An observation by George Carlin:
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.
Remember to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.
Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.
Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.
Remember, to say, 'I love you' to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.
Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.
Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.
And always remember, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by those moments that take our breath away.
Readings: Psalm 23; John 10:11-18
A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of preaching to my entire family in a private service. It was in a little church on a small island in Scotland where the Macdonald clan had emigrated from a century ago. Now, if you were to visit this island one of the first things you would notice is the abundance of sheep. They are everywhere. Because there are no real threats of danger, the islanders have taken free-range to a whole new level.
When you are vacationing in a place where the sheep out number the locals 25-to-1, there are certain things that might surprise you. For example, sheep might be shy but they also have no sense of personal space. They will sneak up behind you and try to see what a Scotsman wears under his kilt. Trust me, on the Isle of Colonsay, you have to be on alert at all times...especially if you like to roam barefoot.
I confess I was not very keen on the idea of having to write a sermon while on vacation. And I was even less excited about preaching one in front of my family who disregards pretty much anything I have to say. But my mom had her heart set on attending Sunday service. And unless a minister washed up on shore...the responsibility was all mine.
Trust me, I looked for any excuse I could think of. I tried to convince my mother that it was improper for us to just wander into a church and use it like we owned the place. She said we're family and pointed to the church sign that said "welcome all."
When I pointed out the large heavy chain that locked the giant wrought iron gate in front of the door to the church, my mom quickly dismiss my observation saying, “That’s just to keep the sheep out.” I still wonder if she saw the irony.
As it turns out, somewhere in the church’s 200 year history, the sheep had figured out how to unlatch the old wooden door. Apparently they are not as dumb as we often make them out to be. In fact, I'd say sheep are pretty smart. They recognized the church as a sanctuary, a safe place to seek shelter from the heavy storms that frequently passed over the island.
It’s funny how similar certain behaviors are alike between species. Perhaps that's why the Bible offers so many allegories about shepherds and sheep. The most well known is the 23rd Psalm. It's filled with beautiful imagery of God as our loving and protecting shepherd.
This is carried over in the gospels, too. Jesus borrows from this metaphor announcing to his people that the Old Testament promise of God coming to rescue his sheep has been fulfilled through him. John’s particular gospel takes it a little further; revealing Jesus as both the good shepherd who will lays down his life for his sheep, and the sacrificial lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
We could spend hours talking about all the ways Jesus fulfills God’s promise to us, but instead I’d like us to think about who we are as followers of Christ. Today's reading is part of a series of "I Am" statements Jesus makes. He says, "I am the good shepherd. I will lay down my life for my sheep."
The question I ask this morning is: who are we? Are we sheep or are we shepherds? Perhaps we are called to be both?
I am not embarrassed to say I am clueless when it comes to shepherding. And not much smarter when it comes to sheep. But with a quick online search, I found some interesting facts that might trick you into believing I know more than I do. For example, did you know sheep are nothing like cows? Physical differences aside, cows are herded from the rear; often with the ranch hand shouting and prodding them along. Sheep, on the other hand, prefer to be led. If you yell at them, or startle them, they might run crazy for a moment before they regroup behind you. Unlike cows, sheep will not follow just anyone. They will only follow the voice of their shepherd.
Like human beings, they can be stubborn, skeptical and even a bit paranoid. Yet somehow they are able to rationalize that unless the trusted shepherd goes before them, they will not give an inch. You can't fool sheep either. They know the shepherd’s voice. It's a voice they can trust, because the shepherd intimately cares for them. Together they create a special bond that allows the herd to be led safely from place to place. The sheep and the shepherd are what form the fold. Instinctively they become a family.
Last week we talked about being welcomed into God’s family. In spite of our sinful nature, God creates a special bond with us. We are his beloved children...the sheep of his pasture. Our Holy Father sent us his only begotten son to leads us to quiet waters when anxiety and fear overwhelm us.
Through Christ, God’s grace and love flows freely long after our cup overflows. He anoints our heads with oil and sets a table for us in the presence of our enemies. What God has promised to Israel God through Christ Jesus has given to all. As we follow in his righteousness, goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. And with our Good Shepherd we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd." And by this simple phrase we know He cares for us. And looks out for us. He gives us his light and peace to guide us through a world still plagued with darkness and violence. He understands us because he intimately knows who we are. He knows what our dark valleys are like, because he has walked through them himself. His life and death is a reminder for us all of what human beings are capable of doing to other human beings. Both good and bad. Yet Jesus is always the Good Shepherd.
He is always ready to defend us when predators seek to victimize us, even if it means he must lose his own life. He is the true Shepherd who intentionally and willingly became the sacrificial lamb,...the very hope of our salvation. Jesus is the one we follow back to God, because He is the one who has been there before us He created the way!
This is the Easter message that always bears repeating. Even the most loyal sheep need constant reminders because we all tend to go astray. Sometimes we wander off and fall into dark ravines. Too often we follow the strange voices vying for our attention; distractions that attempt to lure us from the right path.
If you struggle to be faithful as I am apt do, the good shepherd is calling for you. If are in need of rescue or care…like I have from time to time...Then the good shepherd is calling for you too. If you feel like one of the forgotten and overlooked by society…made to believe you have no place or no voice... then listen up... the Good Shepherd is calling you by name. He has come for us all.
Even a black sheep like me receives the assurance that all who follow the good shepherd to the Father will become his forever. But those who follow Jesus’ voice are also called to be like him. That is to say, to be both a sheep and a shepherd. We have to put our faith into action...and lead others by example. We lead by the way we follow Christ.
This means we must be willing to set aside our self-interests and help others find quiet waters and green pastures. We must be willing to lay down our differences and lead our enemies to the table of peace. We must care for them, feed them, and guide them through the darkest valleys.This is the life of sacrificial love, the starting point of our Christian identity And what it means to be children of God. To be a follower of Christ, to bear the name Christian, means we must learn to resist the urge to live for ourselves; even if it means one must preach a sermon while on vacation.
As I stood, facing my family sitting in the old wooden pews of that beautiful old church, the rain began to fall. Outside the window I saw the sheep scattering about...looking for shelter. A strong wind blew across the island, causing the metal gate to slam shut; awakening each of us with a jarring clang. A stark reminder for all disciples that we are not called to hide behind locked doors, but instead open our arms and open our hearts to the world. We have to let the light of Christ shine from within us. And we must allow the Shepherd’s voice to speak through us so He might reach the lost and frightened sheep we encounter along the way.
Lord God, help us hear your voice so we may follow you down the paths of righteousness and walk in the glory of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.
From May's edition of Sojourners.
Reading: Acts 3:1-19; 1 John 3:1-7
Before we begin, I need to admit that I struggled with this passage. Usually, I love John’s first letter, it’s always a beautiful reminder of who we are. But typical of John, he also slaps me upside the head…even if in the gentlest of ways, it’s still a slap.
My problem began when I wanted to write about sin, but actually had trouble doing it. And I didn’t know why. I have lived with sin my entire life. I have been pretty intimate with it. I could tell you stories that would illustrate my affair with sin, but it might come off as bragging…and thus another sin. Anyway, we all sin. We all have stories and many of us have the scars to prove it.
I think where I fell short is when I tried to answer the question I wanted to ask you all, “What is sin?” But that question lead to another, “Why does God allow sin in the first place?” And then that lead to a million more questions. Each time I would come up empty. It wasn’t until I gave up trying to chase that rabbit that it dawned on me. Perhaps I am empty, because Jesus emptied himself on the cross to wipe out my sin, our sin.
Not sins as in the plural sense, but sin in the singular; ‘the sin,’ or all sin. As we continue to celebrate the Easter season we continue to feed our Easter joy by remembering the cross and resurrection. On the cross, Christ shed his blood for the forgiveness of sin. His sacrifice was our atonement. His death was so that we could live. His resurrection defeated death, and thus defeated sin.
In remembering this, the question shifted slightly to this one: “How do we live without sinning?”
If we are born into sin then how do we live up to the righteousness of Jesus Christ who, as John writes, “was revealed to take away sin?” This is a two-sided question, with a two-sided answer. We live and therefore we sin. And we sin because we live. It seems like no matter how we toss this coin, we are guilty.
What kind of crazy God would do this to his creation? A God of grace. Our life is a grace-filled life, thanks be to God. And God alone. And so the coin really is sin on one side, and grace on the other. Like the coin itself, the two sides cannot be separated. They are bound to each other. We are born into sin but receive grace. You cannot separate one from the other.
Paul Tillich writes, “We do not have a knowledge of sin unless we experience the unity of life, which is grace…Grace is the reunion of life with life.” Grace is powerful and transformative. Tillich adds, “There is something triumphant in the word ‘grace:’ in spite of the abounding of sin, grace abounds much more.”
And yet, ‘sin’ remains a bad word. But sin is not the issue, is it? The real focus is whether there is more mercy and grace in God, than there is sin in us. And God’s mercy and grace for us, is not born out of our sin but out of God’s love for us.
Now if we were to do a word search in our new pew Bibles, we’d see something very interesting. There are nine different Hebrew words and five different Greek words that are loosely translated to mean ‘sin.’ The majority of these words are not really sin but evil, in that it is contrary to God’s nature. These words are mentioned a total of 418 times.
In contrast, love is translated from 3 words in both the Greek and Hebrew combined, yet love is mentioned 538 times. No matter how you translate it, or how you do the math...love wins. To Tillich’s point, there is more mercy in God than there is sin in us.
So, back to the question: How do we live without sinning? We don’t. Just as we don’t live without God’s grace.
As Barbara Brown Taylor points out, “We spend a lot of time in the Christian church talking about God's love for sinners, but we sure do go to a lot of trouble not to be mistaken for one of them.” Churches sometimes spend too much time, or too little time talking about sin, worrying about sin, or simply sinning. Sin has kept people like me in business for thousands of years. I am indebted to John House who keeps showing up every Sunday.
But when we focus too much on sin, or its effects on us, we tend to overlook the other side of sin, the most important part of it all…God’s grace through Jesus Christ. And how quickly we forget that the Christian church is built among sinners, by sinners and for sinners. We are not a museum of saints any more than the Bible is an ancient history book collecting dust on a shelf. We are more of a hospital for sinners, trying to live by the very living words of Christ.
John’s letter is a reminder, not of our sin but of God’s love. He writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” Our God is a God who takes only one stance with us: We are His beloved children. I cannot recall any other god in human history that loves sinners.
Our Father, who art in heaven, may his name forever be holy because through Jesus Christ, he has made us his beloved children. No matter what we have done or what we have left undone. By his mercy and grace alone, we are loved. And what’s more, we are His beloved sons and daughters. There is no safer place to be than in the family of God, and there is no other way to enter this family than through Christ the Son,… Christ our brother.
Christ gives us freedom to live life in God’s home, with God’s name. No longer orphans, but somebodies. We have names, and God calls us by our name. No matter who we are, God welcomes us home with joy and grace. Any one who has ever invited difficult guests into their home will know that it is one thing to tolerate them...but to actually welcome them into your life,...as part of your family?
What sort of love could this be? Who is sufficient for these things? God. He loves us as we are. Because of his love, we do not need to seek forgiveness as much as live in the forgiveness that has already been given to us through Christ Jesus. Christ restores us back to God. This is the Good News we hold on to beyond the joy of Easter.
We must never forget that we cannot do for ourselves what God has already done for us. Does this mean we live without sinning? No. It just means we live now and forever through Christ Jesus who takes away the sin of the world. Does this mean that Christ stood for sinning? No. But Christ did stand for sinners and with sinners, and He loved them. Christ also sat with sinners and He fed them. Christ died for sinners and saints alike. To live in the righteousness of Christ, means we too are called to live and walk among sinners, praise and worship God with sinners, make sacrifices and even give up our life for sinners.
Jesus did not separate himself from us, but instead united us to God’s love and grace. We too are called to do the same. Our faith in Christ has freed us from sin. And empowered us with the Spirit to live in unity with God and God's beloved children in both our earthly and heavenly home.
For the beloved sinners like you and me, the fuel of such divine love is a profound realization of what’s truly important...witnessed in the words of the slave owner turned pastor, the great Congregationalist, John Newton said, “that I am a great sinner, but that Jesus Christ is a great Savior.” Brothers and sisters, beloved children of God I am a great sinner, but Jesus' redeeming love and sacrifice is much greater. All praise be to God. Amen.
Second Sunday in Easter: Doubt It.
READING: 1 John 1-1-2:2; John 20:19-29
I read a wonderful story about C.S. Lewis in a recent devotional that reminded me how Christianity is a religion with both room and reason, for laughter as well as life. On the Monday following Easter Sunday, the Orthodox Church gathers in their sanctuaries for one purpose. To tell jokes. They do this because they wish to keep the joy of Easter going. They believe God gave us the gift of laugher and so it must be celebrated. And so I ask you this:
Did I ever tell you the one about the man who takes his dog into a bar? They both climb up on a stool and order two beers.
The bartender says to them, “Sorry buddy, no dogs allowed.” And the man says to the bartender, “But sir, this is no ordinary dog. This is a talking dog.”
The bartender asks the man to prove it. So the guy turns to the dog and says, “Hey Sparky, what’s that thing called on top of a house?” And the dog replies, “Roof.”
The bartender is not impressed. “Come on,” he says, Ask him something more specific.” So the man looks at the dog and says, “Hey Sparky, what is the texture of sandpaper?” And the dog replies, “Ruff.”
Again, the bartender is not impressed. The man says to him, “Why don’t you ask him a question.” The bartender asks the dog, “who’s the greatest baseball player of all time?” The dog says, “Ruth.” The bartender rolls his eyes and points to the door.
As the pair begins to leave, the dog turns to his owner and says, “I guess I should have said DiMagio.” Doubt has always been a funny thing for us faithful.
Like laughter, it is a part of our life. In John’s gospel Jesus tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe.”
Discoveries in science and a growing skepticism that has invaded our world have made it more difficult for Christians to faithfully believe at least without some kind of doubt surfacing around us. We Christian are forced to live between a constant state of belief and disbelief. And I wonder if this is what God intended?
And so this mornings question is this: Is Doubt a Virtue or a Vice? Is it good for our faith, or does it cause us to stumble?
Like I said, we live in a society that has come to expect something is either full-proof or a gimmick. By our very inquisitive nature, we've elevated doubt so high that it seems to have become an unquestioned virtue.
On the other hand, the church has placed so much value on blind faith that any form of doubt is nothing more than a vice. Some have gone so far as to teach that doubt is equivalent to questioning one’s faith. There is a lot of bad stuff happening in the world today because people are afraid to question their religious leaders. Yet there is something to be said about living by faith, where the only tangible proof you have is the feeling that exists in your heart.
Because I was taught to feel guilty about having moments of doubt, I walked away from the church. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s, that I began to understand how doubt and uncertainty are natural affects of a healthy life; including a healthy spiritual life. Most people would agree that every new phase of life brings a moment of doubt. As we move from puberty to young adult, or maturity to end of life, doubt is sure to find a way in. When we lose a job or retire from one, we might wonder if God really does have a plan for us.
When we experience the death of a spouse or child, when we suffer the loss of a great friend we question why God would allow such a thing to happen. When we struggle with abuse at home or a failed marriage; when we witness violent tragedies around the world; when earthquakes and typhoons hit poor countries, killing hundreds and leaving millions homeless we find it easier to blame God then to live with the mystery. Yet it is in these tough and challenging moments that we can become closer to God, even if our faith has been pushed to the outer darkness.
When I was wrestling with my doubt in relationship to God, a wonderful minister, Fr. Carol Barber, taught me to see that our doubts are the only way we can be sure God exists. In essence he said, because we have doubts, we have questions. He instructed me to question everything. Question my faith. Question religion. Question my morals and my belief system. Question every word of the Bible. And even the very existence of God.
While this might sound questionable it is in our questions that God gives us answers. Fr. Barber showed me how in the journey of life, doubt will always follow faith’s lead. Its sole purpose is to poke at our beliefs and stir up those still waters we are always seeking. Because of our faith, doubt might come to us. But because of our faith...God is with us to help us make sense of it all.
Jesus understands our humanity, and sympathizes with our inquisitive nature. Perhaps this is why he taught in parables instead of just giving us commandments. Jesus wants us to think about what he is saying. He wants us to contemplate and pray so we can understand how it relates to every season of life. Jesus wants us to internalize his words so we can see and touch and feel the truth ourselves. Doubting is good because it turns our focus inward where God dwells. It is in our questioning and contemplating that our faith finds its strength.
This is why I believe poor Thomas has gotten a bad rap throughout church history. If you ask me, he is completely misunderstood. He hears a story of Jesus blessing the other disciples and declares, “Unless I see the nail holes and touch him myself, I will not believe.” Is this doubting? Or does he just want the same blessings the others received?
Let's take at look at the painting called “Doubting Thomas” by Caravagio. Notice the way the artist portrays Thomas. He is more inquisitive than doubtful. He is probing and inspecting Jesus’ wounds because he wants to be sure that what he is seeing is real. John's gospel doesn't tell us if he really did touch the hole. But that's not really the point.
Notice also the other two Apostles. They too are looking with curiosity and amazement. Why is that? Haven't they already seen Jesus after the Easter resurrection? Didn't they already received the gift of the Holy Spirit? And Jesus’ blessing of peace? Yet John makes it very clear to us that they remained hidden behind a lock door. They receive God's grace and peace, yet still live in fear. This tells me it is not Thomas, but the other Apostles who are filled with doubt. Yet, when we focus only on their doubt, we miss the most important part of this story. That is, the other person in this painting.
The Good News of the Easter Resurrection is that Jesus is not dead. Nor is Jesus locked away in some heavenly kingdom. Jesus is alive. And comes to us, offering himself again and again to meet us where we are especially in our moments of doubt or when we are questioning our faith.
Thomas isn’t asking for proof as much as he is desiring a chance to see his beloved friend again and receive his blessing. Jesus hears his plea and comes to Thomas. Likewise Jesus hears our cries, and come to us. The peace that Jesus offers Thomas...is the same peace given to us. By the peace of Jesus Christ our faith is strengthened. It overwhelms our senses, and takes over our being removing fears and doubts. It is through this divine gift that we recognize and touch and feel Jesus in our lives.
Doubt might seem like a vice, because it causes us to question our faith. But I see it more as a virtue because it is in our questioning that Christ comes to us and gives us this wonderful gift. And so, the blessing of peace that Jesus offers is...THE VERY PROOF upon which all doubt is pacified.
Therefore Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are we who have not seen and yet believe.” For we are the ones who contemplate Jesus internally. We are the ones who take the peace that dwells within us and proclaim it to the world. It is through our peace giving that the world’s doubters begin to recognize and understand their own faith. But don’t take my word for it. Dare to be one of God’s peacemakers and see for yourself. Amen.
Thu, Apr 9, 2015
Readings: Isaiah 65:17-25; John 20:1-18
There was once a man who, through a new marriage, became the father to a young boy. Their relationship was neither alien nor affectionate. The only thing they had in common was their undying love for the woman they shared. This man was thoughtful. And the boy wanted to trust him, but didn’t know how.
The days passed and the weeks did too. The man wished to do something special for the boy. Then, on the night before Easter, he placed a rabbit in a cage. And set the gift next to where the boy ate breakfast. When morning came, the man and wife woke the boy. And the boy jumped out of bed in search of an Easter treat.
The boy rummaged about, he looked in closets and under beds. He pulled back curtains and lifted cushions off the couch. He opened drawers and cupboards and explored every square inch of their humble home. The boy did not give up. Neither did the man.
The man smiled as the boy’s face came alive with hope. Together they shared the anticipation. For the first time since the marriage, the two felt connected. Their hearts were perfectly in sync… as their eyes moved, in tandem, towards the bow that had been placed on top of the cage. Then, at the same time, their countenance fell.
The man looked at the wife. The wife looked at the man. And the boy looked under the table. For what was there the night before was now no longer. The cage was empty. The bunny was gone.
The boy looked up. The man looked around. And the wife looked at the cage. There was no sign of foul play. No tampered lock, no secret escape hatch. But yet, no bunny at all.
Not in the kitchen. Not in the drawers or cupboards. Not behind the couch or curtains. There were no little bunny clues leading back to the messiness of the boy’s room. It was as if there had been no bunny at all.
The man tried to reason with the boy, but the boy doubted the man. The man tried to rationalize the mystery, but the boy wouldn’t hear.
The day gave in to night. Their relationship resumed, neither alien nor affectionate. The next day turned to the next. The man sat in his chair, and the boy sat at his place at the table. It was then they felt a presence fill the room. Unexpectedly and in unison, they lifted their heads and looked towards the open door.
With the same beat of their hearts, their smiles linked and their curiosity connected as they watched the bunny hop away into the light of the sun. Together, the man and boy raced in excitement; chasing after the Easter gift they both desired.
From that day onward, the cage would remain empty. But their hearts would overflow like never before.
Here we have a story about a bunny, an Easter bunny if you will, that, on Easter morning mysteriously goes missing. As a result of the cage being empty, the man and the boy are given a new way to pursuit what they truly wanted. Joy, together, as a family.
Easter is a time when we gather together, as a family, to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of God’s beloved Son. Because of his empty tomb, our lives will never be the same.
John’s Easter story begins not with a rabbit, but with a woman. It’s early in the morning and Mary Magdalene is on her way to visit Jesus’ tomb. John wants us to know that it is still dark outside when she walks through the graveyard. He doesn’t say what she is doing there, all alone in the dark, but we know from the other gospels she is going to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.
I wonder if Mary was there, in the darkness of morning, because she had trouble sleeping. It’s hard to sleep when your heart is broken, isn’t it? I imagine her mind was racing; trying to make sense of all that had gone down over the week. But that was just the beginning. When Mary gets to the tomb she notices something amiss. The rock that sealed the entrance has been moved, and Jesus’ body is missing! He is gone without a trace.
To the 21st century Christian, this is our Good News. This is the Easter present that we long for. We read this story and know God has raised Jesus from the dead. We see an empty tomb and we know God’s promise to us has been fulfilled. Because the tomb is empty, death no longer has power over us. This is our Easter joy!
We also know this is not the end of the story, but the beginning of something greater. For us it is reason to celebrate. But for Mary, it was just one more disappointment added to her weary heart.
And so she does what so many of us might do in this situation. She runs away. She seeks someone she can trust. Someone who can relate to what she is going through. That person is Simon Peter.
When Simon hears the news, he and another disciple race to the tomb with Mary following. Notice they don’t simply run, but race one another to the tomb as if every second counts. If you watch enough crime shows, you know the first 48 hours are crucial to figuring out the ‘who-done-it.’ But as they arrive on the scene, they are stupefied. They have no idea what to make of the emptiness that they were seeing and feeling.
According to John, they had yet to understand this empty tomb is the fulfillment of the Scriptures; perhaps Isaiah’s prophesy. It was hard for them to see this as the beginning of a new heaven and new earth. Instead, they see the empty tomb and freak out.
They know what could happen to them if the authorities decide to investigate. They would be the prime suspects for sure. It’s easy for us, today, to sing our hallelujahs because we know the outcome. But the disciples were scared. And still in shock.
The cross has robbed them of their joy. And now, the empty tomb has robbed them of what little they had left…their hope. When I put myself in their shoes, all I can think about is how empty I would feel without Christ in my life.
But we know the empty tomb is God’s gift to us. Because the tomb is empty, we have hope, we have joy, and we have God’s love pouring over us. But lets face it, these things are hard to see and feel when your heart is broken. Just ask Mary.
John’s story concludes with the two disciples leaving Mary behind. As she sits there crying, a strange presence fills the tomb. But she doesn’t recognize that Jesus heard her weeping, and came to comfort her. She confuses him for someone else. But when Jesus calls her by name, “Mary” her joy returns. She sees God in a new light.
Mary is the first to find the tomb empty. And so it is Mary who will be the first to see the wellspring of the new creation, the dawn of the new world revealed in the resurrection light of Christ. She will be the first to receive the joy of the Spirit that many of us have experience.
Just as we were given God’s eternal grace when Jesus emptied himself upon the cross, we too receive eternal joy through the resurrection. Because the tomb is empty, we too can walk through the darkness, through the shadow of death, with nothing to fear. Because the tomb is empty, our cup overflows with God’s love, and goodness will follow us throughout all our days.
Because the tomb is empty, we no longer have to be anxious, or worry about what we will eat or wear, or where we will sleep. Jesus gives us new bread to eat, and new wine to drink. We too will wear crowns of glory and dwell in the house of the Lord forever, all because Jesus broke through death and pulled us into eternal life.
Because the tomb is empty, all who mourn will be comforted; the poor in spirit will enter the kingdom of Heaven; the merciful will receive mercy, the pure in heart will see God, and the peacemakers will be children of God.
Easter is a time to celebrate the joy of the empty tomb that allows us to live free of slavery and debt, to be freed from sin and doubt, and to be free to give all that we have knowing we shall also receive our portion freely from God.
Therefore there is no better time than Easter to abandon our dark tombs. And fill up on joy. It is a time to open our cages and run free with God’s Son throughout this life… into life everlasting.
Reading: John13:1-17; Mark 14:12-16
I remember the morning I called my father to tell him I had decided to quit advertising to become a minister. It was on Maundy Thursday in 2010. I remember it well because when I asked him to hand the phone to mom so I could tell her, he informed me that she was in the upper room. By that he meant The Upper Room. Yes, the very room where Jesus shared his final meal with his disciples.
Having been a tourist in many ancient cities, I suspect it wasn’t the exact room. But still my parents were there, in Jerusalem, at the table, on this very holy night when our Lord and King removed his royal cloak and became a lowly servant.
There in a stranger’s humble home Jesus bent down to wash the dirty feet of twelve men who quit their jobs to live out the rest of their days in self-emptying love for the world. With nothing more than basin of water and a simple towel, Christ held their tired, aching feet, and began to wash each one of them clean. It is in this intimate, yet humbling gesture we learn what it means to serve and to love our neighbor. We discover it requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to move beyond our comfort zone, and to give fully and fearlessly of our self. At this table, Jesus guides us towards a new way of living life abundantly in God’s love.
Through his example of self-giving love and servitude, Jesus invites us into an intimate relationship where we are more than just simple followers; we are friends and companions. Likewise, we are to open ourselves up to others, to share in the intimacy of life where friendships are made and communities of trust are created.
To be a friend of Christ, to bear the name Christian, means we are called to walk in love in the midst of a broken and wounded world. Through us, God continues to send his Son into our communities to share his Divine love with our neighbors. With God at our side, we can move beyond our comfort zones and make ourselves vulnerable.
In the solemnness of this evening back in 2010, I sat in a pew and saw Maundy Thursday from a new perspective. Not as a spectator, but as one who accepted the call to follow Christ. I had no idea where the journey would take me.
Yet here I am tonight. In this room, to serve you at this table, this remembrance meal. For it was on this night that our Lord and King gave us his body and blood to bring us back in a covenant relationship with God and with one another.
Let us all dare to be with He who knew no sin. The Holy One who rose from this table, walked out into the world, and stretched out his sacred arms; joining heaven to earth, and true love to all human kind. For it is through the love of God in Christ Jesus that we gather together as one world, one people, in one community of divine love.
*Illustration by: Matt Dix, "The Last Supper"
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”