April 22, 2018

Change of Focus

Last week we considered how Mary hearing Jesus call her name changed her from grief stricken into an amazed and delighted emissary who proclaims the first Gospel to the disciples. Sometimes it takes a change of heart to recognize Jesus. Sometimes, it is the focus that needs to be adjusted.

We probably have all heard the story of Thomas, one of the disciples, saddled forever with the title of ‘Doubting’. It happens that Thomas isn’t present when Jesus makes his first Risen appearance to the disciples. His response to the disciples’ announcement of seeing the Risen Lord is somewhat scornful. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) His retort is honest and filled with frustration at missing the opportunity to see the Master. You can hear his hurt. Jesus didn’t wait for him to return before showing up and he was left out.

In truth, he was perhaps more brave and honest than the rest of the group. He was not cringing with them “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders”. (John 20:19) Despite Mary’s announcement, the disciples still lacked the faith and courage to even go out of their rooms. Thomas, however, was out on the street, perhaps risking his life while getting food or on some other errand for the disciples.

Jesus doesn’t forget Thomas. “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28)

Thomas didn’t really need to physically touch Jesus. He did need to know that he was just as valued as the other disciples. Jesus responds to his unspoken pain and confusion by offering to let him touch the wounds. Jesus then encourages Thomas, and those of us throughout the ages, when he says, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

With Thomas and all the other saints, named and unnamed through the ages, we can claim the Resurrection Power that Chris Tomlin sings about. We are “Living in the light of Your goodness [for] You have given us freedom.” 

More than that, “I'm dressed in Your royalty/Your Holy Spirit lives in me/And I see my past has been redeemed/The new has come.”
Is there some part of you that needs to know that Resurrection Power? Are you begging Jesus to let you see his hands and his side, so you can believe? Know that Jesus WILL give you that glimpse if you are open to it.

Next time, we’ll walk the Road to Emmaus where Jesus helps a pair of travelers change their outlook on events. 

April 15, 2018

Change of Heart

The Easter season is 50 days--from Easter until Pentecost. As noted last week, the world returns to the normal daily round of work and play, triumph and tragedy. As Christians we still blithely mouth our “Alleluias”, at least on Sunday. What if we were really living like we believed something changed at the empty tomb?

Something did change for Mary of Magdala even before that first Easter morning when she went, with other women, to the grave to do the final anointing of her beloved teacher and friend. Jesus had healed her of 7 demons. (Luke 8:2) We don’t know what they were. Perhaps physical or even psychological issues. That doesn’t really matter. Her life was changed enough that she left Magdala, where she was most likely a prosperous merchant, (certainly not a prostitute) to follow Jesus and minister to him with the other women.

On that first Easter, the other women found that the grave was empty and fled. Mary, remained behind to grieve. Probably an even deeper grief than before because she thinks that someone has desecrated the grave. She cannot even do the last loving thing possible. Her heart is broken. 

When she sees a figure, she assumes he is the gardener and says, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him”. It is then that Jesus calls her by name and she recognizes him. (John 20:15)

Jesus speaks her name and she is changed. She understands that something new has come. Her heart is awakened. She “went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.”

This image has been making the rounds on FB since Easter. “Between the time Mary Magdalene met the Risen Christ…and when she announced his Resurrection to the disciples, [she] was the church on earth, for only to her had been revealed the Paschal mystery.” The church is only active and viable when we tell the story of the Resurrection. It is when our Alleluias resound in the broken world and our faith is seen in our lives that the Gospel is proclaimed. Mary, known as the Apostle or Evangelist to the Disciples was indeed the church in the world by herself, until she shared the Good News.

It was Jesus’ lovingly calling her by name (John 20:16) that made her recognize him. Did your parents have a pet name for you? Or was there a special tone when they said your name lovingly or proudly? Can you remember a deeper tenderness in their voice that told you that you were loved?

Imagine Jesus saying your name in that way. Revelation says we will have a new name, perhaps Jesus is calling you by a new name today. Calling you to reimagine yourself as God sees you. Listen for that voice. Hear that tender tone say your name.

Next week, we’ll meet someone else whom Jesus meets right where he is-in the midst of anger and hurt.