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 the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
- “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
- according to your word;
- for my eyes have seen your salvation,
- which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
- a light for revelation to the Gentiles
- and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
We were on vacation on the island of Kauai about eight years ago and visited a local church for Sunday worship, as we try to do whenever we travel. We happened upon the yearly visit from the Bishop of Hawaii, so the church was packed and there was a high level of excitement present at the gathering. One of the great things about worshiping God in the Episcopal Church is the familiarity of the liturgy, no matter where you go, but there are still subtle nuances in each individual parish which make it a distinctive experience, and the Bishop’s visit was certainly a factor making this visit even more unique. We were about halfway through the sermon when my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear…”Do you know who that is?” and he pointed to a gentleman sitting in the pew in front of ours. Let’s start with this – I have a terrible memory. I also need a lot of scaffolding to keep information safely in my brain and I couldn’t place this guy at all. David tried to give me a few subtle hints, but I was getting nowhere. Then he shared that it was Beau Bridges, the actor and brother of Jeff Bridges. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts (as most of the worshipers were as well) and he passed the peace to us later in the service like he was just another guy and without any hint of his fame and fortune. We chatted with him later and learned this was his home parish, and he welcomed us as parishioners should always welcome any visitors to their church.
But I didn’t recognize him at all. David not only recognized him, but was able to name many of his appearances in movies and on TV. Once I was told who he was and what roles he had, I was able to make the connection in my memory. Without the help of my husband (whose ability to remember and recognize people from his past is LEGENDARY!) I would have never even noticed Beau Bridges. For me, it took someone to make that connection for me – then I was a bit starstruck and distracted the rest of the service, admittedly.
Simeon knew that he had to meet God’s Messiah before dying. He knew to go the temple the day that a little baby named Jesus was brought by Mary and Joseph to be presented as he was “guided by the Holy Spirit” to be there that day to meet him. I am sure that Mary and Joseph knew that their roles as parents to Jesus were a bit out of the ordinary based on the experiences with the archangel and the whole “born in a manger” thing, but they still may not have understood at that time the significance their little boy would have on them and the world. Simeon didn’t necessarily know that either, but the prayer he speaks following his meeting of a little child in the temple speaks loud and clear that he understood something huge had just happened to him and to the world. That prayer has been so important in the life and development of the Christian church that it is found in our Book of Common Prayer, specifically in the service of Compline found here.
Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
His parents seemed to be surprised by this spontaneous prayer from a stranger who recognized the significance of Jesus’ presence on Earth. Simeon hugged Jesus and then told Mary a great foreshadowing of her life as a mother and the powerful impact on the world that Jesus would have. He RECOGNIZED both the greatness of Jesus’ life and the pain that would come to Mary as a result. There were most likely others in the temple that day, but Simeon was the one who knew that this small child would change the world. After Simeon, the elderly lady named Anna had a similar experience. She appears to have spent her nights and days in worship at the temple around the clock, and must have seen folks coming and going all day long. But something was different about Jesus. She wasn’t afraid to go and tell all who came after of the saving grace of Jesus in Jerusalem.
Beau Bridges was lovely and welcoming to us that day in church, but Jesus is so much more to all who turn to him. As we look ahead to more severe winter weather, the picture for today’s entry is that of the flower called the Snowdrop flower. It is a winter flower that appears around February 2nd for the first time, the day some refer to as Candlemas – celebrating the cleansing of Mary following the birth of Jesus when the baby is brought to the temple for the first time. It looks like such a fragile flower but has an incredible design that encourages it to bloom in the darkest and coldest times of winter.
We don’t always feel equipped to face the dark and cold times that challenge us in our daily lives ourselves. But the strength comes from somewhere beyond us and directly from the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Simeon would have missed out on his lifetime opportunity if he had ignored the will of the Lord. Anna’s deliberate existence in the very presence of the Lord gave her the chance to speak to others about Jesus in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t stayed the course. God gives us strength to face our challenges and provides us all we need if we will just take a moment to recognize it, even if it is hidden right in plain sight.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, and we accept the call to recognize Your Presence in our lives. The gift of your son was life-changing and in an enduring influence on our work in the world. Thank you for always finding ways to reach us and have us see you in the face of others. In your name we pray. AMEN
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
As a child growing up in our family, we entertained friends pretty often in our home. When one of these visits or events was coming up, we all were given jobs to do to prepare the house. To say that it was stressful was an understatement and it didn’t always bring out the best in each of us, especially my Mom. She was so worried that the house wasn’t clean enough, that the food and drinks wouldn’t be ready and that our guests would think less of her and our family because the conditions weren’t “perfect” for entertaining.
My Mom was like Martha, and I am sure if Jesus had been the invited guest himself she would have complained about all of us not helping her enough too! Mom often spent so much of her energy worried about what others might need or what needed to get finished that she may have missed out on some really special moments. I think I have the same tendencies – I don’t entertain as much or often as Mom did, but I do get worried and stressed out when I know someone is coming over…is the house prepared, the bathroom cleaned, the food enough to feed everyone, etc. I have to really make a conscious effort to plan ahead so I don’t fall into the trap that caught my Mom over the years because I so enjoy when folks are over at our home for a visit.
Then there’s Mary. Mary may not share Martha’s gift of hospitality, but she is certainly able to capitalize on the opportunity of having Jesus in her home! While we may not have the physical presence of our Lord and Savior at the kitchen table with us for a meal, do we take the time to stop and just be with Jesus?
One of the readings from Morning Prayer today was Psalm 63 – one of my all time favorites. Here is the text of my favorite verse from this psalm:
1 O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
The first line of this Psalm sets the tone for me. I need to find the time, make the time if needed, to just BE in God’s presence. I need this….we all need this like we need water and our other basic needs. Like you, my life is quite busy. I have a very demanding professional life and a full family life as well. But I want to define myself first and foremost as a follower of Christ. There are ups and downs in any relationship – with our spouse, our friends, our co-workers, and others. I think we can all agree that the more energy we put into a relationship the more likely that it results in a great outcome! When I invest the time, no matter how busy I am, and choose to be in the presence of God just like Mary did that day amid the hustle and bustle of Martha’s scurrying about, then I will choose the “one thing” Jesus describes in verse 42 of today’s reading from Luke. Choosing to be in the presence of the Lord will give us more meaning, more joy, more security, more love and more purpose than all the chores in the world.
So I commit to spending just the right amount of time in my Martha role preparing for and serving others and more time in my Mary role, enjoying the grace of our Lord. Both are necessary in this gift of relationship with Christ, but we need to make sure it is balanced time spent.
Your presence is all I need today, Lord. Help me stay focused on serving others when it is time and carve out time to talk to you and be with you every day. Thank you for your presence in my life. AMEN.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Jesus words from the Gospel of John speak about one of great mysteries of the Christian faith. Christianity is monotheistic; we believe in one God. But within our God is the belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – all three in one, making up the Trinity. Yesterday, we celebrated Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost.
That our God is complete only within the Trinity is too complex for us to understand at the deepest levels. The Book of Common Prayer has in the catechism this simple question and answer about the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit
Q. What is the Holy Spirit?
A. The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now.
God the Creator was present from the beginning. As was foretold in the Old Testament (Isaiah especially), God sent his Son to live as one of us and die for our sins – the second piece of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was sent as the one true Advocate after Jesus ascended to heaven for the last time after his death and resurrection (see last week’s blog post here https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/the-fire-of-gods-love/) This was the final piece of the Trinity revealed to God’s people. One God in Three Persons; the Blessed Trinity.
Now, I am a simple girl that sees the world as pretty black and white. I love the structure that comes with rules and tend to be literal in their interpretation. But let’s face it – literally speaking, the Trinity makes no sense. Is it three Gods? How does God come as a man then rise from the dead as Jesus? The Holy Spirit???? Kind of creepy if you just focus on this formless and shapeless being that does God’s work in the world without the context of understanding that this just isn’t for us to fully understand. But I like to understand my world and so I need a little something to help me.
For me, the Trinity is a system. To compare, we have a nervous system in our body, along with muscular, digestive, skeletal, reproductive, respiratory systems, etc. Any one of those systems cannot make our body work as a stand alone. The muscular system helps us to move our arms, legs, and bodies to move throughout our lives. It is useless without our nervous system to tell which muscles to move and when. There is nothing for the digestive system to do if we don’t have muscles moving to get the food to the stomach. We are an intricate melding of systems to make the one body work. Science has helped us understand these systems and many others in the world, providing structure and order to a complex concept.
I like to think of the Trinity as a system. God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit – all are necessary for the fulfillment of God’s purpose in the world. God created us and gave us the talents and capabilities to do the things he has designed for each of us. Jesus came to the world to save us from the unfortunate decisions we make and give us a promise of eternal life with God. And the Holy Spirit resides in and around us, guiding us to do the work God the Creator intends us to do. I’m sure it is way more beautiful and simple than this rudimentary explanation, which will be revealed to us when we are granted complete healing upon our death; but for now, this systems thinking of the Trinity helps me wrap my brain around the awesome wonder that is our God.
For me, awakening to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is my focus. I just came back from a Centering Prayer Retreat at St. Mary’s in Sewanee, TN (http://www.stmaryssewanee.org/). I feel closer to the Holy Spirit part of the system through the learning of the technique of Centering Prayer and hope to develop this habit fully in my prayer life. Each of us is called by God to do his Kingdom Work. I pray that I may feel the power and presence of the Holy Spirit every day as I discern how God is planning for me to live out his Word.
God the Creator, thank you for the gift of the Trinity. Your grace and mercy in our creation is awesome and we praise you. Send us out in the world to serve and honor you in all we do and say. We ask all your blessings through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN