Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Dawn of Easter

Easter comes out of the long night of darkness, sin, and despair. When everything else had run its course, when there was no other hope, then God his own Son into the world to save us. God sent Jesus to show us just how far he would go to have us.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem on that donkey to show that he is truly king. Jesus, his feet dangling, rides right down the center of Main Street of the world into the teeth of power, earthly power and dominion. Without fear of what they could do to him, without fear for the greatest empire that maybe the world has ever seen, Jesus came. Jesus came with only the power of love to counter the power of might.

But, maybe Rome wouldn’t notice this Galilean if his own people had not been so agitated. The religious leaders were the ones so much offended that they were willing to join Rome in doing away with him. Just stop this Jesus from talking.

After the darkness of his suffering and death, the disciples hid away wondering what might happen to them now. But, on the dawn of the first day of the week, according to Matthew, the women went early to the tomb. They went to see dead Jesus, when the earth shook and an angel descended to sit on the stone rolled away from the tomb. In a last act of defiance the angel sat on the very stone that had kept the tomb closed. The angel said: “He is not here; he is risen…gone ahead of you into Galilee.

Then, the women saw Jesus; out of nowhere Jesus came to them and said: “Greetings.” The women took hold of his feet. In all of the Gospel stories about Jesus’ resurrection, they touch Jesus’ body. In Matthew, they take hold of his feet, as if to say: “Are you real? Is it really you?”

And, while the women were filled with life, there before the tomb the Roman guards who had been so powerful in the darkness on Thursday night and outside Jesus’ tomb, were now like…dead.

In God’s great Kingdom, the powers of this world are no power. Nothing, not even, death has the last word. In this Kingdom, injustice is made right and hope wins.

A friend of mine says that he was visiting a man just before his death, actually only two days before he died. My friend, a pastor, asked the dying man what he was going through. The man said: “I’m not afraid because of Jesus.”

My friend said something pious like: “Well, we all have hope in what God will do for us in the future…”

The man said: “No, I have hope because of what Jesus did for me in the past. When I turned away from Jesus, and went my own way, or got lost, or misplaced my values, or moved away from him, he always came back for me. Even when I was not looking for him he was looking for me. He always came back for me. So, I don’t think something as silly as death is going to keep his love for coming back for me one more time…”

Such is our Easter faith and hope. Such is the God who went the distance and brought Jesus forth on Easter Day at dawn. What a dawn it was!

Dave Nichols

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Good Grief

I’m finally getting back to posting here after a time away from it. It’s just been, shall we say, interesting around here, the last month. So, here goes. I am in the middle of my sermon series for Lent called: “I want to…” The idea is that Lent has a lot to do with desire and passion. Lent is the season of Jesus’ passion (desire to do the Father’s will). Passion also means suffering and devotion.

Lent, also, is about our passions and desires, as we seek to draw closer to God through sacrifice, giving, and worship. Using the Gospel Lessons I have work around this theme. Sunday, April 10th, I am working with John Chapter 11, the story of the raising of Lazarus.

There are so many interesting details in this passage. John tells us that Jesus is close friends with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. So, someone makes sure that Jesus knows that Lazarus is sick. But, Jesus does not go immediately; he continues his mission.

Then, word comes that Lazarus is dead. That’s when Jesus makes preparations to go to Bethany. The disciples warn Jesus that the last time they were there things got testy. Still Jesus goes. Thomas, we know Thomas, says: “We will go with you to death, if need be…” Really?

Jesus arrives and the wake is still going on. Drinks and food and support for the family. Martha comes running to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, he would not have died.” How many times have I heard you and me say that: “Jesus, if you had been here…?”

Jesus tells her that line that we quote at every funeral: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die yet shall they live. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die…”

Lots of tears- even Jesus weeps. Then after prayer, Jesus tells them to take the stone away. He calls to Lazarus: “Lazarus, come forth…” And, Lazarus stumbles out of the grave looking like a mummy. Jesus says: “Unbind him and let him go…” The Greek word behind “unbind” is the same word used in the Gospels for the time when Jesus sent his disciples for a donkey to ride on Palm Sunday. Jesus says: “Untie him and bring him to me…” Untie him, unbind him and let him go.

The stone rolled away, women weeping at the tomb, grief, all bring us a glimpse of the coming Easter.

This Sunday I am working around the notion: “I Want to Get Past My Grief”. I will use the image of Mary and Martha in grief. Jesus experiences grief and is present and brings resurrection.

All the big holidays- Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day- are a mixture of joy and sadness for many. Even as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter we are remembering sadly those who are not here now.

Most of us live our lives in shallow ways, avoiding anything that will send us into a struggle. But, grief always moves us into the deep waters of life. So we come on Sundays bringing our griefs and sorrows with us to meet Jesus. At every grave we stand and wait for the day when Jesus will say to us: “Unbind him/her and set them free…”

Dave Nichols

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