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Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
(Reprinted with permission from The Lectionary Lab Commentary: Stories and Sermons for Year A)
Love Wins, the recent book by evangelical pastor Rob Bell, has climbed as high as #2 on the New York Times bestsellers list and is currently #8 in the “All Books” rankings on Amazon.com. It has also raised the hackles and the blood pressures of countless detractors and supporters as the (perhaps uniquely “modern”?) debate over eternal destiny and the “will of God” has heated up.
What does Peter say in his post-Easter message, referring back to the mighty events of that first resurrection Sunday?
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality,but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…they put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
What does it mean to believe on Easter?
Show up for church in a shiny new outfit? Cling to faith like a well-worn security blanket? Hope, desperately and against all odds, that it will all work out okay in the end, God willing? Pray a “sinner’s prayer” someone told you about?
As one of the pastors of my youth used to say: “Whatever blows your hair back!”
Peter also says, “We were witnesses…how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed… for God was with him.” Hmmm, maybe the example of the Christ himself is what we take away from what it means to “believe” on Easter!
Thank you, Jeremiah, for recording these eternally passionate and significant words: Thus saith the Lord, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
It is a virtual certainty that Jesus, as a Jewish rabbi, knew this “hallel” psalm very well and, most likely, used it in personal and corporate worship. It takes on extra significance on this Resurrection Sunday with phrases like, “I shall not die, but I shall live…” and “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” ( vv. 17, 21)
It is worth noting that the Christ’s foundation for faith and trust in God is the same as ours, in v. 1: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”
One of the great rhetorical scenarios of the scripture occurs here — “if you have been raised with Christ.”
Well, people of the resurrection…have we, indeed, been raised with Christ? Then our manner of thinking and living has been set and settled! “Seek…set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Lots of sermons and commentary available on this text…and with good reason! What a beautiful, tender, compassionate encounter with Jesus; feel your own heart rend with the words, “Woman, why are you crying?”
Easter tends to be a bright, blaring, almost boisterous celebration in most of our churches…again, with good reason! But remember that there will be parishioners in our pews who have come, — amidst the egg hunts, wardrobe parades and homiletical fireworks you are sure to unleash — with tears on their cheeks and heaviness in their hearts.
Jesus longs comfortingly to speak their names, too.
Here’s the “fireworks” version of the story (see commentary on John 20, above.)
Earthquakes…lightning…rolling gravestones…shaking and quaking…”dead men” walking and angelic visitors. Matthew’s dramatic telling has it all!
But this story is not ultimately about Hollywood-quality special effects — it is about worshiping at the feet of Jesus and hearing his firm assurance, “Don’t be afraid!”
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
About fifteen years ago I attended a funeral in Nashville. It was for the sister of a parishioner who was also an acquaintance of mine. It was a lovely and unique service, because this particular United Methodist Church was a lovely and unique congregation.
As I sat there listening to the prayers and the sermons and the family eulogies I thought to myself that Holy Saturday was a perfect day for a funeral. Just as the church sits uneasily poised between Jesus’ death on Good Friday and the joyous news of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning – these family and friends sat in church that day, precariously balanced between the facts of her life and the hope of her resurrection.
The service was a little long by Lutheran standards and the room was a little warm, and some of the eulogizers took a little while to get to the point, and my folding chair was a little hard, and well, I started to get a little sleepy and distracted.
Anyway, I shifted my weight and stretched my neck and when I did I spotted something: up to the right, high up on the wall, almost to the ceiling, was a big, black, square speaker, tilted out from the wall. And there was something red squeezed in behind the speaker, wedged in between it and the wall. I stared at it for a while until I finally figured out what it was – a big, red, heart-shaped balloon. No doubt it had drifted up there during some congregational event and no one had been clever enough or brave enough or industrious enough to get it down.
Those familiar with Roman Catholic piety will easily figure out what popped into my mind: The Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was a strangely comforting thought for a protestant minister, the love of Jesus peeking down at us, half-hidden behind that speaker.
As we gathered and shared very human thoughts and feelings about life and death and grief and hope; that red, heart-shaped balloon helped me remember that God was there too; mostly hidden, lurking in the background, looking in on us with love.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that that little balloon behind the speaker was a metaphor for the life of faith we live each day. We are here this Easter Sunday to celebrate an unusual thing – an empty tomb. We are not here because of what the women and the disciples did find on that first Easter morning. We are here because of what they did not find. They did not find the body of Jesus.
Martin Luther frequently talked about what he called Deus absconditus, “the hidden God.” He said that all of us try very hard to find God in the world, but God plays a game of peek-a-boo, of keep-away, of hide-and-seek, with us. We look for God in happiness, or success, or in healing power, or in financial security, or in material bounty. And then our health fails, or we lose our possessions, or we become depressed or unhappy and we cry out like Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?” We wonder, sometimes to ourselves in the middle of the night, or out-loud with our friends and loved ones; “What did I do to deserve this? Where is God in my misery?”
And it is at this very point that the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection; the awful cross and empty tomb, begin to speak to us and reveal to us the hidden God who saves.
God is hidden from us, and will be until we are able to let go of all else and place our trust in the love and power that emptied the tomb. When we have turned that corner we will begin to see signs of the risen Christ all around us. Not in wealth, or power, or even human happiness; not in success in the world or applause from the world.
No, we will begin to see the signs of God in the risen body of Christ in the world, in the community of saints and sinners gathered around word of love and sacrament of hope. We will see God in the unconditional love that parents have for children and which the rest of us try to have for each other. We will see God in the selfless sacrifice of friends who come to our aid in times of desperate need.
We will see God in the lives of saints like Desmond Tutu and Teresa of Calcutta and in the lives of saints like you and like me; we whose sinful humanity often hides the risen Christ who now lives within us. We can and will see God in the saints behind us, and before us and beside us.
We will see God in the little miracles that fill all our days, like red balloons at funerals that shout out to the heavens, Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed!
Amen and amen.