Watch a video of this sermon here.
The gospel lesson for Epiphany is always the same, year after year. We always get the story of the wise men seeking out the infant King. It only comes to us through one author so, no matter which gospel we are following in a given year, Epiphany always brings us to the second chapter of Matthew.
Since we hear it every year, we might be lulled into ignoring this story. It’s easy to let it drift in one ear and out the other, because it’s so familiar. Each year, I try to hear this story in a new way, in an effort to make it fresh and meaningful. Some years, I’ve compared and contrasted Herod’s actions with the magi who come from the East. In other years, I’ve looked at what was missing from Matthew’s story, or examined what the word “epiphany” means.
But I wonder if the power of this story actually lies in its familiarity. Continue reading
April 21, 2019
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
This afternoon, I sat with a woman who has decided it is time to die. She told me stories of her childhood, of her parents and her grandparents. She told me stories about her husband and their life together. It was a good life. She has no regrets. There are many things she doesn’t understand, but she’s done with asking questions. She’s done, period. This is a woman who has always done exactly what she set her mind to do. She has set her mind now to die.
I didn’t want to tell her that deciding it is time to die and actually doing the business of dying are two different things. From what I’ve seen, dying is hard work. I remember another woman, who lay on her deathbed for weeks. When she awoke one morning, she exclaimed, “Oh no, I’m still here!” When I asked how I could pray for her, she answered, “Just ask Jesus to bring me home.” She was ready for death, but death was not quite ready for her.
This afternoon, I anointed a woman’s forehead and hands with oil, scented with myrrh. We prayed together for God to give her peace. In less than a week, I will anoint congregants’ hands with that same oil as part of Good Friday worship. Myrrh was one of the spices brought to Jesus when he was a baby. It was probably one of the spices brought by Joseph of Arimathea to prepare his body for burial. The beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, wrapped in the same perfume.
We enter into Holy Week waving palm branches. It doesn’t take long for the joyous shouts of “Hosanna!” to change into “Crucify him!” The hard work of Christ’s death is described in vivd detail as the week progresses. Each year, we enter into the mystery of death that becomes life, the finite becoming infinite, as we move toward Easter. But before we can fully experience the joy of resurrection, we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And it is hard work.