Sunday, April 11, 2010

Easter 2C

"The door was locked for fear of the Jews," the text says.

Maybe. But I’m sure there was more to it than that.

Yes, Jesus' disciples were probably afraid that their fellow Jews might have wanted to see them end on the business end of a cross. But that's probably not the only reason the door was locked. They might have been afraid of something - or someone - else. And they wanted to keep that person as far away as possible from them.

The announcement of Jesus' resurrection might not have been good news for the disciples. They knew what they had done. They knew that they scattered like scared rats when Jesus was arrested. Peter knew that he denied knowing Jesus while Jesus was being questioned and tortured by the police. 

They knew that, while Jesus was hanging in torment waiting for death to take him, the only comforting eyes he saw were the women - and John.

Everyone else had disappeared when things started getting real.

They probably knew that their abandonment was just as painful to Jesus as the nails in his hands and feet. John says that the door was locked for fear of the Jews. But I wonder if the door was locked because it was one specific Jewish rabbi they were trying to keep out out.

They had heard that Jesus was back. And now they were in trouble.

Was Jesus angry? What was he going to say when he caught up with his disciples? What was he going to say to those who betrayed and abandoned him - the disciples who were all talk and zero action? Who, by their behaviour, showed Jesus that they didn't really believe a single word that he said? What would he say? What would YOU say?

"Where were you when I needed you?"

"You said you'd follow me anywhere, even to death. What happened with that?"

"I made you a leader, but you turned out to be a coward."

"With friends like you...I don't need the Romans."

They might have remembered Jesus saying, ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven." (Matt 10:23-33)

It gets worse. Jesus also said, "Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38)

Harsh words that I'm sure were swimming in the disciples' ears. So they knew what to expect when Jesus caught up with them.

That's what I'd expect if I were them because that's probably what I would say if I were in Jesus' position.

Was all that talk about following Jesus wherever he went mere bravado? Tough talk? Stuff that guys tell each other to make them feel stronger than they are? 

Or maybe they really believed it about themselves. Maybe they really thought they had what it took to follow Jesus wherever he led them. And when the crunch time came, and Jesus was arrested, they learned something about themselves. They learned that they were afraid - afraid of pain, afraid prison, afraid of death. Afraid to actually trust God.

It was easy to get all pumped up when they were among friends, but when the time came to put their lives where their mouths were, they abandoned everything they said they said they believed in.

They failed Jesus. They failed God. They failed each other. They failed themselves.

It makes me think that news of Jesus' resurrection was met with as much fear and trembling as joy and celebration. I wonder if they were in that locked room for a closed-door meeting to get their stories straight. What were they going to tell Jesus when he finally confronted them? What COULD they say? This hard to spin. Betraying and abandoning the one they confessed as Lord cannot be presented as being a good thing. They were stuck. All they could do was wait for Jesus to show up and suffer the consequences.

But the locked door wasn't enough to keep Jesus out any more than a grave was. He simply appears right in front of them. And before anyone could say something, before they could come up with whatever lame excuse they had for their behaviour, before they could even say "sorry" it's Jesus who speaks first. 

"Peace be with you."

That's it. That's the first words Jesus says to those who took off when things got tough. That's the first thing that Jesus says to those who said they didn't know him because it might have gotten them into trouble. That's the first thing he says to those whose familiar faces he was looking for as he hung dying in excruciating pain.

"Peace be with you."

No anger. No judgment. No harsh words. Just forgiveness. 

Were they surprised? Probably. I know I would have been. I would have expected a verbal trip to the woodshed. Or worse.

But nothing. Not a word about what the disciples had done. Not a peep about the abandonment and betrayal. Not a sound about the cowardice and lack of faithfulness.

Just "peace be with you."

It turns out the Jesus knew something about the disciples that they didn't know. Jesus knew that they were capable of great faithfulness and courage. Or at least they will be. Jesus knew what they were going to become. He knew that God wasn't finished with them quite yet.

I know this because Jesus didn't just forgive them. He gave them a job. And not just any job. He gave them a job usually saved for God alone:

"As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'"

Forgiving sins. Retaining sins. That's quite the authority to have, don't you think? That's quite the power to give to someone who treated you so badly.

But that's how God works, isn't it? That's what God does. God forgives. God renews. Jesus wasn't the only one resurrected that day. His disciples were made new as well. They learned something new about God along the way. They learned that God can work with ANYONE to accomplish God's mission. 

And today, in the waters of baptism, God includes Charley in that same mission. God knows what Charley will become. And so God is giving him that same authority to forgive and retain sins that he gave to the disciples that day behind that locked door. God is giving Charley the commission to do God's renewing work. God is making him an instrument of resurrection. 

Just like all of us who've been named and claimed as God's own child through the sacrament of holy baptism. You are part of God's resurrection mission. God has given you a job that was once saved for God alone. You are part of God’s great adventure of bringing forgiveness, peace, mercy, justice, healing, and grace to the world.

Neither sin nor betrayal, abandonment nor locked doors, can keep Jesus out of our lives. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and nothing can prevent God from recruiting us for God’s mission to the world.

We are God’s. Nothing can keep us from becoming who God wants us to be.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Easter Sunday

"But these words seemed to them an idle tale."

They weren't the last to wonder if Easter is simply a fairy tale. You hear TV personalities referring to Jesus as a "zombie." Or there are people who write deeply ideological books passed off as "history" who claim to "prove" that Jesus never existed, much less rose from the dead.

Still others, while affirm that, yes, Jesus did, in fact exist, say that resurrection couldn't have happened.. Some folks say that Jesus walking out the tomb under God's power after being dead for three days is simply too incredible to be believed by rational, thinking, people. They say that it's impossible to open one's eyes after the body has shut down and after the heart stops beating.

So folks say that the resurrection only took place in the minds of the delusional or deceptive. Either the gospel writers were using a metaphor, a literary device borrowed from other cultures, a myth to tell a pointed tale, rather than reporting an actual fact. Or they were just making the story up to justify the new religion that'd created. These words, seemed, to them, an idle tale.

While much of the bible is, in fact, literary. I tend to believe the gospel writers were both reporting fact and telling a story. While it's not my intention to somehow "prove" the historical accuracy of the gospel stories, because I don't think that's their point. The point of the gospels is to bear witness to what God has done in their lives. And we can go back and forth, arguing over the evidence, offering solid proof for the resurrection's truthyness. But Luke doesn't do that. Luke just proclaims what has been reported to him. And he was probably convinced of the resurrection, not through rational argument, but through the changed behaviour of the disciples. Their lives bore witness to what they had seen. They had gone from grief to joy, from a crowd of scattered cowards to a courageous community. For among them, Christ has risen indeed.

We hear that Easter is NOT just about a dead man opening his eyes. Easter is NOT just about our sins being forgiven. Easter is NOT just about the miracle of victory in the midst of defeat.

Easter is about God's firm commitment to LIFE. Easter is about how God wants life to thrive in the world. Easter is about how God wants everything to be made new.

Wherever life emerges in the midst of death, there is Easter. It is there that Christ is Risen.

Wherever people reach out to others, withdrawing from self-interest, there is Easter. It is there that Christ is Risen.

Wherever hungry bellies are filled, wherever tears are wiped dry, wherever the grieving are comforted, there is Easter. It is there that Christ is Risen.

Wherever justice triumphs over oppression, wherever the weak are lifted up and proud de-throned, there is Easter. It is there that Christ is Risen.

Or, I like how second century preacher, Melito of Sardis puts it in his Easter sermon. A full-throated proclamation of what God has done today in Jesus, he thunders to his congregation:

And so he was lifted up upon a tree and an inscription was attached indicating who was being killed.

Who was it?

It is a grievous thing to tell, but a most fearful thing to refrain from telling.
But listen, as you tremble before him on whose account the earth trembled!

He who hung the earth in place is hanged.
He who fixed the heavens in place is fixed in place.
He who made all things fast is made fast on a tree.

The Sovereign is insulted.
God is murdered.
The King of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand.

But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven.
When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity,
and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer,
and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned,
and had been judged for the sake of the condemned,
and buried for the sake of the one who was buried,
he rose up from the dead,
and cried aloud with this voice:

Who is it who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me.
I set the condemned free;
I gave the dead life;
I raised up the one who had been entombed.
Who is my opponent?

I, he says, am the Christ.
I am the one who destroyed death,
and triumphed over the enemy,
and trampled Hell under foot,
and bound the strong one,
and carried off mortals to the heights of heaven,
I, he says, am the Christ.

Therefore, come, all families of the earth,
you who have been befouled with sins, receive forgiveness for your sins.
I am your forgiveness,
I am the passover of your salvation,
I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you,
I am your ransom,
I am your light,
I am your saviour,
I am your resurrection,
I am your king,
I am leading you up to the heights of heaven,
I will show you the eternal Father,
I will raise you up by my right hand.

This is the One who made the heavens and the earth,
and formed humankind in the beginning,
The One proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets,
The One enfleshed in a virgin,
The One hanged on a tree,
The One buried in the earth,
The One raised from the dead and who went up into the heights of heaven,
The One sitting at the right hand of the Father,
The One having all authority to judge and save,
Through Whom the Father made the things which exist from the beginning of time.

This One is "the Alpha and the Omega,"
This One is "the beginning and the end"
The beginning indescribable and the end incomprehensible.

This One is the Christ.
This One is the King.
This One is Jesus.
This One is the Leader.
This One is the Lord.

This One is the One who rose from the dead.
This One is the One sitting on the right hand of the Father.
He bears the Father and is borne by the Father.

"To him be the glory and the power forever. Amen."