Meditation for Easter

This meditation was preached at the Easter Sunrise Service at First UMC, Hickory NC on 4/20/2014.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped 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 28:1-10

We came this morning to look at the sun rising as we greet this new day and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. We came to witness to the good news that Christ is risen indeed! The King of kings couldn’t be held captive in the cave hewn of stone, and the Lord of life couldn’t be snuffed out by darkness. We come early this morning to celebrate resurrection day.

However, the women in the story came to look at a tomb.

They came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark. Tired and sapped of all their strength from the previous days, they had come to continue their vigil, grieving the death of their teacher and friend. Their eyes likely still heavy with sleep and dry from being emptied of all their tears.

Then they were shaken awake by a violent earthquake and the terrifying appearance of an angel, single-handedly rolling away a stone that had taken several sturdy guards to put in its place. And the first thing the angel says is, “Do not be afraid.”

While greetings like this one seldom have the desired calming effect, “do not be afraid” is just the word these disciples need to hear. If they came to the tomb with hope it was jaded and slight. Experience had taught these women that in a situation like this it is best to temper hope with a measure of realism and low expectations. They were afraid…afraid that it was all for nothing, that Jesus wasn’t really who he thought he was.

If we’re honest, each Sunday morning, even Easter morning, we carry with us a little bit of fear in our back pocket. Like these disciples, experience has taught us to lower our expectations. I know the resurrection means power, but I’m afraid not enough power to make me a more patient person. I know the resurrection means life, but maybe not enough to put back the pieces of our family’s broken life. I know the resurrection means hope, but I’m afraid I just can’t afford to take that risk. So I’ll just be glad for what I have and not bother with those things…

BUT…If, like Mary and Mary Magdalene, we honestly bring our fear before the Risen Lord on the dawning of the new day, we hear God’s messengers proclaim the good news, “He is risen!” At that good word, fear shrinks and clouds of doubt melt away. The empty tomb is for us the sign that Jesus has vanquished the kingdom of fear and is out spreading his reign of love and joy.

women at tomb

There is no need to be afraid. Jesus did as he said he would. We can trust God! We can keep following him and believe in him. The tomb is empty; he is not here. Go on. Go to where Jesus said he’ll meet you. And believe he will be there, because he will. Each step in the direction that follows Jesus is a step away from fear and into God’s kingdom of joy.

And here is some more Easter hope: These women, the first evangelists and soon the first apostles of the resurrected Lord, go out “afraid yet filled with joy.” It is not entirely one or the other—fear or joy, doubt or faith. Easter is about Christ’s joy overcoming our fear; God’s faithfulness overcoming our doubt.

Though a shred of fear remains in their back pocket, it does not determine their moves anymore. Instead, their steps are light and quick. Their field of vision is full of possibility. Their mouths are filled with laughter and their tongues with shouts of joy—the joy of the Lord that is driving out every remnant of fear in them.

On their way to tell the disciples, suddenly Jesus meets them and he says to them, “Greetings,” literally “rejoice.” Jesus greets them with joy and says to them also, “Do not be afraid.”  The joy of the Lord is a gift that comes when we go to do God’s will and are suddenly, in full stride, pulled up on our heels and surprised by Jesus who greets us with a grin and says, “Rejoice!”

Easter is an invitation to come to this new day with an honest faith that says, “Lord, though I have some fear, fill me with joy. Take me one step further down the resurrection road. I trust you, Lord, let me be filled with joy.”

 

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus
Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of
everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the
day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death
of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, now and for ever. Amen.

Collect for Easter Sunday, Book of Common Prayer

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Meditation for Maundy Thursday

The word “maundy” recalls the new commandment (mantadum novum, in Latin) that Jesus gives his disciples, “that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).  This commandment to love and to serve comes around the time of the Passover.

For Jews, Passover is a festival of remembering how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt.  It was a celebration stirring up memories deeply embedded in the rituals of this commemorative meal.  The doing leads to remembering.

This meal of remembrance is Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.  At the meal Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, to love one another.  And he sees the bread and the wine before him, and he offers them to his disciples as a gift, as a way to understand and remember Jesus’ coming sacrifice.  He intends this to be a meal with memories deeply embedded in the breaking of bread and drinking of wine.  “Do this in remembrance of me,” he said (Luke 22:19).

lord's supper

Every meal with Jesus was memorable.  At the dinner table Jesus redefined what it meant to be a member of the family of God; he opened up the circle to include everyone who once had been an outsider.  Likely we can all think of dinners that stick in our memories–for good reasons or bad.  Or we have particular meals that make us think of people we love.  A certain dish reminds us of “that time when…”

Tonight, in our service of Holy Communion and Tenebrae, we will celebrate this sacred meal, the Lord’s Supper.  The doing leads to remembering–remembering Jesus, his new commandment, his love, his mercy, his faithfulness for our sake.  We remember his passion, his agonizing prayer in the garden and willing submission to God’s will.  We remember how he was deserted by his followers, put up on trial with phony accusations and drummed-up charges, and torturous beatings.

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he
suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood:
Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in
remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy
mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

Collect for Maundy Thursday, Book of Common Prayer

Meditation for Wednesday in Holy Week

On Tuesday, Jesus spends considerable amount of time at the temple where the Pharisees and Sadducees come to him with question after question.  Their motive was not sincerity.  They were plotting to entrap him, to prove him a liar and a blasphemer.  Their plan backfires as Jesus unmasks their hypocritical religiosity.  He reminds the people of the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37-39).  Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple, the coming days of judgment, and gives the imperative that all who are faithful must keep awake.

Wednesday is a day of contrasts.  After Jesus said all these things on Tuesday, the chief priests and elders of the people conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.  They’d heard enough.  On the other hand, the disciples kept telling Jesus’ stories, including the ones from Tuesday, because they couldn’t get enough.

At Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman anoints Jesus’ head with very costly ointment.  She recognizes in Jesus exactly what the religious leaders have missed: he is anointing Jesus with oilGod’s anointed.  He is the one who is faithful to God’s mission even to the point of death.

The disciples rebuke the woman for her extravagant gift.  Then Jesus says wherever the gospel is proclaimed, people will hear about what this woman has done for him.  Don’t miss that Jesus’ anointing comes first from the Holy Spirit, and then by a woman, a person counted as insignificant.  Jesus’ authority does not come from those who are in power in order to maintain the status quo.  Instead, his Kingship comes from God and is witnessed to by this woman, and Jesus’ mission is to overturn the status quo for the sake of this woman, and Simon the leper, and all who are considered the least.

Jesus reminds his disciples that poverty and oppression always accompany imperial rule (like that of Rome) and for that reason the poor will always be with them.  Jesus, on the other hand, has been anointed to bring good news to the poor and to let the oppressed go free.  During Holy Week, these two contrasting kingdoms collide and the whole earth shakes.

Lastly, the woman’s extravagant service in pouring out her gift on Jesus is contrasted with Judas’ receipt of thirty pieces of silver, a payment for his willingness to betray Jesus.

Judas’ actions that afternoon advance the prior intention of the chief priests: to have Jesus arrested and killed.  Today (and whenever the good news is proclaimed) we remember what this woman has done for Jesus.  The fragrance of the ointment fills our imaginations as we remember Jesus’ faithfulness, for our sake and for the world.  The lovely aroma of her costly ointment that perfumed Jesus’ body will soon be in contrast to the ugly scene of his torture and crucifixion.

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be
whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept
joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the
glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week, Book of Common Prayer

Prayer for Tuesday in Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an
instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly
suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior
Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week, Book of Common Prayer

Meditation for Monday in Holy Week

After entering Jerusalem, Jesus went straight to the heart of the city: the temple.  What Jesus found greatly disturbed him.  The temple courts were full of money changers and traders propping up the religious institution by taking advantage of people who had come to worship God.  Jesus overturns their tables and says to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’: but you are making it a den of robbers” (Mt. 21:13).

For many, Monday is a day of re-entering the world of commerce and trade.  Sunday was a day of rest and worship, a Sabbath.  The beauty and peacefulness of yesterday fades into a predictable case of the Mondays.  Not that you dislike your work, but it isn’t play.  Palm Sunday was full of energy and looked to the week ahead with anticipation and tension.  Then at home and the office, things on Monday look about that same as they did Friday.  The most important week of Jesus’ life seems to overlap with just another week in ours.

When we follow Jesus in the way we find that we are led to places like work, the Y, weekly errands and chores.  How, on this Monday, can you learn from Jesus who to walk in the way of the cross?  Truth-telling is one marker or walking in the way of Jesus.  Jesus overturns counterfeit and false narratives in order to point people to life.  What are there untruths being propagated at the places you will visit today?

In the same way Jesus comes into the temple and interrupts their normal pattern, we find that Jesus also enters our lives and disrupts our regular routine.  May this Holy Week once again unsettle and disorient us so that we can find our lives reordered according to Jesus’ way of truth-telling, grace, and life.

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

Collect for Monday in Holy Week, Book of Common Prayer

Meditation for Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is the beginning of our annual pilgrimage where we follow Jesus through the last week of his life.  Today’s worship began with a parade of children waving palm branches as the congregation sang loud hosannas.  More than a great photo op., this processional is one intended to honor and welcome the King of kings.

The crowds following Jesus know–at least they hope–he is the Son of David.  Jesus is the Redeemer and Liberator of Israel.  He is the one who will bring freedom, peace, and unity among the people.  The crowds had been waiting for their Messiah King who would set them free from Rome.  Then King Jesus rides into Jerusalem defying the expectations that he would be the one to wield the liberating sword that cuts down mighty Rome.  Jesus will tell his disciple to put away his sword.  He will ask forgiveness for those who torture and crucify him.  Jesus is a very different sort of King, one not recognized by the kingdoms of this world.

Throughout this week, I’ll be posting brief reflections on the events of Holy Week along with the collect of the day from the Book of Common Prayer.  I hope these reflections and prayers will be helpful as we learn to walk in the way of Jesus.

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the
human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to
take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross,
giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant
that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share
in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

Collect for Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Book of Common Prayer