Scripture: John 20:1-18
He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
This one statement has been the most divisive phrase in all of history. What one believes about this phrase has the potential to affect their lives today and for ages to come. One phrase. This one phrase turned the most powerful empire of all time completely upside down. This one phrase divided a nation with an existence that traced its roots to the beginning of time. One phrase.
Words, phrases, ideas can affect how we observe life. They can inspire us to take action, or they can cause us retreat. Words can hold great power but only when there is something to back up the words. This one phrase “He is Risen!” is three simple words. These three words changed the course of history, not only for a small nearly insignificant costal province on the frontier of the Roman Empire, but it changed the course of history for every nation, race, and person that has ever encountered them. Because behind these three words hold within them the most dreadful or most inspiring truth. What one does with these three words changes everything. They can insight anger, inspire hope, cause confusion, or understanding. Three little words that cause us all to have to come up with an answer to the question, what happened to Jesus?
On the day we now call Good Friday Jesus was hung on a tree. He was put there because what he said threatened to disrupt the balance of power. For the religious leaders his words caused people to turn away from their teachings so they were losing their prestige and influence over others. They were losing the wealth people provided them through offerings and fees, their very livelihoods and status in the community were threatened. For the Romans, Jesus was a nuisance that threatened peace because many that followed him wanted to start a war for independence. This threatened the governor who was already under scrutiny by the Emperor not only because this province on the far eastern boarder of the empire was rebellious but also because this governor was recommended to the post by a person that was found to be a treasonous traitor. This governor did not want trouble, he wanted order and to keep order he would use whatever means necessary, even death. Even if he knew that the one condemned to die was an innocent man.
On the second day, all of Israel worshiped God as they celebrated their festival. But there were some that were not in a celebratory mood. The darkest day for mankind is Holy Saturday, the day that the hopeful king lay in a tomb. Darkness falls on the earth. The light of God dims and the revelation to man is snuffed out and sealed behind a rock. All hope is lost. They once cheered Jesus as their king yet quickly that celebration turned completely around, and now the king is buried. The religious leaders go on with their rituals; the roman leaders feast over a rebellion thwarted, and the followers of Jesus lock themselves behind closed doors.
This is where we find Mary on the third day; it is not a day of celebration for her. In her mind all is lost. The only thing left is to perform the customary ritual and seal her hope and salvation away. Not that long before she had seen this man walk up to the tomb of her brother and call him back from Abraham’s bosom into the light, yet this man who could heal the blind, cause the lame to walk, this man that could feed the multitude, and raised the dead is now laying on a rock slab wrapped in linen. The dreams of a king and a kingdom wrapped with him. It is truly a dark day.
She approaches the tomb; she approaches to mourn the loss of a dear friend. She approaches to say the customary prayers and rituals, but something is wrong. The stone that sealed the opening was moved. She stops knowing that this is not right and her day got even darker. Someone had opened the tomb. This is a very distressing thing that we often gloss over. The Hebrew culture does not take the desecration of graves lightly. I remember a few years in Wichita, a group of vandals enter the cemetery where the local Jewish population buried their loved ones and began to vandalize the grave markers. The resting place of their loved ones was disturbed and as a result the people of the community re-mourned the passing of each individual. They opened the graves and buried the vandalized stones, and place new markers. They again performed the funeral services for every disturbed grave. To disrupt the dead is painful for the community. There are customs to be upheld even if the person that has passed beyond the veil is seen as a criminal. Something was wrong the body was disturbed. So she runs to find the others.
Imagine the distress of Mary, of Peter, and the other disciple (the one Jesus loved). What could have possibly happened? Who would have been so disrespectful to disturb the body of their friend, a friend that was executed in a way contrary to their laws? They ran to the tomb, they ran as if their very life depended on getting to it as soon as possible. And they find a mystery. The body is gone but the grave clothes were still there.
This is a mystery because the grave clothes are not exactly easy to remove. When Jesus called out to Lazarus, Mary’s brother, who was dead and buried for four days he was bound hand and foot in the grave clothes. These were strips of cloth soaked in myrrh, aloes, and spices. They were tightly wrapped and stitched up so that the body could be contained for a later ceremony when the bones were moved into bone boxes.
There is another oddity the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. This cloth was Jesus’ Tallit or his prayer shawl. This is a very important piece of cloth; its literal meaning is little tent, it represents the idea that all of Israel cannot enter into the tent of meeting so they each enter their own little tent as they near the tent to worship. It is used to cover their heads when they pray, which forms the prayer closet that Jesus referred too in his teachings. Under this little tent a couple is united in marriage. This Tallit is placed over the body when it is buried because it is where the man’s connection to God happens. This Tallit was placed away from the burial clothes and carefully put to one side.
If you saw this what would be going through your mind? The clothes were empty but undisturbed the stitching still intact. The prayer shawl, Jesus’ prayer shawl, which they had seen every day for the past three years, was carefully and respectfully folded as if used and then laid down. John saw this mystery and believed but what was it that he believed?
He is risen? What would it take for you to believe? The disciples though they heard what Jesus had taught did not fully grasp the meaning of what was happening. It was a mystery. Why was the shawl laying separate? Why was it not taken with the body, if the body was taken? Who would take the body and why would they want to? Nothing made since. Mary stood outside the tomb weeping because in desperation and sorrow that is really the only thing a person can do well. She bent down and looked inside the tomb, and she saw something amazing. She saw two angels and they asked, “Why do you weep?” Imagine that. She just saw the two disciples enter and leave and no one else yet here are two beings just standing there. She told them her sorrows and then she turned away only to see a man standing behind her. He too asks, “Why do you weep?” Mary again tells the same story, explaining why she is so full of sorrow. She had lost everything; her entire life was devoted to Jesus now she cannot even visit the body. She turns away again and Jesus looks at her and calls to her by name. “Mary!”
He is Risen! What would it take for you to believe? What would that belief cause to happen if you truly lived as if you believed? It took one word for Mary. It took one little tent for John. What would it cause in your life if you truly believed? For Mary in a split second her tears of sorrow were dried up as she screams in sheer joy “Rabbouni!” In a moment John knew that, the relationship between God and man had changed. The tent of meeting, the prayer closet, or the shawl that was representative of the place where God could meet with mankind was laid aside and God was with us.
He is Risen! In a moment the darkness of Saturday has passed into light. Hope has been restored into something beyond our wildest dreams. The bonds of death cannot hold him. And God is with us! What will it take for you to believe in your own life?
For me it took a baby in my arms. That belief continued when I was lead to go to Ukraine. I did not have enough money to go on my own yet in a couple short months I was on a plane heading over the ocean. That belief continued to grow when a guy who stuttered when nervous and would rarely speak in private let alone in public lead classes of a hundred students and spoke freely. It continued to grow as God gave words to speak and began to call me to teach and preach. That belief brought me here to Kansas City and I am seeing that power of the Risen Christ working all around me. Have I experienced a miracle? I do not know, but what I do know is that the love of God took a guy heading into a life of hopelessness and gave him something greater. It began and it grew, it has empowered and it has shown me things I never thought I would see. What would it take for you?
He is Risen! Death could not hold Him in its clothes and the tent could not contain his glory. He came bursting out of tomb moving that stone of separation and he spoke to the sorrowful woman that lost her greatest friend. He inspired the disciple to experience God in a brand new way. He called a sinful, shy, stuttering man to preach His gospel. What will it take for you to seek Him as not only a teacher but also a friend, not only as a far off story of ages past but a current reality?
Jesus took on our humanity in every form: He lived a complete life for us and with us as He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, He grew up experiencing childhood and adolescence, He had a career and he left that career to minister. He lived a life of prayer, worship, and ministry as He withdrew to solitary places, made it His custom to meet at the synagogues, and healed many diseases. He sat down and spoke with the Samaritan women who lived a life of divorce and cohabitation, He did not condemn the one caught in adultery, and He touched the leapers and made them clean. He got angry over injustice and He wept for His friends and his nation. He gave His life for us because we would rather justify our own actions instead of truly living for with God, and He lay in that tomb that place removed from all life and love, dead. But death could not keep Him bound.
He knows our sorrow, our pain, our temptations, and He overcame them for us and through His life, death, burial and resurrection He offers us a new life and restored hope. He is risen! What will it take for us to believe? And what will happen if we lived as if we really believed that He is risen indeed?
Scripture: Luke 23:1-49
It is always difficult to read this passage of scripture. The violence portrayed by nearly everyone, if you really were to imagine it, would give many people nightmares. Imagine the scene. For many of us it is not to difficult, hollywood has given us plenty of images. But really imagine it. Imagine you were a servant in the courts of these government official, that just happened to be cleaning up as a crowd of angry people stormed into the courtyard.
I suggest a servant of the court at first because the servant would not know the inner workings of the government. That is really where most of us would be. We only hear stories about what is going on inside and outside our community, but we do not really know how those stories are affecting our everyday life. So you are a servant sweeping the steps, the crowd pushes by you as they seek an audience with the Roman governor. You listen as they are screaming about a man…wait you have heard about that guy. Jesus he healed the servant of the centurion.
I start here because this story runs deeper than just a dispute within the Hebrew faith, it connects to the whole world. Jesus was loved by the Jews, Greeks, and even Romans.
This is where the story gets interesting. Rome, the government, could careless about Jesus. Do not get me wrong, they knew about him, they probably had spies infiltrating his followers, but he was not a concern of theirs. They are only concerned if there is a threat to the status qua.
This is really interesting if you think about it. The trial was over before it began. One question was asked and the trial was over. Jesus was not a concern of Rome. Jesus could have said anything really, the governor already knew that the crowd was presenting false charges. So when he saw them approaching the court he had probably already gave the order to the floggers to start preparing for a beating. Blood would flow but death in the eyes of Rome was not needed.
Have you ever really thought about the story in that way. Pilate figured this was an open shut case, but the people whose power was threatened by Jesus were persistent. Pilate then realized that the mob was a bigger threat. Jesus is from Herod’s jurisdiction. Send the mob there. Pilate did not get to where he was by being politically ignorant. The best thing for him was to get this out of Jerusalem, because no political leader wants a riot in his town.
Herod the small town governor gets excited. It is not because he feels threatened, but he was going to get a show from the miracle man. Again Herod already knew that politically the threat was not from Jesus but the mob, he gave a mock trial hoping for a show. He too sent Jesus back and then the two governors became friends, meaning they cut a deal.
Where is the focus? As a person without power, as a servant in the court, or maybe a merchant on the street these event are just another story of the ruling class fighting. But this time they are fighting over the guy that gave sight to the blind guy that was on the corner. They are fighting over the rabbi that actually took time to answer the question you asked when you joined the others on the hill side. Why are they accusing him? Why? Why were the religious leaders so upset when the governors showed little concern?
There is and always will be a place for religion on society. The religious aspects of society are the most intimate of communities. The religious communities can unite for a cause and they can change the direction of the culture. Freedom of religion is to be a voice of conscience to the society, they question the intentions of the government and they give a voice to the least of the community. The religious mediate between the extremes.
This is when religion is good. But because religion is so intimate with the communities they can be used to advance agendas. Religion has been infiltrated throughout history to gain support from causes. The crusades are probably one of the darkest aspects of the Christian Church. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the largest supporters of the military actions in the middle east was also a monk that wrote great essays on love. Bernard loved God and mankind yet somehow someone convinced him that a holy war was necessary. The words of a leader prompted people to love also prompted them to to hate. I love Bernard. I personally believe that he was a great leader in the church, but religious leaders can get caught in things. At times those things can detract from the original message.
I mention this because it is similar. The religious leaders were threatened. They reacted. The people stopped listening to them. The people were not seeking their rabbis for extended education. Someone was pointing out where they failed. They several options available. They could have examined their actions or they could stand firm in there traditions. These are both options used successfully by faith organizations. There is a third option also, silence the opposition.
Unfortunately silence is all too often the option taken. Power is threatened or weakness is exposed, and the prophet is discredited or sent away. If they cannot be discredited then the stakes are raised. Death is the final step.
Jesus came to the world to bring the light of God to mankind. He came to bring the kingdom of God. This threatens nations and religions if they are devoted to power only. People give power to mankind and if someone changes the views of people power is transferred to others. Light exposes what was once hidden in darkness. And power seekers often want their agendas left hidden. So what was exposed by Jesus that threatened the people of power? This is where it is time to imagine again…who or what are you thinking about when you read this passage?
The crowd yelled crucify him in Pilate’s courts not because of nationalism, but because Jesus exposed something about them that they did not want too or could not deal with. They were losing their power and if they lost control then they would loss everything they worked so hard to gain.
Jesus exposes the hidden things of the power seekers. He exposes the injustice of those in control. And every day since that day of ancient times, we each have yelled with everyone else crucify him. We yell it when we let political agendas usurp our testimonies of faith. We scream it at the top of our lungs when we let our communities fall into darkness because we fail to help. We each yell crucify him when we put ourselves before our community.
Is he the king? The only question asked by the infamous Pilate…Jesus’ answer to him, “You say so.”
Is he king or should we just crucify him again.
Scripture: John 12:1-8
St. Patrick’s day is one of the only saint days I ever like to celebrate. I do this because I find the life of Patrick fascinating even though most of what we know about him is seeped with legend. I like this day because it celebrates what one life devoted to God can really do. There is something remarkable about one man going into a nation that was opposed to his faith, starting a ministry, devoting his entire life to that ministry, and to see nearly an entire nation convert. What a dramatic story. It is a story that has attracted me to the Celtic Christian traditions in many ways. I have read about their spirituality and how they approached evangelism, and have found that it is actually very remarkable. They converted most people through encouragement. They started where they were at that moment and encouraged them to take a step closer to God.
In most legends of Patrick we hear about how he would teach the concept of the Triune God through the illustration of the shamrock. It is a great illustration in many ways. The first is that the Celtic people did not worship in buildings like we do but instead they would worship out in nature. The resurgence of the ancient Celtic religions is in a large part to this worship in and of nature. Patrick did not condemn nature because nature is part of creation, he would instead use what they knew already to teach them a deeper truth.
So often times we try to convince people of the truth, argue and debate over what is right, but we put so much effort in knowing all the answers to the potential questions that we fail to listen to the question. The early Celtic Church would go into areas and build monasteries. These monasteries would then become centers of villages that would educate people and eventually would become centers for trade. They would then plant another monastery and the cycle would continue until there were monasteries all around Ireland. This was early in the church and Ireland was nearly independent of the influences of the rest of the Catholic Church. The way that they did things was different; the leader of the church was not a bishop but the monastery’s abbot. This is important because the leader of the church was not appointed but was groomed to lead that community. Sometimes it was a tribal leader or a family, at other times the abbot was a person that rose to their position out of great spiritual devotion. They would lead the community in faith and action.
The Celtic form of Evangelism was Pray, Worship, and Ministry. They set up the house of prayer, they built the center for worship, and they lived among the people teaching and encouraging a faithful life. It is truly a beautiful history. For nearly a thousand years this community based approach flourished and even spread into other areas of Europe. They had a unique manner of expressing their faith in God, and it saved not only Ireland but also the Catholic Church. The Irish were an artistic people; they expressed this in poetry, song, and ink.
Today we celebrate that rich heritage of Ireland, but that rich heritage goes well beyond the emerald Isle. In many ways it goes right back to this meal at Bethany in the house of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. This house is mentioned often in the gospels as if it became a central hub of the ministry of Jesus. There are really two centers, Capernaum to the North and Bethany in the south. Jesus spent so much time in this place; he was so fond of this family that one of the greatest miracles blessed them. This house of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary was one of the first churches of the Way; it was a place of worship and renewal. It was the sanctuary of Sabbath retreat for the traveling ministers of Christ. They meet there, they share a meal, and they praise God.
Why is this house so important? It is widely believed that this family was the major supporters of the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. Jesus was literally without a home. After his baptism in the Jordon his first disciple chased him down and wanted to follow him. Jesus told them that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. So it was the houses of people like this family that became the home base for the ministry. But it goes deeper than this, it is often said that Mary was the woman caught in adultery that Jesus saved from execution, and that she was also delivered from bondage of seven demons. Lazarus was so dear to Jesus that he was raised from the dead after being buried in the family tomb. This family, if legends are true, was blessed by God through Jesus so it is no wonder that they would become some of the greatest supporters of the ministry.
We see in this story a great exchange. Mary anoints Jesus and washes his feet with her hair. It is a beautiful and intimate ritual. She is kneeling before her Lord the one that saved her life, and she gives him all that she has. She lathers the feet of Jesus with one pound of costly perfume. Let us consider this for just a moment. Nard is not easily found in Israel. It comes from the roots of a plant that is native in Nepal, China, and India. This is something that has been transported from the far eastern regions of the Persian Empire. This is a perfume that is costly; it was used in the Song of Songs by the woman to anoint her lover and king. This perfume is not something a common person would obtain, and it is not something that would be used in vain. In this scene Mary is expressing her total commitment and service to Jesus, she is anointing him as her king. She is expressing devotion and love for this man who saved her and gives her a purpose in life. She uses a pound of nard. This is a pound of thick oil being worked into the skin of Jesus’ feet and into her hair; the air is filled with the fragrant aroma. Which leads us to yet another use of nard. This same oil was used in the making of incense for the temple. It is still used by churches throughout the world to represent the sweet smell of pray and praise being lifted up into heaven as it is burned and the smoke fills the air. Mary and all present are in a state of worship.
Jesus sits and lets Mary do this to him. Mary’s brother is sitting there at the table with him. This is something that should be done in the marriage chamber but it is something more. There is a love and devotion that runs deeper than marriage; this is intimacy of God and man. But there is one that objects to this worship, Judas. The first thing out of his mouth is “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?” In the very act of worship the idolatry rears it’s head. Jesus says, “Leave her alone.”
Leave her alone. There is a place for beauty, and a place for ministry. There is a time for rest and a time to work. There is a time and place for everything under heaven. I say that this story links to the story of Ireland because the story of Ireland is not one of beauty and peace but is often plagued with war. Ireland was devoted to God and as a result they created some of the most priceless treasures of faithful art. In their monasteries they created or illuminated gospels to distribute throughout Christendom. They carried these treasures to each new monastery they established throughout all of Europe. The demand for the books copied by their monks were great and Ireland in their love for God was flooding the Holy Roman Empire with the Nard of the Word, and those in power became jealous. They became jealous of the power that the Irish monks had with the people because they lived with and encourage the people. They became jealous that these monks and priest of the Irish rite were not conforming to their will and a crusade was waged against them.
The great story of a nation coming to Christ through Patrick became a story of tragedy by jealous pride and betrayal. The greatest supporters of the church in Europe were betrayed by the very people they honored and represented. All because of money and power. Judas betrayed Christ for money, Judas was not capable to join the others in the worship of Christ as Mary anointed the feet of Jesus because he was not worshiping God but he was consumed by the idolatry of the denarii. A year’s wages was dumped on Jesus’ feet, and Judas could not fathom the waste because he had plans for that money. But money is just a tool. It is ultimately worthless. Yet this one tool often times become the purpose of many. Judas had plans for the money; he even had plans for this pound of perfume. He had good plans actually, plans for ministry. Give it to the poor, but why?
Why are we doing what we do? Why do we give what we give? Mary bought the perfume to honor Jesus so that she could keep it for the day of his burial. Yet Jesus was not dead, she instead used it to honor him while he still lived. And then Jesus says something that is very strange, “you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
You always have the poor. This is a crazy cryptic phrase. It can be interpreted many different ways. Some people interpret it as meaning that there will always be people oppressing them. Some interpret it, as meaning there will always be people in need. If we combine the two it means that there will always be a need for ministry…[B]ut you do not always have me. We can look out at the people around us struggling to make ends meet, struggling to keep their businesses going, struggling to just feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads. We can become so consumed by the needs, that we can become focused on what we do not have instead of what we have. This is bondage, bondage to the cult of money. There is never enough when you are focused on what you do not have. There is always someone with more or someone with something better. Judas was caught in that bondage just as many of us are, bound by what we don’t have instead of what we do. We have enough to honor God.
Patrick started with what people had, a shamrock. And from that shamrock an entire nation turned to God. From that shamrock, Ireland turned to the light and carried that light into the world. He entered Ireland with nothing and left Ireland rich in faith. Mary worshiped Christ with what she had, she freely gave it all she gave in worship without knowing what would happen in the future, and she was honored.
I close today with a challenge as we move ever closer to the week of the year we remember the sacrifice of Jesus for each of us. I often encourage us to imagine ourselves in the scripture to identify with a character in the story. Today I ask whom do you identify with? Are you Mary? Pouring out your love and devotion to the king who lifted you out of a life of bondage and sin? Or are you trapped in bondage? Are you trapped by your past, by your circumstances, or by some sort of idolatry? As we enter into this time of open worship and holy expectancy, as we examine our lives or break open the jars of perfume in our hearts let us remember that Jesus came not to condemn the world but to love the world and to bring each of us to him through his life, his death, and his resurrection.
Saint Patrick’s “Breastplate” Prayer
I bind unto myself today The strong Name of the Trinity, By invocation of the same, The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever. By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation; His baptism in the Jordan River; His death on Cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spicèd tomb; His riding up the heavenly way; His coming at the day of doom; I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power Of the great love of the cherubim; The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour, The service of the seraphim, Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word, The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls, All good deeds done unto the Lord, And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today The virtues of the starlit heaven, The glorious sun’s life-giving ray, The whiteness of the moon at even, The flashing of the lightning free, The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, The stable earth, the deep salt sea, Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today The power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to hearken to my need. The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward, The word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin, The vice that gives temptation force, The natural lusts that war within, The hostile men that mar my course; Or few or many, far or nigh, In every place and in all hours, Against their fierce hostility, I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles, Against false words of heresy, Against the knowledge that defiles, Against the heart’s idolatry, Against the wizard’s evil craft, Against the death wound and the burning, The choking wave and the poisoned shaft, Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name, The strong Name of the Trinity; By invocation of the same. The Three in One, and One in Three, Of Whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word: Praise to the Lord of my salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord.