May 25, 2014

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day to you all.


Please keep all military, past and present in your prayers.

These men and women through the centuries have given of themselves to create and preserve the freedoms we, too often, take for granted.

Did you have an ancestor in the Civil War? in the Revolutionary War? the War of 1812? the Korean or Vietnam conflicts? One or both World Wars? Think about the human link you have to that person. Like you they had a family that they left behind when they went to fight for their country. They were fighting to create a new nation or preserve that nation or to ensure the freedoms of this nation. The rows of white markers in cemeteries around the country and across the world testify to their sacrifice for you and me.


Do you know someone who is now serving or recently served in the military? Send them a card or give them a call to say 'thank you' for your sacrifice.

May 18, 2014

New Creation

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
Matthew’s Gospel account of the Resurrection is the most dramatic of the 4 Gospels. It is reminiscent of Creation itself. The first day of the week is dawning. I am reminded of the song “Morning Has Broken”, sung by Cat Stevens way back in the 60’s and 70’s.

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word
Sweet the rains new fall, sunlit from Heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word

Into this rather idyllic setting comes change-creation is happening and it is not subtle. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.”(Matthew 28:2-4) Unlike the previous Gospel accounts, the women actually witness the stone being rolled away. In Hubert van Eyck’s painting of the Three Marys at the Grave (I know it’s one too many Marys), the women appear pretty composed considering what they have just seen. The guards on the other hand, are either sleeping or have been knocked unconscious.
The scene conjures up Haggai 2:5-7 so richly sung in Handel’s Messiah, which you can hear in the video below.   A new creation is formed but only through the shaking and reorganizing of the old. The guards of the old way have been stunned and immobilized, the women are empowered and sent out as ambassadors of the new creation!

Perhaps the Marys were not as calm as pictured, because the angel first assures them, “Do not be afraid.” It is the standard greeting of angelic visitors. After all, we aren’t accustomed to meeting angels who overturn gravestones and announce resurrection. Maybe we should be more aware of them around us announcing new creation!
Then the angel continues, “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” (Matthew 28:5-7) Even though this is an angel, he has been given a specific message to deliver and has done so.
In each of the Gospel accounts, I am amazed at the courage of the women. In Matthew’s account, they accept the words of the angel and “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” They willingly believe the angel’s pronouncement of a new creation. The angel has announced a new world order. Something never before known has happened: “He has been raised from the dead.” And they run to tell others.
Their obedience is rewarded when “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.” (Matthew 28:8-9) If the women had any hesitation in returning to the men or any doubts, they now have proof that the angel’s message was true. They have seen the Risen Lord. As they leave, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
In this Gospel we do not get to hear what the response of the disciples was. From our previous readings, we know that they were doubtful. Matthew tells us that the 11 disciples do go to Galilee where they meet Jesus. He gives them the Great Commission saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
A new creation has come that will go out from Israel to all nations. As Haggai promises, “’I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:7) All peoples will come and be partners in the new creation.
How are we to be part and partners in that new creation? Are there angels nearby announcing amazing tidings, of new creation, to us that we should be sharing? What new creation are we called to participate in? Is your life part of the new creation?

May 11, 2014

Look and See

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
[And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]
[[Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.]]

Today we again meet the women who came to the tomb. This time, in Mark’s Gospel account, it is only 3. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are listed. Salome is traditionally believed to be the mother of “Zebedee’s children” (James & John), not the step-daughter of Herod whose dancing led to the death of John the Baptist. Some sources consider her to be Jesus’ aunt and Mary’s sister-in-law.

In Mark’s account of the Resurrection, the sun had risen, so those coming to the grave were able to see more clearly. In John’s account it was still dark and in Luke it was barely dawn. Here though, according to Mark, the sun had risen. The women can look and see things clearly. Their encounter can call us to look more closely at our response to the Risen Lord.

As they go to the garden, the women ask one another the burning question, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ It’s a valid concern, but one that doesn’t stop them from going to the garden to offer service to their Lord. The stone covering the opening would have been large and very heavy and would have fit in a groove in front of the cave. It would not have been easy to move.

As they round the corner, the trio looks up and sees that the stone “which was very large, had already been rolled back.” They must have looked at each other in surprise, wondering who else had come to the tomb before them. They know that the men who had followed Jesus are not likely to be coming to the tomb. They are too busy staying out of sight of the authorities.

There is no time for discussion. Instead they [bravely] enter the tomb where they look and see “a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side.” Mark says “they were alarmed.” It is certainly very odd that there is a complete stranger sitting in a tomb in the garden. This was the grave where they expected to find the body of Jesus. No wonder they were alarmed or afraid when they meet this unexpected personage. Probably they stare at him in amazement, awe, and fear.

The body of Jesus is not in the grave, instead the stranger speaks to them. What he says is even more confusing. ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.’ (Mark 16:6) I’m not sure that these would have been reassuring words if I had been with the women. In fact they are a bit confusing. The three women probably looked at each other in amazement and not a little fear. Perhaps one of them said, ‘what does raised mean?’

As shown in this 1590 image Holy Women at Christ´s Tomb by Anibal Carracci, the figure in white seeks to explain by saying, ‘Look, there is the place they laid him.’ In the early morning light they can clearly see that Jesus’ body is no longer there. I wonder if they thought that this stranger had taken the body elsewhere or if they were just too stunned by events to even do more than just stare. They were looking at the empty tomb, but they were not seeing the deeper meaning.

The stranger, though, has instructions for them, “Go, 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) With these words, the angel helps them understand that the Risen Lord has not disappeared or been stolen, but will meet them and be seen by them.

In verse 8 we are told, “They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Verse 9 redeems their actions by saying that “All that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter.” According to Mark the women were too afraid and amazed at first to tell anyone anything, but then they do go to Peter and the others. Unlike in John and Luke, Peter does not go to the tomb himself.

The alternate ending for Mark in verse 9 adds something like a postscript that reminds us of John’s account. “Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.” (Mark 16:9-11)

In Mark’s Gospel it is the women alone who look and see the empty tomb. It is the women alone who then go and tell. What is the difference between looking and seeing in our faith lives?

You can look at a picture or at scenery even while thinking of something else. You can look at a person and not really see them. We can look at the Bible and even read it, without seeing the meaning. We can attend church and enjoy the music and sights and sounds of worship without becoming engaged. We can gather with friends for fun and look at what is happening, even while being distracted by our phone or what someone else is saying across the room.

It is only when we really stop and see the scenery that we notice and observe details that escaped our cursory looking. When we pause and really see a person, whether they are friend or stranger we can understand their joys and needs more fully. When we internalize the message from the Word of God in the Bible and in worship we will meet the Lord. And it is in full, conscious communion with friends that we really see and love them.

In Isaiah 6:9-13, the people are warned that they are becoming oblivious to God because they (and we) “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand. Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”  
Jesus himself references this citation in Matthew 13:10-15 and again in Mark 4:11-12, Luke 8:10 and John 12:39-41. Clearly it is important to really see and be aware of the works of God in us and in all around us. What or who do you look at but not see?

With the JJ Weeks Band and the Colton Dixon lyrics we can sing and pray “Let them see You in me
Let them hear You when I speak, Let them feel You when I sing, Let them see You, let them see You in me.”

May 4, 2014

Myrrh Bearers-New Righteousness

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. 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. (Luke 23:55-24:12)

Today we meet women who are called ‘Faithful’ and have been named ‘Myrrh bearers’ because they “followed [to the tomb], and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments” (Luke 55-56) Then “on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” We learn that “it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them.” (Luke 24:10)

These women were ‘fulfilling all righteousness’ by doing the best they could for their Crucified Lord. It was the woman’s place to anoint dead bodies and prepare them for burial. Because of the time of the death and the approaching Sabbath, they were not able to do this for Jesus immediately after his death. Remember, Joseph of Arimathea requested the body, “wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid.” (Luke 23:53) According to Matthew this was actually his personal tomb.

The women saw where Jesus was laid and then “the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:56) Clearly these are women who are responsible and who obey the Law of Moses. They remain home and do not work on the Sabbath. However, as soon as they can they take their spices to the tomb to complete the work of anointing Jesus’ body. It is early dawn-the end of the Sabbath and beginning of the week.

When they arrive at the tomb, “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.” (Luke 24:2-3) Imagine their dismay. The Gospel account says “they were perplexed about this!” I should think they were more than perplexed!

The surprises were just beginning, though. This image is entitled Morning of the Resurrection (Herbert Gustve Smaltz). It shows the moment when the women's perception of the world order-of what is righteousness and what is normal was overturned. “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.’” (Luke 24:4-5) The message of the angels is almost too astonishing to comprehend. The old norms of life and death, of ‘follow the rules and be righteous before God’, of what is possible are quite literally overturned. The angels’ question calls into doubt all their perceptions. How could the man they saw buried, be alive, and what does it mean to be ‘risen’?

The angels’ do not leave them wondering for long. They say, “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.” (Luke 24:6-7) At these words, the women begin to have a hint of the new order that has come into the world. The old ways of righteousness are no longer needed. There is a new world order. They return “from the tomb, [and] told all this to the eleven and to all the rest…But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24: 9, 11) In Luke’s Gospel it is only “Peter [who] 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.” (Luke 24:12)

Don't be too hard on the other disciples. It is hard to let go of our perceptions of how things should be. We hear people say, “This or that should be done in the way it’s been done for as long as I can remember.” There are certain rules to be followed in society and in our jobs and in relationships-aren’t there? We are happy to ‘fulfill all righteousness’ as we see it, but woe to the person who tries to change the rules.

What exactly does it mean to ‘fulfill all righteousness’? The saying comes straight out of the Bible. Jesus tells John the Baptist that he must be baptized to, as the New Living Translation says, “carry out all that God requires.” To be righteous is to be in right-relationship with God. And to do that we often think we have to follow a series of rules. Like the women, who rested on the Sabbath before going to do their duty, we allow expectations (our own and society’s) to dictate what we should do and how we should interact with God and God’s people.

“He is not here, He is risen!” The angels’ proclamation should turn our reality upside down, just as much as it did for those faithful women. Let’s not be like Peter who just went and looked into the empty tomb and went away amazed. Let’s allow the Easter message to sink in and change us from the inside out. Paul tells the Corinthians, and us, “Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Corinthians 5:7-9). There is a new world order. There is a new way of righteousness-right relationship with God. May we live fully into the new life!