He Is Risen, Indeed!

“He Is Risen, Indeed!”

Luke 24:1-12 (24:7-8) – April 17, 2022

            Have you ever experienced an awful happening? The worst day of your life? Crying until you feel you have no more tears to shed? The women who followed the Rabbi Jesus for several years just had that happen, on Good Friday.

            Let us try to see things through their eyes – the women who had faithfully followed Jesus for several years.  The women probably shared many of the burdens, the tasks, the logistics of getting a large group of people from place to place, with enough food supplies, and places to stay in the various towns throughout Palestine. Sure, they had heard the Rabbi Jesus say at various times that He would die. Perhaps even that He might be killed by the Roman authorities.

But, not like this! Not so soon! Everything ended in a way for which none of them were prepared. The women were brokenhearted and confused. Wouldn’t you be, too?  

I am now working as a hospice chaplain. I journey with families and loved ones through the most awful days and nights of their lives; this is part and parcel of what hospice chaplains do, on a regular basis. I talk with patients and families as they deal with very difficult situations, regularly. Sometimes I simply hold their hands, providing comforting ministry of presence. And, often times, that is enough. I wonder whether the women at the Cross had someone to do that for them? I wonder who came alongside of the women in their time of great grief?

Dr. Luke tells us “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” He even lists some of the women who went: it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them.

“The women who followed Jesus buried him so quickly, they could not put spices on his body. The next day was the Sabbath, so they rested as God commanded in his Law…. The women who followed Jesus performed a charitable work. Burying the dead was a social expectation.” So, part of what the women customarily would do at the grave or tomb of a loved one or relative is to prepare and anoint the body. This was a social custom and practice of the day. But, “what they saw stretched them far beyond their comfort zone and thrust them into a completely new realm.” [1]

What happened at that tomb on Easter Sunday was so miraculous, I cannot blame anyone for being filled with unbelief! Would you or I have immediately believed that God raised our teacher Jesus from the dead, after all of the pain and trauma of the previous 48 hours? Not to mention the tension and fear of the past week since Palm Sunday, with the Jewish and Roman authorities suspicious of any sign of sedition and disruption in Jerusalem?

Countless people throughout the centuries have contemplated this series of events of the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus, and have walked the Via Dolorosa, the path of the Cross with Him. Truly, this time of grieving and pain is where many people find themselves right now. As a chaplain, I feel great compassion for these dear people. I wish to let them know that Jesus comes alongside of them in their grief, in their loneliness, in their depression, and especially in the dark times – because Jesus Himself traveled through incredibly dark times.

Two thousand years after the fact, ministers around the world are preaching on this Easter morning. Many of these preachers work hard on their sermons, knowing that they will have the opportunity to speak to people who do not usually attend worship services on a regular basis. And truly, today’s Easter celebration holds the Greatest Story Ever Told. Except, I am reminded that some may say “Alleluia!” quietly, even through grief, loss and very personal sadness.

Sometimes, it is enough for us to open our hearts and our hands gently, in praise, in our pews or in our homes. Other times, the glory and majesty of an Easter celebration service is exactly what people need. Neither way of worship is “wrong,” and any praise and gratitude to God is always welcome!

Dr. Luke tells us that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them had a simple message, a profound statement about this miracle they reported to the men disciples. “I have seen the Lord!” “It’s hard to imagine a better sermon than Mary Magdalene’s on that first Easter morning. Short and memorable and to the point. Easily fits on the church sign for all to see. Sure, [preachers] may need to flesh it out a little because people expect an Easter sermon to be longer than one sentence, but not that much.” [2]

And, the best thing about this simple statement is that we can praise God, wherever we are at the moment. We can come before the Lord with loud acclimation, or with quiet meditation. We can thank our Lord Jesus for all that He did and all that He is.

The great Good News of the risen Christ is simple and straightforward And, yes! We can all proclaim that He is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Our Lord Jesus conquered death, once for all. The best news in the universe is this: Jesus Christ still lives! He reigns forever and ever.

A church I attended years ago closed every Easter service with the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” Whether we proclaim it loudly or meditate on it quietly in our hearts, Jesus now reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Hallelujah! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/Seasonal/EasterVigil/A-EasterVigil-c.html

“Life on the Edge,” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Catholic Resource for This Sunday’s Gospel.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/true-resurrection

“True Resurrection,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2016.

Don’t Doubt—Believe!

John 20:19-31 (20:27) – April 23, 2017

Jesus and Thomas John 20-24

“Don’t Doubt—Believe!”

Being skeptical can be a positive thing. Just think of ice in winter, covering a lake. Am I right in being skeptical that the ice is hard enough to hold me (and my weight)? And, think about engineers and scientists. They are often naturally, honestly skeptical and analytical; they hold things at arms’ length and consider all sides of a situation. That can be positive and helpful, in many situations. Even necessary, at times.

Consider Thomas. He missed the big event, the first time that the resurrected Lord Jesus came back to the rest of the disciples. Let’s look at this event from Thomas’s side. For some reason (we are not told the reason), Thomas missed the weekend gathering of the eleven disciples, plus some others who also were traveling with Jesus. Perhaps they were gathering for regular prayer, or for a worship service. Maybe to have a meal together. Maybe all of the above.

The gathering was secretive. Remember, the Roman and Jewish authorities were disgruntled and angry. The body of Jesus had disappeared completely, even though the tomb had been guarded by Roman soldiers. Therefore, the authorities were looking for a really high-profile body, and it was unbelievable to them that there was no trace of the Rabbi Jesus’s remains, anywhere. Of course the authorities would seek out this upstart Rabbi’s close companions, and keep them under surveillance, just in case any of them knew where the body was.

Whatever the reason, Thomas was not there the previous week. And, he—and the other disciples—had good reason to be jumpy, and cautious. Even, skeptical, as we will see.

Reading from our Gospel passage, “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas said to them, “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.”

This passage comes to us from the Gospel of John. Throughout John’s Gospel, this writer has an understanding of believing that is active. To John, believing in Jesus is not just an intellectual exercise. No! Belief to John is very much an action verb.

Believing in Jesus is having a relationship with Jesus. As Jesus Himself said earlier in the Gospel of John, “I abide in you and you abide in Me.”  So, for this Gospel writer to say that skeptical Thomas was having trouble believing is not quite the same thing as making light of Thomas for doubting. Thomas had just seen his Rabbi and leader die on the cross, be executed by an extreme and cruel form of suffering and agony. I suspect Thomas’s relationship with his Rabbi was pretty close to being extinguished. Sure, Thomas was skeptical.

Are there times when you or I are skeptical, too? I mean, times of sincere questioning of our faith? When we might think, with Elijah, that the heavens are all closed up, and nothing can penetrate, not even a desperate prayer? If we were honest with ourselves, I suspect in almost every person’s life there are difficult times, challenging times, times when we  come to the end of ourselves and have no more hope, no more tears, no more swear words to say.

Desperate times, indeed. Who can blame Thomas for being skeptical? As Father Rick mentioned on a sermon preparation site I follow, how crushed Thomas must have been. Perhaps, to keep his heart safe, he refuses to believe… it hurts too much to believe. [1] Can you hear pain, and fear, and maybe stubbornness in his response?

Here is a slightly different translation of Thomas’s dramatic statement: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and shove my finger into the mark of the nails, and shove my hand into his side, I absolutely will not believe” (20:25, translation by Jaime Clark-Soles). Here, we look at the verb from a slightly different angle. The Greek verb ‘believe’ is a forceful one (ballo), as is the emphatic negative (ou me). “I absolutely will not believe.” Not a simple, “I’ll believe it when I see it” —Thomas has a lot of conditions;” [2] conditions that he speaks out of a dark place of anger and grief and anxiety, and conditions that will only be met by the resurrected Jesus.

But, what happens next?

Now, this is not resolved right away. Thomas is left doubting—rather, being skeptical, for a week. Reading from our Gospel passage: “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!”

What would that do to your faith? If your faith were wavering, and you were faint of heart, perhaps doubting, maybe even skeptical—what would we do if Jesus were to come among us today—right there—and say, “Peace be with you!” Would that cause people to believe in Jesus? Let’s find out.

“Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

If Jesus appeared among us and said those things to us, would that cause you and me to have the kind of belief that John is talking about here—where we start or cement a deep, true relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus, and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead? What did those words do for Thomas?

28 Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

Did you hear? Thomas just made an earthshaking confession of faith as well as a crystal clear statement of belief.

(And, remember, we are using John’s definition of belief. A deep, true relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus!) Praise God, this is a confession that Jesus is our Lord, He is our God. As John tells us in the beginning of his Gospel, He is the Word made flesh, come into this world to make His dwelling among us. To abide in us as we abide in Him. All this Thomas confesses in this statement of faith. This confession is made all the more powerful because skeptical, discouraged, frightened Thomas has made it.

I ask all of us, again. What would we do if Jesus were to come among us today—right there—and say, “Peace be with you!” What would we do if Jesus showed us the nail scars and where the spear went into His side? Oh, no! some might say. Jesus would never do that. Not here, not now. Perhaps in bible times, but not today.

Here we have a clear invitation to the skeptics, to the doubters, to those who are not sure about their faith any longer. This Gospel reading is also for those who have been hurt by the church, and perhaps are not sure there is Anyone up there listening to them any longer. This passage is for you, too.

Praise God, Jesus has conquered death, and He will be with us when we walk through fiery trials and dark places in our lives. Using John’s definition of belief, we all can have a true, deep relationship with Jesus as our Lord and our God, just like Thomas.

Have you heard? Do you know that Jesus has risen from the dead? This is not only Good News, it’s the best news ever shared, in the history of ever. It is much more than just the dry words from the Apostles Creed, written on a page. Jesus holds out His hands, shows us His side. Christ is risen, indeed!

[1] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm Posted by Rick+ in Reno, March 31, 2016.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3222  Jaime Clark-Soles

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)