Tag Archives: Resurrection

Who Will You Tell? Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10 Easter A

April 16, 2017

For those of you who haven’t been with us throughout the season of Lent, let me bring you up to speed. We’ve been reading a book together called Unbinding Your Heart. It’s about learning how to share our faith. Some of you are here today because someone handed you a green card and said, come worship with me on Easter. Welcome! We are really glad you accepted the invitation.

You need to know that, before the person who invited you here today put that card in your hand, a lot of us were praying for you, not even knowing your name. Our hearts are getting unbound, and I hope that today, your heart will be opened, too, so that you can let in a little bit of the love that is filling this church.

Last Sunday, I talked about expecting the unexpected when Jesus shows up. We considered the fact that Jesus is always with us, but we have to start expecting him in order to see him. And it was a Sunday full of unexpected surprises.

One of the behind the scenes surprises was that the palms did not get delivered as we had expected. I had gone to bed Saturday night expecting to improvise, inviting everyone to wave the palm of your hand. But Cleo, faithful servant that she is, went to HyVee early Sunday morning to pick up the palms, so we had leafy branches to wave after all.

Claire brought her whoopee cushion to the children’s message. That was unexpected. Continue reading

He Isn’t Here! Sermon on Mark 16:1-8 for Easter B

April 5, 2015

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. – Mark 16:1–8

You would think that Mark would end his story of the “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1) with a satisfying resolution, a happy ending. But he doesn’t. Continue reading

Racing Toward the Impossible – Easter Sermon on John 20:1-18

It was good to just rest. After all the events of Friday, it was good to find some quiet time to process everything. The sound of those nails being pounded into the cross, the darkness, and the smell of death were overwhelming. So it was good to observe Sabbath, to have some time to think, the second day after Jesus was crucified.

Oh, I know you would rather talk about the third day. That’s the one everybody likes to celebrate. But that second day, that quiet Sabbath, was important, too. All of the disciples needed that day, to come to terms with the way things had played out. It wasn’t what anyone had expected, and getting over the shock of realizing Jesus was really dead would take some time.

What would happen now, without a leader? Peter could have taken over, but he was just as devastated as everyone else. More so, maybe. And the disciple Jesus loved had been sticking close to Peter’s side, as everyone huddled in that room together. There had been talk all day long. Hushed whispers, loud wailings, each one grieving, everyone trying to figure out what to do next. While some kept watch, in case the religious leaders came looking for more disciples to arrest, others slept, or tried to eat. A few talked through the night, trying to decide some course of action, but in the end, no one had a good idea, and almost everyone had dozed off by the time morning came. No one even noticed Mary slipping out while it was still dark outside.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

There was a lot of running going on that morning. First Mary Magdalene ran back to the disciples as soon as she realized the stone had been removed from the tomb. Though Mary is the only woman mentioned in John’s version of this story, we get the sense that there were other women with her when she said, “We don’t know where they have put Jesus.” So they must have been running with her, as she raced back to tell the others what she had found.

We don’t know if Mary even looked inside the tomb before jumping to the conclusion that someone had taken the body away. It’s hard to tell why she assumed the body has been stolen. Maybe she thought the tomb had only been ‘on loan’ as a temporary burial place, just to get through the Sabbath, and its actual owner had removed the body. Maybe she thought the religious leaders had moved the body before this tomb became an unwelcome shrine. It’s hard to tell who she means when she says “they,” but it’s obviously not “one of us.” And it’s clear that Mary thinks Jesus is still dead.

But Mary’s words crackle like a starting pistol, sending Peter and the other disciple racing toward the garden to see for themselves. And this is where the scene becomes almost comical – you can practically hear an old piano playing silent-movie-chase-scene music, as one disciple gets there first, but doesn’t go in, and the other runs right past him to duck into the … empty tomb! Well, how about that! Mary was right, after all. There’s no body here. Just some grave clothes lying around, and what’s this? The head cloth has been carefully rolled up and placed away from the other wrappings. That’s strange. Peter and the other disciple leave, scratching their heads, believing that the body is certainly gone, but not quite clear yet on the concept of resurrection.

After all, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, someone else had to unwrap him after he walked out of his tomb. So, who unwrapped Jesus’ body for him, and why? Peter and his friend simply cannot comprehend that the impossible has happened here. So, they leave.

Before we condemn them for their lack of faith, or even for short memories that can’t remember Jesus’ own words about being the resurrection and the life, we might want to stop and consider how we, too, walk away from the things we can’t explain. When our view of God is challenged, when he doesn’t work in our lives the way we think he ought to work, how often do we give up and walk away, muttering to ourselves or anyone else who will listen? We aren’t much different from Peter and that other disciple.

But Mary comes back into the story, to remind us that there is more than one way to miss recognizing the miracle of resurrection. She must have run right back to the tomb behind those racing disciples, because here she is again, weeping as they walk away. As she bends over to peer into the empty tomb, just to be sure Jesus isn’t hiding under that pile of linen, she discovers that it is no longer empty. It was empty just a moment ago, but now there are two – not one, but two – angels, sitting there calmly, asking a simple question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

This might seem an odd question, since Mary is standing in front of a new grave. It’s a place where people normally weep. But they know something she hasn’t quite accepted yet. Mary is still stuck in the “He’s dead” reality of her own limited understanding. She hasn’t grasped the impossible fact that Jesus is alive. She can only answer, “They’ve taken him away, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”

As she turns around, she sees a man standing there, who asks her the same question, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Her answer is another repetition of the theme, “I don’t know where they’ve taken him.” She’s stuck in this groove of grief, this firm belief that Jesus is dead, and she says the same thing she’s been saying all along, first to the disciples, then to the angels, and now to this man she doesn’t recognize, so she figures he must be the caretaker of this garden.

Aren’t we sometimes like Mary, too? When God doesn’t fit neatly into the box of our belief system, we might just walk away, as those racing disciples did, or we might act like Mary: senselessly, stubbornly repeating our view of truth, even when evidence to the contrary stands right in front of us.

Then, Jesus says her name. “Mary,” is all it takes for this sheep to recognize her shepherd’s voice. Jesus calls each of us by name, too, urging us to recognize him as our risen Lord. What keeps us from seeing him, when he’s standing right in front of us? What prevents us from reaching out to him, as Mary apparently did, naming him as our beloved teacher and Lord?

Theologian Karl Barth says we come to worship to answer this one, simple question: “Is it true?” Is it true that God exists? Is it true that he created a perfect world, and that humans were part of that creation? Is it true that he wanted us to love him the same way he loves us, freely, and of our own choice, so he made it possible for us to choose not to love him? Is it true that we broke his heart and the perfect world he created by choosing the wrong thing, and he’s been working to heal our brokenness ever since? Is it true that he loves us so much he gave his only Son to die, so that we could be reconciled to him? Is it true that this same Son not only died, but rose again, to give us eternal life?  Is it true?

There was a time in my life when I was pretty skeptical – maybe even downright cynical – about all this hocus-pocus we call faith. I had read Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, and I thought I had it figured out. I was pretty smug about my openness to the possibility of a variety of mythological explanations for the things we cannot explain.

Then my world came crashing down around my ears and I found myself wondering: if there was a God, why didn’t he care about me anymore? I call that time in my life “the bottom of the well.” As I slowly climbed out of that well, I rebuilt my understanding of who God is, and I began to realize that he truly did love me. But I couldn’t quite get my head around that. I couldn’t explain it. I knew I wasn’t lovable. And then, one day as I read my Bible, without really seeing the words on the page, I realized I was like that other disciple, the one who entered the tomb after Peter, looked around, and believed. But we don’t know what he believed. The rest of that sentence says that the disciples still didn’t “understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” And I realized I was a lot like Mary, repeating over and over my version of reality, trying to make the evidence right in front of me fit into a box that was too small. I remember saying out loud, “Lord, I don’t know what to believe anymore.” And it came to me, clear as a bell, “That’s okay. Just trust.” That’s when I was changed, like Mary, into someone who could suddenly recognize Jesus.

That’s what I invite you to do today. No matter what your questions are, no matter what keeps you stuck in doubt or skepticism, no matter what makes you walk away scratching your head. Trust Jesus to be who he said he was, to do what he promised to do, dying for your sake, rising again to new life, so that you can live, forever reconciled to God, starting now.

Then you, too, can join Mary in saying, “I have seen the Lord.”

The Lord is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia.
Amen.

The Scent of Myrrh

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.

Tomorrow, we will wave palms and enter into Holy Week. The joyous shouts of “Hosanna!” will change to “Crucify him!” The hard work of Christ’s death will be described in vivd detail as the week progresses. Once again, we will 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.

Dead Man Walking – Sermon on John 11:1-45

Hear the Word of the Lord:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

It’s interesting that Lazarus is introduced to us through his sisters, rather than the other way around. This family was apparently well known to the original audience of John’s gospel. Verse two mentions another story about them that won’t happen until the following chapter. The aroma of perfume and the smell of death are closely linked in these two stories. They are framed by another story, one that contrasts those who believe in Jesus with the religious leaders who are becoming more and more threatened by Jesus and the signs of God’s power working in him. Just before heading to Bethany, Jesus left Jerusalem under the threat of being stoned. After he raises Lazarus, the religious leaders will conspire in earnest to kill Jesus. No wonder Thomas tells the other disciples, “We might as well go too, so we can also die with him.”

Jesus is clear about his purpose from the very beginning. Everything he does has one goal: to glorify God. It may seem cruel to have let Lazarus linger two more days, but Jesus had a reason for waiting to set out for Bethany. This final miracle would surpass the signs Jesus had already performed. For those who still questioned whether or not he was Messiah, this final act needed to be definitive. But his decision to wait certainly caused great consternation among his disciples, and even more for Mary and Martha.

Let us return to the scripture…

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Teri Peterson writes:

In the tradition at that time, it was believed that the spirit of a person finally departed on the third day after death. So on the fourth day, when the funeral was over and the finality of death was starting to settle in for Mary and Martha, Jesus comes to visit.

The fourth day. The first day that it was really real—that there was no chance Lazarus was just sleeping, no chance this was all a bad dream. Both Martha and Mary meet Jesus with the same words: if you had been here…

How often have we used those words? Lord, if you had been here…Lord, if you had come when I asked…Lord, life hurts and I asked for help and I feel like you left me out here to suffer…Lord, it’s too late, the grief is here to stay now.

The door is shut. The tomb is sealed.

Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Has God’s apparent absence in your life made you grieve? There was a time, at the end of my first marriage, when I wondered where God was, and if he still cared about me. It took me a long time to realize that God had not, in fact abandoned me. It was the other way around – I had abandoned God.

God was waiting for me.

When Martha tells Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” it’s hard to tell if she is confessing her faith in Jesus and his power to heal, or if she is accusing him of neglecting his friend.

Either way, Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and then he challenges her. Jesus asks Martha if she believes. It’s interesting that John always puts this word into its active verb form. John doesn’t talk about belief as a noun, but always as what Jesus asks us to do. And this time, Martha’s statement is clearly an affirmation of faith. “Yes, Lord,” she tells him. “Despite all indications to the contrary, I believe you are Messiah.”

Let’s get back to the story…

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

“Where have you laid him?” Jesus asks. In a couple of weeks, another Mary will ask this same question as she looks into an empty tomb. She will weep as Jesus does now. Here, in this long passage of scripture, the most profound verse is even shorter than our New Revised Standard Version shows. The old King James may be more accurate: “Jesus wept.” But why did Jesus weep? Those around him assumed it was for sorrow at the loss of his friend. But Jesus knew before he ever headed out to Bethany that he would be raising Lazarus from the dead.  Jesus wept, not because he had lost a friend, but because the scene around him was full of chaos, full of the very suffering he had come to eliminate once and for all. Hope for resurrection had been displaced by the havoc of sin and death. Those who accompanied Jesus to the tomb didn’t understand that Jesus wasn’t weeping for Lazarus; he was weeping for them.

The Word of the Lord continues…

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Death stinks. There’s no getting around it. Imagine waking up in that cave,* wrapped tightly in cloth, unable to pull the covering off your own face, because your hands are still bound. It’s dark, and it stinks in there. What you smell is your own rotting flesh, that somehow isn’t rotting anymore. But the stench is still hanging in the cave around you.

And you hear a familiar voice, muffled, but easy to recognize. Your dearest friend is calling to you to come out. You don’t even know which direction the door is, or how to get to it. But you wriggle around enough to get up, and you inch your way toward the light. As you trip over yourself, struggling to get free, there is a gasp from the crowd that has gathered outside this cave. They are as surprised to see you as you are to be there.

And then you must decide. Do you fall back into the tomb, or do you step out into the unknown? Because what lies ahead is completely new territory. No one has ever done this before. No one has ever been completely, unquestionably dead, and then been called back to life after being buried in a tomb for four days.

But here you are. As you stumble forward, that voice you love says, “Unbind him. Unbind her. Let them go.” And the bandages come off, and you can see Jesus standing there, tears streaming down his face, welcoming you back to life.

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Death stinks. There’s no getting around it.

But here’s the thing: we can’t experience resurrection until we experience death. We can’t accept new life in Christ until we allow our old, sinful lives to end. What do you need to let die, so that you can come out of your tomb? What binds you to death, and prevents you from living abundantly, fully, as a new creation?

Whatever keeps you wrapped up in a dark cave of pride, hatred, lust, greed, or deceit, or whatever stinks in your life, hear the voice of Jesus calling to you, “Come out of there!”

And then you must decide. Do you fall back into the tomb, or do you step out into the unknown? Because what lies ahead is completely new territory. But you don’t have to go there alone. When Lazarus stepped out of that tomb, there were friends at hand to help him get out of his grave clothes, to support him and love him. That’s what this community of faith is for: to help each of us get unbound.

And what about our church, here on the corner of Center and Broadway? What do we need to let die, so that this congregation can experience new life in Christ? What binds us so tightly we can’t move forward? What shroud keeps us from seeing the neighbors around us? What prevents us from experiencing resurrection?

So here we are. As we stumble forward, that voice we love says, “Come out of there! Get unbound!” We are stepping into new territory. But Jesus is right there, waiting for us. Let it be so.

* Thanks to Teri Peterson for the idea of seeing the resurrection from inside Lazarus’s tomb.