Words of Wondrous Love

“Words of Wondrous Love”

resurrection Jesus - medieval manuscript

Luke 24:1-12 – March 27, 2016

Have you ever had a very full week? Where a month of experiences have been packed into seven hectic days? At such a busy, sometimes tumultuous time, it’s hard to focus. Difficult to pick up the thread of conversations. Challenging to decide what important thing to do when, especially when there are so many urgent matters waiting for you. Calling for you. Nudging your elbow, clamoring for your attention. Add to all that tumult the trauma of a sudden death.

That is the situation for these faithful women. These women have gone through some gut-wrenching things, these past few days. After the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem just a short seven days ago, these companions of the Rabbi Jesus had seen their leader in debate with some of the most learned religious teachers and leaders of Israel. Jesus had delivered one of His most stirring sermons—the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s Gospel, as well as one of the most poignant—the Discourse from the Upper Room, from John’s Gospel.

As if all of that heavy theology from Rabbi Jesus wasn’t enough, their leader Jesus showed Himself to be everyone’s servant. Since there was no servant present at that Passover dinner on Thursday night to wash the guests’ feet, Jesus did it Himself. He took the position of a servant and washed His disciples’ feet. Talk about a mind-blowing experience. Your Rabbi, your teacher, whom you have been following for several years, hanging on His every word and action. This Rabbi, this Jesus becomes a lowly servant and washes everyone’s feet.

But, wait. We’re only getting started. Their Teacher, Rabbi Jesus did something completely unprecedented at supper that night. He took one of the loaves of bread, tore it apart, and said, “This bread? It’s my body. It’s going to be broken for all of you. Take it, and eat it.” Shortly after that, Jesus took one of the cups of wine and said, “This cup? This is the new covenant in my blood, given for you. Take it, and drink.” Jesus took the familiar Passover supper and instituted a new thing—the Lord’s Supper. What we call communion, the Eucharist.

Things really started to follow in rapid succession. The time of intense prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The betrayal of Judas, and the arrest of Rabbi Jesus. Repeated trials before Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, the whipping and the scourging. I am certain all of this was reported to the disciples in great detail.

Pilate bringing Jesus before the crowd that Friday morning. The crowd yelling, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” So, Pilate sentenced this Rabbi Jesus to death. The Roman death of a criminal, death on a cross. Crucifixion.

Some of Jesus’s followers were there as He bore His cross out of the city of Jerusalem. They saw that agonized walk down the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows. Finally, as the cross was raised on Golgotha, Jesus suffered that most painful death, death on a cross.

All of that heartbreaking trauma, horror, and extreme grief were packed into just a few days. Plus, for all good Jews, Saturday was the Sabbath. Not only a regular Sabbath, but the special Sabbath during Passover. The women—the rest of the disciples hardly had a chance to begin to process all of those tumultuous events. They did their best to rest, to hide, to grieve on that seventh day of the week, on that Saturday.

I include the women as disciples of Jesus. As commentator Dennis Bratcher says, “Luke tells us that these women followed Jesus from Galilee and watched Him die on the cross (23:49). The Greek word for “follow” is the usual word used for a disciple …. It seems that Luke wants the readers to understand these women to be disciples of Jesus.” [1]

After all this, the women—trying so hard to be faithful in their friendship and following of their leader and teacher Jesus—take spices to anoint the body. They go to the tomb where Jesus had been hurriedly laid late on Friday, before sundown. As the Gospel tells us, they found the stone rolled away. And, the tomb was—empty!

Can you imagine how confused they were? Distracted? Astonished? Yes, it was early in the morning. The women had difficulty comprehending what was before their eyes. After all the horror and trauma of the last few days, while the women were talking amongst themselves, things got even weirder. As Luke says, “suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground.”

What would you do if two guys in gleaming white clothes showed up, suddenly appeared right here, in St. Luke’s Church? Pretty scary! Talk about being amazed. Astonished.

The men (we can call them angels, because that’s what they were) said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!”

What did I say, a few minutes ago? How at such a busy, sometimes tumultuous time, it’s hard to focus. Difficult to pick up the thread of conversations, to pay attention. What on earth is going on here? We hear the angels say, “Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”

Then—finally!—the women remember the words of their Teacher Jesus. They run back to their friends, the other disciples, telling them what happened. They are witnesses! They say, “The tomb is empty! Jesus is gone! And, we saw angels!”

I suspect we all can predict the reaction of the other disciples. “What? You saw … what? Are you crazy? What is the matter with you?” Luke tells us, “They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

What must it have been like for the disciples to hear the Good News the angels brought? A little far-fetched. Maybe a whole lot far-fetched. They couldn’t take it all in. They didn’t believe it! They thought what the women were saying was crazy talk!

What is it like for us, today, to hear the Good News the angels brought?

Who do you identify with? Do you identify with the women? Do you believe in those words the angels brought, and run and tell your friends? Are you witnesses to the Resurrection? Or, are you like the other disciples? Doubting. Skeptical. Thinking those words seem like nonsense! Crazy talk! Perhaps the disciples didn’t remember the words of Jesus. No, not yet.

Ah, that first Easter morning. As Luke says, the angels remind us that our Lord Jesus told us what was going to happen beforehand. Our Lord Jesus predicted that He must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again. Those were the words that the women remembered. And just like the women, we, too, can witness to the Resurrection. We can proclaim that powerful, loving, transforming experience that has happened!

What does that message, that Good News the angels brought, mean to you and me? Do we know the wondrous love of Jesus? The wondrous love that led Him to the cross, the wondrous love that pierced Him for our transgressions. And, by His wounds we—all of us are healed. Thank God Jesus died in our place, so we don’t have to be separated from God for eternity. Thank God Jesus conquered death. We have been reconciled to God. That is the Good News of wondrous love the angels brought.

Believe the Good News of the Gospel—Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!       

 

(I appreciate Readings, Analysis of Texts and Preaching Paths, Dennis Bratcher, Christian Resource Institute. Thanks for the assistance in understanding the text from Luke.)

[1] http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Ceaster1nt.html#text2

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Woman-and-Jesus-

April 5, 2015 – John 20:18

Who doesn’t like to hear a good story? Storytellers are wonderful to listen to. Small children love to hear stories. Even grown-ups enjoy stories. Certain stories are told over and over again, in different ways. Cinderella. King Arthur. The Arabian Nights. Aesop’s fables. Even the Wizard of Oz. What about The Greatest Story Ever Told? That’s another name for the narrative of the Passion Week, following Jesus step by step from Palm Sunday through Good Friday, finishing up with the happily ever after ending on Easter morning!

We left Jesus on the cross, on Friday afternoon, when last we met in St. Luke’s sanctuary on Good Friday. Jesus had walked through the days of Holy Week, debating with the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders in the Temple. He had eaten a Passover dinner with His disciples on Thursday evening. The special thing Jesus did on Thursday was instituting the Lord’s Supper with the bread and cup of the Passover meal. Do this in remembrance of Me, He said.

After dinner, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He wanted His disciples to keep watch with Him, but they were too exhausted. After the events of a very busy week, just think. The disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open!

Then the events follow in rapid succession. The arrest, torture, trials, and sentencing. The walk down the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow. Jesus dragging the cross outside the old city of Jerusalem. The disciples fled. (I won’t blame them—since their Rabbi and master was sentenced as a criminal and enemy of the state, I suspect the disciples were afraid they might be connected with their leader Jesus, too!) We see the women at the foot of the cross. The faithful women. And Jesus’ mother, Mary. Then—Jesus dies on the cross. The earth quakes, the sky is darkened. All creation mourns as the Word made flesh, the creator of all the universe, dies on the cross.

As we continued to follow the Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus is taken down from the cross shortly before sunset. His body is turned over to one of the Pharisees, Joseph of Arimethea. That Pharisee who came to Jesus one night early in His ministry, recorded in John chapter 3. Joseph hurriedly lays the dead body of Jesus in a tomb nearby. And, the faithful women are also there. They follow the dead body to the tomb.

What faith they must have had! What tenacity, and what love. To follow their leader, their rabbi, their Lord and master, even though He’s dead. To care for His body, in the absence of the disciples. The men disciples who are in hiding.

The women are there. Not shunted aside, not put in second place. These faithful women play an important role in caring for their Rabbi and their friend, hurriedly washing and preparing His dead body for the grave, before the Sabbath begins at sunset.

As Friday night swiftly approaches, with it comes the Jewish holy observance. Especially this special Sabbath—which falls during Passover. No work is to be done at all on this holy day of rest, not even the compassionate work of caring for a dead body.

After Sabbath day and Saturday night end, it is now Sunday morning. Faithful Mary Magdalene heads out for the tomb even before the sun has fully risen. Can you see her, eager in her haste to get to the tomb? With some oils to anoint the body, perhaps? But as she comes near the tomb, she discovers the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is now empty. What happened? What on earth is going on? Mary runs to get some assistance, someone to come with her and check things out more fully. (Prudent, I say! Better to be safe, Mary!)

Sure enough, Mary tells what she discovered. Two of the—men—disciples come back with her. Mary returns with the other two, back to the tomb. They see the tomb, and sure enough. It is empty. And then, these two disciples turn right around. Go back to the rest. In hiding.

But—what about Mary? What does she do?

Again, I come back to the indisputable fact that the women are faithful and true. The women show compassion, love, and care for their Rabbi, their master and friend. Mary stays put near the tomb, and weeps.

What a roller coaster ride Mary has been on. Starting on Palm Sunday, their leader and master Jesus marches right into the lion’s den, right into Jerusalem itself. All through the Passion Week, Jesus appears in and around Jerusalem, in the Temple, doing anything but keeping a low profile. And I am certain the disciples and the women accompanying them knew very well that the Jewish leaders and most of the Pharisees were planning on doing bad things to Jesus. I suspect the events of Good Friday were not totally unexpected.

So, at this desperate point, early on Sunday morning, Mary weeps. She does not know where her Lord and Master’s body has gone! After many days and nights of worry, anxiety, strong emotion, and intense grief, I can well understand how Mary broke down in tears.

What about us, today? Have you ever been through days of intense emotion, gut-wrenching anxiety, even intense grief? All of those feelings tumbling and roiling through you? Then you know a little of what Mary was going through.

What Mary did not suspect at first was that she was in the Greatest Story Ever Told. She sees Someone through her tears, in the cemetery. She suspects this Person is the gardener, of all things! She says, still crying, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Then, Jesus—for it is He!—Jesus speaks to her. Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!”   Do you hear that? Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!” How sweet to have someone who loves you very much call you by name! Remember, I just said that Mary had been on an emotional roller coaster the whole week previous? Just think what this would do! Wow!

Mary’s eyes are opened. Mary finally sees clearly, and responds, “Rabbi!” “Teacher!”

There’s a word in the next verse that is sometimes misunderstood. In verse 17, Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me.” I’d like to tell you about this phrase. In the original language, Greek, the word ‘hold on’ or ‘touch’ is a present imperative verb. The verb in the sentence can be translated “Do not keep touching me!” Mary finally realizes that it was really and truly Jesus, in the flesh. And I bet she fell on her knees and grabbed onto His legs with every ounce of strength in her body. Clutching, crying, laughing. Can you just see her? Can you just see them? Jesus, gently trying to get her to let go. “Mary, Mary, can you stop clutching at Me?”

Can you see Mary now, as she understands in full. Jesus is alive! He is risen! Then, she listens to Jesus. Returns to the disciples, and declares the joyful truth to everyone!

So, Mary is not only a faithful friend and follower of her Rabbi, she is also someone who carries the Good News! The news that Jesus is no longer dead, but He is risen! He is alive again. I want all of you to understand this all-important point. Jesus has entrusted Mary with the Gospel message. Mary Magdalene is no longer just a supporting player, just a side note in the Gospel. Instead, she transitions to a lead actor in the Greatest Story Ever Told, here in John 20. And, one of the first and best preachers, sharing her experience, hope and joy.

What a story! Except—this is not make-believe. This is for real. This is very much the truth. Yes, Jesus is alive. Yes, He is Lord. And, yes, He has conquered death once and for all. Do you hear? Listen again to the words of Mary. She told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

I pray that we all can affirm together today: He is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!

Alleluia! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions and notes for Lent 2015. #40acts Do Lent generously! And, to the Rev. Dave Buerstetta for several ideas from his commentary notes on John 20:1-18.

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)