"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Sermonizing!!! CPISTOS ANESTH!! (moved)

The Gospels tell us that Mary Magdalene, and the other women, have gotten up early in the morning, while it is still dark. Slowly, still grieving their tremendous loss, their crucified Lord, they make their way to the tomb. Laden with burial spices to anoint the body of Jesus, they intend to anoint Jesus’ body. It was an act of love, though by Jewish ceremonial law it would render them temporarily unclean. Bodies were anointed with spices to lessen the effects of natural decay. These women are wandering out in the dark towards a scene which would be so utterly gruesome that few of us would ever even consider coming along with them on such an errand.

And they’re worried… they’re worried about the stone that stood between them and entrance into the tomb. How would they move such a heavy barrier? It is a legitimate worry, a logistical concern that gives a sense of reality to this otherwise rather surreal moment. But as I read in John’s telling of the events, I learned something more. I read this week about how the final chapters of John’s Gospel share Jesus’ resurrection appearances in such a way as to show him overcoming a number of our common obstacles to faith in him. It is as if the stone that blocked the women’s path to Jesus is a physical symbol of something more, our fears, ignorance, grief, and doubt. If you take your faith seriously, you will recognize that these are indeed barriers to our relationship with Jesus, but how do we remove such stones? Fear is too much for us to roll away on our own, our ignorance is too great, our grief and doubt threaten to overshadow us at times too.

But early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene and her companions come to the tomb of Jesus, and discover that the barrier is removed. It’s an unexpected thing. Who would be about so early in the day? Who would have moved the stone? What has become of Jesus’ body? In their alarm they run to Peter and to John and summon them to the tomb. Someone, perhaps grave robbers, for there were so many in that era that one of the Caesars made it a capital offence to disturb a tomb. Perhaps it was someone who wished to heap further insult on Jesus. Perhaps it was one of Joseph’s gardeners, but where would they have put Jesus? How could they care for him if they couldn’t find him?

The women are frantic. Peter and John are anxious also and they run to the tomb. Outside the tomb, each of the people you meet is full of fear, worry, anxiety. There is a lot of rushing about in the dark. But inside the tomb, there is a sense of perfect calm. No, there were no grave robbers here, for the linens and spices in which the body had been wrapped, these remain undisturbed. There was no rushing about here, the cloth for Jesus’ head was neatly folded in a place of its own. Why would anyone who had moved Jesus leave these things behind? Why would anyone who had robbed the tomb leave the only items of any value or use?

And the disciples believed, though they still did not understand. The barrier of ignorance is removed. Likewise as Mary remains, in her grief weeping outside the tomb, Jesus appears to hear. The barrier of grieving is removed as Jesus call’s Mary’s name and reveals to her that he is indeed alive. Fear is removed as the disciples, behind locked doors for fear of the Jews who had crucified Jesus, suddenly find the risen Lord in their midst. Doubt is removed as Thomas places his hands in Jesus wounds. Jesus systematically removes the barriers that stand between us and faith in him.

We modern people have a lot of barriers; sometimes we like even to try and set up our barriers ourselves. Some say that maybe Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, maybe he fainted. But the scriptures go to great lengths to assure us that indeed Jesus did die; "he breathed his last" "He gave up his spirit." The centurion saw that he was dead and did not break his legs, he was stabbed in the side and blood and water poured out. This was no living man, no mere faint. Some say that maybe the disciples made off with the body to try to fabricate a resurrection story, but the tomb was well guarded by Roman soldiers, and why would all of these disciples later prove so willing to die because they believe in the resurrected Jesus if this were all a hoax? The words we just read from the Gospel of John are an eye witness account, these are the observations of the beloved disciple himself, the beloved disciple who was the only one not martyred for his faith in Jesus and he lived out his final years in exile on the distant island of Patmos. How easy it would be to expose the hoax, recant, and go home free! If it were a hoax, if there were no truth in these words.

But Christ is indeed raised from the dead, the first fruits from the grave. The grave could not hold him, he has raised himself. By his death he destroyed death… or as John tells us outright in the beginning of his Gospel, Jesus was the light who shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome him.

The resurrection of Jesus gives us two paths from which we must choose. We can run around in the darkness, in anxiety, ignorance, fear and grief. Or we can let Jesus remove the barriers to our faith, let the light which cannot be overcome shine in our darkest corners. This side of paradise our belief will never be perfect. We will still have moments where we set up our barriers, wallow in our doubts, run frantically about in our anxieties. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus insists that all things are possible to one who believes in him, to which the man with whom Jesus was speaking replied "I believe! Help my unbelief." This oft repeated prayer is what its all about! Jesus is willing and able to remove the barriers we’ve set up, to shine in our darkness, to help our unbelief.

Lord Jesus, we thank you and praise you that by your death you have destroyed death. By your rising to life again you have won for us eternal life. We ask you now to help our unbelief. We cast on your mercy all our barriers and obstacles, all our fears, anxieties, ignorance, doubt, and grief. Take these things from us, we pray, that we may be consecrated to you as a holy people, a living sacrifice, and a royal priesthood of those who believe.

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