Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Sunday, Year A

Come and See, Go and Tell

Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10

A Christian, a Jew, a Moslem and an atheist were having a conversation one day.

"It really isn't fair," commented the atheist. "You all have special days to celebrate. For you Christians there's Christmas and Easter. You Jews have Passover and Hanukah. Moslems have Ramadan. What's left for us atheists?"

The Christian leaned over and offered, "You can have April the 1st."

I begin my sermon with that story for a couple of reasons. One is reflected in the custom in some parts of Eastern Catholicism to tell jokes on Easter Sunday to imitate God’s last laugh on Satan, who thought he had won with the death of Jesus. The other is because there are those who believe that we Christians are celebrating April Fools' Day today. "How can you believe such a story? Aren't you simply deluding yourself? It arises out of your own fears. You're simply trying to paint a rosy picture because you don't want to face the fact that once life is over, that's it."

Then there are the skeptics who will say: "I'll believe if only you'll give me proof positive that any of this happened."

We may call ourselves fools for Christ. But there is nothing foolish about being a Christian. There is no fooling about our celebration this morning. We are here as witnesses of the most momentous event of all times. Death is conquered. Christ is victorious. We acclaim that great victory.

But the truth remains; the skeptics are right in a way. I cannot provide you with proof. There aren't a lot of facts. And looking around at a world torn by war, terrorism and civil strife, how can we presume to preach a message of the risen Christ? In a world where children die of hunger, how do we convey a message of hope for a better existence? In a world in which 'seeing is believing' how can we possibly convince people to have faith in something so intangible, so incredible? In a world of fast fixes how do we convince people of the need to commit themselves to a way of life that benefits them, not now but in the afterlife? How do we help people to open up to the signs of resurrection around them? For the signs are there, if only we look for them. If we are to see and understand resurrection, it will happen through the ordinary, the things that we are so prone to simply overlook or dismiss.

Take Matthew’s account of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Matthew tells us, followers of Jesus, went to the tomb. It was their intention to bury Jesus properly, and so they came carrying the necessary oils, herbs and spices. They came to wash him and anoint him. Such were simple acts of kindness, all that they could do under the circumstances. He had been taken down hurriedly from the cross late in the afternoon. There had been no time to do anything but place his body in the tomb. Now it requires their attention. They cannot simply leave him, this person who has meant so much to them.

That simple act changes their ordinary lives. Yes! First of all Matthew needs to take care of a few loose ends. There is the huge stone that the authorities have rolled in place to block the tomb. Suddenly there is an earthquake as an angel rolls back the stone, and then sits on it. That takes care, not only of the huge stone, but also of another issue facing the believers. The guards are so shaken by the event that they become ‘like dead men’. The angel, the messenger, then issues an invitation to the women. “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”

Just a few hours before, they had lovingly laid his body to rest in the tomb. They can picture it, every detail of his battered body. And so they look in. They see the emptiness of the tomb. Jesus is not there. Seeing they believe.

That is not the end of the story, but only the beginning. The angel sends them out on a mission. “Go and tell the others that he has been raised from the dead. He is going to Galilee. You will see him there.”

They are filled with mixed emotions, both fear and great joy. Now they are the ones who are to testify to the fact that he has been raised from the dead. They go as fast as they can to the disciples. On the way they are met by the risen Christ. They fall at his feet to worship him. This time it is Jesus who tells them to let the others know.

Their ordinary lives are changed at the empty tomb. They encounter the risen Christ. Their fears pass into distant memories. They find new meaning and immense joy in their faith.

They came. They saw. They believed.

Where do we encounter the risen Lord? What signs of resurrection do we witness in our daily lives? Where is the risen Lord to be found? The resurrection has not ended. It happens every day in our ordinary lives. Looking back over our lives we will see the scattered graces of God opening up to us the mystery of the resurrection. Perhaps for you it is the wonder of holding your child in your arms for the first time. Or the joy that came as you realized you were head over heels in love. Was it a perfect rainbow in the sky that left you breathless? Or the smell of spring in the air after a long winter? Or as with a friend of mine, was it a miracle that you simply cannot explain?

My friend was reminiscing about growing up in Jamaica. He was at his great grandmother’s house. Times were tough for her and it was March, the fallow season. There was not a scrap of food in the house. His great grandmother said to him, “I don’t think the Lord wants us to go hungry. Go check out the breadfruit trees. See what you can find.” Yes, bread does grow on trees in Jamaica!

So off he went and did as he was told. But not surprisingly, not one breadfruit was to be found.

He went back sadly to report to his great grandmother. “Go and look again,” she said. “Look more carefully!”

Off he went once more. He checked every tree, looking in all the likely places at the tips of the largest branches. Not one breadfruit did he find! Back he went to his great grandmother.

“Just check one more time!” she asked him. Back he went for the third time. This time he scoured every tree. He could not believe his eyes. There nestled on a shoot was the largest breadfruit he had ever seen.

“There is only one explanation,” he told me. “It was a miracle! God put it there! A perfectly ripe, beautiful breadfruit in the most unexpected place!

The Easter story has not changed. We disciples of Jesus go preaching and baptizing with doubt in our hearts. Unbelievers continue to explain away events. We keep on searching for Easter, and sometimes we are met with disappointment. But let us keep on looking. For the ending of fear and doubt is the empty tomb itself. We go looking for Jesus who was crucified. But he is not in the tomb. He has been raised. The signs of that are all around us, if only we will open our eyes.

So follow the story to its natural conclusion. Do not stop to worry like dead men. Go and tell the good news. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Palm / Passion Sunday, Year A

What About You?

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

There is a painting by Rembrandt entitled the Three Crosses that depicts the crucifixion. Your eyes are first drawn to the figure of Christ on the cross, lifted high above the crowds. Then you start to examine the people in the crowd. You notice the various facial expressions and actions, some praying, some jeering, some disinterested, looking away. If you keep searching through the crowd, you will catch sight of a figure hidden in the shadows. Many believe it to be a representation of Rembrandt himself, recognizing his own complicity in the death of Christ.

Have we not all wondered what we would have done had we been on hand to witness the events first hand? The Passion narrative challenges us to reflect on exactly that. There were as many reactions to Jesus’ plight as there were people in the story.

Would we have reacted like the disciples? The disciples, his closest friends, those who listened day after day to Jesus’ teachings, could not stay awake with him. They could not watch and pray even for one hour. And when it came time to make a decision to follow him they ran away in fear, unable to face the consequences, the danger that knowing Jesus put them into. Even Peter, his words still ringing out loud and clear, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Under the strain he too runs away. All the good intentions in the world are not enough. When life gets difficult do we blame God and run away?

Judas betrayed him for what he could get. And yet somehow I wonder if he really did want to betray him. Did he think that somehow he might be able to save Jesus? Did he want to give Jesus the opportunity to fight back, to become the kind of Messiah that he had been expecting? No matter! He betrays him. He takes what he can get. Is that our approach to the faith? Are we simply in it to get what we can? Is our job or wealth more important to us than those we love? Do we pay more attention to work than to family? Are we faithful to God’s call despite personal sacrifices? What impact do Christ’s death and resurrection have in our lives?

The crowds jeered at Jesus. The same people who had shouted hosanna just a few short days before turned on him. “Crucify him!” they shouted, the mob mentality taking over. Do our lackadaisical attitudes, our inability to stand up against the crowd, our opting in to the ways of the world, crucify Jesus?

And then there is Pilate. His is surely the most subtle way to react. He is the one person who has the power to release Jesus. He knows that this is an innocent man standing before him. He even has his wife’s dream to corroborate it. “Have nothing to do with that innocent man,” she pleads. “I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” And yet he turns his back on Jesus. He releases a known criminal to the crowds. Not that he takes responsibility for his actions. Instead he calls for a bowl of water. He washes his hands. “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”

We humans are very good at doing that. We wash our hands of it. As if that is going to change anything! Throughout history we have washed our hands of event after event. For two hundred years we have washed our hands of our responsibility towards our Aboriginal peoples. Many still refuse to understand the impact that the Residential Schools had on them. Many refuse to understand the impact of the abuse or the family dysfunction that has arisen because of it. As so often happens in cases of abuse, we blame the victims and further their victimization. We continue to say that it has nothing to do with us and wash our hands of it as we have for two hundred years.

Thank God that God has not simply washed God’s hands of us. God could have looked at humankind and given up. But that is not God’s way. It is not what God did. Instead, God acted. God sent salvation into the world. It was not about making life easy for us. It was not about manipulating us into making a decision to follow God. It was to enable us to reach out to others, to lead people back to God, to act.

It is easy for us as Easter people to say what our reaction to Jesus’ plight would have been. And yet so often our actions show differently. Daily we crucify him.

On Ash Wednesday we began a journey that has led us through wilderness times. The journey ends at the foot of the cross where we await the joyful resurrection to new life. The call of the cross is a call to share in God’s unconditional mercy and goodness. It is a reminder that God’s power is able to transform even the most terrible suffering. It is a reminder that God is with us. In our encounter with the crucified God may we learn that the sharing of suffering is the beginning of its transformation to wholeness and joy. Amen.

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...