Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: belief, doubt, faith, hope, Jesus, new creation, resurrection, thomas
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The sugar high may have worn off, but we’re still thick in the celebratory Easter season. Our Lenten journey encompassed forty days, but our Easter celebration is greater, spanning fifty days. In these days, we hear the “what’s next” after the resurrection. We hear what the resurrection means to the disciples and the forming church. Some of what we hear might just surprise us.
These fifty days give us the time and space to live into the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. As much as I love Holy Week, with its dramatic presentation of Jesus’ last days, its meaningful ritual, and the glory of Easter morning, I can get pretty worn out. On Easter, there’s more to be done than simply go to church. There are special holiday clothes to be found and ironed. There are eggs and goodies to be hidden. There’s a dinner to prepare and a house to clean. With all the busyness of Easter day, I’m glad we have almost two months of regular days to live into the question: “What does Jesus’ resurrection mean to you?”
This year I especially find myself needing these seven weeks of Easter to contemplate the meaning of Easter. On this Easter Sunday, we read the story of the empty tomb from Mark, whose gospel ends with the women disciples recognizing Jesus’ body is gone and running away from the tomb in mute fear, rather that rejoicing and sharing the good news that Jesus is risen. This gospel does not present our typical vision of the disciples’ reaction to the empty tomb! The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and its meaning for the lives of those who follow Jesus seems to have been lost on those disciples who were entrusted with sharing the news of the emptiness of the tomb. Maybe it’s because of Mark’s gospel that I find myself wrestling with the meaning of the resurrection this year. I find myself questioning, not its truth, but its power in our world today.
In our Easter morning worship, we declare that in his rising, Jesus has conquered the power of sin, death, and fear! This is the victory to which we shout: Alleluia!
And yet- what is the result of the victory? Mark declares that the women are so afraid, they keep their mouths shut. Where is Jesus’ victory over the fear in our hearts then?
Each gospel has a different version of the resurrection and the response of the disciples. On Easter Vigil, last Saturday, we read the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the gospel of John. There we heard of a Mary Magdalene quick to share the news of the empty tomb with Jesus’ most trusted disciples. We heard of a foot race between the two men. We heard how the empty tomb reminded them of Jesus’ teaching that he will rise and how this sight solidified their belief. After the men had left, Jesus met with Mary Magdalene and entrusted her with news of his ascension to God, which she faithfully shared with all the disciples.
John’s account seems like the correct portrayal of the power of Jesus’ victory. This is the Easter story I expect. It is full of wonder and hope confirmed. It is full of trust and faithfulness. It is a story of Jesus’ resurrection accomplishing life: new life without fear, full of the joy of the recognition of God’s power.
It is the story that leads me to expect the world to be different, now that Jesus is risen.
It is the story that leads me to expect a different world than the one I live in. And I find myself confused by the disconnect- by the reality of all around me that points to the power of evil and death. Where is the victory over all that turns from God? Everything from apathy to violence?
As we live into Easter, we find that even John’s gospel doesn’t proclaim an immediate and complete change in the post-Easter world. John’s tomb scene promises more life-changing power than Mark’s, but the reading we have for today, which directly follows this joyful scene at the tomb, shows all the disciples, locked in a room, afraid of the world around them.
Jesus’ resurrection has not effected the immediate end of fear! I don’t know whether to find comfort in their fear, which is so like mine, or to be dismayed that even those who witnessed the empty tomb could still fear for their lives!
Jesus comes to these fearful ones. He assures them with his presence and blows the Spirit of his peace onto them. This seems to have strengthened them. One of their number was not there to meet Jesus. Thomas declares that he needs to touch Jesus’ resurrected body before he can accept the disciples’ story of Jesus’ appearance.
A week later the disciples are again behind a closed door, perhaps fear wasn’t completely removed, when Jesus appears to them again. This time Thomas is there. In touching Jesus’ wounds, he feels his way towards belief.
The disciples’ reaction to the news of Jesus’ resurrection is more complicated than I have always envisioned it. Rather than moving steadily from the empty tomb to faithful witness, to lives of service, to church forming, the disciples’ movement is full of stops and starts, jerkily vacillating between trust and fear. Jesus has conquered death, evil, and fear, but it seems that the victory of the resurrection is taking some time to work over the disciples.
We move forward in time to the story of a growing Christian community from Acts. Acts paints a rosy picture of a transformed community. All the believers give up their personal possessions and profits, and lay them at the feet of the apostles, to be distributed to all in need. I read this story and think, oh, how perfect! What unity! If these believers are anything like me, what an amazing change of heart God has worked in them! They sell their property and allow others to determine how it will be distributed.
But if we read a little farther, we learn that all is not as good as it first appears. One couple has sold their property, but only given a portion of the proceeds to the apostles, even as they claim to have given everything. As a result of their lying to God, they fall down dead the moment their lie is revealed. They were afraid for themselves, and so they couldn’t live into the freedom and joy that the resurrection should have made possible.
The most amazing work of God has been accomplished in Jesus’ resurrection. I have declared that this work has changed our world. The resurrection is God’s triumph over all the forces that work against life. And yet- and yet- all the world has not been changed.
This year, I find myself identifying with the Markan Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome, who leave the tomb with sealed lips, with the Johannine disciples who hide in fear, with Thomas who won’t accept the word of others, and with the couple of Acts who feel a need to keep something back to protect themselves.
In their lives and stories, in my own, in yours: where is the power of the resurrection? It did not immediately transform all who witnessed it centuries ago. It has not completely transformed our world. Still, fear seems to be our greatest motivator. Still, violence and oppression are victorious. Still, death claims the ones we love. In our post-Easter world, does God still have power? Is there reason for us to have hope?
Sometimes, it can be hard to answer, “yes.”
Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus’ body, cold in a barren tomb, these are visions of all hope lost. There is no sign that God is working good in these moments of death. They are the hopeless moments, but they are on the cusp of redemption. God makes life come out of this death.
If the disciples at the time of Jesus’ death remembered his foretelling of his resurrection, the horror of the scene obscured their hope. But it wasn’t up to them to create resurrection. God’s action to give life was not diminished by their inability to grasp God’s work through the fear and grief in their hearts. As bulbs that have lain dormant, appearing dead all winter, have life worked in them, as roots sink, hidden, deeper into soil before shoots rise up, so God can be at work to give life even where we cannot recognize it. Journey with me this Easter. Entrust to God all that is in need of resurrection. After three days of death, God raised Jesus to new life. In the fullness of time, God will raise all creation to resurrected life.
Alleluia. Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, indeed, alleluia.
And one day, God will bring the same healing salvation to all the world. Until that day, we live in the blessed state of those who have not seen, and yet believe… and wrestle… and hope… and wait.
God brings life where none is apparent.
Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: easter, empty tomb, fear, jesus is risen, mary
Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
This is the good news that dawns on our world today.
We have travelled through this week, witnessing Jesus’ last days. Jesus is joyously welcomed into Jerusalem, and then bitterly rejected. Disciples betray him, religious leaders conspire to kill him, and the crowds call for his crucifixion. Through these events, Jesus declares his faithfulness to those who abandon him. Jesus proclaims that he will give his body to give forgiveness and life to the world.
If it seems to you that a lot has happened in a short few days, consider what it must have been like for Jesus’ disciples. First an emotional high at the Palm Sunday procession, as their teacher is exalted. Then special teaching from Jesus at their Passover dinner, as he gives new meaning to shared bread and wine, and as he kneels to wash their feet. Then unexpected events, for which Jesus’ prophecies have not prepared them for. Jesus is arrested, tried, and killed. Intense fear grips the disciples, causing them to run away at his arrest, blinding them to any possibility of goodness as Jesus’ dead body is placed in a tomb carved into rock.
The day after Jesus’ death is the Sabbath, a day during which no work is done, so that God may be honored. On the third day, three of Jesus’ disciples: Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome come to the tomb to finish the burial rituals. They come with hearts full of grief and fear. They are numb from the tragedy they have witnessed. The shock has been so great that they haven’t been able to think through the work at hand. Only once their on their way to the tomb do they realize that they have not asked anyone strong enough to open the tomb for them to reach Jesus’ body. There’s nothing else for them to do but to continue on their way and deal with that problem when they get there.
When they arrive, they are met with a staggering sight. The large stone has been rolled back, and Jesus’ tomb is standing open. When they cautiously enter, they are met by a young man in white. Jesus is no where to be seen.
What must have been going through their minds?! Thoughts that they are going crazy? That in their grief-stricken delirium, they’ve gone to the wrong tomb? That someone has taken Jesus’ body away? That somehow they’ve all been tricked? That as followers of Jesus, they might be in great danger themselves? They are frozen in fear.
The young man addresses their fear and their questions, saying, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”
What can this all mean to these women? They look where the young man points, and can see Jesus is no longer where he had been laid. But how can it be possible?
The young man continues, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
After their long week, all the women can do is stagger out of the tomb and run. They have been met with the unimaginable and impossible, and fear has taken over. It is all too much to comprehend. “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Fear is a powerful motivator and deterrent. We’re created to experience fear, so that we recognize dangerous situations and do something to get out of them. But, fear can also be a danger to us. It can keep us turned inward on ourselves. Self-centeredness is sin. It keeps us from being open to God. Fear can close our minds to the wide range of possibilities that every moment holds.
The women at the tomb could only see that Jesus had died, and his body was missing. They were afraid because their world was being destroyed. Jesus, the one who had declared the kingdom of God was near, who had healed the sick, and restored life to the dead, had been killed. The powers of the world had conspired to silence him, and their power could easily be turned on Jesus’ disciples. The women have every reason to fear for themselves and the other disciples. Their lives are in danger.
But it is their very fear that presents the greatest danger in this moment. They are in danger of missing the joy of the miracle God has done in their sight. Their fear closes them off to the work of God in their lives. Fear keeps them from joyously celebrating and sharing the good news of God’s work: the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection.
We can find ourselves in the same situation as the women: held captive to our fear. This fear can work the same way in our lives, and keep us from the joy God would have us experience. We fear illness, change in ability, loss of jobs, relationships, or status. We fear what we do not know and what we cannot control. We fear what others might to do us. We fear change.
We, the women at the tomb, the religious and political leaders, the crowd: all who sought Jesus’ death, fear Jesus’ power to change the world. Jesus challenges the way things are; Jesus shatters social norms and expectations; Jesus embodies the coming kingdom of God which does not behave the way we are used to. This change is cause for fear. Enough fear that people needed to kill Jesus to eliminate the threat of so much change. Enough fear that the women couldn’t put words to the miracle of resurrection they witnessed. Enough fear that we can live our lives closed to the faith we confess and the work of the God we say we trust.
Jesus came to destroy the power that fear holds over us. Jesus went ahead of us into the worst rejection and suffering we could ever experience. In doing so, he promises to be with us through any difficult times our lives may include. We need not fear, because Jesus will be with us through our darkest hours. With the life-giving God by our side, we will not be alone through our suffering. Jesus chose to enter the most fearful situation, so that we would have his strength with us as we enter our own fears. That is the joy of the cross, which we celebrated on Good Friday.
The joy of today, Easter Sunday, is that Jesus has been raised from the dead, raised from his experience of suffering. In Jesus’ resurrection, we see that suffering has an end. Whatever difficult times we may face, they will not last. God’s power will triumph over sin, pain, and death. God will bring us to a new experience of life, in which tears, pain, and death will no longer exist.
Jesus’ resurrection destroys fear. Jesus includes you in the life-giving power of his resurrection. You may have times of suffering in your life: times of rejection or betrayal, or times of sickness or grief. You will die. These experiences may shape your life, but they are not permanent states, they will not continue forever. Jesus will raise you out of your suffering, and share with you his resurrected life. You need not fear the powers of evil or death. Jesus has already broken them in his resurrection. He has broken their power for you.
When confronted with news of Jesus’ resurrection, news too good to be true, we may still find ourselves trapped in the same fear the women felt,. Jesus’ resurrection changes the world; it changes our lives. Jesus’ resurrection means that our lives are more than our current experience. We will exist beyond this life. Jesus’ resurrection changes our perspective. No longer do we need to be fearfully guarding all that is our own. God holds all life, and will restore to life all that has died. God protects all whom we love.
We fear change, we fear the unknown future. In the midst of our fear, Jesus makes possible our trust in God. The Spirit gifts us with joy-inspiring trust. This God-inspired trust enables us to look with joy towards the future of God’s restoration. God will work life and goodness among us. All that is broken and hurt will be changed: it will be healed. We need not fear the change Jesus will work in our lives, because Jesus works for good. His resurrection proves his connection with the life-giving God, who works to give us abundant, whole, joyful life.
God allows us to see glimpses of this life-giving work among us now. Sometimes we are too caught up in fear to notice. Just like the women couldn’t recognize grasp God’s good work, we aren’t always open to grasping the possibilities for life God is opening in front of us. We are afraid to acknowledge them, as if they might be proved untrue.
God is working to give you courage to live in joy. Celebrate the potential for life that every dawn brings and every seed holds. Listen for the joy God makes possible. God is working your healing salvation today! Rejoice this Eastertide! Jesus has triumphed over death, so that you would have life today and always.
Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Christ is Risen Indeed. Alleluia.
Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: bible, easter, easter vigil, salvation, this is the night, witness
This is the night!
In which we gather to hear the generations witness to God’s work among them.
In our six readings from the Old Testament, we hear their witness through stories shared throughout the ages. Their voices speak to us, our children’s hands have presented a vision for us, and through them God’s action is revealed. From creation to the valley of dry bones, God gives life. From the Red Sea to the fiery furnace, God saves and protects. From the promise of the rainbow to the covenant of David, God makes promises and fulfills them.
If these stories weren’t enough to prove God’s love and life-giving power, we welcome the central story of our faith, the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Jesus died in faithfulness to God’s mission to bring life to the world. Jesus died to destroy the power of death over you. Jesus rose so that you may live in wholeness.
All the stories of salvation find their center in Jesus on the cross and the empty tomb. This is the central event in which God declares that nothing will stand in the way of God’s work to bring you life, wholeness, and healing. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God makes Godself known as the one goes to any depths to find you and has the power to raise you up to life.
God is active in our world and in our lives. Today, God gives life. Today, God saves and protects, today God fulfills promise for you. Your witness joins the stories of the generations who have known the power of God. What would be your story of God’s work for you? When have you known God’s power in your life?
The Sacraments, baptism and communion, are events in which God is present and active, at work for you, through simple elements of water, wine, and bread. With humble and broken hands and voices, we offer these gifts to each other. When we celebrate, God works through us.
God became powerfully present for me one autumn morning at Trinity. I had just been told by the council that some people didn’t want anyone but the pastor serving communion. I kept the elements behind the altar rail. But then I realized that although I had tried to present this gift of God in the way some thought was right, I had not thought of how this gift might also be given to me. Would I be forgotten? Tom Cameron was the last one to receive communion that morning. Noticing that no one else had stayed near the rail, no one else had through about my own need to experience God’s grace, Tom reached out his hand and gave to me these gifts of life. Through Tom’s hands and voice, God spoke to me: reminding me that these gifts of God are not just for me to talk about, to distribute to others, but are truly for me.
In baptism, we are drawn up into the community who has known God’s work among them. The stories of the generations who have met God become our stories of meeting God. The love letter God wrote for them become God’s love letter for us. In their witness, our hearts and eyes are opened to recognize how God has worked in our own lives in similar ways. God has both the desire and the power to give you life, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. Jesus died, but God has raised Jesus from the dead. And so, this night we proclaim:
Alleluia! Christ is Risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia.
Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: Cross, crucifixion, fear, glory of cross, Good Friday, gospel of john, Jesus
“That’s a church thing?”
One of my confirmation students looked up at me with confused eyes.
I had just been talking over the announcements for my confirmands, emphasizing that there would be many worship services this week, silently thinking they are an unwelcome blessing for those students needing to complete more sermon notes. I had just mentioned Good Friday worship when one of them remarked, “That’s a church thing?”
“Yes,” I explained, responding to the assumption, “It’s more than a celebratory way to name a day off from school. People have historically received time off from their daily work to gather together for worship.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that Good Friday’s association with faith had been trumped by its association with a holiday from work and school. As I’ve walked the aisles of Easter goodies, wondering how to celebrate Laila’s first Easter, I haven’t seen anything that would remind me that this celebration is about Jesus. I haven’t even seen a chocolate cross, although I’m not quite sure how useful that sugar sweetened symbol is for sharing the faith.
There is a vacuum of connection between these highest holy days and their meaning. Maundy Thursday confuses us with archaic Latin derivatives. Good Friday seems to celebrate the weekend off. Holy Saturday with its vigil is altogether unknown. Easter Sunday conjures up visions of eggs hunts, bunnies, and jelly beans. Holy Week, which once was a time of deep faith engagement with church pews full of worshippers seeking meaning in the story of Jesus’ last days, has become eclipsed by secularism and one time commitment too many for the faithful.
These days present the central story of our faith, and yet we can be hard pressed to name their impact on our lives in such a way as to make them a compelling option for busy people. We figure that everyone basically knows the stories. So, in the midst of daily work and family visiting, why should anyone bother with four days of church?
Tonight can be a difficult worship service to wrap our minds around. We hear the story of Jesus’ death and wonder how we can call this day “Good.” Tonight’s celebration rejoices in the glory of the cross. But how can this instrument of humiliating death be a place of glory? Certainly the apostle Paul was right in writing to the Corinthians, “The message of the cross is foolishness…” A celebration tonight doesn’t make sense. On a such a day as this, when we acknowledge that the central symbol of our faith is an instrument of torture, it becomes more understandable that many have lost connection with these central days of our faith. Why would anyone come to worship on such a morbid night?
We gather tonight, focused on the cross, because Jesus has transformed it from an instrument of death into a life-giving event. God has taken what is most horrifying about ourselves: our desire to inflict pain on another, and transformed it into a symbol of what is most awesome about God: God’s unconditional love for us.
This is a solemn night, but also a night of great joy, as we acknowledge our sin and rejoice in Jesus’ exchange of our sin for his righteousness.
God’s voice to us worshipping tonight speaks to us of the ways humanity is steeped in sin. The long reading from John’s gospel speaks of the way in which many people: Judas, priests, Pilate, soldiers, and the crowd sought to prove their power over Jesus. Their evil intentions sought to do one thing to Jesus, but God transformed the situation to accomplish another.
Especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as knowing his identity as the Son of God. He knows that he has come from God to earth to accomplish God’s mission. Jesus has come to bring God’s kingdom to earth and to restore all creation to right relationship with God. Jesus is confident in his path, even knowing that it will take him to suffering and death. Interspersed throughout this account of Jesus’ passion are reminders from the Gospel writer that Jesus is fulfilling scripture and fulfilling his own words in all that he does. Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death are all part of God’s work to fulfill God’s promises. Jesus is fully aware of and willing to follow through with all his mission entails.
We need this reminder as we hear again this story of Jesus’ suffering. John wants us to know that Jesus’ death was not a mistake that God somehow had to fix. Jesus chooses suffering with a purpose. Jesus isn’t killed by a vicious father God, but by the world. Jesus goes towards his death because he intends to accomplish his mission by seeing it through to the end.
That someone would choose to suffer goes against all human comprehension. Why does Jesus do this? Jesus’ passion exposes the sin of the world, the sin that still holds us captive. Its root is in the oldest sin, the most central evil of our hearts: the desire to be god.
This sin is manifested in actions that seek power. Groups and individuals want power and control over others. This power is maintained by violence, social pressure, and the withholding of goods. Even as we long to be in control, we long to be in community and find safety in groups. That creates a desire that others can exploit by threatening to push us out. We control others and are controlled ourselves by fear. We fear what others might do to us, we fear losing what we have, and we fear being alone.
Consider the people who played a part in Jesus’ passion. Their desire for power and their fear to lose it lead them to abandon, reject, and crucify Jesus.
Peter is disciple who receives the most focus. Although he follows Jesus from table to garden to trial, when asked by other bystanders about his relationship to Jesus, he denies knowing him. Peter finds himself under the control of his fear. He wants to be safe, and doesn’t want to find himself under the power of those who are questioning and will kill Jesus. Fear leads Peter to abandon Jesus.
The crowd is the community who maintains power and safety by controlling the gates that define who is acceptable and who is not. In our day to day lives, we might often find ourselves among their ranks. They need a class of people to exist as those defined as outsiders to strengthen the cohesion of the in-group. Jesus has threatened them by welcoming those who don’t belong.
The Jewish leaders’ authority and power is threatened by Jesus, who declares himself to be the Son of God and questions traditional teaching and practice. Jesus prophesies the destruction of the temple, where their leadership is necessary. Jesus has performed miracles no one before has accomplished, in restoring life to the dead. The religious leaders use Judas to lead them to Jesus, and they use their power to arrest and prosecute Jesus, calling for his death.
The Roman empire has control over the Jews, among many other peoples and lands. Pilate is the local representative of this power, along with the soldiers under his command. Every year he makes a special show of his power by releasing a prisoner of the state. This year, he proves the power of the state as crowd calls for Jesus’ death and the release of Barrabas, the bandit.
Pilate has a sign fashioned to hang over Jesus at his crucifixion. It reads, “The king of the Jews.” The chief priests object to this sign, wanting it to read instead, “This man said, ‘I am the king of the Jews.’” But Pilate will not change the sign, and so the Jewish authorities have to bear the humiliation of the state’s public destruction of a figure named to be their leader.
Everyone has conspired to rid themselves of Jesus and the threat he poses. The crowd and the Jewish authorities have heard enough of his teachings to know that he calls into question the assumptions that drive their lives. Pilate uses Jesus as he would have used any other, to declare the power of the empire. That Jesus has been called a king makes him all the more useful. Everyone is seeking to use Jesus for their own gain.
Jesus transforms the search for power. He is God. Yet he chooses to give up power. He chooses to be humbled. Jesus chooses to have his life snuffed out in order to proclaim a new way of life.
The cross changes our world. Jesus’ death calls into question all our assumptions about the goals of life. In his willingness to experience rejection, betrayal, humiliation, and death, Jesus exposes our life struggle to do everything necessary to avoid experiencing these things ourselves. Jesus exposes our assumption that the only way to live is to gain as much power over ourselves, our circumstances, our communities as we can, as we seek to protect ourselves and our interests.
Jesus declares that there is an alternative. We can give up the struggle for power. We can give up the illusion that we can have the ultimate control that belongs only to God. Then we no longer need to push others down so that we can rise above them. We can join Jesus in the life of trust that relies on God’s love to bring us through our experiences of suffering.
In his path to the cross, on the cross, Jesus chooses to be the focus of the worst hatred and violence present in the human experience. Because Jesus chose to be found in this suffering, we need not be ruthless to others in our attempts to avoid personal suffering.
We are freed from the fear of being alone in suffering. We live in a world in which violence, suffering, and death occur. Jesus has gone ahead of us into these dangers, so that if we ever enter them, we would find that Jesus is with us through them. Jesus has transformed the emptiness of pain and suffering through the presence of his love. When you find yourself in the midst of illness, rejection, grief, and pain, Jesus is with you. Even in these experiences, the life-giving God holds on to you and is at work to restore you to wholeness.
At the cross, Jesus stands alongside those who have been cast out of communities. Jesus breaks the power of society to hold individuals in bondage and to declare some unwelcome. The rejected find themselves in Jesus’ company. Jesus frees you from the power of those who would seek to control you with threats of rejection.
Jesus’ faithfulness, Jesus’ willingness to enter into his passion, his path to and death on the cross, transforms the power of the cross. The intention of the cross was to destroy and humiliate Jesus, to show the world’s power over him. In choosing to hang there, its power is broken. The power of fear has no hold on Jesus, who freely and willingly enters into this experience of death.
Jesus enters this experience confidently because he knows that it will validate his ministry and declare God’s love for the world. Jesus decided that the physical and emotional pain is worth the possibility that it will convince you that you are loved. Jesus enters death to give you life. Jesus’ captivity to the powers of the world, the powers of evil, the powers of death, releases you from your captivity. Jesus has freed you from any need to fear.
These holiest of days, with their many opportunities to worship, confront us with truth about our lives. God shows us that we live under the power of sin, so that our motivations are based on fear and the thirst for power. These days speak most powerfully and clearly God’s work to do something about our situation. Jesus has come to you to change your life. Jesus died on the cross, captive to the powers of sin and death, to free you for a life of wholeness and love.
Jesus transforms the cross into a place where God’s glory is revealed.
Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: holy week, Jesus, last commandment, last supper, maundy thursday
“I give you a new commandment,” Jesus says to the disciples gathered around the table, “that you love one another” (34).
This new commandment is the focus of our worship this evening. It is how this first of the three holiest days receives its name. In Latin, the word for commandment is mandatum. Today we read from the Gospel of John that Jesus’ last teaching before his death is to give the disciples a new commandment. So we celebrate today as Maundy Thursday.
Jesus continues, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (34b-35).
This new commandment is followed in community. Only through relationships and interactions can it be upheld. This commandment will also be a witness. As the disciple acts in love, the world will notice, and know that this is done through obedience to Jesus. Jesus loves first, teaching and transforming the disciple so that she is able to love.
“Love one another.” This command comes to us, who seek to follow Jesus today. It is a difficult commandment. Some of the difficulty comes from our misuse and misunderstanding of the word “love.” We use this word to describe everything from our sugar dependence (as in, “I love M&Ms) to our infatuation with celebrity (“I love Justin Bieber) to our fluttering pulse and emotional high at the beginning of a relationship (I love my new crush). Jesus has to break through all our baggage with this word “love” to inspire us towards the faithful action he intends. It’s nice to talk about Jesus loving us, but sometimes it’s hard to feel the connection to our own lives. People seem to like singing “Jesus loves me,” but I’m not really sure what that means to them.
Jesus teaches the disciples to love by first loving them. For Jesus, “loving” is acting and living in a specific way. He embodies this love in his incarnation, life, and death, which all takes place because he wants the world to know his love.
“Love one another.” Jesus says this to disciples who, in the middle of ministry with Jesus, have argued about who was the greatest among them. Some of whom have requested to receive special places of honor, to be rewarded for their faithfulness.
For these disciples, who seek prestige and honor, Jesus loves by showing humility. Here, in the Gospel of John, we see Jesus, the respected leader and beloved teacher, kneeling in front of his disciples. Jesus takes on the role of a slave. He kneels at their feet, and washes this most dirty part of their bodies. He touches that which has walked through the world, picking up bits of dirt and refuse, carrying evidence of all the wandering paths they have trod.
Jesus is our Lord and Teacher, and we who seek to be his disciples are servants to this master, the messengers to this one who has sent us. This master, this one who has sent us, has knelt as a slave. In order to love us, Jesus gave up all rights to honor and respect, and choose the path that led to his humiliation and suffering death.
Just as the historic disciples desired honor, so do we. This is maybe the most difficult thing for me. I so keenly feel the pain of being slighted, even when it is done unintentionally. These moments come when Pastor Jeff and I arrive at some church event. He gets greeted with, “I’m so glad you’re here, Pastor” and I might get a “Hi, Liz.” Or when I got introduced as the pastor’s wife in the congregation to which I have been called. I long for recognition of my role and my work, and so I understand those disciples who were horrified when Jesus stripped down. Jesus took off his status, left behind his right to glory, and took the position of a slave. And then he called the disciples, and calls us, to follow his example of humility as we love.
“Love one another.” Jesus says this to disciples who will betray and abandon him. Jesus loves them, knowing he will not get the benefit of their love when he most needs it.
It is difficult to love those who don’t love us back. I think of the work of parents during those sometimes very long teenage years. They try to love youths who scream their hatred, slam doors in anger, and disobey. Their love doesn’t seem to get any response. Parents are called to love the ones who reject them.
Jesus sat at the table with his disciples, knowing who would betray him to those who wished to kill him, knowing who would run away in fear at his arrest, knowing who would deny ever knowing him. For these disciples, Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, giving thanks, passing them around, declaring, “this is my body, this is my blood, given for you.” Jesus looks into the eyes of each person who will not love him, and still declares that he will prove his love for them by dying for them.
Jesus loves by giving of himself. We hear tonight from First Corinthians words that we hear every Sunday as we gather around the table for communion. Jesus takes bread and wine, blesses and gives them to his disciples, declaring these simple foods to be his body and blood, which is given to them and to us as a gift of love, forgiveness, and life. When the disciples first hear these words, they do not know the extent to which Jesus’ body will be broken and his blood shed. When we hear these words, we know what Jesus has done for us. After the shared meal, Jesus will go out, will be met with an angry mob, will go through a sham of a trial, and will be publicly executed.
Jesus loves with the full knowledge of our sin. Jesus shares bread and wine, serves at the feet of the disciples, knowing that one will betray him unto death, one will deny and curse him, and all will abandon him in his most difficult hours. He loves through the hurts he will suffer at the hands of those he loves. Think of the relationships in your life. Have any of them included a great betrayal? Unfaithfulness? Backstabbing? Rejection? If you could go back in time, would you still choose to love that one at the beginning? I don’t think we always would. Because of the outcome, we might wish we had never met the one who would end up hurting us. But Jesus loves from beginning to end, knowing each betrayal and rejection. How often have you been able to love that one through the hurt?
Jesus’ last and most important command is to love. Our fulfillment of this commandment will declare to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples. Jesus calls his followers to love each other as they have been loved by him. Our love for others bears witness to Jesus. When we act in love, especially when most people would act otherwise, we show others that there is something different about our lives. That gives us the opportunity to speak about the one who gives us the power to love.
Jesus teaches you to love by first loving you. Jesus loves us first. Jesus loves you, knowing that you will not always uphold this commandment, to love others. Especially this week, Holy Week, our worship centers around Jesus’ declaration of love for you. Jesus gives all of himself, his very body and blood, his life, to love you. That’s how important it is to him that you know and receive his love.
These holiest of days recount the most striking examples of Jesus enacting this love. We began on Sunday with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, joining the crowds as they first welcome Jesus, and then reject him, ending our worship with Jesus’ death, a result of our shouts for his crucifixion. Through all the inconstancy of the crowd, Jesus remains faithful to his mission to prove his love. Tonight we have the opportunity to experience this love of Jesus in new and fuller ways that we usually do when we gather for worship. Tonight, you each have the opportunity to hear, feel, and taste Jesus’ love for you: in assurance of forgiveness, in water that calls to mind Jesus’ humility for your sake, in bread and wine, Jesus’ life poured out to give you life. Jesus provides us with a feast, and empowers us to fulfill a new commandment. Tomorrow, we remember that Jesus is God, come to earth, in human form: God who chooses to experience the deepest rejection and despair. In Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus declares he will do everything to show his love for all. On Saturday, we find ourselves in the great story of God’s life-giving action, God’s love letter, written for us. The culmination of God’s work to love the creation occurs at Jesus’ resurrection, as we hear God’s triumph over sin and death. Through these days, Jesus declares to you: “I love you.”