Sunday, March 23, 2008

Out from the tomb

It’s hard to write an Easter sermon before it’s actually Easter. As I journeyed through Holy Week in scripture I found it difficult to move past the events and emotions of each day to the glorious surprise that would greet the women when they went to properly prepare the body of Jesus as it lay in the tomb.

Imagine what that morning must have been like. The sun is just rising as the two Marys arrive. It’s the soonest they could go there without violating the Sabbath – what must Saturday have been like for them? Grieving and yet unable to do the things that help with grieving – unable to wash and anoint the body, unable to look at their teacher one last time. And so they arrive, tired and worn from the events of the week, emotionally exhausted, dreading the work ahead of them and yet filled with a great desire to perform this one last service for their master. When they arrive, there was a great earthquake! An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone and sat upon it! His appearance was like lightening, his clothes as white as snow. His appearance was so unworldly that the guards, military men, fainted from fear! But apparently not the women, for the angel said “Do not be afraid.” If we needed any proof that this was, indeed, an angel, these words alone would let us know. Every time God’s messengers appear that’s the first thing they say “Do not be afraid,” and with good reason. If someone who shone so brightly it was hard to look at him suddenly appeared to me, accompanied by an earthquake, I’d be afraid!

And then his message. “You are looking for Jesus. He isn’t here. He is risen, as he said he would be. Come, look. Then go tell the others.”

Even now, on Easter day, it’s still hard to leave the place of the empty tomb. The temptation is to stay there, and look inside to make sure he’s really not there. To gather some sort of evidence to prove to the others he’s really gone. The temptation is to stay and talk about it, and wonder what to do next. I can imagine myself standing there saying “I know, we’ve been given directions by an angel of the Lord, but really Mary, what do you think happened here? How are we going to explain this? You know the others are never going to believe this!”

They do leave, of course, in great fear and joy. And on their way, they meet Jesus. And they fall to their knees, and grab hold of his feet, and worship him. Probably crying and laughing at the same time. Alternately asking incoherent questions and struck silent by the wonder of the morning’s experiences. And again they hear the words of God’s messengers, “Do not be afraid.” He tells them what the angel has already told them – Go and tell the disciples to meet me in Galilee.

Go back to where it all began, to the place where John was baptizing, to the place where the disciples were chosen, to the place where the water was changed to wine, to the place the first demons were cast out and the first sick were healed. Go, I will meet you there.

We know that Jesus would indeed meet the disciples there – that his ministry hadn’t ended yet. Rather, now would begin an intensive time of study. He would spend the next forty days teaching the disciples the things they needed to know to carry the Good News of God’s Kingdom out into the world. He could have taught them anywhere. But he deliberately took them back to the place where they had first become his followers.

Earlier this week, while trying to understand the message of Easter, I looked up the symbols we use to symbolize Easter. It was a long list including lilies, and eggs, and bunnies, and spring flowers – lots of things that indicate spring and new life. At the very bottom of the list was the butterfly. I found that kind of fascinating, because we’ve been using butterflies as our symbol these last couple of years. The butterfly is a symbol, not just of Easter, but Jesus as a whole. The caterpillar, earthbound and rather ordinary, indicates Jesus’ life, when he lived as an ordinary man for some thirty years. The chrysalis is his death and the time he spent in the tomb, a time when the preparations were being made for transformation. And the butterfly, so delicate and beautiful, but so strong it can ride out a hurricane, is the resurrected Christ.

Have you ever seen a butterfly when it first emerges from the chrysalis? It doesn’t burst out ready to fly. It comes out slowly, with great struggle. It comes out sort of wet and wrinkly and vulnerable and has to sit still for a while until it’s wings are dry and ready to spread.

This is where the disciples were in their transformation. They were changed, but not quite ready to fly yet. They had to go back to the beginning – to the beginning of a new life and a new understanding of the Word. Soon they would be ready to spread their wings and carry the Good News all across the world. But first, they had to prepare. They had to leave behind their old understandings and embrace the new.

What does it mean for us that the same instruction, “Go to Galilee. Jesus will meet you there.” is given twice in this short passage? We know something new was about to enter the world. Something so beautiful and amazing that it would spread across the entire world. But on Easter it wasn’t quite ready yet – the disciples weren’t ready yet.

Perhaps today it tells us to go back – back to the place where we first met Jesus. Back to our early excitement about his teachings, about the knowledge that through him we came to know God’s steadfast love, infinite compassion, and willing forgiveness. Back to that sense of awe and wonder that came when we first believed Jesus Loves Me – even Me!

On this Easter Sunday, let us go back to that beginning. Let us leave the empty tomb behind so we can spread our wings and begin life anew. So that we can shout hosanna with fervor and meaning – with tears and laughter – and let that shout ring out into the world. Christ is Risen! (Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna! 222)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Boomerang Prayers

For the last month or so, I 've been signing off all the emails I send with the phrase "May your day be filled with unexpected blessings." Maybe it's because I've been seeing and saying that phrase so much, but lately I've been seeing so many blessings!

The other day I was in line at the McDonald's drive-thru. I'm there a lot - so much that I'm on first name basis with the woman at the payment window. I'd been so busy preparing for all the Holy Week events leading up to Easter and trying to get two weeks work done in advance so I can go on vacation with good conscience that I was feeling anxious and overwhelmed. As I waited for my change Patsy was reacting to the demanding customer ahead of me saying "How can anyone be unhappy during Holy Week? 2000 years ago our Lord was on his journey of love and redemption. There is so much to be joyful about!" I said to her, "Please pray that for me, Patsy. I'm so tired and there's so much more to do." When I pulled away she was already praying. What an unexpected blessing! As the day continued one blessing followed closely upon the next - a worship team member said she'd take care of worship while I was on vacation, a friend sent an email with Erma Bombeck's reminder to take our blessings where ever we find them.

I told my spiritual director about this and several other recent experiences with unexpected blessings. She said that my email prayers for others were acting like boomerangs coming back to bless me.

I plan to keep praying that prayer. If nothing else, it helps me recognize the unexpected blessings in the ordinary occurances of my day. May your day be filled with unexpected blessings.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Limping for Laurie

Wow! What a day it was! It was my first ever time participating in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for Breast Cancer. The day started really early - I was at our team leader's house at 6:40 am so we could get to the Rose Bowl by 7:30. We met up with the other members of the Limpin' for Laurie Team - 19 adults and 2 small children! - and immediately started hitting all the info booths gathering much free pink merchandise. The local Oldie Goldie radio station was entertaining the crowd while we waited for the opening ceremony to honor the survivors. As all those women and 2 men paraded past the other thousands of us waiting to walk there was cheering and applause. A large group of young women from Zeta Tau Alpha sorority seemed to be everywhere, acting as cheerleaders for the walkers, carrying pink banners to escort the survivors, handing out bottles of water and generally making themselves invaluable. Two of my favorite personalities from CBS news were there to make introductions and start us off.

It seemed like we were there forever before we actually began to walk, but once we did all the waiting around didn't matter anymore. The Zeta Tau Alphas were stationed along the route to cheer us on, high fiving everyone who came within reach. Our group of 19 got split up somehow but the road was so filled with walkers that there was no stopping and waiting or turning around! We all kept encouraging each other to keep going and reminding each other why we were walking. OK, it was only 5K but I don't walk. I have bad feet and even standing long enough to preach hurts, but somehow walking with all those people for such a good reason energized me and made me more determined to make it the whole way.

When we reached the end there were crowds of people cheering and taking our pictures. It was good to feel important, but we all knew who the really important people were. They were Laurie, and Allyson, and Katherine, and Gayle, and Stasi and all the other survivors and victims of breast cancer. They were the reason we were there. And they're the reason I'll be there again next year.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Five - Palms

And can you believe that in two days it will be Palm Sunday for Western Christians? Our Lent is almost over, while our Orthodox sisters and brothers, whose liturgical year follows the older Julian calendar, are just starting theirs.

To help you adjust--and enjoy the process--here's a Friday Five about time and transitions....

1. If you could travel to any historical time period, which would it be, and why?

Around the 6th century in Ireland to experience the leadership of women in the church as a thing that didn't make headlines, because it was the accepted way of being Church.

2. What futuristic/science fiction development would you most like to see?

Self-driving, solar powered cars! Good for the environment and auto accidents would be a thing of - well, the past.

3. Which do you enjoy more: remembering the past, or dreaming for the future?

Dreaming for the future while working toward it. I just know there are great things in the future for my congregation and I can visualize them clearly. It's just going to be a lot of work.

4. What do you find most memorable about this year's Lent?

A new sense of excitement about possibilities. The congregation is living through Lent in self-examination, knowing the present is bleak but joyfully anticipating their own resurrection in the not too distant future.

5. How will you spend your time during this upcoming Holy Week? What part do you look forward to most?

Really? I'll spend the week trying to get everything done for two weeks so I can go on vacation at 5 pm on Easter Sunday!

I really look forward to the Good Friday Prayer Vigil, when I will get to spend time alone in the sanctuary with God and not feel like I should be "doing" something.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Week in the Life

A dramatic presentation of the final week in the life of the Christ.

Enter: Dancing, singing Hosana (tune from Superstar), carrying palms

He’s coming! Why are you sitting here? Come On! Jesus of Nazareth is coming! He’s entering the city anytime now. . . Oh - you need palms, here . . .

There’s another procession today of course. There always is at the beginning of Passover week. Pilate’s coming into the city today too. And the crowds will be lining the streets over there - but THEY won’t be happy. It’s such a formal procession - Pilate and the soldiers . I heard his wife was coming with him this time. Surprising, they don’t much like it here in Jerusalem. Of course, we don’t much like them either. All the power of Rome exemplified in that procession, and opposite that, Jesus, coming in humbly as the prophet said, with the power of God behind him

Things are going to change now, I tell you what. Jesus is coming! He’s the promised one, the messiah, the one who was prophesied to save us from oppression. I’ll betcha that by the end of Passover - by this time next week! - Pilate will be gone and Jesus will be sitting pretty in the governors palace!

“OK, you all stay there. He’ll be along soon. Blessed be the son of David, Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosana! (dance out)

(Come back in singing “Were you there”)

He’s dead. I saw him die! How can that be? God, why did you let this happen? I guess we should have known. . . you just can’t defy the Temple and Rome the way he did without consequences. But we were so sure!

(tell story of the events of the week)
Monday - turning over the tables in the temple
Tuesday - beat the Scribes in debate, told us there are two great commandments that are most important to follow.
Wednesday, things started getting strange - dinner at the home of simon the leper. Woman with alabaster jar. Death prediction
Thursday - Passover meal, a betrayer! Arrest in the garden at Mount of Olives.
Friday - another procession, him on his way to be executed. Beaten and bloodied, so weak. Spikes nailed in his hands, people taunting and teasing him. Got so dark at noon time, Silent until the last moment. “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Centurian “This man is the son of god.” Joseph got permission to bury him. They put him in the tomb just as he came down from the cross, and that’s not right. We couldn’t do anything then, Sabbath was beginning. But after the Sabbath ends we’ll go clean and anoint him, prepare him properly.

We ran away last night, just as he said we would. He knows us so well. And we’ve all scattered, all his followers. We’re worried - the Romans might come after us. We’re going to meet later to talk about what to do next. But everything he taught me, everything he said tells me it’s not all over - not to give up. I don’t know what’s coming, but I know he devoted his life to me, to us, to all the people. So the best I can do now is devote myself to living the way he would want me to live - to follow the teachings he brought to us from God - to offer the gift of my life, my love, to God in honor of Jesus. Lord, Take my gifts and use them for your glory!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What happened to Tuesdays?

Every Sunday afternoon I say to myself, "Self, THIS week you're going to see what all those RevGals are doing with the lectionary this week." And then suddenly it's Wednesday. Once again, I have totally missed Tuesday Lectionary Leanings.

Yes, I can go look to see what everyone else is doing, but that's not the same as participating in the conversation. Tuesdays fill up so quickly, even when my calendar says I have the day free. "Free" only mean no appointments or meetings. It doesn't mean the phone won't ring, or the Sunday bulletin is ready, or the newsletter doesn't have to be put together, or the SouperBowl of Caring folks won't need me to fill out a survey NOW, or a member won't drop into the office to talk "for just a minute," or .....

Oh well. Next week for sure! :-)