RSS

Tag Archives: The Resurrection of Christ

Witnesses of These Things

(a sermon for April 15, 2018, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, based on Luke 24:36-49)

It’s fascinating – and more than a little bit telling, I think – that as Luke continues his version of the Easter story, the eleven disciples only really begin to connect the dots where the resurrection is concerned when Jesus asks them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

To sit down and have something to eat, after all, is probably the most basic and human thing that you and I ever do in our lives. But more than merely being necessary for our physical survival, food also has a way of bringing us comfort; and sharing a meal with others creates an opportunity for hospitality for nurturing relationships. There’s a reason that when someone is sick, or if their loved one has passed away, our first response in dealing with grief and loss – especially here in New England – is to bake a casserole; just as I can also tell you that apart from the fundraising aspect of it, the main reason that churches like ours hold Saturday night“bean suppahs” is because food and fellowship go together like… well, beans and ham!

But “having something to eat” can also open our eyes and hearts to something we hadn’t known or experienced before.  How many first dates “going out to eat” grew into something more because sitting across the table from someone while eating chicken parmesan not only lessened the awkwardness of the situation but also became the starting place of a whole new relationship!  And how often does food serve as an affirmation of who and whose you are?  Growing up, there was hardly a gathering of the Lowry side of the family that didn’t include oyster stew as part of the meal; and likewise, we’ve discovered as our own children have grown older that each one of them have favorite dishes that bring back good memories of childhood and which they still ask for when they come home!  Food, you see, is real; and it has a real way of help us discern what else is real as well.

Think about how the resurrection story unfolds in Luke’s gospel:  first, you have the women discovering the empty tomb and being greeted by the “two men in dazzling clothes” (24:4) who told them that Jesus had, in fact, risen; but not only does the idea of this terrify them, but when they return to the eleven to share this news, the apostles dismiss it as “an idle tale,” (24:11) which, by the way, in the original Greek is leros, which is where we get our word “delirious.”  So basically, the whole idea of Jesus being raised from the dead was being dismissed by the eleven as wild, unbelievable crazy talk!

And then you have, later on that day, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who are actually walking with the Risen Christ, but who fail to recognize who he is until… notice this (!)… Jesus “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (24:39) and their eyes were opened, recognizing him for who he was.  But still, it wasn’t enough to convince the eleven and their companions back in Jerusalem that what happened had actually happened!  Even when in that moment when “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you;’” even that was not enough to lead them from fear to belief; nor was the offer from Jesus that they could touch his hands and feet if they needed to, or even the assurance that “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”  (which, it should be noted, brought joy to the eleven, but not yet belief, as, according to Luke, they were “still wondering.”  In other words, this is great and all, but how are we supposed to believe this? “It was too much; it all seemed too good to be true!” [The Message])

No; it’s only when Jesus asks if there’s something to eat, and then proceeds to eat that piece of broiled fish in their presence that the disciples finally start to get it:  Jesus was alive!  He had risen from the dead; and now, here he was with them, just like before!  And suddenly, right there in the middle of a fish dinner, all the doubt, all the hopelessness, all the barriers that had previously stood between them – barriers of sin and grief and death – were gone forever.  And now Jesus could truly open their minds “to understand the scriptures,” and for the apostles to discover, once and for all, that everything had Jesus had told them over the past three years about the Messiah having to suffer and then “to rise from the dead on the third day,” about “repentance and forgiveness of sins” and about the need to proclaim all of it to Jerusalem and the world; to know it was all real and true would change everything about their lives and living from that moment forward!

Which is what makes what Jesus says next all the more powerful:  “You are witnesses of these things… and see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised.”

Now, I’ve always imagined that at this point, the disciples’ reaction was yet another of disbelief; or, if not disbelief exactly, then certainly utter surprise! Excuse me, Lord?  We’re just now beginning to wrap our minds around the fact that you’re back from the dead and now you want us to be your witnesses?  Give us a moment to absorb this, Jesus… maybe later, but not now… not yet! But you’ll notice in our text this morning, Jesus is very clear regarding the tense of this assertion: it’s not “you were,” or “you will be,” but it’s that you are witnesses, right here and right now; witnesses of the resurrection and everything that represents!  And no doubt, in that moment, such a prospect was for the disciples, to say the very least, daunting!

And as I think about that, friends, I realize that if that was the case for the eleven in the immediate aftermath of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection – events that they had indeed seen, and heard, and participated in – how much more daunting is it for you and me; the people who, some 2,000 years later are still named and claimed as witnesses of the Risen Savior?  If even those who were there still wondered and doubted as to the truth of it all, what kind of witnesses are we ever to be?  I mean, it’s one thing for us to sing out those wonderful old words of how “he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own,” it’s quite another for us – any of us, really – to think of Jesus as “a very real person and, through the Spirit, as a very real personal presence in our lives.” (Scott Hoezee)  Indeed, from the time most of us went to Sunday School, we’ve been taught about Jesus living “in our hearts” and sharing that good news with others; but what about the real, live, physical fish-eating presence of our Risen Savior?  How are we ever supposed to witness to that?

Because that’s an important question, beloved; one, that as Karoline Lewis suggests, Jesus takes very seriously.  What Jesus said to the disciples, he says to each one of us: “You are witnesses, here and now, in this moment.  In this life. In your daily life.  For the sake of life.”  Jesus, Lewis goes on to say, is quick to remind us “of who we really are – resurrection people, resurrection witnesses.”  But just when we think that this is something impossible for us, Jesus tells us what makes it possible to be witnesses: “the promise of the Spirit.”  That’s why Jesus instructs the disciples to “stay… in the city until [they] have been clothed with power from on high,” and it’s why you and I as Jesus’ followers are gifted with the same.

What does all this mean?  It means that though we didn’t have the same kind first-hand experience of the disciples to share, we do have their witness to pass on; and, as it turns out, the kind of witness that comes in living out of what we’ve heard, and believed and lived out of throughout our lives.

We are witnesses of these things when we worship together; when we raise up our voices in prayer and praising, and when we sit amongst a community of believers.  We are witnesses of these things when we are moved to love others after the same manner that we have felt the experience of divine love and acceptance.  We are witnesses of these things when we recognize that life as we live it and the world as we know it does not have to be as muddled and complicated and divisive and hate-filled as it so often appears to be; and we decide for ourselves that we will be the example in making peace, justice, kindness, compassion and true grace and love the new reality of life and living.  We are witnesses of these things when we feed others in just the same way we have been fed; because, friends, it’s that wonderfully hearty spiritual food that not only makes us who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s what proclaims him alive forever more!

We – you, and you, and you and me – we are witnesses of these things, and Jesus is sending us forth to proclaim our good news to the world.

One summer day many years ago I went on a road trip with my father to visit a series of flea markets that were happening throughout northern Maine (as was typical of my Dad, he was ever and always seeking out specific things at these sales; I think at the time it was antique oil lamps).  We’d made our way way up to Madawaska on the Canadian border; where, as it happened, he’d spent a summer as a young man working playing trumpet in a big band, and where he’d boarded with a French Canadian family there in the town.  Well it had been well over 30 years, but my father got it into his head that he wanted to stop at this house and see if that family he’d stayed with all those years ago was still living there; they were very nice people, he explained to me, and I’d really like to say hello.

Well, I’m 22 or 23 at the time, and I’m skeptical to say the least!  And I’m thinking that this encounter would be awkward at best, and at worst they wouldn’t remember my father and that would be embarrassing!  But my Dad was determined, and while I waited in the truck and watched (!) he went right up to the house and knocked on the door!  There was this older woman who answered the door; and from the street I could see them talking quietly for a moment; and then… this woman quite literally shrieks with joy, her arms open wide to hug my father, and next thing I know we’re all sitting in this woman’s kitchen with her husband laughing, reminiscing, telling stories, drinking coffee, and lest I forget, eating the most incredible freshly made donuts and deflecting their insistence that we stay long enough to have a nice lunch… yup, it’s always about the food, isn’t it!

Well, obviously they did remember my Dad, and fondly!  But as wonderful as that was, I went away from that experience realizing that though they’d never met me before, it was as though they’d always known me, and in the process made me feel incredibly welcome.  There amidst the coffee and donuts, you see, was a witness to good memories, friendship and the many ways that our lives and our hearts are joined together even in the most unexpected kind of ways.

It seems to me, friends, that as believers in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we are similarly joined in heart, soul, mind and strength; and that each and every time you or I make the effort to reach out to others with the same kind of love and care that Jesus has shown us, we are witnesses of a living Savior who continues to change the world – and every heart within it – for the better and forever.

Don’t forget this as you set out into the business of life and living this week, beloved:  You are witnesses of these things.

And for this, and so much more, thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!c. 2018 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

Advertisements
 

Tags: ,

Who Will Roll Away the Stone For Us?

(A Meditation for Easter Sunrise 2018, based on Mark 16:1-8)

It is indeed interesting to note that Easter – our bright and glorious day of resurrection, the central event from which everything else in our Christian faith proceeds, and the time when by the grace of God, light and life reigns supreme – actually begins in the darkness just before dawn, and in a place of death.  Easter, you see – this day that’s marked by festive celebration and nearly inexpressible joy – begins, in of all places, a cemetery.

When someone dies there is so much that you have to do, and yet ultimately nothing that you can do.  Anyone who’s had a death in the family understands this; that those first few days are filled with countless details:  there’s funeral arrangements to be taken care of, legal matters that need attention, people to call and preparations to be made.  And while there’s so much that you expect to have to do at a time like that, there’s also that which you quickly discover you’re not prepared for at all!  It’s no wonder that those who have been there will tell you they ended running on “auto-pilot;” methodically doing what needs to be done simply to get through the funeral and the burial, all the while feeling paralyzed from the weight of the grief.  And there’s help to be had – from family, from friends, from the funeral home, from the church – but in the end, they’ll tell how they wondered who could possibly help them to take away all that pain they were feeling!

So it was for Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, who very early on the first Easter morning were making their way to tomb to finish what needed to be done on this third day following the death of their master and friend, Jesus, on a cross.  They were bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial, which hadn’t been done before this because of strict traditions surrounding the Sabbath; that is, there hadn’t been enough time on Friday before nightfall and the beginning of Sabbath to take care of such matters, and so they had to wait until the Sabbath was over (they probably hadn’t even purchased the spices they needed until after dusk on Saturday).

But now it was Sunday, and this was a task that needed to be done; but not simply out of tradition, mind you, but also as way of dealing with their grief.  After all, in Jesus, they had not only lost someone dear to them, but all their hope for their lives and their world had died along with him.  This was a loss that hurt so very deeply, and they felt so helpless that the only thing they could think of do is just “take care of things,” and have it be done with so they could move on with their lives.  But even now as they drew close to the tomb, there was still one more detail they hadn’t counted on; quite literally a major obstacle in their way to getting it done. And they talked about it as they drew closer:  “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

The women knew they could not possibly budge the stone by themselves; and it was unlikely at that hour of the morning there’d be anyone else around who could do the job.  So here they were with this difficult, heart-wrenching job to do, unable to take care of it on their own, but without anyone that could possibly help them to do it!  What a metaphor for grief itself – indeed, for all the pain of life that comes to us – facing this huge burden that we can’t get rid of by ourselves, but fearing in our heart of hearts that in the end, there will be nobody else to do it for us either!

Which is what makes it such incredible, joyous and infinitely good news that when the women reached the tomb, they discovered “that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.”  Mark, as is typical of his short and to the point gospel, does not give us details as to how this happened; truly, what happened is of much greater importance, and what happened is that Jesus had risen!  Everything they needed to know came from the young man in heavenly garb who tells them that the one they’re looking for, Jesus of Nazareth, was not there, but “ha[d] been raised,” and that Jesus had gone ahead of them to Galilee, and that they would see him there!  It’s no wonder, as Mark reports it, that “they went out and fled from the tomb, for fear and amazement had seized them,” for in that instant, the impossible had been made not merely possible but real!  The women had come to the tomb that morning expecting to see a lifeless body and to deal with the very death of their hope, but had instead become witnesses to the resurrection!   They’d come wondering who could possibly help them in their grief, and now they had their answer for this and for every question they ever had:  It was God who helped them; it was God (!), the one who had rolled away the stone!

It was the most amazing surprise in all of human history; but then again, isn’t that how God always works?  After all, we can’t do all the things we need to do on our own: we can’t budge the weight of sin off of our own shoulders, we can’t take our all-too-human impulses toward anger and hatred away from our hearts, we can’t free ourselves from the agony and torture of old and long past regrets and lingering hurts. The hard truth of it, friends, is that try as we may, we cannot ever bring life into that which would seek to deaden our very lives, but the good news is that God can, and does!

In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, dear friends, we discover that God can roll away any stone.  God can take whatever keeps our hearts captive and make it go away.  God can wash away our sin and make us people of love and joy and caring and unending hope.  God can bring us to life as surely as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was brought back from the dead!  So do not be afraid; that’s the message of the gospel this Easter morning and always: do not be afraid for Jesus Christ is risen!  Because the stone was rolled away, we can go forth from this beautiful place and into this beautiful day knowing that our lives are abundant, eternal,  and ever and always brand new; that wherever it is that you and I go from this moment forward, Jesus will meet us there; and that it will be from that place we will go confidently into a bright, wide-open future… and that we will do it together.

For it is for us as the apostle Paul proclaimed it, that  “neither death, nor life, nor angels, rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 8:38-39)

Beloved, Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!

Alleluia, and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 2, 2018 in Easter, Jesus, Sermon

 

Tags: ,

Is There Hope?

(a sermon for April 1, 2018,  Easter Sunday; based on 1 Peter 1:3-9 and John 20:1-18)

Somewhere in the midst of all the busyness of this past week I did the math and discovered that as of this morning I have had the joy and privilege of standing in a pulpit somewhere and preaching the gospel on 34 (!) Easter Sundays!  Now, not only did that suddenly make me profoundly aware of the passage of time, it also got me to thinking about how no matter what I happen to plan or do for today, there will always be much about our Easter Sunday worship and celebration that’s “a given.”

For instance, it’s usually a given there’s going to be some kind of sunrise service in the “wee hours” of the morning (some years more “wee” than others!) when we’ll huddle together in the cold and try to reach the high notes of “Up From the Grave He Arose!”  I also know that there’s going to be plenty of joy and exuberance in our worshipping together; that there will be lots of upbeat music and inspired hymn-singing; and a great many “alleluias” shouted and sung throughout the day.  Also it’s pretty much a given that come Easter Sunday there will be beautiful and fragrant flowers spread throughout the sanctuary; that there will be a whole bunch of children running around in their new clothes, having perhaps already partaken of Easter candy and yet very ready to go out and hunt for some eggs after church!

But perhaps the best “given” of all is that you’re all here, and that’s a wonderful thing indeed; because what better day for us all to come together to worship and praise God than this one?  Because this is the Day of Resurrection;  and everything about it, from choir anthems to unison prayers to the fellowship we share, just bursts forth with triumphant joy!   Christ is risen indeed, and that shatters the commonplace of our lives; truly, worship becomes celebration!  In the best possible sense, friends, so much about our coming together today has to do with raucous, noisy, triumphant celebration; and praise God for it!

Which makes it all the more interesting that as we finally settle in to hearing the gospel reading for this Easter Sunday, what we encounter there is not so much an air of triumphant celebration as it is the darkness just before the dawn, an atmosphere of what the Old Testament often refers to as a “deep, crushing silence,” and also, it’s important to note… a lingering sense of hopelessness!

For you see, it’s important to realize that there were no trumpets blaring early on that morning “while it was still dark;” nothing at all victorious about Mary Magdalene drawing near to the tomb where Jesus has been buried.  All Mary knew in that moment was the enveloping quiet and the heaviness of her heart and soul.  This was, in every sense of the word, a funeral processional, a silent walk of death; for Jesus of Nazareth was gone.

Remember, Mary had been there with Jesus from the very beginnings of his ministry, and she’d seen and experienced it all: bodies healed, eyes given sight, countless lives made new simply because of his presence.  She’d seen the throngs of people clamoring around him to glean even the smallest bit of his teaching; and yes, she’d also seen the rulers and leaders who were perplexed and threatened by him.  And later on, with the other women beside her, she’d stood by helplessly as Jesus hung on the cross to die; and it was then that her own heart was broken.

Only a few days before, there’d been so much rejoicing, so much praising and so much hope; it had seemed like every one of their hopes for life, for living, and forever had come to fruition in this man who had become their master, teacher and friend.  But that was all over because now Jesus was dead; and not just dead, mind you, but crucified, hastily brought down from that tool of execution and placed in a borrowed tomb without even the dignity of a proper burial.  Whatever else was going on deep within Mary’s soul as she approached the tomb, one thing was for certain: any kind of hope she’d ever had was gone forever.  All that remained now was to anoint Jesus’ body with burial spices and that would be the end of it.

The truth is, I suspect that there are probably some of us here today who can understand that kind of hopelessness; who know what it means to have sadness, disappointment and emptiness be the prominent emotions of life and living.  As the late Rev. Dr. William Self once wrote, “We all have our days when we stand with our dreams in shambles around our feet.  Our children go astray.  We get the pink slip from our employer, or worse still, the test comes back from the lab as positive.”  These are the times when everything we’ve ever wanted, worked on, sacrificed over and hoped for simply, in whatever circumstance and for whatever reason… falls apart!  It doesn’t matter how good, or how faithful you’ve been in your life and it has nothing to do with what’s fair or just!  As Self concludes, “If you have blood in your veins and skin on your bones, you will have some darkness.”  And sometimes in that place of darkness, all you think of to ask is, “Is there any hope at all?”

Well, that’s what happened to Mary Magdalene.  What’s interesting is that as John tells this story, even after Mary had discovered that “the stone had been removed from the tomb;” even after Simon Peter and “the other disciple” ran to investigate and saw “the linen wrappings lying there;” even after that other disciple “saw and believed;” and even when she herself “bent over to look into the tomb” to find “two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying,” all this time Mary is still weeping!  But this we can understand as well; for hopelessness is not something that is so easily disposed of, especially when it goes hand in hand with death.  We all know about the fragility of human life, and of death’s irretrievable finality; and so we also understand that at some point that reality of it must be accepted.

So it just follows that as she was sitting there in the garden, Mary’s heart had to have been reeling from grief and loss.  Remember, at this point she’s still wondering if in the night someone had come and stolen Jesus’ body, which would have been the final indignity to be heaped upon this man that she loved; so there would most certainly have been some panic and even anger mingled in with the grief!  There was no way that Mary would even begin to comprehend or even entertain the notion that this was anything more than what it appeared; any potential evidence to the contrary, Mary was not about to pin her hopes on an empty tomb!

But here’s the thing: though Mary was still weeping, though the disciples had gone home to ponder what they may have seen at the empty tomb, and though as far as all of creation was concerned death was still the one hard and fast reality of life, something amazing had already happened: death had been vanquished forever!  The tomb was empty, for Jesus had risen from the dead; and by his resurrection, God gave his people not only the gift of new life in the present, but also the promise of salvation and an eternal home.  In this moment when any and all hope seemed to be gone forever, now in the risen Christ there is hope unending!  It’s truly redemption and salvation on a cosmic scale; but even in that moment of victory there is still one thing that remains.

Mary.

In looking at this text, David Lose makes the very interesting point that “the space between ‘woman’ and ‘Mary’ is perhaps the distance between the cross and resurrection.”  Remember that at first, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” and Mary, supposing him to be the gardener (and perhaps even thinking him complicit in the robbery of Jesus’ grave), fails to recognize him even when they’re standing face to face.  It’s only when Jesus calls Mary by her name that she recognizes him as “Rabbouni,” that is, her beloved Lord and teacher.  It’s the fact that Jesus knows Mary and reaches out to her personally that ends up making all the difference in her belief and understanding of what’s taken place.  As Lose puts it, “Known, [Mary] knows.  Seen, she can see.  Loved, she loves… and then [she] goes and tells [the others] what she has seen, known and loved.”

And once again on this Day of Resurrection, we rightly proclaim it a wonder, a miracle, and a sure cause for celebration with songs of triumph and shouts of joy; and that it is!  But it’s also an affirmation of how God always works, isn’t it?  In the end, you see, it’s not in pursuing God’s favor that we earn righteousness or that we’re given salvation; it’s that God pursued us in the person of Jesus Christ, that he went to the cross and died for us, and that then was raised from the dead so that by grace we could be given life abundant and eternal.    Moreover, it’s not mere wishful thinking, nor the passing hopes and dreams that we build up for ourselves that offers us security for the living of these days; it’s rather the unending hope that comes in knowing that in our most difficult and seemingly hopeless situations God is working specifically and directly on our behalf, yours and mine; bringing much needed light into our darkness.  And it’s not – and this is important, friends (!) – merely a one-time only historical event that happened some 2,000 years ago; but rather it’s the divine experience of rebirth that happens again and again in the hearts of those who have been named and claimed by the one, as 1 Peter proclaims it, who “by his great mercy… has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”  Beloved, the good news of Easter is that there’s always hope; because Jesus is risen from the dead; and because Jesus is alive, so are we, now and forever!

I said to you earlier that as a pastor I’ve been in the pulpit for 34 Easter Sundays; what I didn’t say is that there was, in fact, one particular and very memorable Easter that I wasn’t.  As I’m sure I’ve shared with some of you before, that was the year that I had to undergo emergency back surgery: I’d had some spinal disc issues that were causing me incredible pain and were getting much worse during Holy Week; moreover, the doctors were concerned for complications and even possible paralysis if something wasn’t done soon.  So I was told that if I had a “Plan B” for worship on Easter Sunday morning, I’d better put it into action because my surgery was being scheduled for the same hour as Sunrise Service the next morning!

And I’ll be honest; even in the pain I was in, for this particular pastor, that was a hard thing (I’ll let you in on a little secret; we clergy types can be a little possessive about our Sunday morning worship, especially on Easter!).  But I really didn’t have a choice; and so while I was under the knife Lisa and Jake, along with a layperson from the church, took care of the sunrise service; and our choir director, who was in seminary at the time, learned how to preach an Easter sermon on the fly!  Everything went fine, for the church and for me, as it did for the next few weeks as I recovered; and I mention it to you this morning because along the way I did learn something that I shared with everyone who asked me: that “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” whether I show up for worship or not!

But it also served as a good reminder that Easter cannot and will not be contained… by a day, by a service, an certainly not by a pastor… or anybody else!  It can’t be hemmed in by any of the limits or boundaries we set upon it, and it won’t be diminished by our doubts!  Friends, Easter won’t be over when in a few moments we pronounce a Benediction, nor will it be finished later today after dinner is done and the family’s all gone home for the evening.  It won’t even be over when you get up tomorrow on “Easter Monday” and return to the busyness of a new week and all the challenges it will bring.  Easter continues…today, tomorrow and in every day that comes; and resurrection happens for you and for me as we move through this new and abundant life that our Lord has given us.  Christ is risen, beloved, and by the power of his resurrection we are given all the hope we need to live full, empowered and purpose driven lives.

It’s Resurrection Day, beloved, and the future is wide open; so let us rejoice and be glad in all the possibilities before, and of this life that God has given us…

… for Christ is risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

Alleluia, thanks be to God, and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

Tags: , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: