We all love a good story. And so many of the stories we read to our children or grandchildren when they were little were stories that often taught a lesson- like that story of the tortoise and the hare. You know the one where the tortoise and the hare challenge each other to a race and even though we know the rabbit much much faster than the tortoise in the end the tortoise wins. Why? Because he persevered. He kept his steady pace while the hare on the other hand, knowing his arrogance thought he had all the time in the world so he stopped and dallied, and did all sorts of things other than keep his mind on winning the race . Fairy tales and parables share a lot in common. They both try to teach something but Fables or Fairy Tales usually have animal characters that help to carry the story along. Jesus told parables as a way of teaching us about the kingdom of God, what it can mean for us, and how we ought to live in it.
Sometimes though unlike the Gospel where Jesus helps out with an explanation of why he told the stories, not all bible tales about people and their lives are clear as to why? Our first story is a good example. The birth of Esau and Jacob. The Old Testament is really good at just giving us the details and letting us draw our own conclusions. It don’t come with built in explanations. Much of Genesis is about God blessing and who God bestows that blessing upon. Adam and Eve are blessed in the Garden, Noah blessed with safety from the flood, Abraham blessed a covenant that he will be the father of nations and then with two sons. With Ishmael out of the picture the focus is on Issac, but Issac’s role is quite short. The story is really about these two brothers and principally, Jacob. Thus, with this reading we begin a series of Bible stories about Jacob. And we should know from the outset that Jacob is a very flawed character as we see here in the story. It’s all foreshadowing- the turmoil in the womb, the grabbing of the heel, and now his deceit and trickery by making his own brother give up his birthright for a bowl of soup is all foretelling the relationship that Jacob will have not just with his brother, but with his father, and eventually his own sons and daughter, and to a degree with God. Jacob is not his father, nor his grandfather. Still the seed of faith is planted in him and God grows it into Israel itself.
And it is to this agricultural series of parables that Jesus offers us in the coming weeks beginning with this parable of the sower. There are a number of ways we can begin to approach this parable: the soil, the Sower, the seeds. Some might come way from the this parable thinking it is about us being the soil, leaving us wondering if WE are the hardened path, or the rocky ground, the thorny patch or the fertile ground. Jesus is there sowing the seeds of God and here we are the ground upon which it lands.
The truth of our own experience is that we are all those types. At times we are openly receptive to God, at other times we make no room for the seed to germinate. There is just something in the human condition that will find a ay to screw up a good thing. That is our sinful nature. As Paul is so good at describing his own struggle between the life in the Spirit and death in sin, he is talking about the forces that animate us. And the force that animates you and me as followers of Jesus is NOT in the flesh, but in the Spirit- meaning then our life and our existence lies within the heart of God.
And so perhaps we can re-frame our place in this parable. The seed is indeed the kingdom of God. The seed is the good news of God’s dream. When it takes root it can grow and develop into something wonderful and beautiful.
And Yes, we might be the soil at times and at times I think we are all the types of soil being described. But I would like to suggest dear friends that we are the sower. We are the ones with a bag full of seeds of the kingdom throwing it out there flinging it at random not knowing or caring where they land.
For farmers this would not make any sense. Seeds are costly and valuable. Why would they sow anything in an area that they knew would have little chance of growing? Which brings me to my point about this parable not being only about the soil.
Imagine then that we are the sower. As Christians we have, as Paul says, the Spirit of Christ and carry with us all the seeds of the Spirit. The potential of all that God is and can be in this world. Wherever we are, through acts of service large and small, our job is to sow the seeds of God love into the world. We do not care where such seeds land for we do not cause the seeds to grow. We don’t know the hearts nor the soil that lies in others. It’s not up to us to decide who merits the seeds of the Spirit of God.
Seeds sown in the good soil of our hearts blossom into the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And it is these same fruits we know our desperate and broken world needs
and the very fruits we hope will grow in others.
If the seeds of God’s love flower into the fruits of the Spirit, then what do those new seeds look like? There is pollination, cross-pollination, and new growth all over the place! The cycle of sowing begins again. God’s abundant love sees to that. We go about our daily business, living in faithfulness in God’s abundance and being sowers among those we encounter. We don’t often get to see where the seeds fall, but the point is that we continue to sow. The Church’s mission and our mission is to spread the Good News to every end of the Earth. Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This still holds true for us today.
There are infinite ways for us to be the Church he describes: by giving a smile to someone who is feeling lonely, watching the kids so a couple can have some time to themselves, donating money to an organization that helps those who are marginalized, speaking up for a neighbor when you witness an injustice occurring, praying for those you dislike- even in how we care for one another during this time of COVID – the list can go on and on.
We are both the sowers and the soil. Without the one, the other would not make sense. When we go forth today, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, may we sow abundantly, and may the seed that is sown in you bear the plentiful fruit of God’s love. Amen.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
244 years ago we celebrated our Independence Day. Where our forebearers declared their freedom from the tyranny and oppression of the King George of England. Perhaps then the streak of national independence began and the newly formed United States of America was off on its own. In later times, as people began to expand across the nation, we would give this independent streak a name: The Pioneer Spirit.
Still, even now, we are a culture that praises independence. We celebrate the day when we got our drivers’ license- that moment when we were no longer tied down to our parents chauffeuring. People in certain parts seem to rebel at the idea of not being able to do what they want when they want or having to wear masks
Independence: whether it’s about the days of youth or a sense of self-reliance at any age it is certainly something that we as a society place high on our personal agendas.
Faith is no exception. Each of us has a relationship with God that is intimate and personal.
In some parts of the Christian tradition great value is placed on ones’ personal relationship with God. Faith becomes then a very independent and personal thing so personal in fact that one begins to question the need for belonging to a community of faith. Why not worship God on the golf-course, or at the beach, or – well, you can fill in the blank.
It's made even harder by our present time. Do we stay home or do we try to come to church? Understandably, some feel they are not ready to be out in public yet and that’s ok. They are able to join us online – still maintaining a connection to God and a community that loves and prays for them.
The apostle Paul in today’s epistle reading is arguably the most complex and difficult passage to read and hear in all of the Epistles. In it Paul says, it doesn’t matter if we know it’s the right thing to do, when it comes down to our actions it’s still struggle. And there are times that I fall short and do not as I say, but do as I shouldn’t do. How’s that for clarity?
I find this so refreshing about Paul. Often Paul comes across as judge and jury, praising the pious, and cursing the pompous. But here HE is, the Evangelist himself, the one who was struck blind by the very God he now worships is just like us – struggling to live out each and every day a faithful life. Thank God for grace, he basically says, for it is Christ who is there to rescue him from himself and the sin that lies with in us all.
From Jesus we hear what we call the comfortable words. In the Rite 1 liturgy, They come after the confession and absolution- “Come all ye that travail and are heavy laden and I will refresh you for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
It’s really hard for most of us in our modern city based life. But for a large part of the developing world, yoking animals is still done. The joining together of at least two oxen or sometimes horses by a long wooden crosspiece allows the animals to work as a team sharing the load they pull whether it’s a plow or a wagon.
John the Baptist preached a confrontational message and modeled an ascetic lifestyle. He was accused of having a demon. Jesus’ lifestyle was a more joyful announcement of the coming of the kingdom. He ate and drank with all sorts of folks without reservation. He was accused of being a glutton and drunkard, a friend of sinners and tax collectors. Neither John nor Jesus could win, evidently.
What was wrong with these people? Couldn’t they see that Jesus and John were inviting them to return once again to a faithful living of their covenant, to a more “golden rule” living out of the law that says, “love as you would be loved,” to behave towards others as you would want them to behave towards you? Jesus even tells his listeners that if they would just come to him, he would give them rest. If they would take his yoke on themselves, they’d find his yoke easy and his burden light. How very obvious. How very simple. Or is it?
Of course it’s not- if our own experience of living out a life of faith is anything like Paul’s. How many of us have wanted to flip off the next crazy driver that cuts us off in traffic or have been tempted to do something else when the time came for us to make a moral decision. Do as I say, not as I do and yet we do it anyway don’t we?
But here is the amazing thing. Christ, our Lord. The one who calls us into service invites us to take up his yoke that our burdened may be lifted. It’s not that all of our problems or our struggle with sin will go away, its not that in turning to Christ this winter will end and the sin we struggle with in us immediately departs. Far from it. We still struggle. We still sin- personally and as a society. But what is different is that we have yoked ourselves to Christ. Jesus is along side us. We are not alone in our labor of life, in our struggle to live as Christ would have us.
As Christians, in our faith, we are yoked with Christ and as a Church we are yoked together as a community. Together, not alone, we seek to overcome sin and death that we might live. We aren’t being offered the chance to dump all our cares and work on Jesus when he talks about giving us rest. He’s offering us his yoke—the symbol of obedience to God—that we might labor together for the kingdom of God. When we accept that offer, we will be able to speak the Good News of God to others. And work together to tend to the needs of our church community, and break down the walls that divide God’s people. We indeed hold to the self evident truth that all men AND WOMEN are created equal regardless of their race, creed or color. Our lives will be bound and directed by the laws not of our own independent choosing, but of the laws of the kingdom of God, the laws of love.
It’s the 4th Sunday after Pentecost and so far, since the since Pentecost, our gospel readings have challenged us to think about mission. Filled with the Holy Spirit, and now the question is: How do we move into the world to help bring about Christ’s kingdom?
The gospel stories from John and Matthew have been about the Great Commission and Jesus giving the disciples the power to heal and cast out demons and then sending the disciples out into a world with a message that threatens to divide friends and families.
This is our third week in Matthew’s tenth chapter, where we have been reminded to follow the apostles into the world, to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, to move into the fields ready for harvest, and to pray for more workers. We have been warned that we will not be treated well on our mission and that it will create division even in our own homes.
Unlike Luke, Matthew makes no mention of the actual mission itself; we don’t know if the disciples went out
Or what their mission experience was.
Scholars believe the omission is to highlight Jesus’ speech as a direct address to the readers. We are included in the audience – left not so much with an historical report of what actually occurred in that ancient time, but with a description of ministry itself.
That description of ministry includes not just “doing” but “welcoming.” Jesus uses the word “welcome” six times in this brief passage of only three verses and points us to the importance of hospitality in furthering Jesus’ Kingdom. We are called to consider more deeply what it means to we a person of welcome.
Welcoming in this time of COVID is something that is quite fluid and starts to take on new meaning. When we think of welcome we think about the ways we greet those who come onto our campus or through the doors of the sanctuary. We would give them a lei and ask they leave their contact information on the visitors log. We would shake their hand and talk to them during and after the service inviting them to stay for refreshments and this is still a very valid and important form of welcoming. But now people are able to watch out livestream, they are, if you will, able to eavesdrop into our worship, and welcoming looks different and we don’t encounter strangers in the way we used to.
People check-in online and can participate in worship without having to identify themselves or even meeting a single person so it is harder for us to express welcome the “traditional” ways we have always done.
One of the outcomes of COVID and not having been in public worship is that the Church has been forced to leave the building. It just wasn’t possible for us to gather for worship as we are doing now and the Church has had to be more mobile, more flexible.
When we welcome people to Church we are not just welcoming strangers to this building, these pews and this altar; we are not just welcoming others to our Zoom channel or Face book page.. We have to reframe what it means to welcome.
When we look closely at verses 40-42, and remembering that our role in the mission is not only as those who are sent out but also as those who welcome and receive others along the way, we realize that acts of welcome can and ought to be practiced by us at any time, no matter what circumstances or crises we find ourselves in. We also come to realize that our welcoming does not need to consist of large, heroic acts. We can sit, listen, and pray with those call for justice in matters of race, gender, immigration, LGBT rights, and economics. Furthermore, any simple, basic acts of kindness we offer as genuine welcome for one another are all that God requires of us. We are not slaves to sin, Paul writes, we belong to Christ. And as followers of Jesus, we have been sent out to offer grace and healing and hope. All we need do is look around to see who is in need and try to do something about it.
A theology of hospitality reaches its fullest Christian expression in the final parable Jesus tells in Matthew’s gospel – the one known by most of us a as the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In that parable, Jesus reminds us that the way we treat those who are most vulnerable among us is, ultimately, representative of our response toward Jesus. Within the parable, Jesus refers to these vulnerable ones with whom he identifies as “the least.” Whether we are deemed righteous has a great deal to do with how hospitable we are toward one another, especially those who are most vulnerable among us. But more importantly, we are reminded that righteousness goes well beyond our relationship with God.
As people of faith, we are called to promote compassionate welcome that motivates us to trust, to be open, and to share. At the same time, we need to exercise caution to avoid manipulating others and seeking personal gain. We set out with good intentions to form caring relationships, yet when left to our own devices, we sometimes fall short of creating and sustaining the kind of relationships that help us to become the people God has called us to be. Often times, pride, ego, self-doubt, hopelessness, and other sentiments get in the way and keep us from truly connecting with each other, except in self-interested ways. We need God’s grace to help us with living into compassionate welcome with one another and extending genuine hospitality.
Members of early Christian communities were called “little ones,” and regardless of their origin, the disciples of Jesus were encouraged to identify themselves with the little ones in the world, who in turn, are called to serve other such little ones. Our efforts to welcome and love the little ones are important because Jesus sees it and receives it as worship. According to Jesus, there is no small gesture. A cup of cold water is the smallest of gifts – a gift that almost anyone can give. But a cup of cold water is precious to a person who is really thirsty – in some instances, the gift of life itself. When we love others, we love Jesus. In welcoming one another into our hearts, Jesus tells us that we are welcoming him— welcoming God into our hearts. It’s the old paradox, that it is in giving that you receive. It is in losing your life that you find it. It is in welcoming others that you experience Jesus’ welcome.
We are all called to be Christ to each other. Jesus sends us to share the Good News, alleviate human suffering, to meet real needs, to work miracles of love and healing through acts of kindness… cups of water. We are called to remember that we, too, are to go as people willing to receive those same acts of kindness. When we welcome one another, we discover the reward that comes from the deep hospitality found in God’s welcome of us.
Whoever gives you even a cup of cold water… will most definitely not lose their reward.
Let’s just be real for a moment. We are afraid. Without a doubt, no matter how well we articulate that our COVID measures and procedures are the lving thing to do – and they are- we are still afraid. WE are afraid because we are already seeing an uptick in Corona virus cases on our island. We are afraid because we don’t want to get sick or can’t afford to do so. We are afraid because our job has been affected which affects our income which affects everything.
And a little fear in the right amount and at the right time can keep us on our toes and protect us from danger. And so when it comes to fear, is there more pervasive or powerful force in the human experience?
From the moment we are born, we learn to fear the world around us, we are taught to fear the stranger, sometimes to fear even those who are closest to us. Our political leaders are good at making us feel afraid- afraid of what the other party will do; or will not do. Fear protests because it challenges long standing “norms.” Politicians have long recognized the power of fear in ensuring our conformity to the structures this world, even when doing so does not serve our best interests or the interests of society as a whole. Fear is the driving force behind vast segments of our economy as we open up and go back to business or to work.
Jesus understood fear. He saw that fear will also cause a failure of discipleship. Jesus’ disciples courageously leave the security of their homes and families to follow him as they proclaim the advent of God’s reign, but they, too, will know and ultimately bow before the power of fear. Faithful proclamation and practice of the gospel inevitably puts disciples on a collision course with the powers of this world.
So, as Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he is starkly realistic about the threats they will face, at the same time they should not let this fear master them or hinder their witness.
Jesus is real with them too. On the one hand, the disciples are granted remarkable powers to heal, exorcise demons, cleanse lepers, even to raise the dead. But he also denies them money, pay, extra clothes, a staff for protection, even sandals. They are to undertake their mission in complete vulnerability and dependence on God (10:8-11), even knowing that they go as “sheep in the midst of wolves,” face arrests and beatings, opposition even from family members, and hatred and persecution (10:16-23). Doing the work of God and following in the Way of the Cross is not for the faith of heart. The late Country Music legend Johnny Cash is credited with this quote though his language is reflective of his time but he is talking about both men AND women: “Christianity is not for sissies. It takes a real man to live for God- a lot more than to live for the devil.”
When it comes to us living into our baptism, Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat the dangers of the mission; he gives it to us straight: “Some folks will welcome the Good News, others won’t. Some will resist the message and the change that comes with it. And you’ll be the target of their resistance.” Then, like a good pastor, he reminds us that our Heavenly Father is both incredibly powerful –pronouncing judgments that yield life or death – and incredibly tender – noticing every sparrow that falls and counting every hair on our heads. By remembering the character and faithfulness of God, the we are reminded that we have what we need in order to endure- we have when we need to go beyond the fear, beyond the rejection. beyond the violence.
Jesus is showing us the twelve: who we truly are – children of God- children who are called by Jesus to follow him AND are sent by him out into the world. And just because we are chosen by Jesus to be messengers of the gospel doesn’t mean that we have a corner on God. Our Old Testament story of Ishmael is a not so sublte commentary on the ntions of choseness and election.
God’s love and care is not limited to us.
Now to you and me that may seem like such an obvious statement, but in the way issues of race have played out in the history of this nation, the claim has been made that God’s love and favor is reserved for a blessed few. Perhaps they have forgotten about the expressions of love in Prodigal Son, and in this Old Testament lesson. Even though Isaac is the brother through whom the Israelites will emerge, It is clear from our Scripture that God makes the same promise to them both. God also says that Ishmael will be the father of many nations. And even when Ismael and his mother are out in the desert- near certain death from lack of water- God will preserve them. Ishmael and Isaac both experience God’s presence and blessing. This story shows God’s grace working in and through a very divided family.
Returning to fear and the mission- it is probably the divided family that we fear the most when it comes to the gospel. We tend to idealize the nuclear family in our culture and thus, often idolize it. Many of us downplay family conflict. We are embarrassed by it. Admitting that our families are imperfect can feel sacrilegious. Not everyone had a “difficult childhood,” but enough do such that it seems to be a cultural norm, rather than an exception.
The peace that Jesus brings- the peace that we strive and long for causes division and incites resistance. This is not forever, but for now, in this in-between time when values of the “Old Self,” which Paul discusses in Romans, still have sway. We all have an Old Self – our sinful, fear-filled, greedy, prideful nature – and in our baptism we leave the Old Self left behind, crucified with Jesus on the cross. Then we are re-born, freed from sin into a new life.
I have no doubt that there were fears and apprehensions by the disciples as they were sent out into a new era. We have our fears and apprehensions as we engage in our Eucharistic celebration. We get wrapped up in the fears and can lose sight of what Jesus also says in this gospel:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Jesus is certainly not asking us to be reckless when it comes to our health and protecting ourselves and caring for one another as we gather together as a community. Like the disciples, we are sometimes sent out on risky missions, warned and equipped to face the danger. Other times, like Hagar and Ishmael, we are cast out into the wilderness without any choice. But even there, we discover God’s grace goes before us. Amen.
Last week young men and women from ‘‘Iolani, graduated. All over the state at high schools have sent off with great ceremony, in their own modified ways thousands of graduates. Marking for them a rite of passage and a new chapter in their lives.
And then they go off to college or the workforce. Many of these graduates will head off to schools on the continent, East Coast, West Coast and places in the middle some large schools, others much smaller. There they go, on to new places and experiences that God only knows. Their lives are filled with expectant hope.
We often talk of hope as wishful thinking, “I hope it will rain” or “ I hope the quarantine will be lifted and I can travel to the mainland again. But Paul introduces a different context of hope in his letter to the Romans. For Paul, hope isn't wishful thinking but certainly on the about a future because it is grounded in God’s faithfulness. In other words, what God WILL do is grounded in what God HAS DONE.
Abraham's Story in Genesis is long but the fun short version is this:- God has promised Abraham in establishing a covenant, that he will be the father of nations. And despite the years, he and Sarah have not had any children. He is in his 90’s she in her 80’s well past the age when biology tells us we should be able to bear children. The travelers arrive and in according to the custom of the time, Abraham offered them the hospitality of his home.
The three that show up in Abraham’s neck of the woods, however, are no ordinary guests. And while the reader is aware of this—being told at the beginning of the narrative that “The Lord appeared to Abraham”—it is not clear that Abraham knows the identity of his guests. Finally, in verse 13, the strangers reveal that they have mysteriously “overheard” Sarah laughing to herself from inside the tent, even though from where they are standing, this would be humanly impossible.
But it is not until verse 14 with the comment, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” that whatever suspicions Abraham may have had about the identity of his guests are fully confirmed. These guests don’t operate by the rules of the natural world. What is humanly impossible, given Sarah’s stage in life, is possible with God. And that is the big take away from Genesis this morning. No matter the conditions we think exist in our present time the impossible can happen.
Else where in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us that we will hear of wars and rumors of wars and to not be afraid, for God is present. the world in which we live has that and more. COVID 19 has seriously changed our world and the way in which we live. As if that alone is not enough, the events of last two weeks in North America have been a rude awakening. The mythology of America as the land of the free and the home of brave has been laid bare. Hawai‘i is no exception despite being the Aloha State that to deny that there isn’t racism in paradise would be a sin. The United States where, as it says in our founding documents says that all are created equal and are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights, has revealed its darker side. We see the politics of greed, practices of fear mongering, and empty promises to the poor resulting in the imbalances in health care, education, and employment.
Politicians, the police, all those in power, wear the clothes of Christian faith, they are like wolves dressed in the name of the Lord. They wave a Bible in the name of politics, try to seduce the flock because they say the things other wolves want to hear. The powerful say they want to make life better and more prosperous, behind their talk is a system that plunders the poor the indigenous, and the earth, treating women and children as objects; creating embedded systems that paint a white ceiling above the efforts of people of color.
In the 6th month of the third decade of the 21st century, the conditions compared to the ancient time of Jesus have changed only in the level of sophistication. For those early disciples, the times under Roman rule were no less oppressive. There were struggles for power- from the Romans and from the Jewish authorities. From the gospel stories of the poor, the outcast, and the women who crossed the path of the Jesus and the disciples we see their struggle for recognition and daily living.
I wonder if that was what it was like for these disciples being sent out by Jesus? Last week’s gospel was the great Commission: go and make disciples of all nations. Today the scene recorded in Matthew’s gospel, before the resurrection, makes it very clear that the places to which the disciples go are among the wolves that are not out among the Gentiles.
Here Jesus is saying that among the children of Israel, among the people of God, among our tribe, are those who are lost. The followers of Jesus bear witness to the risen Christ not to the strangers in a strange land but to our much closer relations.
As followers of Jesus, we are a peculiar people. Like Abraham who heard the voice of God, we too hear and obey God’s commands. Not everyone who hears them obeys but we can. Not everyone that suffers - endures, but we can. And not every one who endures has the character of Christ- but we can. We can endure with a character as Paul says, that produces hope because God’s love has been poured into us by the Holy Spirit.
And it is with that hope that we carry on. And like the disciples we have been summoned by God to work in the fields. The work is plentiful. The work is difficult. The work is necessary. In every city, In every village. We go among the sick and diseased, the harassed and the helpless never knowing who might be ready for a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
It is difficult to ignore that these are chaotic days. And in the chaos, it only takes a bit of silence to capture our attention. The Prince of Peace has come. And he is sending us into the chaos. And Jesus knows not every house will receive us. Go anyway. He says that there will be trials, and we will be brought before those in power so be wise while remaining calm. We can also expect that those who claim to be among our ranks will be the very ones who ignore God’s voice.
We will be hated. Not because of our race, our gender identity, our employment or political affiliation. We will be hated because you practice the self-denying, radical non-violence of a vulnerable God.
We follow the One whose steadfast love endures. Forever. Because Christ died for us, while we were yet sinners. And this, this is the chaotic world into which God continues to send Spirit-filled agents in the name of Jesus. If we do the transforming work that heals, restores, and reconciles, our labor will not be in vain. Amen.
To say we have a lot going on on this Sunday is an understatement. I’ve been thinking about what to say on this Trinity Sunday as we return to public worship while in the midst of a global pandemic all the while our islands and our nation is in the grips of a reckoning on the issues of race following the murder of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis Police officer.
His death has sparked peaceful protests in many cities including Honolulu where upwards of marched on Friday and Saturday with signs that read Black Lives Matter, chants of “No Justice no Peace”, and calling for reform in police practices. Without a doubt we find our selves in the midst of history- a defining moment from which we and our children and grand children will mark in their lives. There was a time before COVID when we sat were we liked, hugged, shook hands, ate at any restaurant, traveled with relative ease and impunity. There were no masks to hide our smiles or quarantine when we wanted to visit family, friends, or to take a vacation. In a relative instant, it seems, life has changed and now I am speaking to you from behind a mask and a face shield and there is tape on the floor at 6 foot intervals. We wait in lines to enter stores because of something called social distancing and the list goes on and on. How can we even begin to think of any talk about the Great Triune God?
And yet- the God Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is most relevant in this very time of struggle and strife, pestilence and protest, even in riot and rebellion. very One we pray to and is the one who in our gospel tells us “I will be with you until the end of the age.”
Trinity Sunday invites us into the life and transformative power of a God who is one the move since the very moments of creation and into the here and now.
We hear the story of creation itself. Of the way the Spirit moved over the waters of creation; of the way the creator spoke, “let there be…” and that all that was created was declared good”. Of the way the triune Creator said, “Let us make human kind in our image.” And then how you and I inherit in our bodies the very breath of God- the Holy Spirit that gives us life. Which is why when the sin of racism strikes blind the fact that, regardless of the amount of melanin in our skin we are all children of God, and disregards the dignity inalienable to our brothers and sisters and to every one of us, or denies them the very right to breath itself- it should offend and horrify us.
Sure we can look up in the history books for the thoughts of ancient scholars and saints on the finer points of hypostasis (being) and ousias (essence) from the Cappadocian Fathers, but we must not forget that even this early and ancient thinking on the nature of the Trinity originates in the human experience. I came- and still comes- from live encounters with a God who shows up in, among, and always for the sake of humanity.
Matt Skinner, a Biblical commentator said,
If our theology cannot speak directly to the real, lived experience of people and if our theology cannot clearly amplify God’s declaration of human dignity and cannot boldly magnify the love of God, a love committed to be among those who live with dignity denied and love withheld, we need to rebuild it.
The word Trinity never appears in the Bible. Yet, in passages like our reading from the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel, we read of baptizing new followers of Jesus in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We read a different Trinitarian formulation in Second Corinthians, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
We find that the Christians were less concerned about doctrinal formulation than in following the way of Jesus. They patterned their daily lives in prayer and fasting, in service to others, and gathering for worship. Into that community, they baptized new followers using that same Trinitarian formula. In time, they came to think through what it meant to speak of a God who is both one and three.
The image and understanding of the Trinity is an image and understanding of God that is more than we can wrap our minds around. Yet the Trinity is not a mystery in the sense of a puzzle we cannot solve. The Trinity is a mystery in that we see and LIVE n our experience of God the truth of it, but there is more than we can fully comprehend. We can and do know of God from God by the reading and revelation of scripture, from the way God is revealed in the nature, and in and through that most perfect revelation of God- Jesus Christ.
It is Jesus then that tells us to Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself. In other words, we were created to love- to love upwards to God and outward toward humankind. That web of relationships is interconnected- Loving God more fully helps us to love others more fully and loving people more fully means seeing them as GOD sees them and so loving people can draw us to back to God. Round and round it goes.
In the final words of Jesus in our gospel today is this great commission to go make disciples of all nations, baptize, AND teach all that he has commanded us. St. Timothy’s as congregation takes to heart Jesus’ words in our own mission statement “bring the Lord to others and bring others to the Lord.” We are to take the love of God out into the world; we are witnesses to the very love of God. In our baptismal service we say we are filled by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. As the Church, St. Paul teaches us that we are the Body of Christ. We can see through the tens of thousands of voices that have turned out calling for a systemic, national metanoia on racism the creative and renewing force at work desiring to make real the values of the kingdom of God where, swords will become plowshares, and spears become pruning hooks (Isaiah), where justice will flow like a river (Amos), where we will do what is right, act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah).
My point dear friends is that the Trinity is not some far off, distant, unknowable thing. The Trinity is not a God who sits up there in heaven and allows all the terrible things to happen in the world like a Wizard of Oz behind a mysterious curtain. Such a god is not the God who became flesh and walked this earth; who poured himself out completely on the cross of Jesus Christ.
God is not distant- God is social. Love cannot be distant. It draws us together and has us continuing to care for each other through the measures you see and experience here in church. Love must be present and continue to reveal the true nature of God.
The Trinity, at its heart, is a way of pointing to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the new life that comes from this. In doing so we are saying that is what God is most truly like.
The Love that moves the sun and the other stars is the same love that poured itself out in the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. It is the same love that created us in God’s own image
And if we are created in the image and likeness of God, then we are to find our true selves not in being aloof and alone and apart and above it all, but rather present here and now beign the community that hears the salvation story and how God is acting in history and continues to act in our lives as we recognize that all created in God’s image; that we live the resurrected life of the risen Christ and be the welcoming and inclusive community that Jesus calls us to; that we who are empowered by the Holy Spirit in baptism - live boldly to proclaim the good news of God dream for us and for this world bear the marks of the Trinity itself in the giving of ourselves in love.
(May the grace of our lord Lord Jesus Christ…)
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of god and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever. Amen.
These days it’s about protecting ourselves and one another. Outside the Commissary at Hickam they limit the number of people who can be in the Commissary at one time. So you form a line outside, six feet part, and you wait at the door. Until the person who checks the IDs tells you that you can go in.
There are all types of doors and gates that we encounter. Some gates are to keep people out, others are to keep them in. Some are welcoming and others are formidable obstacles. But I guess it depends on our perspective.
Sometimes gates are a necessary and useful structure, other times simply a decoration. Gated communities welcome the protection that it affords. But for those who are incarcerated, the gated communities of jails and prisons inhibits freedom. The dictionary describes a gate as “a moveable structure that controls entrance and exit.”
The fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. And so our readings reflect the traits of those who follow the good shepherd, the familiar 23rd Psalm, and a portion of 1 Peter telling us that though we were like sheep going astray we have reunted to the shepherd who guards our souls.
In the gospel of John there are what are called the “I am” statements of Jesus; I am the bread of Life, I am the light of the world, I am the Good shepherd and so on- 7 in total. And even though in the verses that follow this passage he says, I am the good shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep, in our Gospel reading for today he speaks mostly to being the gate.
There is a distinction here that Jesus makes. He does not say that he is the gatekeeper necessarily, but rather as the gate itself.
Traditionally, this text has often been used as a means of exclusion. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” People have used this passage to create false boundaries that reinforce their own power- labeling as the “thieves and bandits” as anyone who is “unorthodox or just not like us. Whether that means you are conservative or liberal, the “wrong” gender, sexuality, race, doctrine, belief, even liturgy and so on. Add this to another I am statement from John: “I am the Way the Truth and the Life” and the message becomes “Not everyone is going to get saved,” or “Jesus doesn’t love everyone,” is a subliminal text. But underlying it all is a pious concern for being “correct.”
You and I who find ourselves so far away from what it was to be a shepherd in the time of Jesus might think something got lost in translation. But no. In calling himself the gate, Jesus was describing exactly what a shepherd does.
In sheep-folds which was typically a rock wall enclosure of stacked stones with thorny brush on top that provided protection against theves and robbers but it also provided protection against wolves and other animals of prey. There was a break in the wall where there was no actual physical gate, the shepherd would lie himself down in the opening which allowed entry and exit. In this way the shepherd knew who or what came and went or who or what attempted to come and go and so could serve as protector of the sheep.
That Jesus is the gate is the reinforcement that he is the protector. He is the one who knows the sheep and calls them by name and in that same light we hear his voice and follow where he leads. When Jesus says, “I am the gate,” it is his way of inviting us both in and out. Jesus is telling us that he is our way to safety, to entering a restful place where we know we are loved and protected.
But he is also telling us that we will need to go back out through that gate into the world. He calls us out- not in that way that is confrontational, but call us out he does. It is his invitation to leave safety and security and go back out into a world of challenges and stumbling blocks.
And maybe that seems odd to hear that right now, when we are at home for many hours of the day.
Jesus promises that with the Lord as our shepherd, we will “come in and go out and find pasture.” Outside the fold, sheep are under threat from predators. The shepherd’s rod and staff are not only comfort, but protection.
But the biggest risk comes from the sheep themselves – they are apt to wander off, each to its own way. In the Psalm God may lead us to green pastures and besides still waters, but how many times are we constantly scouting for greener pastures thinking what we have isn’t enough? We only have to look at the empty shelves of the grocery store devoid of paper and cleaning products see that we imagine we do not have enough by God’s hand.
The Reading from Acts talks abut those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Yes but there is more- their faith was moved into action. The early Christian community knew what it meant to care for others in need. They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to the all as any had need.
In short, this is what the Christian community does, when we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. We follow him. When we do so, we are left with a sense of awe and mystery. And who do we listen to and how do we listen to the voices of the suffering?
Our hearts and minds are always searching for that place of security in the world- as Sheep we need to listen- we need to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. There is a danger that we can be lured into a false notion that all we need is Jesus and patch of green grass to graze- nothing more.
In the eyes of the world, we may seem foolish to follow the voice of Jesus and in his footsteps. My sheep go where I lead- he says. Jesus calls us out of the fold into a world that is crying out with anxiety, isolation, fear and loneliness. Jesus is calling us to listen for and to hear the voices of those who need us most.
And yet we must also listen for danger- There are a thousand competing voices call to us that we should look for escape instead of sacrifice, should seek an easier bliss than the peace of God, should search for our own greener pastures and leave the rest of the flock behind.
The voices say crucified Christ of Good Friday is not the gate that leads to life and hope but is seen as a stumbling block, and looks like foolishness to many. Why would we worship a God who became like us, who died as one of the lambs?
That sounds like a lot to do. But we aren’t alone. The Lord is my Shepherd. He leads us besides still waters, and restores our soul. And even in the valley of shadows, in the doubt and uncertainly of our faith, God is still there. Protecting and guiding- Thy rod and staff are a comfort.
Jesus doesn’t call us to become something different; he calls us to grow into who we truly are.
Good Shepherd doesn’t round up the sheep with a whistle, or herd them with whips and prods and dogs. The Good Shepherd calls the sheep by name.
In the end, our only wisdom is to know our shepherd’s voice. Our one skill as sheep is to listen – to listen from the deep place in which we recognize who we truly are, and whose we truly are. Because the Good Shepherd is the only one who calls us by our own names, our true names, the ones that lie in the very heart of God.
When you think about it, it’s hard to understand how two of Jesus’ disciples would not recognize him. I imagine that they had spent time enough time with him when he was alive to know what he looked like.
But there they are on the road, the morning of the resurrection, and Jesus is walking along slide them. Maybe they are blinded by their grief, by their disappointment in the whole situation. Their hearts heavy with the devastating news about the death of Jesus. Perhaps they have already heard from the women who arrived earlier that morning and reported that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive and yet- still were focused on his death. They had hoped that Jesus would indeed be the one to redeemed the oppressed people of Israel. But Cleopas and his friend, could not understand how Jesus could, in fact, come alive and how the transformation of life Jesus had begun could continue. For them, it was all over, it was time to go home.
But “a funny thing happened to them on the road to Emmaus” to borrow a phrase. And their disappointment turns to wonderment. Not recognizing him in on the road, they invited him to sit and eat, a sign of gracious hospitality that is reminiscient of other messengers who brought good news of God’s work such as when Abraham welcomed the strangers into his tent was told of God promise that he and Sarah would give birth to a child. Is nothing impossible for God?” the question was asked.
And here, at the evening meal, nothing is impossible for God. The stranger takes bread, says the blessing and then breaks it to share and they suddenly began to understand. WE cannot know what wen through their mind that night, whether they recalled the glory of Jesus in his last days; remembering how he shared with them the stories of the prophets along the Emmaus road as he also shared with him the teachings of the prophets in times past.
And as suddenly as their eyes were opened- he is gone. We don’t know if Jesus vanished right before their eyes, but we DO know that they had experienced the resurrected Christ. Having witnessed the events of the life and death of the man from Nazareth and now having witnessed him alive in their very midst, they were forever changed. They were not the same as they once were, they can never simple “go back” to a time before. There is only now and there is only the future.
In these great 50 days of Easter Season, these are the days we are to spend on the road to Emmaus, talking, wondering, moving back through our lives. We are there on the road with Cleopas and his friend. We are there with the disciples at the Last Supper. We are asked to remember and tell the stories about what God has done. Our experiences on Sunday mornings and at other times in worship, for example, help us repeat again and again the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We recall the scriptures and the story of God’s Dream for creation and of the Eternal Word made Flesh in Jesus, our Christ.
And when we hear this story of Jesus being at table with his disciples, we recall that powerful moment at the Last Supper, when he gave his closest followers bread and wine, his body and blood, to provide nourishment and meaning and direction.
The road to Emmaus is a road that is both Word and Sacrament. Of Jesus, nourishing us in our journey through life by opening the scriptures to us and of Jesus, nourishing us around tables at which he gathers us.
Word and Sacrament are both critically important to us as Epsicopalians. And I know many of you who are watching or listening miss Communion. It is a vitally important part of our Church’s expression of faith as well as our own.
The two on the Road or Emmaus wonder in awe after Jesus disappeared- they said, were not our hearts burning while we were traveling and he was talking to us on the road?
And now our hearts are burning at the prospect of being able to worship again in the church with Holy Communion. I promise you that we will again gather here around this table for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. There are active discussions on how we might do this and what that might look like in the near future. We do not know when this will be but it certainly wont be until after mid-May.
But until we are able to feast on the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ we will have to settle for feasting on the Word of God. For even before there was the Bread and Wine, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” My point being my brothers and sisters is that the word of God still resonates in our minds and hearts, and enables us to experience the reality of love and grace and the one-ness we have with God and each another. It is that same word of God that comes to us in Acts through Peter’s speech that has hearts repent and turn to God. 1 Peter that reminds us that we “have been born new, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring words of God.” Everything is focused on the love that is God – that is the resurrected Jesus in our presence. “Wasn’t our hearts burning on the road?” they said to each other.
How will you walk with the resurrected Jesus throughout the rest of the week, at work and home, at school and play? Allowing that imperishable seed of love planted inside of us to grow and flourish?
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can overcome our discouragement, our sense of being lost, and see life re-born. The resurrected Jesus who walks with us and talks with us will show us that the forces of evil and destruction- that this global pandemic- will not prevail against the power of love.
When Cleopas and his companion began to realize that they had experienced the resurrected Jesus, they recognized that their hearts had been burning as he taught them on the road. They responded to their experience by going to Jerusalem to tell the others.
Can we, too, recognize the resurrected Jesus in the experiences of our lives? Will we, too, feel our hearts burning? Or will we miss the opportunity, ignoring it as minor indigestion?
When we encounter the resurrected Christ in our midst, we will respond in joy and faith and commitment, as did the two men on the road to Emmaus. We will respond by moving from where we are, renewed by the resurrected Jesus and ready to challenge what Peter in today’s epistle called “a corrupt generation”?
The disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus that Jesus could be, and was, alive again, that God’s work begun in him could go on among his followers. I pray we will become like them. That our hearts, will burn with the desire of the resurrected Jesus. That we will continue to nourish ourselves on the Sacrament of the Word so that when we gather again to break bread, Christ will be no stranger. That the love that continues to burn in us will be a light that others will use to recognize God’s loves.
The gift of Emmaus awaits. Wherever you are on that road, pray that when the Risen Lord comes to you, your eyes may be opened so you can behold him in all his glory; and then, renewed in faith, run to tell others the Good News. Amen.
Right now, we want to touch Jesus.
I know that it’s hard to believe, but it’s only been 5 Sundays since March 15th, the last time we were in this worship space and had Eucharist. You remember what that was like? Of course we do.
The elements of bread and wine are brought forward, we offer them up to God to give thanks and to hear the story of the night before he died he took bread, said the blessing and then gave it to his friends and said, “take eat this is my body given for you do this in remembrance of me. Likewise after supper he took the cup of wine, and said, Drink this all of you, this is by blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins, drink this in remembrance of me.”
Praying the prayer that Jesus taught us, we come forward with the invitation of The gifts of God for the People of God.
And we come forward to hold out our hand and touch the Body of Christ in the form of communion bread.
Prior to the 1970’s Since the 1960s and 70’s the Episcopal Church did much to teach and change its approach to worship. Some of you might remember a time when Morning prayer was the norm. But for most of our lifetimes, and certainly in my formation as a priest, the Eucharist has been a central part of our worship life together. And we have been better for it. In essence each time we gather, we touch Jesus.
But in this time of COVID, that has not been so. Much of the conversations I have been having with other priests has been about the role communion now has in our lives and how much the members of our congregations miss it and is there anything we can do about it. Even though other Protestant traditions do communion in other ways, what makes the Epsicopal Church different from other denominations is our unique understanding of the Eucharist. For now, we can’t touch Jesus.
And neither could Thomas. We heard in the Gospel of John, a story told in near real time as we witness the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday holed up in an upper room in fear. Everyone who is left is there except one. Thomas.
Thomas missed the interaction as they recounted it to him, it sounded fastastic. He could not believe that the Lord had somehow been physically in their presence, even if it was a for a short time.
Thomas makes that infamous statement- unless I am able to touch Jesus, I won’t believe.
Many people, like Thomas, struggle with the continuing presence of Jesus following his resurrection. And May people, like Thomas, are always looking for proof. As Christians, we make bold and rather unusual claims: the leader of our religion was executed, buried, and then came back to life to walk the earth only to be lifted up into heaven on a cloud.
But none of us were there. None of us were in the room with those disciples. None of us touched Jesus.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King junior is reported to have said, “take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Jesus appeared again in that small room with the disciples we're gathered to make a point of visiting Thomas. When our hearts are open, we are able to receive the presence of the risen Christ. The Lord God is with us in our darkest moments and in our happiest times.
With the restrictions in place, we are holed up in our rooms. We have the doors locked in fear. We are told not to go out in public- except for the essentials like food or medicine. Even then we wear a mask for fear that either we might be an unwitting carrier and breathe one some one or come in contact with the Coronavirus through someone else.
And we are eager to see and touch Jesus again. Perhaps not exactly like Thomas, but Thomas in many ways through both his desire to believe and his doubt, he speaks for us.
He speaks for us when, in that moment he is able to connect with Jesus, he says “My Lord, and my God!” And Jesus is speaking TO us when he Blesses us and teaches us again about having the faith to believe.
Eventually, all of the 11 do bear witness to the resurrected Christ. And they will go on to tell the
We can bear witness to the living God because of those who saw him. The disciples attested to the resurrected Jesus, first by their confusion at the tomb, and then by providing evidence to the resurrected Christ through his two visits. They were able to tell others about the wounds in his body. Even Thomas could tell the story, because Jesus ensured that his wandering friend had the proof he needed in order to fully believe.
Thomas is told, Blessed are those who believe and have yet not seen. On the one hand this may come as a indictment of Thomas’ doubt, but on the other hand, Jesus wasn’t scolding Thomas. Jesus was affirming Thomas’ will to believe. He was encouraging him ot have faith.
As resurrection people, faith is what guides us. It is more than just a five-letter word. It requires the use of our senses. Faith requires us to hear God and feel the Holy Spirit in our lives. The faith that Jesus tried to inspire in his disciples is the same faith God hopes for us now. And though WE may never ge tot touch Jesus in the way that Thomas did, to know the marks of the naisl in his hands and to feel the scar in his side, we know through faith, tht Jesus rose from the dead.
This is Peter’s great profession in his speech in the Book of Acts. Jesus died and was placed in a tomb. Yes Jesus was no ordinary man, and the tomb was not his final destination. God raised him from the Dead on the third day. He returned to the disciples for them to carry the news not of his death but of his triumphant victory over the grave to the rest of the world.
As we continue to celebrate these great 50 days of Easter, we are encouraged have the kind of faith that guides us to the live the kind of lives that Jesus envisioned and commissioned them to do in making disciples of others.
Faith is a daily, ongoing exercise. It is a risk. Doubts arise. We struggle with God. And hopefully, faith grounded in the goodness of God triumphs — even when we do not have all the answers and life doesn’t make sense. Even when we can’t come to church, or gather with our loved ones, when we can’t make Eucharist. Even when we can’t touch Jesus.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is not void of doubt, but requires a daily commitment to developing our spiritual walk despite life’s uncertainties and sometimes cruelties.
Faith doesn’t take away our doubts, but is strengthened by them. And faith doesn’t deliver us from our problems and head aches, but gives us the strength to persevere through them and lead others as well as they navigate around the abyss of nothingness.
May God bless us in our unbelief. May his resurrection power be at work in our lives as we learn to allow our doubts to strengthen our faith.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen- the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.
It is a joy filled proclamation. It is a proclamation that is rooted in mystery, a proclamation that defies logic. We who are weary with the weight of our present time, we have the audacity to shout words of praise.
“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Given that we put those words away for the season of lent, it now first and foremost on our lips. But would those be the first words we utter if faced with the reality that Mary faced?
In our Gospel, Mary is caught up in her grief. Her first words are not words of praise. She speaks to the man whom she assumes the gardener and says to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Even though Jesus continued to talk about his resurrection among his disciples, Mary is stuck in a feedback loop. She is thinking, where is Jesus? Where is he, where did he go? Did someone take him? In fact she runs to the disciples to tells them, “They have taken the lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.”
She is looking for Jesus, where SHE thinks he should be- in the tomb, and when she doesn’t find him there, she weeps. She misses the angel dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been laid. “Woman,” she is asked, “ why are you weeping?”
She replies, “they have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” This is a long way from a shout of Alleluia!
Mary is caught up in what the rev. Joslyn Ogden Schaefer describes as “crucifixion vision.”
Crucifixion vision is a way of seeing and perceiving the world that makes us thing that Sin and Death are in charge. Crucifixion vision tricks us into wanting go back into the past, where we long for a “time before.” This vision has us saying I wish we could go back to the good old days when we were younger.
The Crucifixion vision drives deeper the wedge between eh haves and have-nots. It makes us hoard toilet paper, making sure we get ours, ever mind anybody else.
Crucifixion vision assumes that the partisan divide is too great and nothing will ever change in our politics. That the democrats are to blame for our lot in life or that the republicans are to blame for our lot in life; that one is a loser unless one comes in first place regardless of effort.
Death is the end, you can’t take it with you when you die, so you’d better do all you can now to get as much happiness as you can. It has us taking selfies as if to say that it didn’t really happen unless it’s on Instagram or no one would believe you.
I think you begin to see the trend here. This kind of Crucifixion vision is centered on a fictional reality rooted in values that the world tells us we should have.
The values of the world told Mary that Jesus was dead.
His body was placed in the tomb and it should still be there, so if it wasn’t then someone must have taken it. She is paralyzed and stuck. And this doesn’t make Mary weak- rather it makes her human, she speaks the same words we say nearly 2000 years later: Where is the body? where is Jesus?
Can we ever return to a time that was before the COVID Pandemic? Realistically no, no more so than we could return to a time before 9./11 or Pearl Harbor/ or the Overthrow of the Kingdom. Our reality is different. And we still greive the loss of what was.
Like Mary, we are at risk of getting caught in a trap. Like a black hole that warps the fabric of space and time such that nothing can escape it, we look at the bands of cloth in the tomb and we cannot see the angels in front of us. We see only the loss, only what is missing. We cannot see Christ in our midst.
That is until… Mary…. Mary…..
And that’s when it happens: Jesus calls her by name! “Mary!” And when she hears it, she is overcome! She cries out, “Rabbouni! Teacher!”
The Easter moment is one of profound change. She no longer sees that Jesus is “missing’ he is right there. That what he promised at the Last Supper has come to pass!
Mary brings us face to face with the depths of our humanity. Her witness is a mosaic of the human experience—grief and joy; uncertainty and affirmation; depression and determination. This is the true witness of Easter!
Even in the depths of our despair and grief, when things just seem to keep piling up with no end in sight, and even when we just don’t know if we believe it anymore, the God made known to us in Jesus Christ has a way of showing up where we least expect him!
But if we’re not careful, we’ll close the book. And end the story right there. Done deal. Mary recognizes the Resurrected Lord and everyone lives happily ever after. All tied up with the pretty bow like a Hallmark movie.
It is then also distant and historical. It is something that happened way back then to a woman named Mary. It doesn’t happen to us, the resurrection is not happening now.
But it is. We don’t’ say Alleluia Christ WAS risen, we say Christ IS risen.
And Mary? Her role is not done yet. We soon realize that Jesus has a job for her, a mission in fact. He says to her
“…Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” The moment that Mary leaves the garden, the Good News of Easter gets loose and begins to transform the world!
Mary bears witness to the fact that, even in the face of death itself, God will have the last word!
Because of her witness to the resurrection Christ, Mary is known as the Apostle to the Apostles. And she continues to teach us that grief and joy, uncertainty and affirmation, are all inescapable parts of our humanity. She teaches us that our vision can change; that our lives of faith aren’t about success or opportunities for advancement; rather, they are holy mysteries that will surprise, unsettle, and transform us. But most important of all, she teaches us that in the resurrection of our Lord Christ, we know that love, hope, and peace will ultimately prevail!
And so, in this Eastertide, may we proclaim that Christ is risen.
The vision that holds us back from seeing the glory of God revealed in the resurrected Christ must be left behind the bands of cloth that like in the darkness of the tomb.
We are people of light. We worship Christ who is the Light of the World . Alleluia! May we proclaim that the risen Christ is not simply in our homes or wherever it is we are, but here, present in the world around us. May we proclaim it, not simply with our lips, but also with our hands and hearts. And as we live into the joy and promise of Easter, may we go forth into the world, looking for the Resurrected Christ in places we may not expect.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen, The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.