I’ve been thinking about the symbolism of clerical robes, such as this one I’m wearing this morning. The founders of Protestantism replaced showy liturgical vestments with this rather boring scholar’s robe because they wanted the focus to be on the teaching of the Word – not on what they saw as vanity and spectacle. They wanted their congregants to focus on the internals, not the externals, of our faith.
This emphasis on what is being preached vs who is doing the preaching (or what they looked like) is rooted in the early Church’s determination to not make an idol of the person of Christ. This is why we do not know what Jesus the human being looked like. Every image we have of him was created long after all who actually knew him were gone.
John makes this same point. He tells us Jesus said to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Everyone in that room believed because they saw Jesus alive again, in person. But Jesus is warning them that his physical presence is actually an impediment to their ministry.
He said those who came after them would believe without seeing, and would be blessed. Jesus’ words, and the gift of the Holy Spirit that we receive through Him, are what matters – not his physical form.
This morning I’m also reflecting on John’s beautiful summation of Jesus’ entire ministry: “Peace be with you all.” …I also see it as the shortest complete sermon in the Christian Scriptures, so perhaps I should just stop right here.
As Mary stood weeping in the dawning light, she looked into that dark and empty tomb one last time. And there she found new hope for herself – and for us – that no matter how hopeless the world may seem, that tomb is God’s promise that in each ending there is a new beginning, and new life.
Please join me in prayer.
O God on this Easter morning we are grieving our darkness and our losses before the Tomb of Jesus, as Mary did long ago. Like her, all we see before us is emptiness. We have run out of places where hope can be found for ourselves and for those whom we love. We feel vulnerable and afraid in the darkness.
As Mary stood weeping in the dawning light, she looked into that dark and empty tomb one last time. And there she found new hope for herself – and for us – that no matter how hopeless the world may seem, that tomb is God’s promise that in each ending there is a new beginning, and new life. A promise that God will never forget us. A promise that God’s hope is, and always will be, living within us, and will never die.
O God, you are with us in the midst of every one of the fears and tribulations we face in the present: job loss, illness, isolation, hunger, abuse, uncertainty, and the loss of loved ones. You are The Answer. Help us O God to live as you desire us to live, with hope, and proclaiming this knowledge, this certainty that you are here: working in and through us, and that not even death can stop your Word, or prevent us from finding new life, joy and peace through your Grace.
Lord, we lift up the many challenges that we, those close to us, and all of our fellow human beings face right now: pandemic and disease, recession, wars of many types and in many places; bigotry; injustice; natural and manmade disasters; poverty; the corruptive effects of concentrated wealth and power; and our own failure to care for this world and our neighbors as you intend us to do.
We lift up our congregation. Together may we, united in Christ, prayerfully and faithfully meet the needs that you have shown to us. May we clearly hear and respond to your Word and your call for us as a whole, and for each of us individually. Help us to always minister to others, to live, and to walk, in your love and grace.
Let us take a moment to lift up those who need our support through prayer this morning, and to lift up those needs that we ourselves have not shared, have left unspoken; or perhaps of which we cannot yet speak…
And now Lord, we join together to recite the prayer you taught us so long ago, saying… (trespasses)
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Good Friday is the day when we hear the first half of this story, where we mourn the death of Christ – and claim him as one of our own. And now, on Easter, we hear the rest of the story, the Divine did not relinquish its claim on Jesus either, but instead raised him from the dead. He is the missing link: we and God both claim him for our own. God has saved us through Christ, just as Jesus told Nicodemus so long ago. Jesus binds us together as members of the Body of Christ, and as children of God. The resurrection is a living reality. But, unless we come to know Christ in the depths of our hearts, unless we take the risk of claiming Christ for our own, the resurrection will never be a living reality for us.
On Easter, we celebrate the heart of our faith, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Why is it so important? How does this narrative bridge the gulf between Human Sin and Divine Grace? And, why does this Act of God from two Millennia ago matter to us today?
Let us pray…
Lord God, we lift up this morning’s message. May it touch our hearts, may it speak clearly to our souls. We know that your Word and your love have bridged the huge chasm that separates us from you, and affirmed that all of us are your beloved children. Speak to us now, Lord. Help us to know you in the ways you have wanted us to know you since the beginning. Amen.
Three years ago, I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the place at the heart of the events of Easter. As you enter that Church, to your right and up a flight of stairs, is the shrine of the Crucifixion. To the left, what would be behind me and deeper into the church, is the Shrine of the Tomb. So, on one side is the place where our Sin brought about the death of our Savior; and on the other is the spot where he was resurrected by the Grace of God.
Man’s Sin sent Jesus to his death, and God’s Grace brought him back, but what ties the two together?
The answer is in front of you, unavoidable as you enter the Church: the Stone of Unction.
It is a simple stone, unadorned, surrounded by a few lamps, and just long and wide enough for a body. On the wall behind it is a modern mural that depicts the event that took place at this spot, where Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee named Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body after taking it down from the Cross.
“Unction” means “anointing,” and it is here on this stone that they washed Jesus’ body, anointed it with oil, and prepared it for burial.
Why is this important? Why did the designers of this Church orient it such that this spot is right in front of you as you enter the church? And, why is the building laid out such that you must pass by it a second time as you go from Calvary to the Tomb? In other words, why does it matter?
Let’s start by imagining what would have happened if Joseph and Nicodemus had not taken Jesus ‘ body down from the Cross.
As you know, I often speak of the many ways God holds on to us, and how we are called to claim Jesus for our own, and called to hold on to Christ and to God’s love. But, Easter is not about holding on!
Let us pray…
Lord, on this Easter morning, we celebrate your victory over death, and with it your promise of new life in our own futures. Open the scriptures before us, and enable me to clearly communicate what you intend for us to receive here today. May your gospel live within each and every one of us, driving all despair and fear from our hearts.
We rejoice in this opportunity for new revelations and a deeper understanding of your call to walk before you, spreading your gospel to all nations. We ask that your Word live and work through us to amaze and transform not only our own lives, but the lives of all whom we encounter. Help us to embody your teachings, and to live them, in all that we do, think, speak, and are.
In Jesus Name, Amen.
It’s Easter. At the start of our reading from John this morning, Mary Magdalene is alone in the predawn light, weeping before the empty tomb. The mortal remains of the man she loves are missing. Although she doesn’t know it yet, Jesus has been set free from the bonds of death.
As I said earlier, Easter is not about holding on. John makes this clear by telling us that once Mary realizes who is standing before her, Jesus says, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
It seems that holding on to Jesus frustrates the plan of God! Jesus the man is again alive, just like Lazarus; but the transformation of the man into the Christ is not yet complete. Jesus is still in the process of as he puts it, of “ascending to my God and your God.”
Mary is given a role in this when he says, “Go to my brothers and tell them….” Her mission involves leaving him behind and carrying his message to all who believe. Her task is to let go, to forever turn away from the man she loves.
I imagine this was very hard for Mary. He was lost, and now he’s found. He was dead, but is alive again. Her arms ache to hold on to the man she loves, the man she’d given up as forever lost. What would happen when she turned her back to leave? Would she ever see him again? She must have asked herself whether her heart could bear losing him again. Turning away was a big risk.