April 27, 2014

From Dark to Light

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,* ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20: 1-18)

Over the next four weeks, we’ll be looking at the 4 Gospel accounts of the Resurrection and the women involved in them. It is interesting that the focus of each of them is a different aspect of transformation. Darkness to Light, Old to New, Seeing in a New Way, Experiencing a New Creation. I had not really noticed that myself until recently. On the surface the 4 Gospels tell the same story, with just some differences in details. The bottom line truth is that the faithful women (not the men who are too busy hiding away) discover that the Rabbi they saw die on Friday is ALIVE on Sunday!

We start with the account from John 20: 1-18. John says Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb “while it was still dark.” Think for a moment. It was physically dark because it was not yet dawn. She was in the dark mentally because she was in the midst of grieving her beloved teacher. Mary was in the spiritual darkness of not yet knowing that there was such a thing as Resurrection. Likely, she was also in the dark because she wasn’t sure how she would be able to get to the body to anoint Jesus.

The first thing she sees in the dimness of the pre-dawn is that the stone is not in place. Her first reaction is probably shock. “Surely,” she thinks, “the Roman leaders have taken the body somewhere so that we cannot even grieve properly. Who knows what further horrible thing they have done to him?”

She doesn’t linger. Instead she bolts back to “to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’

Peter and John run to the grave. Brave Mary follows. We hear in the Gospel that although John arrives at the grave first, he doesn’t go inside the tomb. He just looks in and sees the linen wrappings lying there. Peter, on the other hand does go into the tomb-an act of courage for a Jewish man who will be defiled by contact with the dead. He sees not only the linen shroud but also the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

Perhaps they converse in hushed tones, “If the Romans moved the body the grave cloths wouldn’t be folded neatly. They would be dumped on the floor. If Joseph or Nicodemus took the body they would have left the shroud on. This is very strange.” Having looked the two men depart for ‘as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.’ There is no [recorded] conversation recorded with Mary. The men simply come and look in the grave and leave, probably shaking their heads in complete confusion. They remain in the dark, despite the growing light of the dawn.

Mary lingers in the darkness, still too grief-stricken to leave the place where she saw her Lord laid to rest. In the vain hope that something was overlooked, she bends to look into the dark tomb. What she sees is astonishing. There are 2 figures ‘in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.’ They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’

It is perhaps no surprise that Mary responds to the angels without fear. The morning, though barely begun, has been stressful and agonizing already. To her it seems the cause of her tears would be obvious-an empty grave and a loved one gone. Perhaps it is with exasperation that she responds, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ and turns away. Mary is still so wrapped in the darkness of her grief and despair that she doesn’t really even pause to see if there could be a glimmer of light from these strange visitors.

Paradoxically when she turns from the darkness of the grave, she is met by Jesus. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t recognize him. How could she possibly expect to meet the man she saw crucified and buried standing in front of her? This person must be the gardener. ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Clearly Mary is willing to take the body of her dear Master at whatever cost to herself. She doesn’t stop to wonder how she will carry the body or where she will take it. Her love is desperate to reclaim Jesus’ body. In this image by Fra Bartolomeo from the 1500's you can see the angels int the background and the jar of anointing oil at his feet.

And Love responds to her love. Jesus speaks her name and the light dawns. Mary is no longer in darkness. She is ecstatic. What is wrong in her world has been transformed into something unimaginable and yet so wonderfully right that she cries out “Rabbouni”. In that word she acknowledges that He is a teacher, but more than that, he is great and beloved. He tells her to go to the men and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” In that simple sentence Jesus brings Mary and the disciples into unity with God the Father. Immediately she goes and ‘announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.’

Jesus speaks our name when we are lost in the darkness of our own doubts and fears and confusions. Jesus meets us when we are trapped in the graves of our own making when we let the wounds of the past trap us. Mary turned her back on the tomb and met the Risen Lord. When we turn our backs on the tombs of our past, we too will meet the Risen Lord.

When we hear Him speak our name we will find that the darkness vanishes and we see everything in a new light. John’s account of the Resurrection gives us hope when we are lost in the darkness of life’s trials and tribulations. Not even in the deepest darkest tomb could hold Jesus. We are drawn out of our tombs by the love that speaks our name.

Do you hear Jesus saying your name? Do you respond with love that cries ‘Rabbouni’?

April 20, 2014

He is Going Ahead

Happy Easter


During the Easter season, we'll look at the 4 Gospel accounts of the resurrection through the eyes of the women who came to the tomb.

April 13, 2014

Psalm 34: Palm Sunday

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
   but the Lord rescues them from them all.
 He keeps all their bones;
   not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
   and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
   none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34: 19-22)

On this Palm Sunday and Holy Week it is fitting to conclude our study of Psalm 34 with a look at the last 4 verses. We can read these words in light of Good Friday and the Cross. David says that ‘the Lord rescues [the righteous from their afflictions]’. He says ‘[God] keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken’. This reminds me of Psalm 22:17: “I can count all my bones…” Jesus quotes verse 1 on the Cross-“ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The psalm in its entirety is often read as a reference to (and description of) the Crucifixion. Read it through and see how it parallels the Gospel accounts.
David ends Psalm 34 with exultation: “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” As we tread the Way of the Cross this Holy Week, we know the ‘rest of the story’. We know that Easter waits just around the bend and that indeed ‘the Lord redeems the life of his Servant.’

We enter Holy Week on Palm Sunday with songs of praise and cries of “Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord!” With our Lord we will journey through the despair of betrayal and abandonment. We will walk with Him to judgment and then to the Cross. On Easter we will again rejoice with Alleluias.
I suggest you take some time for lexio divino this week (the form of meditative reflection the takes you into the story). Read the crucifixion narrative in one of the Gospels. Then take time to ‘be’ one of the people in that story. Feel the way they felt, hear what they heard, react as they did

Will you stand in the crowd crying ‘crucify him’? Can you sit in Pilate’s chair and ponder the ways you might bend to peer pressure and judge others? Are you able to stand with Mary at the foot of the Cross and bear the pain of her loss? Do you find yourself running away with the disciples and hiding for fear when things turn difficult? What is your response to the angel’s message, ‘He is risen’?
May you walk this Holy Week with intention and be blessed along the way to Easter.

April 6, 2014

Psalm 34-Supplication

Last time we saw that Psalm 34 can give us some lessons for living a Holy Life and how, as Toby Mac says to ‘Speak Life’. Verses 15-18 are a reminder that God is close and will rescue us from any and all dangers when we ask.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
   and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
   to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
   and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
   and saves the crushed in spirit.

Back at the beginning of Lent I noted that this Psalm follows, to a certain extent, the ACTS model of prayer. This is one of the many ways to help keep track of ‘covering all the bases’ in our prayers. Starting with Adoration, then Confession, we move on to giving Thanks and finally offering prayers of Supplication for my needs and those of others.
Psalm 34 started out with David’s adoration of God (despite being on the run from 2 kings) and then moved to confession of his need for God and acknowledgement of God’s presence in his life. David then gives Thanks for the action of God in his life. In these verses he notes that the Lord hears the cry of the righteous. God hears our supplications and ‘rescues [us] from all [our] troubles.’

I invite you to look back over your Lent journey and perhaps you can summarize it in an ACTS format. What Adoration can you proclaim from this Lent? Did you find things to Confess that you had hidden? Give Thanks for the spiritual growth during these 40 days and then bring your Supplications to God. Or if you prefer, write a psalm about your journey this Lent. You don’t have to share it, but you could if you wanted to. Here is my prayer for each of you, my readers.

I Adore you O Christ and I Bless you for your presence with me each day, showing me your Love never ends. Dear Lord, I know that I fall short each day in many ways and I allow irritations and petty hurts to turn me from you. Forgive my sins.Thank you Lord for never turning your back on me and for casting each sin far away and letting me start anew.To you, dear and Loving Lord, I lift the needs of my friends and those who read this blog. Comfort and guide them as may be best for them. All this I pray in and through the Name of Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.