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Posts Tagged ‘Resurrection’

Photo Credit: “new decisions”, © 2016 Siaron JamesFlickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

He’s On the Loose!

A Sermon on Mark 16:1-8, with allusions to Isaiah 25:6-10a

Easter

Mark’s Easter story may be the most realistic one.  The women burst out of the tomb and ran away in stunned silence.  Maybe they ran because they didn’t get what resurrection meant.  Or maybe they ran because they DID get it.

They went to the tomb looking for closure, expecting to finish the traditional burial customs.  Yes, they would have to see about getting the stone rolled back, but that problem wasn’t insurmountable.  If the stone could be levered into place, it could also be levered out of place.

Jesus’ death was heartbreaking, but in a way, it was also a sad relief.  Now Jesus’ followers wouldn’t have to struggle with the challenges he kept laying before them, what he called laying self down and taking up the cross.  Now they wouldn’t be so out of step with the powers that be around them.  They could go back to being civilians, normal expectations intact, back to something like the life they knew before Jesus came along calling them to something more.

Expectations began to crumble when the women arrived at the tomb and found the stone already rolled back.  Somebody had obviously gotten there ahead of them.

Once they got inside their expectations were utterly blown away.  There was no body.  Instead, there was a young man clothed in bright white.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said, which is what just about every messenger from God in the Bible says because at the very least such an appearance is startling.

“Jesus is not here because he is not dead.  He has been raised,” the messenger announced.  “Now you tell the disciples, Peter in particular, that he is going to Galilee ahead of you.  You go to Galilee, and you will see him there.  Remember what he told you?”

The women’s reaction was not relief, “Oh, so this is happily ever after starts.”  No!  They recognized what this meant.  It means Jesus is out there, on the loose, and up to something in Galilee.  And if they go to meet him there, he will soon have them up to something, too.   And what’s he going to be up to?  They’ll find Jesus right back where they saw him when they met him the first time, with the sick, the suffering, the outcast, the needy, forgiving sin, and ushering in the kingdom of God, the good, just, righteous way and rule of God.  He’ll be right back to realizing God’s ancient dream of people from everywhere gathered around God’s table, where there’s plenty of nourishment for all, where everyone’s tears are wiped away.  He’ll be right back to doing loving things, which are often difficult.

No wonder the women ran.  No wonder they were speechless.  When they got their wits back about them, they had a decision to make.  All Jesus’ followers had a decision to make: Would they go to meet Jesus, would they put themselves on the line with him again, risking struggle and broken hearts and more?  Or would they grasp at old expectations and old certainties, and work as hard as they could to get back to the old normal, the way things were before Jesus came along in the first place?

We are getting closer to coming back out in the open after a year of being closed in.  I admit I’m unsettled and a little apprehensive.  When you come out of darkness and into the light, it’s hard to see well at first, and the light can even hurt.  Wide open possibilities can be more intimidating than a narrow set of options.

Short term, I wonder how best to tend to and heal the many emotional, relational, and communal wounds the pandemic will leave behind.  Like—what if the strife carries over into conflict between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated?

Long term, what might meeting the risen Christ in Galilee mean for us?  For he is risen, on the loose, and up to something.  He is out there, calling us to come to him,  daring us to dream his dreams, daring us to embrace God’s ancient dream of the bountiful table for all.  Death has not stopped the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is out there daring us to believe that the way things in this world seem to work is not the way the have to work, not as far as God is concerned.  For what is worldly wisdom to God?  With God the dead don’t stay dead.  Who knows what else is possible?

The Gospel of Mark ends with Jesus’ followers completely unsettled and on the point of having to make a big decision.  Easter puts that big decision before us individually and together as a community of faith.  As we emerge from the pandemic, we could decide to do everything in our power to resume our former patterns, to find and settle back into what is comfortable, what meets our own needs.

Or we could decide to rivet our eyes to the risen Christ who goes ahead of us into the future, decide to put our lives in the hands of the one who has lavished healing love on us and spread it among us at Morton, the one who has shown us in our life together how good sacred community can be.  We can decide to follow the risen Christ who stands in the midst of a world that desperately needs all of God’s dreams to be realized, a world that desperately needs sacred, beloved community.  There he is, still holding up God’s vision before us, still working tirelessly to realize it, and still calling us to join him in it. To do loving things with him, which can indeed be difficult. There’s no way around that.

Mark ends with the women running away from the tomb.  But they won’t be able to run away from that decision.

We do know this: We are blessed because of the decision they eventually did make.

It’s Easter, the risen Christ, the living God is out there on the loose, calling to us and beckoning us to come where he is.

And once again to join him at the table.

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English: Icon of the Resurrection

Image via Wikipedia

Mary and Joseph both laid down their old lives in order to embrace new life in Jesus.  The themes of Christmas and Easter hold together.  Here is a review I wrote of a book entitled In Dying We Are Born, which calls the church to lay down its life in order to receive the gift of the resurrection.  Yes, all Christians and all churches are called to die, and then we will be born anew by the power of God.

In Dying We Are Born The Challenge and the Hope for Congregations By Peter Bush The Alban Institute, 2008.  Pb. 138 pp.  $17.00.

“No, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!” Peter cried when Jesus declared that the way to life led through death.  Not said aloud but surely echoing in every disciple’s heart was this: “And it had better not happen to us, either!”  Congregations and denominations in North America certainly don’t want it to happen to us.  As we struggle with decline we want someone to tell us what to do so that we won’t die.

That person is not Peter Bush.  He calls the church to stop focusing on explanations, stop looking for people to blame, stop putting our faith in technical solutions, and above all, stop trying to save the church from dying.

Instead, we need to start depending on the God of the resurrection to raise the church to new life in God’s own way and in God’s own time.  The future of the church lies in dying and rising with Christ.  Every church is called to die.  There are no exceptions.  Death means dying to self, taking up the cross, and following Jesus.  We must be ready to lay everything down, even models of church and ways of doing ministry that we have cherished.  For example, Bush believes that the assumption that there always should be paid full-time clergy in every local church is one that must die.

Bush presents a succinct review of various models for congregational renewal.  Generally they take one of two approaches: build on what you’ve got (e.g. Kennon Callahan and Christian Schwarz), or tear down and start again (e.g. Alice Mann and Easum & Bandy).  Bush finds much that is helpful in these models, particularly where they recognize that God is the one who transforms lives and renews the church.  He critiques them where they focus too much on human effort and human planning processes.

Drawing on the whole range of scripture, Bush reintroduces us to the God of the resurrection, who alone breathes life into the church.  He points to this God in action in the Book of Judges, as well as in Ezekiel 37 and in the Easter texts we expect to wrestle with in any discussion of resurrection.  Bush also shows this God in action in stories of contemporary congregations that have been raised to new life.  He offers much inspiring material for preaching and teaching.

Leaders journeying with the church through death to resurrection must ourselves be willing to die and rise with Christ.  We must die to our own plans and to our desire to be right.  With a prayerful, humble spirit, we are called to refocus the church on God’s story, help the church to grieve what is lost, articulate the promise of the resurrection, and invite the church to trust God.  Leaders guide the church to put God’s will for the church first, trust God’s ways, and stand in awe of the One who brings life out of death.

Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  This means that every disciple, every congregation, every judicatory, every affinity group and every denomination must die.  And then God will raise us to new life.

(This review is published in the December 12, 2011 issue of The Presbyterian OutlookYou can view an article adapted from this book at the Alban Institute’s website, and read the book’s prologue there as well.)

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Easter and Pentecost mark two movements in God’s great work of resurrection.  Here is the story of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, a small congregation in Oxford, North Carolina that is experiencing resurrection.  The congregation’s junior warden describes the first phone call he received from their now-vicar as the “craziest Holy Spirit moment.”  How apt!  When God’s foolishness is greater than human wisdom, you’ve got to expect crazy Holy Spirit moments. 

This story comes from Faith and Leadership, a great web site from Duke Divinity School.  In the sidebar you can click on another article about a model the Episcopal Church is using for leadership in small churches.  Read St. Cyprian’s story and be inspired for Easter and Pentecost!

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Tilted Sunrisephoto © 2009 Yogendra Joshi | more info (via: Wylio)
 

Once you start looking through the lens of Easter, everything looks tilted God-ward.  Blessings to you all as we approach Easter again.

A Seismic Shift
A Sermon on Matthew 27:50-28:20
Easter—The Resurrection of the Lord

“Okay,” Pilate agreed with the chief priests and Pharisees.  “Take a guard.  Go and make the tomb as secure as you know how.”  Something had stirred up their fears.  They realized that Jesus might be even more dangerous to them dead than alive!  Was this an afterthought, or did the Good Friday earthquake shake them up as it had the executioners?

Something certainly had shaken them up.  On Saturday the religious leaders hurried to see Pontius Pilate.  Notice: it was the Sabbath, and it was unlawful to visit Pilate on the Sabbath, and unlawful at any time to go into his house.  Their anxiety was so great that they were willing to break the very Sabbath law that they condemned Jesus for breaking.  “Jesus may be dead,” they told Pilate, “but he said he would be raised to life three days later.  His disciples might go steal his body, then spread a rumor that he has been raised.  This lie would be even worse than the first one.  That tomb’s got to stay shut,” they insisted.  “You’ve got to make sure that nobody and no thing opens it!”  In other words, they needed that tomb to be earthquake proof.

I recently learned that the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, one of the New Testament era books that didn’t make it into the Bible, pictures the sealing of the tomb.  It says that the religious authorities all joined the guards in keeping watch over the tomb, and that they put not just one, but seven seals on it.  Seven—the perfect number—and it was like multiple locks on a door: deadbolts, chains, sliding bars, like multiple barriers to keep somebody out, or else keep somebody else in.  All eyes were on that tomb.

As Sunday dawned there was nothing Mary Magdalene and the other Mary could do but look.  They were helpless.  Matthew highlights their helplessness because he says not a word about them bringing spices and ointments to anoint Jesus’ body.  He says they just came to look.  Look.  Remember.  Cry.  Maybe start finding a way to move on.

It had been beautiful while it lasted: the dream of the kingdom of heaven.  Healing. Hope.  Life as God intended.  Why did Jesus have to die?  Why did he have to be crushed?  Seems like the world is always tilted in favor of the powerful.  The ones with the money win.  The ones with the weapons win.  They always seem to get what they want.  Dreamers like Jesus are a threat to people’s empires.  The lowly don’t want to stay in their place when a dreamer like Jesus catches their imaginations.  Dreamers threaten stability.  Dreamers are troublemakers.  They must die.  This world seems inevitably slanted, skewed, shifted towards darkness, towards pain, sickness, death.  Sometimes it seems that only the darkness is really real.  Light is a temporary illusion.  Death always wins.

Nobody was going to open that grave that Sunday morning, and especially not these empty-handed women.  But they could look and remember.  Suddenly the ground started rocking and shifting beneath their feet.  Another earthquake, a big one on the Richter scale!  And at that moment, God’s shining angel descended, rolled back the stone, and sat on it like a conqueror.  The guards trembled with terror, fainted dead away.  The shocked women were also frightened, but they kept their wits about them, and heard the angel say what angels always say when they bring God’s message:  “Don’t be afraid.”  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “I know you’re looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He’s not here.  He has been raised just as he said.  Come see where he lay.  Go quickly now, and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from death and now he is going to Galilee ahead of you.  There you will see him.’”  Afraid and joyful at the same time, they hurried off.

Matthew wants us to understand that the death and resurrection of Jesus was an earthquaking, earthshaking event.  It was a seismic shift.  The very ground those women stood on tilted in the other direction.  (more…)

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