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. 

April 8, 2018

Easter is Change

Easter Day has come and gone. In the eyes of the world, Easter is over. There’s a meme making the rounds on Facebook noting that Easter lasts 50 days-until Pentecost. However, mostly life has moved on. Even in our churches, the Easter lilies are drooping. Clergy and everyone involved in all the services of Holy Week and Easter are tired, and secretly glad that Easter 2 is a ‘low Sunday’.

What has happened to the Alleluias? Where are the burning bushes we noticed throughout Lent?

The streets have returned to their regular rhythm. The homes and people have returned to the daily tasks and struggles. The news abounds with shootings and disasters and conflict.

Where is the change that should have happened?

As the hymn Christ is Alive (#182, Hymnal 1982) says, ‘Christ is alive, let Christians sing. His cross stands empty to the sky. Let streets and homes with praises ring. His Love in death shall never die.”

Brian A. Wren is author of the text. He wrote the words in April 1968. Wren notes, “It was written for Easter Sunday, two weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I could not let Easter go by without speaking of this tragic event which was on all our minds. . . . The hymn tries to see God's love winning over tragedy and suffering in the world. . . . There is tension and tragedy in these words, not just Easter rejoicing.’ 

The hymn goes on “Christ is alive! No longer bound to distant years in Palestine, he comes to claim the here and now and conquer every place and time.”

Since it is true that in Christ’s Resurrection, God has reclaimed the ‘here and now’, we should still be running around shouting ‘Alleluias’ to everyone we meet. It’s way too easy, though, to get dragged down by the appearances and challenges of the world we live in. But Christ is here, “Not throned above, remotely high, untouched, unmoved by human pains, but daily in the midst of life, our Savior with the Father reigns.”

As Wren’s hymn reminds us, Christ in right in the middle of everything that happens! That should be cause for an Alleluia or two. Even “in every insult, rift, and war where color, scorn or wealth divide, he suffers still, yet loves the more, and lives, though ever crucified.”

We, as witnesses to the Risen One, are called to stand up against those things that divide, to speak up for those who have no voice, and to proclaim the victory.

With Wren we can announce, “Christ is alive! His Spirit burns through this and every future age, till all creation lives and learns his joy, his justice, love and praise.”

We have seen the empty tomb and are called to ‘go and make disciples of all’. Even more than in Epiphany, we need to ‘go tell it’.
Over the next few weeks, until Pentecost, we’ll consider some of the ways Easter might change us by looking at how the experience changed the early followers.