Saturday, June 21, 2014

Unfinished Easter

Luke 24:1-12   (NRSV)
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

While Nancy and I were in New Orleans, one day we decided to go visit some of the famous Cemeteries of the city.

Because the city is built on a swamp, the deceased have to be buried above ground there in elaborate stone crypts and mausoleums.

Over time the cemeteries, with elaborate sculptures and other decorative artwork embellishing the tombs, have come to come to resemble small villages.

They are known by the nickname of “Cities of the Dead.”

Just north of the French Quarter is the most famous cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery #1

It is the burial place of Marie Laveau, the legendary “voodoo queen.”
Believers and non-believers alike make pilgrimages to her tomb to make offerings to her spirit in return for what they hope will be blessings. The many “X’s” scrawled on the tomb attest to the power she is believed to wield, even long after her death

But by far, the most interesting was a trolley ride away at the Metairie Cemetery.

It is built on a former horse racing track, and is the site of some of the most elaborate monuments and tombs to be found in New Orleans.

I could show you pictures for hours --- but the most interesting is that of the weeping angel.

It is a copy of a sculpture that originally was made as a grave stone for the artist, William Story and his wife, in Rome.

It is --- to put it mildly --- beautiful!

This week has been filled with weeping . . .

It started last Saturday first with the random violent murders in Kansas City by a person apparently intent on killing Jews (instead he killed three Christians)

Then Saturday evening the fires began in Valparaiso Chile.
The fires have consumed over 3000 homes and are expected to continue to rage for another week or so.

Then there were the two children hit and killed --- one in Gary and another in Whiting.

Wednesday a ferry sinks off the coast of South Korea with almost 300 people still missing --- most of them students.

That was followed by a random shooter in Kansas City --- who seemed to be just taking pot shots at cars.

Friday we gathered around the cross to remember Jesus crucifixion

It seems as if evil is winning --- doesn't it?

Every time you open the newspaper or turn on the TV is seems that there is more and more evil in the world.

But today we gather to say to the world that while evil seems strong --- seems stronger than good sometimes --- today we gather to say that love always overcomes evil!

That love is stronger --- stronger even than death!

But NOT without Easter
Without Easter --- we wouldn’t be here this morning ---- and I don't think we would be proclaiming that love is stronger that death!

If Jesus’ story had ended with his murder by crucifixion, his body left to be eaten by the birds and dogs --- my hunch is Jesus would have been forgotten, remembered only by a small few who viewed him as a failure.

Jesus would have been just another Jew crucified by the Roman Empire,
an empire that executed thousands upon thousands on a cross.

Maybe the Roman—Jewish historian Josephus would have left us a word or two about this itinerant preacher who was executed, but I kind of doubt it
in all likelihood you and I would never have heard of him.

Or can you imagine if the Disciples had just gone home?

What if they figured that the guy that they had been following, well, they decided that he wasn’t all that they had expected him to be?
          Where would we be today?

I have thought about that a great deal this week . . .

One of the things that has always amazed me --- maybe even frustrated me --- is that It seems pretty clear from the gospel stories that the disciples never really understood what Jesus was all about.

They are constantly confused about what Jesus mission was

In Mark’s Gospel (the earliest Gospel) we find that after Jesus was dead that: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome come to the tomb with various spices so that they could embalm Jesus.
In other words --- they didn't come looking for the resurrected Jesus
                   They came looking for a dead Jesus

And in Matthew, Luke and John ---- when the encounter the resurrected Jesus:
·         In Matthew they think it is an Angel
·         In Luke they think it is two men
·         And in John --- Mary thinks it is the gardener

They were not expecting to find Jesus resurrected!

And where were the disciples?
          All the disciples are nowhere to be found.

Matthew, Luke and John all tell us that the Disciples were in hiding, because they were afraid that what happened to Jesus was going to happen to them

John goes so far as to tell us that on resurrection day, after Mary has already come and told them that she had encountered the risen Christ, that they were still hiding.
(John 20:19 The Message)  Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house.

What is amazing to me is that this frightened group of people somehow once they encountered the resurrected Jesus --- were totally transformed by the experience.

No longer were they afraid, ---- now they were willing to go out and proclaim Jesus and his Way --- even when it ultimately may have lead to their own martyrdoms.

Without a doubt, one of the reasons Jesus was resurrected was to transform this ragtag group of peasants into the strongest force the world has ever encountered.

  • Not an army that would change the world through weapons,
  • but an army that would change the world through the sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated throughout his life and through his death!
  • We will be protected from evil
  • Cancer or other illness will not rage in our bodies
  • Our marriages will be secure
  • We will get into heaven
  • No entrance of Jesus into a locked room
  • No road to Emmaus
  • No story on the sea of Galilee

He did it for the first followers of Jesus, . . . and he offers to do it for us.
The good news is that we don’t have to earn or deserve this gift of new life.
If there is any lesson we are to learn today it is that the resurrection wasn't something that took place once upon a time in Jerusalem.

But is that why Jesus was resurrected? 
To straighten out the misfits who had failed to understand him?

Again, I am just not sure. . .

Or one other possibility ----maybe, just maybe, Jesus was resurrected for us
--- for all of humanity that followed.

Maybe Jesus was resurrected so that we could understand that Jesus is not simply some historical figure from the ancient past, but that Jesus is an ever present reality --- seeking to be present in our lives --- in a very real way.

Unfortunately, I think that we sometimes just like the disciples ---- we too are confused about the meaning of Jesus' resurrection.

We think that because Jesus was resurrected that our circumstances will change.

IF WE BELIEVE in the resurrection then no harm will come to us

If only we believe . . .

But that is not the way that it works

The resurrection doesn’t change our circumstances
--- what the resurrection changes is our perspective

Resurrection gives us hope!

There is an apocryphal story about a town that was suffering through a sever drought.

It was a farm town and their crops (and thus livelihood) was being destroyed

The local pastor called all the townspeople together for a prayer meeting so that together they might ask God to bring rain.
He asked all those who believed that God had the power to send rain to gather with him at 4 pm on the designated day.

When the hour came ---- the church was filled and overflowing with the faithful.

The Pastor got up to start the meeting ---- but looking around he instead said:
"Go, home there is no faith here!"

As you can imagine, the people were all perplexed at the pastor's sudden attitude and began to clamor, wanting to know why?  Why was he sending them all home --- Why didn't he believe they had any faith?
Again he told them to go home ---- but this time he added:
"Where is your faith?  I don't see a single umbrella here!"

Luke tells us that coming to the tomb, with no faith and no expectations, the woman --- Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, were met by two men.

Do you remember what the men asked the woman?
 “Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

And they reminded them of the prophecies that Jesus had told them, but when they went and told the disciples who were hiding --- they were not believed.

Only when Jesus appeared to them personally did the disciples begin to believe.

Jesus death and resurrection reminds us that

          The light of Jesus is stronger than the darkness . . .

          That Love is stronger than death!

Jesus was resurrected to remind us that sometimes things that appear to be dead ends really aren’t.
When we turn the light on them, sometimes, they lead us around through another way

Most of us probably wouldn’t pick the resurrection story that is found in the Gospel of Mark if we had to choose just one.

It ends so abruptly.

They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.

He said, "Don't be afraid. I know you're looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He's been raised up; he's here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You'll see him there, exactly as he said."

They got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.

That’s it!

Mark just ends and leaves us hanging. 
          Almost bewildered.

It is as if Mark is leaving the ending up to us ---- along with the Jesus, followers to figure out.

They disciples quickly discover that Easter was not about them — instead, it’s about God.

It’s about God filling the empty places in our lives with new and unexpected life.

What we have to do is be willing to journey with Jesus into the future he’s preparing for us.

Mary and her companions felt a disorienting mixture of amazement and fear on Easter morning, but they responded when the young man gave the command,
“[G]o, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7).

If we are willing to follow Jesus into the future some amazing things can happen.

The resurrection is an event that happens whenever we say "no" to the darkness --- and "yes" to God's love.

If you haven't heard the press conference that Mindy Corporon gave last weekend --- you need to find it and listen to her.

Mindy Corporon is the mother of Reat and daughter of Dr William Corporon, two of the victims killed in that horrible shooting at the Jewish Community Center.

She spoke to the press from her the Church of the Resurrection, where she was a member.  She reminds us about what Easter is all about.

“I know that God did not do this. I know that there are evil, evil actions. But what we do have is each other, we have love and we have prayer, and we have friends and family.”

Easter reminds us that love is stronger that death and that it is never finished!

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