my miscellany

Easter II, 2015 — 12 Apr 15

Easter II, 2015

Easter II, 2015
April 12
Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, I John 1:1–2:2, Saint John 20:19-31

The Gospel today begins exactly where the Gospel last week, on Easter Day, ends. You remember that the resurrected Jesus approaches Mary Magdalene, who had come to the tomb to anoint his body, and she does not recognize him. She supposes he is the gardener, but he calls her by name, he gets her attention, and she recognizes him. The only thing she has to do is to recognize him. Frightened, she runs off, back to the house where the disciples were meeting together after the Lord’s arrest and crucifixion, and she proclaims to them that she has seen the Lord.[1]

Today’s Gospel takes place in that house in the evening of that first Easter Day. Some time has elapsed; and the Lord himself comes among them, and shows himself to them. He shows them his hands and his side, and they believe. There is a catch, though. Thomas is not with them, and later he says he will not believe unless he sees, as the other disciples have seen, his hands and his side. A week later, the second Sunday of the first Easter, the Lord returns and gives Thomas what he has said he needs: the Lord shows him his hands and his side, and Thomas believes. He exclaims, “My Lord and my God.”[2]

And then Jesus gives us the main point of these two episodes in the house with the disciples. He says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”[3]

I don’t usually retell the Gospel in such detail as I have just done. I wouldn’t do it without a good reason. And I want to develop that reason now.

Mary Magdalene, then the disciples, and finally Thomas have a direct experience of the resurrected Lord. And they each believe in that resurrection because of that direct experience. Seeing is believing. When Mary Magdalene sees and recognizes Jesus, she believes. When the disciples see Jesus, they believe. When Thomas puts his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in his side, he believes along with the others.

But what about others? What about those who have not put their fingers in the mark of the nails and their hand in the side of the resurrected Lord? What about those who were far away or to whom the Lord in his resurrected body did not appear? And, of course, by extension, what about us, the centuries-removed inheritors of the disciples’ witness, how is it that we could come or have come to believe? How does belief happen if you cannot put your finger in the mark of the nails or your hand in his side?

Jesus is with you in the flesh and the blood; he is with you in the bread and the wine, the sacramental tokens of his presence. The Lord presents himself through the Holy Spirit in two principal ways. First, he presents himself through the witness of those who’ve already come to believe in his resurrection. I mean by this that marks of authenticity, the equivalents of the marks of the nails and the spear, distinguish those who believe in him. Those marks are so numerous as to be almost too many to number. But some of them are: commitment to Christ and his Church, faithfulness, prayerfulness, charity, forgiveness, trust in history as God’s own gift to its participants, and the selfless willingness to serve Christ and each other. There are many others. One reason that Christianity exists in communities is that these marks live in communities. The marks are there for all to see, to rely on, and to encourage in each other. Christ is alive, because the people who put their trust in him live and live not for themselves alone but live for him. We stand the best chance of meeting him when we are with those whose trust is in him. And so, worship and fellowship with each other are important to growth in faith.

The second way that the risen Lord presents himself is through the need of those for whom he died, the need of the poor, and even the need of those who know him not. When we see helplessness, or poverty, or weakness, or sicknesses, we see the need for Christ. We have the opportunity to think of him and the reasons for which he was willing to die. We can see him in the need for him, and in his Spirit, we can give ourselves to meet that need. Our willingness to give ourselves remains an important mark of authenticity. In our words, we can meet him in our mission. We can meet him when we meet someone else’s need. We can meet him, in other words, in our mission as a community of faith.

We stand a chance to meet him in worship, in fellowship, and in mission. He is here waiting to be recognized, waiting to be understood as the meaning of your life, the meaning that draws every experience together, the meaning without which we can make no sense of anything. Alleluia. Christ is risen.

[1] Saint John 20:18.

[2] Saint John 20:28.

[3] Saint John 20:29.

The Sunday of the Resurrection, 2015 — 5 Apr 15

The Sunday of the Resurrection, 2015

Easter Day, 2015
April 5
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2 and 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Saint John 20:1-18

This is the Day that preachers yearn to see. This is the Day when we get our chance to show the many people that are here that the preaching is pretty good on the other fifty-one Sundays of the year.

Despite the great music, the beautiful flowers, and the people, this is the Day that we all can relax. The Day is out of our control. And it’s out of our understanding. We preach what cannot be proved unless you know the Lord, and if you do, we preach the undeniable and the incontrovertible.

For this is the Day of the Resurrection, when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the Father. As the Psalmist wrote so long ago and as we have just said together: “On this day the Lord has acted; * we will rejoice and be glad in it.”[1] Today marks God’s action. We can stare into the empty tomb with Peter, John, who is the disciple who Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene. And we can relax in what God has done.

Christians have it easy when you think of it. We’ve just finished Lent with its special disciplines and special demands, but they seem to me pale and weak when you consider Islam’s Ramadan, the ninth month, the sacred month, in their year when they fast every day from dawn to sunset. And in Islam, don’t forget, no spirits or wine is permitted on any day of the year, three hundred sixty-five days of the year. Christians enjoy much freedom by comparison.

And we enjoy more freedom, I think, than the Jews, who now are celebrating Passover, a festival, which obliges them to eat unleavened bread, to eat particular foods, and to use special vessels for cooking and eating—all this in addition to the day-by-day separation of meat and dairy foods, and the necessity of keeping the Sabbath holy, of worshipping and doing no work on that day.

By comparison, we Christians have few demands. We have taken on the yoke of Christ, who invites us all to be part of him: “Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; and I will give you relief. Bend your necks to my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and your souls will find relief. For my yoke is good to bear, and my load is light.”[2] We can relax today, because the yoke we bear is light. God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves.

We’re given an example of how little we actually have to do when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. She goes to the tomb and discovers the stone to have been moved and the Lord to be missing. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”[3] She’s perfectly rational, perfectly reasonable. A rocket scientist could say the same. The empty tomb alone does not persuade her.

And as the proclamation of the Gospel continues, we hear the moving encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, whom she supposes is the Gardener. In her sadness and grief, and in her unbelief, she weeps. And a voice asks her, “‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ Whom are you looking for?’” “‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me were you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’” And she has only to recognize him.

He was the last person she expected to see. But he was the one standing right beside her. He does for her what she cannot do for herself. From time to time, more often than you might think, people visit me by night, as the Scriptures say of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus, and they ask, “How do I find the Lord in my life?” Like Mary, they see the empty tomb. They know the Lord is missing. They talk to gardeners, doctors, and family, but they want to know that they have seen the Lord, as Mary later announces to the disciples. The best I can say to them is that he makes himself known on his own schedule and often to people who least expect him—like Mary herself, supposing him to be the gardener. His yoke is easy. And his burden is light. He makes himself known even to those who do not believe, like Mary, who believes at first not in the resurrection but in the theft of the Lord’s body. He makes himself known to those who aren’t especially looking to find him. He makes himself known to those who hope and pray never to meet him. He makes himself known to those who, like Mary, will dedicate themselves to make his resurrection known. Many of the people who come to me by night have already seen the Lord. They just haven’t put the name to the face, just like Mary Magdalene.

So, it is good advice today, of all days, to relax. Even as we take our ease, the Gardener is approaching. Even as we go about our business, he is looking to meet us. Even as we celebrate with family and friends, he moves forward, humbly and quietly, to make our acquaintance. As Saint Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”[4] Alleluia! Christ is risen!

[1] Psalm 118:24.

[2] Saint Matthew 11:28-30.

[3] Saint John 20:2.

[4] Colossians 3:4.

Good Friday, 2015 — 3 Apr 15

Good Friday, 2015

Good Friday, 2015
April 3
Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Psalm 22:1-11; Hebrews 10:16-25; Saint John 18:1–19:42

Today is Christ exalted. Today is Christ lifted high upon the Cross, as he promised, “to draw the whole world to himself.”[1] You and I are part of that world, drawn to Christ, pulled out of ourselves and out of our normal routine to be with him. We are here today exactly for this purpose and none other. As we are drawn to him, we face terrible things. But we have misunderstood if we think today concerns only terrible things. For in the humiliation and in the horror of an innocent man punished; for in the apparent impossibility of God dwelling among us, and in the unthinkable eventuality of God being put to death by human beings; in the midst of these incomprehensible things, Christ reigns. Victory flows forth, like water from a stony rock in the wilderness so many centuries ago. Victory rains, like showers, upon a parched field. We have only to see it for what it is. We have only to accept Christ’s victory as ours, as God’s gift to us, as God’s greatest gift to us. We can see it, if we will, and we can receive the gift if we will.

Christ on the Cross is the supreme moment of God’s gift of his Son to us. It’s the moment when that gift really and completely is in our hands. It’s the moment when eternal life flows from his side. This is the moment of Christ’s exaltation. But it also is the moment when, in his exaltation, we are drawn to him, up to him, and we begin to be refreshed and renewed by the eternal life flowing from his side and showering all who put themselves within his reach. Today is Good Friday.

In the last evening that Jesus ministers to his disciples, as soon as Judas Iscariot runs out to do his deed of betrayal, Jesus exclaims: “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”[2] Glorify means to reveal the essence of. The Crucifixion reveals the essence of the Son of Man. The Crucifixion reveals the essence of the Father. That essence is holy love. In that last evening with the disciples, Jesus speaks of his going and returning to the Father. Jesus prays that the unity between himself and his followers, the unity between them and the Father, the unity between each of them, shall be like the unity between the Father and the Son—a unity eternally changeless and sure. This unity, based on the relationship of the Father and the Son is holy love. And the promise that this holy love will extend from the Father and the Son to us, to this parish, to this congregation gathered at the Cross today, this promise is more than hope. This hope is real. It’s as real as nail and wood, as real as spitting and hitting, as real as piercing thorns plaited into an ironic crown and a mocking purple robe draped over innocent shoulders. The glorification of Christ is this hope of holy love, the hope of unity like that belonging to the Father and the Son, realized in events, realized in the solid hardness of wood and nails. This holy love, this unity, and this hope become true and visible for all to see in the events which themselves enact this holy love, this unity, and this hope.

A message, a love, a unity, a hope on the level of God incarnated in one man will draw the world to his side despite the humiliation. In fact, that’s a major part of today’s message–that victory is greater than the humiliation. A modern person, a person without religion, sees Christ on the Cross and wonders what we can do to prevent so horrible a thing from ever happening again. But we, religious people, people who know our need of God, who are here today precisely because we know we cannot draw a breath without God, see in Christ on the Cross far past his humiliation and suffering. We see into the sublime victory, and we know that victory he gives to us. He gives the victory to us because we cannot win it for ourselves. He gives the victory to us because that is his nature, that is God’s nature. And we are here because the victory is greater than the humiliation. We are here because we know we need what he has to offer. We know we need to be saved, and his offering of himself saves us, not in our deserving but in our very undeserving.

Seeing far past the suffering and the humiliation, we see the glory of the only-begotten Son of God, who before his betrayal, said to his disciples: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. but take courage; I have conquered the world!”[3]

To you who are drawn here today, and to me, I say: Take courage. Let not your own fear and horror of these events overcome you. The worst is far, far passed. It’s far behind. In the Cross of Christ we glory, towering over the wrecks of time.[4]

[1] Saint John 12:32.

[2] Saint John 13:31.

[3] Saint John 16:33.

[4] Hymn 441, Stanza 1.

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