyone. Jesus tells Judas Mary has done the right thing. Foreshadowing his death he speaks of being anointed for his burial. Would it be correct to say Judas is humiliated and fumes about being embarrassed in front of everyone.
I have often wondered what the other disciples thought about Judas. Did they like him? Was he a constant complainer? A schemer? John alludes to the scheming nature of Judas in today’s reading. But Jesus saw something in him, some quality in him to make him a disciple. Was it the adage keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Perhaps Jesus thought by keeping a naysayer in the group, it would force him to see the other side of an issue. We know Judas liked and admired Jesus, since he followed him around for three years, until he didn’t.
Now no one can argue with Judas’ logic. It would have been a good thing for Mary to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor. An act of love for the community. But Mary in her wisdom knows something else is happening. All of these years of following Jesus around she knows what people are saying. She can see the authorities scowling when Jesus is teaching and healing. Their jealousy plain on their faces. But she doesn’t care, she loves him anyway. Mary sees something more in Jesus than the others see.
This story is similar writes Karoline Lewis to Jesus’ mother telling him there is no wine at the wedding in Cana. Jesus tells her it is not his time but she knows better, after all she is a mom. Mary can see who Jesus is even if he is not ready to acknowledge it. She as Lewis writes, loved him into his future. Now this Mary is doing the same act by anointing Jesus. Mary is telling Jesus as hard as what waits on the horizon for him, his death, he is loved and he can do this. Simply put she has faith in him. Mary’s lavish gift of love, gives Jesus courage to wash the feet of those who will betray him. Deny him. And yes, abandon him. In those dark moments we can hope and pray Jesus remembers what Mary did and finds both courage and comfort in her actions. She has loved him into his future.
Each of us here today, I hope, has been loved into the future by a friend, parent, partner or even a child. The person who stands in front of you and says I know you can do this. I have faith in you and I love you.
In the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on my ministry. What does it mean? Why did I do this? Was there another path I could have taken? I remember two people in particular who said you can do this. The first was a good friend of mine who in a moment of exasperation said, you talk about going to seminary but you don’t go. You have to. The other was a woman on my discernment committee who when writing my report said, she knew I loved Jesus. Honestly, I didn’t think it showed. Those two women loved me into my future.
At the other end of the spectrum, there will always be those like Judas who dole out love in a puny way. Lewis calls these people love resisters. They can’t begin to acknowledge the good in someone else because in some small way they feel it diminishes them. Or even worse, those who believe to think this kind of extravagant love is for the weak who need to be told how great they are. We laugh at society’s idea of everyone gets a prize and while it is aggravating, perhaps we should see it as loving someone into their future. The prize which everyone receives might be for someone the only positive reinforcement she will get. It might even open up her heart to bigger possibilities for herself.
Imagine if no one ever said they loved you or vice versa. What a cold and empty world it would be. It would be like living in a tomb. We might as well be dead. In those moments of abandonment, Jesus will begin to feel at the betrayal, abandonment and mocking we can hope he remembers the gentle touch of Mary’s hands smoothing the ointment over his rough calloused feet. Her touch was not only an act of love and devotion but also a gentle push into who he is for us all. The Savior and Redeemer of the world.