By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 26, 2020
Luke 24:13–35 (ESV)
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So, he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This has been a time filled with the unexpected. When I have been at work, it is as if something has changed every day regarding how we will do things. At first, I got on well with these changes but eventually those changes began to weigh me down. I began to get frustrated, and soon found myself reacting in ways I normally would not. This is how life often is, and when there is a pandemic around us, it only intensifies the uncertainty.
Our lives can be described in many ways, if you read epic poetry, they might compare it to a quest to win some conquest or find some magical relic that will make all the struggle seem disappear. In musical lyrics it has been likened to a highway, well at least AC/DC said something about a highway leading somewhere. Life has been called a journey, an adventure, and many other artistic references. I think this is a good thing, even scripture makes references like this. Jesus would say that broad is the road to destruction and narrow is the pathway that leads to life. Life is a journey; it is a road that we must traverse. And just like any road, journey, pathway, or quest there are challenges along the way.
Today we meet some disciples along a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They are literally on a journey with a beginning and a destination off in the distance. They are walking along this pathway in a deep discussion. Then as they are walking along a third person joins them in the journey and joins in the conversation.
This is one of my favorite narratives during the season of Easter. And I think that is a favorite of many since there are entire ministries revolving around it called Walk to Emmaus. We can identify with this story because we have all been on a journey of some sort.
Maybe you have taken a road trip with the family. Some of my greatest memories have been made on the road, this is probably because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, so just going to the grocery store required the entire family to load up and drive for miles. But let us imagine we are on a trip. These men were walking seven miles, this does not sound like a great distance to us, but that is because we do not walk. The average person walking at a moderate pace generally walks at a speed of three miles per hour, so to travel seven miles it would take most people around two hours and twenty minutes to walk the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus. There are other factors that would play into this of course, the terrain could cause a variance to this time, the weather, or even who you are walking with. They were talking as they walked, and I am sure they probably paused a few times as the discussion got deeper, so let us just say it took them three hours. How far do we travel in three hours? I currently live in Kansas City, so I wondered what interesting things we could do if we were to travel three hours.
Google is an amazing tool we have available to us. I searched, “3 hours from Kansas City” and the first thing that came up is an article, “19 Spontaneous day trips that are less than 3 hours away from Kansas City – Narcity”. Because I am curious and right now, I like everyone else have put travel on hold, I looked. The first on the list is Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area. This is probably a great place to go at night because it has the lowest light pollution near the Kansas City Metro, so you can get a good look at the stars. Then just under 3 hours away we could see Coronado Heights Castle in Lindsborg, Kansas. This site is allegedly where Francisco de Coronado gave up his search for the seven cities of gold and returned to Mexico, they came to this conclusion because they found Spanish chain mail in the area around this hill, but the castle itself was built during the Great Depression as a WPA project. Also, within the 3 hour mark you could travel to Ha Ha Tonka State Park and check out rock formations and the Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins, or drive to the Mushroom Rock State Park in Kansas. But my favorite thing to see in this three-hour window of travel is the Konza Prairie. This native tallgrass preserve is filled with natural beauty and some of the best sunsets in the world. Why am I giving a travel report, maybe it is because want to get out and about, but its also to let us know that there is much to see in our area.
We do not often see the beauty around us because our journey through life is often filled with chaos. We work hard most of the week and then when we have a day off, we fill that day away from work with work that we were unable to get done around our houses due to work. Our lives are distracted by tasks that need to be finished, projects that we have put on hold, sporting events and school or church functions. We are busy most of the time. We move from one thing to the next with little time between, and because our schedules are so full, we blow up in fits of rage when someone drives too slow on the interstate. Have we ever wondered why someone driving the speed limit could set us off like a bomb?
The men in the story are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they are deep in conversation. They are distracted by the gossip and news. They were taking this journey and were unable to recognize the man they were walking with, because they were more concerned with spreading the latest headlines than getting to know the person. Can you see where we might be able to identify with these men?
We live in a culture that has been on the go for far too long. The drive thru restaurant is no longer a convenience or a luxury but a necessity. For many of us to stop what we are doing to cook a meal is often not something we can do. If we did not go to drive thru, we would not be able to eat as we go from job to job, or event to event. This says a great deal about our culture. We are too busy. As much as I dislike the various state issuing stay at home orders, these orders and this past month has taught us all some good lessons that I hope we will not forget as those orders are lifted.
We are busy. Our bodies are surviving on adrenaline and energy drinks. We have a constant barrage of news clips that we consume without end. We know more about what is going on in our world and yet we do not know our neighbors. And I am guilty of this more than anyone. I have three jobs. I am lucky to eat a meal with my family and often that meal was in the car as we drove to a practice or event. The orders to stay at home, have stopped many of those events and as a result we have eaten together more. We have not been rushing from one event to another but enjoying a board game together. This is good, not just relationally but physically. When our bodies are constantly running on high gear, our brains do not always function to the greatest capacity. We respond without thinking over things, and usually the decisions we make at that moment will have an unintended consequence in the future.
These men went from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They left after the women announced that Jesus had risen, and the tomb was empty. They did not take the time to process the idea or the reality because they were on the move. Your friend dies, you stay for the funeral, but when you hear that the tomb is empty you do not stay, but instead you go for a two-and-a-half-hour walk?
This story causes me to examine my own life. Jesus was right there walking with them. He was even interpreting the scripture with them, yet their minds were so caught up in everything else going on around them that they could not see what God was doing right there in front of them. I am right there. I am that guy. I hate to admit it but at times it is even hard for me to pray. This is why I, for the most part, have stopped watching the news or listening to the radio. People look at me like I am crazy. But it is true. I found that I was getting so worked up about everything that I was losing track of the most important things. I could not go for a drive with my wife for ten minutes before I started complaining about political subjects or worrying about how something would affect us. I realized that my arguments, my opinions in the larger scheme was often driving a wedge between the people I cared about, because I was not taking the time to listen to them. I could drive three hours and never once notice the sun set in front of me, because I was too busy.
Yet where is Jesus? They are focused on the news, they are hurrying to the next town for some reason, maybe fear, maybe they just could not justify staying with the disciples if their leader had been killed so they went back to work. We do not know why they went to Emmaus but something they perceived to be important took them there. They were on their way away from the gathering of the disciples, and where was Jesus?
We do not always know why people are doing the things they do. We do not know unless we walk with them and listen. We do not know what is going on when they get home, we do not know what bills they must pay, we do not even know if they are healthy or not. We may even ask how they are doing, but if we leave it there all we will know is that they are fine. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that nearly half the American population will struggle at some point in their lives with some form of mental illness, we are not fine. But where is Jesus?
Where is God when we are struggling to figure out how we will make rent? Where is God when a loved one is sick? Where is God when an act of violence occurs in our neighborhood? Where is God when people are starving in our communities and restaurants are throwing food in dumpsters? Where is God when we are moving so fast through life we cannot even laugh around the table?
Where was Jesus in this story? He was walking with the men to Emmaus. Let that just sit in your thoughts for a moment. Where was Jesus? There were countless other places where Jesus could have been at that moment. If it were up to me, I would have booked an appearance at the gates of the Temple, or maybe reserved a table to share a meal with the Chief priest and the Governor. But that is not where Jesus was. Jesus, just hours into his new glorified resurrected body decided that the place he needed to be was taking a three hour walk with some friends to Emmaus. It is almost absurd when you think about it.
It is absurd but it is important. Who are we? There are not many people that know who I am. Very few people really know what drives me or inspires me. If I am going to be honest, I would have to say that even my wife does not know what is causing anxiety in my life right now. And if I really want to be totally honest, I do not even know what is causing anxiety in my life. How could I and how could you because each of us is rapidly going from one place to another. We are just insignificant people in a population of billions. I am not influential, I am not famous, people do not even pay to read the things that I write. I am just a simple pastor in a small church, that works two other job to provide for my family.
These two men were not the apostles we read about in the book of Acts; they were not members of the twelve. They were friends, but they were down the list. They were invited to the events Jesus hosted, but it is like a general invitation like the one’s kids give at school. These two men were played a minor role in the ministry of Jesus. Yet, Jesus walked with them from Jerusalem to Emmaus. This shows us something about ourselves and God. It shows us that those that play minor roles are often more important than the ones in the spotlight.
We are each facing struggles in our journey through life. Maybe we are afraid that we might be infected by the virus and we would be the one that the hospital would not have room for. Maybe we are worried about our finances as our retirement savings shrink or our job was deemed non-essential. Maybe our only struggle is our schedule. We struggle through life, the pathways we travel are not easy. But Jesus walked with two minor disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus, he walks with you as well. He listens as you ramble on about whatever is on your mind and he patiently waits until you are in a place to hear him speak and at that moment, he will reveal the wisdom of God to you. He walks with us through the struggle, he is right there with us even if we do not recognize him.
Everyone around us in on a journey, they are battling through their own personal quest. We do not know what it is, and we may even wonder why they are continue pursuing the life they have chosen. Maybe that person is a close friend, a child, or a coworker and we are looking at their lives as they struggle through wanting to help but not knowing how. Jesus is walking with them and he is walking with you. We do not need to provide an answer to every question they have, we do not need to defend every attack that they might make against us, just walk with them as Jesus walked with his friends. As we walk together, there might be a moment where we can share and they might listen, but that is not the reason we walk, we walk because we care.
These two men did not know who Jesus was as they journeyed down the road. They shared and they listened, and they shared a meal with this stranger that walked with them. It was only when Jesus shared a meal with these men that their eyes were open to the truth that was already before them.
We are called to make disciples. This be many things, but distilling it down to the purest form possible, we are called to walk with others through life showing them the life and lifestyle that Jesus has given and shown to us. We are called to worship with our community, withdraw to pray, and minister to the needs of those around us. We are called to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and to live the love of Christ with others. How do we do that? We walk, we listen, we share, and we eat. We do all we can to give a bit of rest to those around us caught in the high-octane life of busyness, so that they can catch their breath and reenter their life’s journey with a fresh perspective.
As we enter this time of Holy Expectancy or communion in the manner of Friends, I encourage you to take some time to step away from the busyness you feel, take a break from scrolling through Facebook and reading about news of the world, take a break and just be silent. As you wait you might notice thought racing through your head, let them pass by. You might find yourself focused on one thing as you sit, is it something you fear pray that you will overcome, is it something you see as a need explore that with God. The silence is not just a space of emptiness, it is the place along our journey where we stop and allow Christ to speak as he walks along side us. Join us in this time of silence, listen to what is revealed in it, and then return to your journey. Those two disciples walked to Emmaus that day, they ate with Jesus that evening, and after they had at they ran seven miles back to Jerusalem because Jesus had given them a different journey to travel, they were called to act, they were called to share their story. Let us now embrace the Spirit in prayer so that we can live the love of Christ with those around us throughout this week.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 19, 2020
John 20:19–31 (ESV)
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. This is the most controversial event in human history. Some are out there saying that it never happened, while others are saying that it did. I want us to really consider our stance on this event. I know that this seems like a weird statement, but I want us to really think about it. If we say that “He is Risen!” do we actually live as if he does?
When the three disciples went to the tomb last week, they ran they did not walk. They rushed to get the information that they sought. They entered that tomb to find the cloths laying there but no body to be seen. Peter stood there in confusion, and we were told that the other disciple believed. What exactly did he believe? If we are to look at his actions and listen to the witness of the Gospel writer, that he did not believe that Jesus was risen at that time. In fact if we were to look at the story, this man who ran the fastest to the tomb hearing that that the stone was moved away went away that Easter morning believing that he was in danger, that his hope was lost, and that his death was near.
I say this because Peter and the other disciple walked away from the tomb and went back to the house while Mary remained in place. Mary stayed out in the open, ready to face whatever the world might throw at her, while the men went to a room and locked the doors.
They went to the house. They locked the door. They remained there until the evening. Why? For fear of the Jews. When John, the gospel writer is not telling us that Jews are bad, he is referring to the the religious leadership. These were the religious leaders that convinced the Roman governor to execute an innocent man. These leaders where able to manipulate the people to act according to their whims and desires. And the disciples knew that if they were willing to kill Jesus, they would be next because they were the friends of Jesus. These men were afraid because they knew the way the world worked. They knew how politics worked and they knew that they stood on what appeared to be the wrong side. They chose Jesus and Jesus had been crucified. They chose Jesus and the passion of the people had chosen Barabbas. They choice opposed the will of the world and now they sat afraid, because even the body of their king was gone.
Mary stood at the tomb weeping, we can understand Mary, we understand how and why she embraced the emotions she exhibited. We struggle with the men. This is partly because we have made heroes out to these men. We hold them up as pillars of faith and we want to believe that they could do no wrong, but the reality is that these men were very human. They had followed Jesus with their whole being. Peter and Andrew dropped their nets right on the beach and followed. James and John, looked at their dad and their employees and they jumped out of the boat without looking back. Matthew was sitting at this tax collection table, with stacks of coins setting there, and when Jesus called out to him he walked away without even securing the money. Each one of these disciples had listened to Jesus, had been inspired and walked away from the lives that they knew and embraced the life they hoped for.
They embraced a different life, but Jesus died. The world came crashing down on them and they locked the door. They had heard and saw yet the world’s weight was heavy on their shoulders. And they locked the doors. They had three years of teaching and experience yet they sat sealed in a room, why?
This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. This is the difference between belief and faith. This is the difference between ideology and life. They had seen many things in the past three years. They had seen Jesus turn water to wine, feed five thousand with a simple sack lunch, they had seen him cleanse the lepers and give sight to the blind. They had even participated in these things, they themselves had provided freedom to others from the bondage of demon grasps. They knew the power of God that Jesus controlled. But when the world came cashing in with their populous manipulating powers, where are the disciples that once claimed that they would walk to death with their lord?
Mary remained at the tomb, and the disciples we cherish so much were locked behind closed doors. These men were human, just like us. They did not know what to expect and they were confused and afraid. I think we all can identify a bit with these men. We have spent a month at home sheltering in place from a pathogen that seems to strike at random. One might even go as far as saying it is like a thief in the night, taking one while leaving another working in the fields. One is considered essential and another is not. One is on hold with the unemployment office and the other is afraid of getting sick at work. We know the fear that these men may have had. The world is crashing in on us, we are gripped in fear, confused, and ingnorant as to what to do next. Do I get another package of toilet paper or do I plan for future expenses?
We know what those disciples felt. They had knowledge, they even believed but that did not move them out of that room. Mary, though, was not in the room with them that morning. Mary was at the tomb, she was waiting in that place she last knew her lord was. She did not move away but she remained at that place until she her belief moved into something greater, hope.
Some of us are at the tomb and some of us are have already walked to the house and closed the door. Both have ignorance of the future, but there are two different approaches. One does not care what the world might think where the other withdraws from the world. Which are you?
Mary was in a position where she was open to the lord’s leading, she was the first to experience the risen Lord, and she became the first witness of this amazing event. Mary Magdalene is actually the first apostle, the first to be sent out to share the message of the greatest hope, Jesus Christ is alive.
At times, we are in a position where we are right were God needs us to be to respond to ministry and service. We might be sitting at a table next to someone that has begun to choke and we can quickly spring to action. We might have access to funds that can be used to encourage other in their life’s journey. We might be a friend that happened to notice when someone’s response was just a bit off and were able to step up and help them avoid a suicide attempt, or could counsel them through a major life event. We might be like Mary in the right place at the right time, but all to often we are somewhere else.
Often we are like the other disciples, we are like the disciples that have the knowledge that the tomb is empty and we walked away and gather in a building, away from the world. I am often this disciple. I like the building, it gives me something tangible. There is safety, security, there are people that will not think I am crazy for having certain ideas. I love the places the church meets, and assembles. Even the name church, which is a gathering, implies that we should come together and withdraw from the world into this group of like minded people to fellowship and encourage one another.
The gathering is important, but we need to recognize the danger that might also be there. The disciples gathered together which is great, but they gathered together, locked the door, out of fear. They were not engaging in ministry, they were not even in a position to begin to minister. They were locked away in fear. They were there talking amongst themselves, and the fear was multiplying. Each of us have stayed home, we have limited contact to those around us, we have limited knowledge as to what is going on outside our dwellings. We are living with only partial knowledge, and how can we move forward?
The disciples knew that the body was missing, but that is all they knew. They sat in that room with only part of the story, and they were afraid. But there is hope, Jesus met Mary by the tomb as she wept and Jesus meets the disciples as they lock themselves away in fear.
The one thing that the COVID19 stay at home orders have shown us is that church and ministry can take on various different roles. Many of us once only viewed our church as being a building in one community, but as these worship services have been moved to an online format, people join with us in worship, in some manner, from anywhere. This is opening our eyes to something greater.
Jesus met the disciples in that room and he showed them that there was something greater than fear, hope. The greatest fear in humanity is the fear of death, because that is the greatest mystery of all. We do not know what lies beyond death. Is it the end? Is there a constant chain of reincarnation? Is their a different form of life? Every person that lives has a theory of death, and as a result it often dictates their life. What happens when the fear of death is removed?
The other fears are often connected to the first fear. In an article called “The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share” from Psychology today, they list off these various fears. The first they say is extinction, which is basically the fear of death. I could also be connected to the fear of things we perceive to cause death. The second is fear of having our bodies mutilated or invaded, this includes the anxiety we have about animals because we perceive them as causing us bodily harm. Next is the loss of autonomy, separation, and finally the fear of humiliation or loss of our self identity.
We fear death so we live our lives to protect ourselves as much as we can from that. The disciples were afraid of the Jewish leaders, and they were in fear because those leaders had just killed their lord. Jesus joined them in their fear. He joined them in that room in the midst of their fear, and he removed that base fear from them. If Jesus is alive, if the grave could not hold him why exactly are they sitting in that locked room?
Jesus met them in the midst of their fear, but he does something more. He says to them, “Peace be with you.” Have we ever really thought about this statement? It is a peace blessing. It is in essence a peace treaty. Jesus meets them in their state of fear and he declares peace. He offers to them an opportunity to move out of the life of conflict that they are experiencing at that time. He is offering to take away the fear and replace it with courage.
This peace treaty is forgiveness of sins. He shows him his hands and his side, and he breaths on them and says, “Peace be with you, as the Father sent me so I send you.” He then breaths on them. In this very act Jesus is telling them, your hierarchy of fear has been shattered. Every fear we have from the loss of self identity, separation, autonomy, mutilation, and death have all been taken on Jesus himself. Everything that keeps us from pursuing the life God has called us to, has been carried by Jesus. And he is breathing life back onto and into us saying peace, its forgiven, chose to live. God the Father sent him, now he is showing us through his hands and side we have been released from our fear to pursue life more abundantly.
Jesus met these disciples in their fear, he offered them a life relieved of the hierarchy of fear, and he then sent them into that new life with the assurance of his own life renewed. And he gave them a ministry to live. Mary remained at the tomb and became the first apostle sent out to share the message of our risen Lord, and the disciples that cowered in fear were given a freedom from the grip of fear with the offer of a divine peace treaty. And he said, to go out and share this, go out to forgive. He is telling them to extend the same blessing of peace to those around them. And they begin this mission with one of their own, Thomas.
Thomas is probably the most underappreciated disciple. We tend to look down at him because of his doubt. I would even venture to say that we respect Judas more than Thomas because he at least stood for something even though he was the betrayer. But Thomas will forever be the disciple that doubted. Peter, the one that we regard as the leader of the apostles denied Jesus, he rejected Jesus when people confronted him about his association. He even swore that he did not know him. Yet he is given a place of respect where Thomas doubted, and will remain that disciple.
Thomas was not with the others. Think about that. Thomas was not locked in that room in fear. Where was Thomas that evening? Maybe Thomas heard, what Mary had said and instead of sitting in the room Thomas ran out to the tomb to seek Jesus there as well. Maybe Thomas was out among the people already promoting the teachings of Jesus, because he had seen the life that those teachings had given. Maybe, just maybe, Thomas was already living a life freed from fear. Of course there is the very real possibility that Thomas had given up and walked away completely. All we know is Thomas was not with the others. He was not aware of the peace that Jesus offered to the others. And because he had not seen the lord he would not believe.
I like Thomas. I embrace Thomas because he is a skeptic. I am one that does not like to be naive, or ignorant. I want to know what I know and live that out. I like reality and proof, because I identify as someone grounded in science. Some people might scoff at that. I am a pastor, I preach faith, and yet I love science. I am a pastor in the Show-Me State, Missouri. I mean Thomas should be my guy and he is. I understand Thomas. Do not just tell me something show me.
Thomas said unless I see I will not believe. The amazing thing is that Jesus met Thomas in that place as well. The other disciples offered Thomas the peace treaty that Jesus gave them, they forgave his lack of unity with them, and that next week, the day we celebrate this Sunday. Thomas experienced the risen Lord.
Jesus met Mary in the flowing emotions at the tomb, he met the disciples in that room filled with the smell of fear, and he met Thomas in his skepticism. Jesus restored Mary’s hope, he released the disciples from the grip of fear, and Thomas moved from ignorance into true entrusting belief as he said, “My Lord, and My God!”
It is Thomas that at that moment opened the eyes of every disciple there that day. Jesus was not just a man, a prophet, a priest, or a king. Jesus was God incarnate. Jesus revealed to them all as he stretched out his hands everything that binds us. The fear of humiliation was right there in the puncture wounds around his brow. The fear of separation still evident from the denials the disciples had voiced. The loss of autonomy evident in the stripes on his back. And his hands show the mutilation while the pierce in his side was testimony to reality of his death. Jesus stood there before them all looking Thomas in the eyes and saying to him, put your hand here. And Thomas saw in that moment that this was more than just a man. This is God with us, and God taking what holds us back and breaking those bonds to give us the opportunity to live a life restored to our proper place.
From the moment of Adam’s betrayal in the Eden’s garden to the moment of Mary’s encounter with the supposed gardener at the tomb, humanity had lived in enmity with God. We lived with this idea that God was out there trying to keep us from pleasure, or wanting to smite us if we transgressed. We lived in constant fear of God either in respect or wrath, but never fully love. Every trial we faced, was judgment from God. Every benefit we experienced blessing. Always at war, trying to please or trying to avoid, rarely companionship. Then Thomas look in Jesus’s eyes and saw God reaching his hand out to him saying, peace.
Everything that you fear was taken into God’s hands and he is looking at you today saying, “Peace be with you.” He is saying to you there is a different life and lifestyle available to you. And you can become a person joining him in removing life’s fears or perpetuating them. Those scarred hands are welcoming you home, and the scarred and humiliated brow is placed against your forehead breathing new life into your lungs. And he is asking you join him, in becoming people loosening the bonds of fear and shining the light of hope.
Let us enter into this time of Holy Expectancy, knowing that Our Lord and our God has defeated for us all our fears. And let us join each other in a lifestyle loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 12, 2020
John 20:1–18 (ESV)
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 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.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 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.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
This is an Easter unlike any others that I have ever experienced. A couple of years ago I said something similar, but in that instance, it was because there was snow on Easter morning, so our annual egg hunt had to happen inside instead of outside. This year though is different, mainly because I am the only one in the Meeting House.
Easter has always been one of my favorite times of the year. Yes, part of that is because I am a pastor, but it has always been important. Where I grew up our community always had, and still has, a community Easter Sunrise pageant. Every church in the community participated in this, it did not matter if you were Quaker, Methodist, Baptist, or Catholic we all participated. It took place on with a unique rock bluff in the background, which made a natural amphitheater of sorts. Every Easter morning, I would participate in this pageant. When I was younger, I put on a bathrobe and shouted Hosanna while waving a palm branch, only to turn around to cry crucify him the next. I would yell and shout, and I would watch as my friends, classmates, and respected members of my community would whip, and act as if they would nail one of our own to a cross. As I got older, I would be one of the disciples.
I watched my dad being forced to carry the cross up the hill as he played Simon. I watched as one of the quietest and most good-natured men in our meeting play the role of one of the thieves being crucified alongside of Jesus. I watched my brother lifted my uncle up on the cross as the sun rose in the background. I listened to people crying, real tears as they participated in this dramatic representation. And after being away from the community for nearly twenty years, I still remember each scene.
These pageants resonate with us, because it our community. The people there are our friends and our relatives. Playing out in front of our eyes we are seeing a cousin wiping Jesus. We are seeing our best friend betraying Jesus. We are seeing our own uncle being lifted on a cross as you cheer. It might be a dramatic representation but its real. We are all part of the world, and scripture said that Christ died for the sins of the world. Our sin is joined with the Romans sins of not standing up for the injustice occurring around them, the sins of the disciples who betrayed and denied Jesus, and the religious leaders who demanded the execution for their own personal gain. We nailed him to that tree.
As I thought about all the things that are missing from this Easter Sunday, I am reminded of the community. In today’s passage we see the community that Jesus brought together in a unique way. The first-person mention is Mary Magdalene. Who is this woman? There are many theories about her, some say she was a prostitute that Jesus freed, some say she was Jesus’s wife, some of these ideas make sense and others have no real foundation in any history. What we do know is that she was a woman whose life was filled with brokenness, and Jesus brought healing into her life. Jesus did not just heal this one woman, but he brought healing to the entire family because Mary and her siblings were considered some of the closest friends to Jesus.
Mary was broken. Scripture indicates that she may have been possessed by demons, which could mean many things. She like so many today struggled with forces within her life that cannot be seen on the outside. According to Mental Health First Aid, in an essay published in February of last year, almost half of American will experience mental illness in their lifetime, and of those that have suffered these struggles less than half of them will seek help. This tells me something. It tells me that we might understand Mary a bit more that we realize. She was broken, she was a wreck, and it did not only affect her, but it affected everyone in her family just like mental illness affects us today.
Mary was broken, but she found hope and was released from the grip of her demons. But she still faced struggles. Her sister thought she was lazy. And her brother died. Scripture is filled with things that many of us can identify with. It is saturated with humanity and our condition. Scripture is filled with war, famine, illness, and most of all it is filled with hope.
A few weeks ago, we met Mary while she was mourning the death of her brother. In that story, we saw the deepness of Jesus’s friendship with this family. Jesus came to them, and Jesus wept with Mary. Jesus is with us in our struggles, he understands our loss, our suffering, and our weakness. But he does not leave us alone in those dark places. Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus and had them remove the stone from the entrance of the cave. He, with tears still streaking down his face, lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed, and then he restored hope to Mary and her sister’s life because their brother was raised to life again.
Just a few weeks after one of the most remarkable events in human history, we meet Mary again in tears. The man that moved her own brother from the darkness of the tomb to new life, was now laying wrapped in death clothes sealed behind a stone. Mary’s hope died.
Many of us often feel like Mary. We look at the world around us, and it appears that everything is shrouded in darkness. We might feel this to a greater degree this year as we are sitting in our houses in self isolation as we try to flatten the curve of a pandemic. Everything we once knew seems to have faded and was replaced with survival.
Mary knew her hope, she knew his name, she sat at his feet and ate at the same table. Mary knew hope. And when her hope died, she embraced it. She moved forward through the darkness. She walked to the tomb to honor the one she loved.
That walk in the dark was probably the hardest path Mary had ever had to travel, but she took the steps. She made that journey. Mary was once a broken woman. That brokenness once defined her life, but Jesus brought her out of that, he gave her a new identity. Jesus brought her back to life. And yet life was still a struggle. And when Jesus died, Mary faced her fear. She knew who she was before she encountered Jesus, and she knows who she has become since. She knows that Jesus brought that change in her life, and now Jesus was buried. He is buried yet Mary, this once broken woman, walks in through the darkness and fear to the tomb.
Imagine that journey. Maybe you have made a similar journey. Maybe you have seen great loss, redemption, and more struggle. Maybe you feel as if the end is near. Mary made that journey; she faced the crushing loss of Good Friday. She sat for a day in the isolation of Holy Saturday. And as the Sabbat ended, she got up, got dress, and she faced the darkness to honor the one that gave her a reason to live.
As I have journeyed through my life of faith, I have come to apricate Mary. She was a disciple that did not hide behind closed doors, but one that boldly approached the one she loved, even in death. She walked through a life of suffering even though she did not know what might come to pass. She moved forward seeking to do the one thing she knew she could do, honor the dead. She did not know what to do, she did not know how to cope with the life that seemed to loom before her, but she did one thing, she walked forward into the darkness to do the one thing she knew she could do.
She walked out that Sunday morning thinking that she would clean and anoint the body of her friend, but when she approached the tomb, she saw that the stone had been moved. She went out that morning fully prepared to do one thing, and now as she walked forward things changed. Life is always filled with surprises. We start down a path, and there are countless detours interacting with us. We adjust on the fly, just like Mary. She went to anoint the body, now the stone has been moved, now she is running back to the house. She does not know what to do and realizes she needs help. She went to Simon Peter and the other disciple. We traditionally recognized this to be John, but some scholars propose that this might have been her brother Lazarus, that really does not matter, she ran to Jesus’s friends. She went to her friends and asked them to join her.
They run to the tomb, and they find that the body they expected to find is not there. The death cloths are there but the body is missing. We are told that Peter looked at the cloths laying there and that the other disciple looked and believed. We do not know what the other disciple believed because Peter seems to be standing there in utter confusion. They saw, and the went back to their homes. Imagine that walk. Imagine, finding yourself in a situation that you have absolutely no idea how you got there, and due to your ignorance, you have absolutely no idea how to move forward.
The disciples walked home, but Mary stayed. I think we often overlook something here. The men just walk away in confusion and possibly frustration, but the woman remains. We are constantly moving in our world today. That is one of the reasons the suggestions to remain home are such a struggle for many of us. We are used to moving, to sit still is contrary to our nature. But are we missing things because of our mobility? Do we respond to our confusion and ignorance by walking away? Mary remained at that tomb. She remained in her struggle; she yet again embraced the hardship she was given. She came to honor Jesus’s life and now she does not know where his body is, so she remains at the last place she knew he was. We face hardship and we move. Our job is not what we expected so we leave, relationships often are regarded as disposable, not to mentions churches and social organizations. Peter and the other disciple walked, and Mary remained. She did not know what to do yet she stayed and allowed the emotions of the situation to flow, and to subside so that she could take the next steps rationally.
We must engage our emotions, we need to acknowledge and let them pass through us so we can understand what and where they are coming from. She remained weeping because she did not know where the body was and as she remained in that place, she saw two angels and they asked her why she was weeping. She processed the emotions she felt. “I do not know where my lord is!” Then she turns from these angels and she sees a man standing there with her and again she is asked why she is weeping. She gives the same answer. “I do not know where the lord is!”
I often find myself there. I look into a void before me. Everything I once thought seemingly vanishes from before me, and I in confusion wonder, “Where is God? What am I doing? And why do I keep trying?” We have all been there. The computer crashes and we lost the paper we were writing for school. We are furloughed from work and rent is due. Something totally unexpected blindsides us and we are once again broken and wondering what to do once again. Peter and the other disciple faced this by walking away, they gave up. Mary remained and she was visited by God in that place of desolation.
Jesus wept with Mary by the tomb of her brother, and he was with her while she stood weeping and attempting to process life without Jesus walking among her friends. Jesus was with Mary. Jesus was with Mary while she wept. And Jesus spoke to her. He spoke into the situation she was facing and called her by name.
All the disciples were in the same place as Mary. All of them faced loss, confusion, emotions, and a lack of knowledge as to what to do next. Mary remained in a place where she could deal with the emotions where the others walked away and locked themselves in a room. Why did Mary remain? Could it be because she knew how Jesus had brought healing before, so she wanted to stay as near to him as she could? We do not know for sure what kept her in that place while the others left, but because of that choice she was the first witness of the risen lord. She experienced Jesus’s healing touch before, and she remained because that memory still resonated within her. As she faced the uncertainty before her, she remained at that place she last knew her lord to be, and she was in a position to experience hope renewed.
We all face uncertainty. We all face struggles. We all face a future that is often veiled behind a cloud of unknowing. How are we facing that hazy future? As Friends we often sit in silence together. Many might think of this as a place of emptiness, but it is a time of Holy Expectancy. We sit in our uncertainty with the expectation that hope will rise. We sit in our struggle with the expectation that God will reveal a way forward. We in this cloud of unknowing expecting to see our next step along the journey of life to be shown as the Spirit’s wind blows the misty fog. We sit in Holy Expectancy because Jesus lived, died, was buried, and lives again. We sit in Holy Expectancy because we know that Jesus lives and is our ever-present teacher and guide and will speak to our condition, just as he spoke to Mary so long ago. We sit in Holy Expectancy because we know that He lives and knows our name, we sit in Holy Expectancy because we know that his kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven and if we wait in his presence at these uncertain times He will call our name and call us to follow him into the future he has prepared for us.
As we celebrate the living Lord today, and as we face our own uncertain lives let us now join Mary. Let us remain at the empty tomb and let us listen for the voice of our beloved teacher and let us respond like Mary and announce to those around us the things that we have heard and seen.