Meeting Us Where We Are

Scriptures: John 20:11-18, John 20:19-31, 1 John 1:1-5

I would like to begin this morning with an observation by Commentator Gail O’day. She writes,

“Most Protestant Christians are not well attuned to Easter as a liturgical season; after Easter Sunday, Protestant church expectations return to something like business as usual. But nothing could be further from the case. The paschal mystery, the death and resurrection of Christ, is the centerpiece of the Christian faith, and the liturgical year devotes seven weeks to the Easter season, culminating in Pentecost.

Importantly, the Sundays of this season are referred to not as Sundays after Easter, but as Sundays of Easter, Sundays fully shaped and embedded in the Easter gospel. For fifty days, the church lives into the reality of the resurrection, of what it means to be a community shaped by the dying and rising of Christ, by the expectation-shattering reality of life victorious over death.”[1]

We are living as resurrection people; still we ruminate over it, struggle with it, and try to engage the mysteries of Christ’s resurrected life. In that respect, we are not much different than the women in Mark’s Gospel. Last week we read Mark’s version of the empty tomb. It ended unexpectedly with the women fleeing in silence, terror, and amazement in their theophany: God broke all the known and accepted rules of life and death and did the unbelievable. God raised Jesus from the dead.

Tracy Hartman, d365 daily devotional writer and Baptist Theological Seminary preaching instructor, writes:

“What does it mean to be Easter people, to live on this side of the resurrection? If we are now God’s hands and feet in the world, [– and I submit to you we are – then] we are the ones entrusted with carrying out God’s mission…. Jesus left us big shoes to fill and the needs around us are overwhelming. But the good news is that throughout history, God has empowered and used imperfect people just like us to bring the good news to others.”[2]

Take Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Peter and the Beloved Disciple, and Thomas for example. In Mark, the women flee the tomb in terror and silence, telling no one what they had seen and heard. However, in John’s Gospel, written a few decades after Mark, the story recorded is slightly different.

In today’s first text, Mary sees the stone rolled away and immediately runs and tells Peter and the Beloved Disciple, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” What is their reaction? Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved went to the tomb to verify her discovery. Then the scripture tells us they go back home.

It does not tell us what is going on in their minds and hearts, whether confusion, hope, fear, holy terror, awe or some combination of all of those at their discovery. All it tells us is the other disciple “saw and believed” (John 20:8). Then they go home.

Mary, however, provides a way for us to begin understanding what some of their reactions may have been. She must have followed them back to the tomb, for here she is, crying at the tomb because they have taken the body of her beloved.   She finally summons courage to bend and look into the empty tomb herself.

In John’s account, not one but two heavenly messengers address her, recorded in Greek as saying, “Gunai (which can be translated either woman or wife), why are you weeping?” She responds, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” Immediately after she tells them this, something prompts her to turn; and Jesus is there – in his first resurrection appearance, even if at first she does not perceive who he is. He addresses her and begins with the exact same phrase as the heavenly messengers. “Gunai, why are you weeping?” But then Jesus goes on, almost as if he overheard her first response and wants to double check, so he adds, “Whom are you looking for?” She stumbles over an answer, and finally, he calls her by name, “Mary!” (vs. 16).

Let me stop there for just a moment and unpack these exchanges a bit more. Like most of John, is a many layered passage and has numerous possible lessons for us. Number 1, note when she first runs and tells Peter and the Beloved Disciple, she says, “They have taken the kurios, in Greek meaning either Lord or Master….” When the heavenly messengers first ask why she is weeping, she admits to Jesus being her kurios. Once she admits who he is to her, he.

A second lesson: When Jesus speaks to her, he adds another phrase to the first, like an extra knock on the door. “Whom are you looking for?” This is a question all of us are undoubtedly in a position to ask ourselves and directly affects our own journey of faith. Whom are we looking for? Yet, Mary still does not recognize him. Do we?

A third lesson: Once Jesus says her name, her eyes are opened and she recognizes who he is. This leads me to ponder, could it be that first we must admit, if at first only to ourselves, that Christ is our Lord and Master, and then Jesus comes to us in all his resurrection glory? Commentator Gail O’day seems to agree:

“The fact of Jesus’ risen body, as John 20:19-31 will also show, is not the heart of the Easter proclamation, because God’s power over death has never been in doubt. The heart of the Easter proclamation resides in the moment when we are claimed by the truth of the resurrection”[3] (emphasis added).

Theologically, that is exactly what happens in many faith-transforming experiences. Confession of faith followed by revelation of God then affirmation of faith. Why this constant cycle? Because there is an ever-present need for us to be continually reminded whose we are and to whom we are to look for a faithful pathway along our spiritual journey.

Let’s move on and look at another, well-loved imperfect biblical character just like us whose life has echoed the gospel for so many; Thomas. Doubting Thomas, as we know him best, is none-the-less the greatest yet little-known evangelist to the subcontinent of India. He went on after Christ’s appearance to him to bring Christianity to millions of people, in the heart of a culture and people already thousands of years into a history of their own spiritual culture. How and why did he do it? More importantly, what message from his life can we glean to assist us with our own God-proclaimed missional purpose?

When we think about the story of Thomas, we almost without fail think of this story of his doubt. But I submit to you this story is not about Thomas. It is about Jesus and who Jesus is. Thomas gives us another portal through which our Christ of faith. Thomas’ story is about how God comes to us, wherever we may be in our own journey of faith, and meets us where we are.

Commentator Serene Jones writes,

“John tells us, first, that Jesus walks through a closed, locked door to get to Thomas. It is not that Thomas’s doubt drives him to demand answers from Jesus. It is Jesus who is determined to reach this stalwart skeptic, whom no one else seems able to convince. It is Jesus who refuses to let dead bolts or chains block the movement of love toward the one who lacks faith. So too it is with us. When doubt crowds out hope, we can be confident that Jesus will come to meet us where we are, even if it is out on the far edge of faith that has forgotten how to believe.”[4]

True, Thomas sees Jesus embodied in the flesh, and is blessed. However, Jesus looked far into his temporal future and told us we, too are blessed. We, who do not have the benefit of seeing the body of Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh, do see and meet the spiritual Body of Christ in every human being we meet; the challenge lies in this: Jesus was not really recognized at once, even by his closest disciples and loved ones, so chances are we, too are kept from seeing him by whatever blindness has hold of our own lives.

What is the answer to this blindness? For Mary, it had to be Jesus calling her name. For Thomas, Jesus met him right where he was, in front of his own roadblocks to belief: those reasons Thomas himself had uttered and utterly dissolves them. I cannot even begin to imagine any other response I could have said than Thomas’ own words of confessional affirmation: “My Lord and my God!”

So now we come to us. What is our response to Jesus, Lord and Master? Part of our worship every Sunday is the prayer of confession – when we offer up our own roadblocks to belief and admit to needing the gift of grace. Another part of our worship every Sunday is the Affirmation of Faith. Here we proclaim what we believe using creeds from our historical tradition or scriptures straight from the Bible. In between these two movements of worship, we are assured that grace is given us, our ears are opened to receive God’s message for us today, and we respond with an outpouring of gratitude and belief.

In response to God’s gift of grace to us in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves, whether it be time, talents, gifts money or treasures of the earth and work of our hands. Not because they are required, but because we in turn are the hands and feet of Christ – and we are called to give the grace of God, passing on the grace we have been given, so that all might come to the table of our Lord and be fed.   That is what it means to be Easter people. Alleluia! Amen? May it be so.

 

[1] O’day, Gail. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

[2] Hartman, Tracy. http://d365.org/devotions/easter-people-april-6-2015/

[3] O’day, Gail. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

[4] Jones, Serene. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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