Easter III – Reminders of the Good News

The First Reading from Acts 3:12-26

12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. 17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. 22Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. 23And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ 24And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. 25You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 24:36b-49

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

 

 

 

 

Easter III – Reminders of the Good News by Mother Beth

 

When you have had a bad experience or you have seen something traumatic it can take time to get over that feeling of grief and disappointment.  The customer service industry knows that it can take up to seven good experiences for you to change your mind about a bad experience.    And they are just referring to poor service or a mistake at the checkout.   Some of us have witnessed some horrible things in our time – and although hopefully we don’t focus too much time on it – there are reports of atrocities and evil events all around us being reported in the news, on TV.

So is it any surprise that Jesus makes another resurrection appearance to us in the gospel reading for today?  It is important to be reminded day after day, week after week that the resurrection occurred and that it is still good news for us today.

The disciples, remember, are still reeling from the events of the crucifixion.  As far as Rome is concerned, they crucified Jesus as a statement to his followers – this is what we have done to your leader – much more will we do to you if you do not get into line and do what you should do – obey.

The disciples are unsettled and uncertain about how to go forward.  They were strong when Jesus was with them – He was speaking words of encouragement and cheering them on – leading them forward.  Now they are weakened by doubt and uncertainty.

Of course there have been reports that Jesus is alive.  The women have reported back from their visit to the tomb.  Mary has said that she has seen the Lord.  The two people on the way to Emmaus were in the middle of discussions around the events of the crucifixion and a stranger appeared to walk with them.  It wasn’t until he prayed and broke the bread that they realized that it was Jesus.  They have reported back to the others that they have seen the Lord.

And now we have another opportunity – today in the gospel lesson we hear, “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them”.  He recognizes that they are afraid and that they have doubts.

He knows that they think maybe he is just an apparition, a ghost.

He says, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

What does it take for you to be convinced of something?  Sometimes people will say, if Jesus walked in here today, then I would know for sure who he is and I would ask him that pressing question that I have been wondering about?  But the real question is… If Jesus walked in here today, would you recognize him?  Would you believe it was him?

Although we know the truth and we want to believe, sometimes this world shakes us up – Sometimes there is more death and dying going on around us than there is life and living.

It is not that we don’t want to have faith.  It’s not that we don’t want to believe.  We need to be reminded how great God is.  We need to remember that he has conquered sin and death.

Jesus now reveals just how “real” and live he is by asking for food to eat.  He wants the disciples to know – to be fully convinced He is not just a figment of their imagination – He is not just some spirit, ghost or apparition – this is not just a visit “from the other side” – some psychic’s rendering.  He is there in the flesh – present with them – and so he eats to prove his presence – to show himself as a real body.

Then he proceeds to explain what has happened.  That his death and resurrection are the fulfillment of God’s plan from the beginning of time.

Why does Jesus reveal himself to the disciples?  Why does he go to such lengths to show who he is?  So that the disciples will be witnesses.  They will now be prepared to be sent out and tell others what they have seen and heard.

And they were faithful witnesses.  That is proven by the Acts reading from today.  We hear Peter’s testimony “13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead….“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out”

Peter explains that this is the power of God that heals and brings wholeness to the lives of others.  He is able to testify to this because he has seen and experienced it for himself and then also seen and experience its power to transform others.

That is the power of the church – of gathering together – to remind each other of the amazing God that we serve – to remind each other as witnesses to the great things that God has done and continues to do.

It can be hard to keep believing day after day, week after week, on our own.  There are too many reminders of death and not enough reminders of life. Globally, nationally, communally, personally, the presence of death is more palpable than the promise of life.

Life, here and now, is very hard to see. In the end, I think being resurrection people takes some effort, in fact, a lot of effort. And some weeks will demand more effort than others. Jesus knows this reality, our reality. And knows that we need a reminder.

Why does Jesus continue to reveal to himself to us?  So that we can be witnesses with each other about him and his presence in our lives.
So that we can encourage and remind each other day after day.    So that we can reach out to others who have not yet heard or seen or experienced.  So that the good news about life can overcome the bad news in this world.

How does Jesus continue to reveal himself to us?  Through each other.  But more specifically I believe we can see the tangible ways that we experience Jesus in the narrative of the gospel lessons over the last weeks.  On Easter Sunday, we heard that it was as Jesus spoke her name that Mary recognized Jesus and realized the truth of the resurrection.  Speaking someone’s name is a sacred and intimate act.   Can our friends and family trust us to speak their name with love and faithfulness?

In the gospel reading from last week, Thomas was entrusted with the opportunity to touch the wounds of Jesus.  In this sacred and intimate act of touching – Thomas realized the truth about the resurrection.  To touch the wounds is to acknowledge and validate the suffering of another.  Can our friends and family trust us to handle their wounds – to acknowledge or validate their suffering?

In today’s gospel, Jesus partakes in a meal with the disciples.  To break bread together – to sit and dine together is a sacred and intimate act.  Are we welcoming our friends and family to partake in meals with us?  Is our table a place of hospitality and grace?  As we go about our day to day lives, are we faithful to reveal the love of a resurrected Jesus through the ways we interact with each other?  Are we open to receiving the faithful witness of Christ as we speak, touch and eat with each other?

May God make us faithful in these and many other ways to remind each other of the good news of Jesus Christ and may He give us boldness to speak that good news to all.   Amen.

I Have Seen the Lord

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 20:1-18

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. 2So 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.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture,that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.  11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Easter Sunday 2018    I Have Seen the Lord, a homily by Mother Beth

Today is the game changer.  This day is the day in the church year that you really have to decide what you believe.  No other faith or religion professes that their leader died and was resurrected.  This claim sets Christianity apart from all the others.  The empty tomb presents the dilemma.  The empty tomb exclaims that Jesus is much more than just a good man or even a martyr who died for what he believed in.  The empty tomb suggests that something much more radical happened.  The empty tomb proclaims the resurrection.  And although many would like to tell you that it is the same for everyone – we all come to faith in the same way – the gospel for this morning reveals otherwise.  We see and hear three different responses to the events.

It was early on the first day of the week and Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb.  Why has she come?  She is grieving.  Jesus was her friend, her teacher, her leader and so she comes to mourn his loss, to visit the site where he was laid – to pay her respects.

But when Mary gets there she notices that the stone is missing and she immediately runs to report this news to the disciples.  She reports, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him”.

Mary assumes that something has happened – someone has tampered with the body – moved it so that his followers cannot visit, or mourn.  She wants someone, like the disciples, to know about the problem and to do something about this.  She tells what she sees so that the problem can be solved.

The disciples, Peter and John, set out toward the tomb.  They run together but John outruns Peter and gets there first.  John bends down and looks in and sees the grave clothes lying there but does not go in.

Peter goes right into the tomb and sees the clothes, notices that they are neatly folded and that the cloth from Jesus head is lying neatly by itself.

Now John goes in to the tomb, and the scripture says, “he saw and believed”.

So these two men had different reactions – Peter steps right into the tomb – a look was not enough – he wanted the full experience. This is not surprising if you remember about Peter from other scripture passages.  Peter is the one who steps out onto the water with Jesus.   He is going to make sure that the tomb is actually empty.

John looks in and sees that what Mary has said is true – the body is gone.   And when he steps into the tomb, something happens and he believes.

The two disciples leave the site and head back home.  Mary alone is left weeping outside the tomb.   And as she stands there alone, she looks back into the tomb and sees two angels in white, sitting where Jesus body had been lying.   They ask her, woman why are you weeping?”

She explains her situation to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him”.

You see she ran to the disciples for help saying almost the same thing and yet they came and saw and left.  And Mary remains there with her question.  She wants to know where the body is so that she can mourn – and attend to it.

Mary is not content to just look into the tomb and be satisfied.  Even with the presence of two angels, she asks the hard questions…. Where is he?  What happened to him?

When she turns around she sees a man standing there and she supposes that he is the gardener.   She wasn’t surprised by the angels so why would she be surprised to find a gardener in the garden or a caretaker in a funeral home?

The man asks her why she is crying and again Mary explains her situation. “if you have carried him away,  tell me where you have laid him.”

And Jesus calls her by name, “Mary”.  And it is when he calls her by name that she recognizes him and calls him Teacher.

Mary has an encounter with the risen Christ.    In fact, she is the very first to see and speak to the risen Christ.

And how does it happen?  She stands and struggles with the tough questions.  She asks not less than three times – where is the body?  What have they done with the body?

She is determined to get an answer to her question and instead of an answer she becomes the first eye-witness to the miracle of the resurrection.  Oh, she didn’t see the resurrection happen – no one did but, she is the first to have a face to face encounter with the resurrected Christ.

And of course, she is the first to tell the good news.  She runs back to the disciples and announces, I have seen the Lord!

So the question today for each of us is, what will we do with the empty tomb?  Are we like John able to look in, cautiously step in and then believe?

Are you or I like Peter who goes quickly in to the tomb and sees that there is nothing there and goes home?  Are you and I like Mary who is determined to find Jesus?  She keeps asking the question until she is given an encounter.  She presses past her own grief and dismay to discover the truth about what has happened.

And today maybe you’re saying, I’ve sorted it all out a long time ago.  I know what I believe.  And if that is true then good.  So today I ask you, what challenge does the empty tomb hold for you?  Easter is all about celebrating new life.  It is a time to step out of fear into faith and hope. What does it mean to live as resurrection people; assured the Christ is risen and so are we?  So today I ask you to consider, what ways have we slipped back into an apathy – or sleep in our faith?  In what ways have we let the cold, dark winter slip into our life?   This day we celebrate the new life that is ours through Jesus Christ.  Let’s step out into that life with renewed energy and excitement.

Let’s awaken from our contented sleep with a fresh call to love and minister to those around us.  Because the good news that Jesus is risen is not for us alone.  Mary ran to tell others, may the Lord enable us to do the same.

Today is the game changer.  Today is the day that makes a difference.  Let us live into that difference.  From this day forward, may we live our lives as people of the resurrection and run to tell the news, I have seen the Lord!  Amen.

 

The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter – Mother Beth

I have noticed that some of my friends are now purchasing complete sets of TV series on DVD.  This is in some ways a dangerous proposition if you are given to indulgence of TV because you can sit through a whole year’s worth of a particular weekly TV program in one sitting.  Many others now binge watch shows on Netflix.  Thank Goodness I have not yet discovered Netflix for myself.  I will concede though that the fact that TV shows are available to watch online allows me the opportunity to go back and watch episodes that I may have missed.  Certainly one disadvantage of the fast paced writing of a TV serial program is that characters can change and develop quite quickly from week to week and should you happen to miss a week it might be confusing or frustrating to have missed a particular storyline.

There is something satisfying about watching or reading a particular story from start to finish.  Some are even worth experiencing more than once.

I do remember however, when Steve and I were going to see the movie Titantic, when it first came out at the theatres, and my Mother was dumbfounded by this.  Why would you want to watch that movie – you already know how it ends?  Still, even when we know how something ends it can be interesting to hear the rhythm and flow of the whole narrative.  Life of course, is more than just a beginning and an end – it is how we live it in the middle that is important too!

On this night we hear the great story of salvation.  If we were to hear all the readings scheduled for the Great Vigil of Easter we would hear 22 lessons that begin with Creation and continue beyond the Gospels.    It is an opportunity for us to hear the great over-arching story almost in entirety.

Former Bishop of Durham, England, NT Wright describes the story of scripture as a 5 act play.  I think this is a particularly helpful way of looking at it, especially tonight as we hear the larger story and prepare to renew Baptismal Vows.   According to Wright the first act is Creation.  The second act is the Fall, Act Three is the story of Israel as a chosen people, Act Four is the story of Jesus and the Gospels and the Final Act, Act Five is what we are in right now.  We are the Fifth Act.

God’s story becomes our story.  We are ransomed, redeemed, embraced, saved and marked as Christ’s own forever.   We have been admitted into God’s family and the benefit of being part of the family is that we are embraced into a safe place – a place where we can learn the lessons of those who have gone before us.  As we read, hear and participate in the great story of scripture we are taught how those before us handled this human life and how God revealed his faithfulness to them.

So what did we hear tonight that is hope for us?  In the lesson from Exodus we heard about God’s faithful deliverance – how the people are told to stand still and see God’s mighty act of salvation for them.

In the Isaiah passage we heard words of encouragement that God is the provider for his people and that God’s family is a witness to all nations and that salvation is extended to all people.

In Ezekiel, God offers transformation – he will take our heart of stone and restore it to a heart of flesh.

The Romans reading explains the grace extended to us at baptism; that dying with Christ and being raised connects us to Christ.   In baptism we turn away from ungodly things and turn towards God himself.  We accept his offer to be part of the family – part of the story.

The Gospel reading confronts us with the pertinent message for tonight.  We go with the women to the tomb, only to discover it empty and to behold a great mystery.  The body is, in fact, gone and we hear the witness of angels – that Jesus has been raised as he promised.

We are commissioned for the fifth act of the play – Go and Tell the good news.  This is where we come into the story after all.  We are witnesses to the empty tomb and we are sent out to tell others the great story of God’s salvation.

The whole story really is His Story but it is also our story.  Easter Eve is about the transformation from the dark of the tomb to the light of resurrection glory.  It is Christ being resurrected but it is also about His salvation of us – his empowering and embracing us – so that we might be transformed from the dark of this world to the light of Christ.  Amen.