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. So 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and 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. They 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus 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.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
I don’t like surprises very much – that probably speaks to my deep desire to control my environment and have things make sense as they happen. But there isn’t a whole lot about the Easter story that makes sense from the human perspective.
Jesus was killed. Murdered. Innocent of any crime and yet still sentenced to a very cruel and violent death. By us. Because you know you would have demanded his death right along with the crowd that day; I know I would have been swept up in the moment and in the energy of the masses and would have joined in the shouting of condemnation. I also would have regretted it once the dust settled and darkness covered the land. If I was a close follower of Jesus, then I may have gone and sat at the tomb to mourn as well and would have stood in disbelief to find Jesus gone on Sunday morning, my mouth standing open in that awkward, non-understanding way that I stand when I am utterly perplexed. I would have been a complete mess of emotions from Friday through Sunday and most likely even beyond into Monday.
I have the benefit of thousands of years of Easters. Being raised in faith, Easter has always been a big deal in our family – not the spiral ham and chocolate bunny big deal, but the glorious resurrection of our Lord big deal. Although I wasn’t in the crowd to yell, “Crucify Hiim!!!!” that fateful day and then mourn my mistakes and his death, the emotions I experience from the end of Maundy Thursday to the beauty and splendor of the Halleluiahs on Easter Day are just as varied. Friday feels dark and hopeless; Sunday feels like a fresh start and completely full of joy and wonder at the miracle.
Mary, Peter, the other disciple, Mary Magdelene – all experienced first hand the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. But sometimes – and most certainly THIS time – the news seems just TOO good. How can this be? Where does the body of their Jesus go? How can he appear to Mary and she doesn’t even recognize him until he calls her name? Our human brain just can’t comprehend the incomprehensible without time and thinking it through – but this is really good news and we want to believe it, right?
Today is that day. Today we choose to be Resurrection People – covered in grace and mercy for no other reason than unrelenting love. God’s love. I don’t believe that God condemns people to death – not my God. That means that Jesus died because God knew we would do that to him. And he loves us enough to do something beyond amazing – Jesus was raised from the dead to prove that the good news is really an understatement – it is Super, Awesome, Fantastic, Unbelievable News!!!! Jesus Christ is Risen Today – Halleluiah! This is more than we could have every dreamed, so let’s keep our faith focused, our practices loyal, our conversations filled with love and our words and our works spent on furthering God’s kingdom. It’s the least we can do when in the face of this REALLY Good News!
We are Resurrection People!
Risen Lord, be known to us as we work, watch, pray and love. We believe that you were risen from the dead to save us from ourselves. We give you thanks for the gift of life and the end of death. We worship you and we adore you. AMEN.
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea– for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
In 21st century America, we are invited to join, participate, follow, watch, pledge and try out a zillion different things. I’ve been invited to parties and participated in fundraisers; I’ve followed groups on Twitter, plan to watch the Super Bowl with friends, pledged a sorority in college, and auditioned for plays in community theatre. When I’m invited, I experience a range of emotions depending on the situation. Being invited to to follow someone on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean too much to me, while being invited to pledge my sorority may have changed the trajectory of my life as I entered adulthood. Invitations may be easy to accept or decline, depending on the attachment, commitment level and emotional involvement. But just being invited to participate can send a jolt of excitement (ok, maybe it’s not that exciting to follow someone on Twitter – but certainly more exciting to lead an organization or join a new group of friends in a fun Friday night activity). I am quite often caught off guard if I didn’t see the invitation coming (like someone asking me to lead a group when I don’t see myself as the leader before being asked) – receiving the request can be flattering and/or daunting, causing me to do a quick assessment of my skills to help me determine if I am up for the task.
Today’s Gospel reading finds Jesus fulfilling another prophecy related to charismatic John’s imprisonment and the unspoken freedom it gives Jesus to move to Galilee and really increase his presence as a teacher without the confusion of followers choosing between John and Jesus. But he knows he can’t do this without a long lasting group of followers. Andrew, Peter, James and John were most likely hard working fishermen who had little to no social standing in the community. They caught fish for a living; they didn’t run a bank, weren’t CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, nor were they lawyers or doctors. Their jobs were simple yet powerful – go out and get fish so people will eat. The parallel between the jobs of fishermen and the jobs of apostles can be drawn simply: you know how to fish, now let’s fish for people.
I have often wondered over the years, as this Gospel reading comes around, about how I would have likely reacted at the invitation to leave my livelihood and family to go and do some pretty crazy things without the security of my current life. Sadly, I always reach the same conclusion – I’m not very confident that my answer would have been a resounding yes. There is much evidence in my current life of resisting the call to serve, with most of those invitations not EVEN requiring me to give up much of anything. I am currently wrestling pretty mightily with a very radical and transformational call to ministry and if that is any indication, leaving my nets on the side of the Sea of Galilee seems like it may have been a pretty unlikely outcome.
So here is the great news…Jesus doesn’t really tap us on the shoulder and ask us to walk away from everything to do. Whew!!!!! His invitation is comprised of just asking us to follow him. Seems simple, right? Simple – yes. Easy to do – not so much. If you are anything like me, you wake up with great intentions for the way your day will go, or you go to bed on New Year’s Eve with a year’s worth of new commitments for bettering yourself, only to find yourself forgetting all about your commitments or well intentioned to-do lists. It’s hard to keep our focus on Christ and loving each other when we have to run to the grocery store on the way to the office to get the snacks for the meeting we will be hurrying to right after work and before we head home to fold laundry and make lunches for the next day (makes fishing on the Sea of Galilee seem quite simple after all!).
But following Jesus gives all those other things the appropriate purpose and perspective. Committing to adding purposeful study, prayer and actions that bear witness to our relationship with Christ can start with small habits in the morning when you first wake up, at the end of the day when you are ready to rest or all throughout the day mixed in with your other to-do list items. It’s somewhat surprising how quickly those “habits” become integrated in our lives when we do them with a purpose.
Following Christ may mean a drastic change in your lifestyle and commitments. Or it may mean adding in special time at the foot of the Cross each day. Whatever it means for you, the first step is accepting the invitation to accept that God has chosen and loves each and every one of us. The next steps are completely in your court.
The love of our Father is greater than we can imagine and our invitation to follow him sometimes falls on deaf ears. Help us to see you in the world, find time to spend with your in prayer, and to live our lives as followers of you. You are our All in All. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Lamb of God
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The First Disciples of Jesus
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
On Tuesday, I was given a very powerful gift. I walked into the school office at the end of the day to get some long overdue work completed as I waited for our PTA event later that evening. There are always a few kids whose parents are running a little late and the regulars were sitting in the chairs reading their books and waiting for their parents. Amidst the small group was a mom I knew – being new to our school this year, I am still learning the parents! This parent had two kids at my previous school and so we had known each other from there. She had a baby last spring and I always ask to hold him when she comes to school. Tuesday was no exception – I greeted her and offered my arms to this sweet angel and rekindled my love affair with him on the spot! She had some small talk with me, then asked if she could speak to me privately; we headed back to my office with her sweet pumpkin in my arms. Her other two weren’t with her at the time of our conversation when she asked me a favor. She needed to leave her car and wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be towed from our school parking lot. After some gentle probing, she shared she was out of gas and money and planned to walk home with her three children; one infant, one with a brain injury and a kindergartner (the older two still in their car seats in the parking lot). The short version of this story is that I had a choice Tuesday afternoon. As a school principal, I quickly agreed to make sure her car was safe. As a Christian, I had to take it a step further. It was one of the best afternoons I can remember once I made the decision to embrace this encounter and lend a hand. She made it home in her car that day with hopefully one less worry on her plate.
Every day, we have encounters with Christ in our regular lives. My little encounter this week wasn’t on the agenda of my carefully planned out day. My opportunity wasn’t specific to my faith, but my choice was made easier because if it. John and the disciples had choices to make as they encountered Jesus. The historical context of describing Jesus as the “Lamb of God” was a descriptor that meant a great deal to the Jews. Before Christ the Messiah was crucified for our sins, the faithful used animal sacrifice as their method of forgiveness from God. Jesus’ place in the Kingdom of God was so significant as to negate the need for this ritual that was embedded into the traditions of the faithful. I’m going to guess that I would have been pretty skeptical of such a drastic attempt at change based on my track record. But the disciples embraced Jesus as the Messiah, and the encounter was life changing for them. They walked away from their families and their roles in the community to follow Jesus on a wild adventure. They embraced the encounter in a way that makes sense today, but must have seemed incredibly unusual and quite risky with benefits that would be hard to see at the time to the casual observer.
The opportunities may not be so dramatic and might not cause us to so drastically change the course of our lives, but they are present and give us the chance to serve in ways we never imagined. And if you are like me, you may miss them if you focus on YOUR plans, YOUR agenda and YOUR comfort level. My opportunity on Tuesday didn’t cost me much money or time, but the rewards I received knowing I could be the right person at the right time to help someone in need were immeasurable. When she thanked me, I thanked her too. She didn’t approach me to make me feel good, but I was so enriched by the experience. Sometimes God has plans for us that don’t align with our vision for ourselves. Taking the risk to embrace the encounters put in our paths can enrich us beyond imagination. Where is God working in your life to get your attention?
Lamb of God, Giver of Gifts and Knower of Needs, I pray for families in need. May I always be open to responding to any encounters where I can serve you through others and know that you will continue to challenge me to show love to all I meet. Thank you for trusting me to do your work in the world. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
We’ve been stuck in the ice since Thursday night, victims of “Icemageddon 2013” in North Texas. We have come together to laugh and watch movies, gone to our separate corners to have time alone and have skated across the driveway to use a hairdryer in an effort to free the teenager’s car encased in an ice tomb. Our part of the world can get ice without snow and there is really no way to save the trees that have snapped and the cars that have collided when everything is covered in ice. So we are pretty much just hunkered down, waiting until we can peek above the freezing mark which will hopefully come soon so life can get back to normal.
I generally prefer NOT to have a day off from school – a day that will have to made up on a beautiful spring Friday where the weather is perfect, I’m sure! But I can’t even tell you how much this gift of time has been appreciated. All the hectic holiday schedules were cancelled and the tempo of time has slowed down considerably. As I have reflected and studied this week’s Gospel reading from Mark, I am struck by the image created in my mind of John the Baptist.
I picture this really crazy looking guy showing up when least expected. The Pharisees and Sadduccees are up to speed on the prophets’ stories and John seems pretty darn far fetched as the one who prepares the people for the coming of the Lord! Dressed as an outsider and maybe even smelling a little ripe, John comes on the scene shouting of repentance and that the Lord is coming, taking people to the Jordan river to experience baptism, a completely new concept in the traditions of the faith at the time.
As John is calling out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy, I can only imagine their confusion. That same confusion still exists today in those who proclaim their faith with television ratings and prosperity gospels, with our own hypocrisy in what we say we believe and the story our actions and words tell that conflict with those beliefs – the self-righteous were hustling to get baptized by John for sure. But John throws cold water on this party as he tells about Jesus who will separate the wheat from the chaff (or the righteous from the lowly) and bring those who need mercy into the fold while banishing the rest of them (or us!) from the Kingdom of God.
So here are a few observations about this story and what we can learn from it in today’s world:
- God doesn’t seem to select the high and mighty to tell of his kingdom. He chooses the lowly, the ones who look and sound different from the usual leaders. So listen to everyone with a discerning ear and a loving heart.
- Get ready y’all! Advent gives us the time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the future coming of Christ into the world. Don’t squander the time we need to get ready for all God has prepared for us.
- Don’t be the chaff. Don’t be a wasted part of the world. Add value to all you meet, love with reckless abandon, even when it is uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to listen to God’s message in your life.
- If you aren’t living the life you know that God is intending for you, take a step toward that today. One step forward brings you closer to God. Don’t assume that just showing up at church will ever be enough to meet God in his desired relationship with you. He wants to be known to us and makes himself available whenever we take the time to notice.
So, prepare the way of the Lord. Make it easy to find you on the threshing room floor when the time comes, or the ice thaws once and for all.
Giver of life, you have given us all we need to love you and follow you. Thank you for your goodness and mercy. Draw us nearer to you so that we may do the work you have called us to do in your kingdom. Give us strength and courage to love and serve you, preparing ourselves for your coming into the world. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
When I was a freshman in college, I experienced one of the greatest social experiments for students this age – I pledged a sorority. I went to college far from home; no phone back then (much less a cell phone!!), no T.V., no car and not a soul that I knew. Sorority rush was a few weeks after I arrived and I immediately felt a sense of belonging on my bid day. I not only had new friends, but I also spent the semester learning about the beliefs of our founders and was introduced to a life long focus on serving others and philanthropy within a community, separate from my parents and my childhood and something I could own and believe in.
I remember standing in line on bid day and there was a group of girls in front of me that clearly all knew each other. They laughed at jokes that had unspoken insider information and already seemed to have that “sisterhood” thing before even accepting their bid. But some of them weren’t like girls I had ever known. They dressed differently, talked with strange accents from parts of the country I had never visited – and I was quite intimidated. Fast forward 27 years and these are some of my lifelong friends and sisters. All I needed was the “invitation.”
Being a follower of Christ is so much greater than my sisterhood in my sorority. Some obvious differences include that EVERYONE is invited to believe and follow Christ, no one who chooses to live a life in Christ will ever feel rejected in that relationship and we don’t have to DO ANYTHING to be deserving of acceptance. This verse from John describes the complex and simple dichotomy of the relationship of Jesus with God – both praying to the Lord and depicting his role as part of the Trinity, therefore inclusive WITH God. His words from verse 22-24 are a clear articulation of Jesus’ desire to share his knowledge and love of God with his friends and followers, as well as for you and me.
The world gets a lot more simplified when we view it through this lens of love. Loving our neighbors as ourselves, God’s love for the world and its people illustrated through sending his Son to take away our sins, loving our enemies, and trying to love ourselves as God loves us. All the other stuff we experience in the world can be flipped around if we filter it with love. Just try feeling anything other than love for someone who wrongs you when you remember that he or she is a child of God, just like you! It’s much harder to hang on to hurt when we are invited to love. Loving Christ and others through him makes everything easier to handle and the world a much better place.
God of love, open our hearts to reach out in love to those around us; at home, at work, at school, in our community and those we don’t even know. Help us to feel your love for us each day and to live out our lives in a way that honors your greatest commandment. We thank you for your many gifts and we ask you to lift our eyes to you to feel your love for us. In your name we pray. AMEN.