Note: This week we ran the service a little differently, with a series of shorter reflection broken up by music and readings - through this we continued our series exploring why we do what we do - this time, contemplating the various segments of the regular communion liturgy. So if this reads a little different to a normal sermon on here, that is why :)
Call to Worship
Christ call us to his table, It is here we receive what we are
Christ feeds us at the table, It is here we become what we receive
Christ leads us from the table, We gather and go as the body of Christ
Reading: Matthew 5: 21-26
We need to prepare ourselves to come to the table. This doesn’t mean that we can only come and take communion if we have our life together, or if we feel adequate, rather it means that we should seek to not gloss over any divisions, fractures, and wrongs in our community as if they have nothing to do with what happens here.
Jesus reminds his followers that before a gift can be taken to the altar they must ask themselves if they are at peace with one another, and if someone holds something against you, go first and be reconciled. At this table we are united with Christ, and through that united with one another – division, dispute, fracturing, and wrongdoing amidst the community defiles and disrespects that unity.
Paul, in his writing around communion, scolds the Corinthian church for going to the table while the community is divided, while the poor are excluded and exploited, treated with contempt and humiliated. These scriptures emphasise that we need to attend to our relationships with one another before we are ready to come to the table, so that we might be ready to meet the presence of Christ, so we may say, honestly, that we are ready to receive what we are and become what we receive. And so we begin our communion liturgy by saying peace be with you, and offering one another peace.
It has been tricky to have a robust time of passing the peace in recent years, but it is intended to be more than a greeting. It provides us an opportunity to become aware of any friction or cause that needs to be addressed and to make peace. Out of an earnest desire to be one with Christ, to experience the peace that passes all understanding, we take a step at the beginning of our communion liturgy to share a word of peace with one another.
Reading Leviticus 7:11-15
Gratitude and Gift
It was in reading the writings of Rabbi Shai Held* that this small passage on the thanksgiving offering really came alive for me. Far from a dry instruction on the manner in which offerings are brought forward and disposed of, it is brimming with implications for hospitality, community, and the way in which we share joy.
In this teaching the people bringing the offering are instructed that the flesh of your thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being shall be eaten on the day it is offered; you shall not leave any of it until morning. So all that is brought forth in this offering of thanks, this offering of well-being, must be consumed the same day; whatever is left come morning must be burnt up. This is different to many other offerings, where the food has until the third day to be consumed. The question asked then, is why must this particular sacrifice be consumed so fast?
Necessitating the prompt consumption of all that food encourages the one making the offering to invite others to the table. The law teaches that when you come into a time of well-being and joy and thanks, you should not experience that alone. For the food to be finished and not wasted, family members, relatives, friends, and acquaintances from the community must be invited to join in the meal. The laws around this offering are written up in such a way as to draw the people into community, into hospitality, into sharing their joy and good fortune with others. As Rabbi Shai Held writes: when one has been the beneficiary of God’s kindness one is expected to bestow kindness oneself… deep joy is meant to be shared.
Communion is a gift. A good gift from God. And like all gifts from God they are meant to flow through us and not simply to us. We are channels of God’s gifts, they land on us, well up in us, and then flow through us to others. For this reason we cannot be grateful and self-enclosed – we cannot hoard joy. Just as we sought to rectify wrongs and be reconciled to each other in the peace, so too we seek to invite others to the table, out of a recognition that communion is a gift from God, a place of joy!
However, not all can be present at the table, and so, for this reason, early in our liturgy for communion, we share our prayers of the people. Through this we remember those who cannot gather with us at the table, and in this remembering, we consider how we might re-member them – how we might remain in community, how we might include in the feasting those not presently at this table. More broadly, we also remember those struggling around the world – those in situations of strife, exploitation, oppression, and inequality – those whose ability to live in the abundance Christ came to bring, the joy God desires, the freedom of the Spirit is currently curtailed. We remember those not in situations of wellbeing, and turn our voice to God in hope that, by the power of Christ, they will be gathered at the banquet, whether in this age or the one to come.
Prayers of the People (communal)
Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
Having made peace with one another and having remembered those not currently with us to receive the gift of bread and wine, we now come to the great prayer of thanksgiving. Communion as a meal of thanks – as a way of acknowledging that and of opening our hearts towards God, we narrate the story of God’s love for humanity.
We give thanks for creation, its goodness and beauty. For God’s faithfulness despite human sinfulness. For God’s election and deliverance of Israel; the law and the prophets. For the incarnation – God with us in Christ. For Christ’s compassion and care, conviction and calling. For Christ’s victory over the powers of Sin and Death – for the resurrection and the life! For God vindicating all that Christ said and did in raising him from the dead and giving him all authority over heaven and earth. For the promise of redemption, reconciliation, and new creation!
The prayer of thanksgiving builds and builds until it crescendos and we join voices with saints of every age, join voice with the heavenly choir to say:
Holy, holy, holy God,
Wisdom, strength and hope
Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest.
But there is always more to be thankful for. Always more gratitude! Both for all God has done in the great acts of redemption but also for the small and personal mercies and blessing for which we are thankful for now. To that end, we continue our prayerful time of thanksgiving and I invite you to share aloud anything you wish to give thanks to God for…
Reading 1 Cor 11: 23-26
The Last Supper
At this point in our liturgy we reflect on the last meal Jesus shared with his friends before his arrest and execution. The meal that initiates our practice of communion together. A meal shared with those who had followed him, those who would carry on his ministry after his resurrection and ascension, and even with the one who would betray him.
When I went through the communion process with kidzchurch two months back, this was when I brought up that Jesus said some funny things at that dinner. Things that might strike us (not yet dulled by familiarity) as strange. Things about eating of his body, drinking the blood he has poured out. There was a reason early Christian writers had to defend Christianity to wider Rome and assure everyone that they were not in fact some strange cannibalistic cult.
I wonder what you thought (if you can remember) when you first heard Jesus words, to take this bread for it is his body, and drink this cup, for it is his blood? I wonder what you still think about it?
There are loads of symbolic and theological resonances and meanings in Jesus’ words throughout this part of the meal. References arching back to his teaching of himself as the bread of life, comparisons of himself to the Passover lamb, all of which are rich and worthy of reflection.
But at a base level Jesus comparing himself to the bread and the wine reminds us that he is a staple of life, necessary at a basic, daily, material level. Jesus feeds us and sustains us as we live each day in his love. Christianity is a very material religion – and our great sacraments remind us of this – the water of baptism, the bread and wine of communion, are the basic building blocks of life. Jesus chose staples of the everyday to communicate the most holy and eternal of truths. We do not need the ornate and exclusive to signify that God gets involved! Simple things communicate splendid truths: That God’s love is so great that God lives amongst the messiness of real life in order to redeem the world and set us free to live for love.
Call on Holy Spirit to form us through the meal into Christlikeness
At this point we call out to the Holy Spirit. We speak to the Spirit and ask them to help us be like Jesus, to love others as he did. We call on the Spirit to make us one with Christ and with each other. In this we recognise that Christians are made – that if we are to be able to manage to live at peace with each other, to remember one another, to receive the world in gratitude, to remember Christ and imitate him in our daily life, it will be because the Spirit descends and dwells within us and makes it possible, makes us possible!
For this meal to be all we have hoped it to be, we need the Spirit. It is not about getting the words right, not about the person who serves, not about the materials themselves, it is about the Spirit creating a moment in which something remarkable happens. All this is held in the words we pray each month at this moment. Let us offer them together.
Holy God we thank you for these gifts of bread and wine
And we pray that we who eat and drink them
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
May become Christ’ body for the world,
And we might be made one with each other
Through Jesus Christ our Lord;
Now, at the precipice of the breaking of the bread, pray the prayer Jesus taught us. We do this to connect us with the wide and long story of the church. The sprawling history of disciples coming to the table of Christ hoping to be fed on the way to a promised end. A prayer we are invited to pray (as we explored last week) within the relationship of the Son and the Father, praying on the same holy ground as Christ, a reminder of the Spirit of adoption we have received, which allows us to approach the table without fear or any sense of unworthiness, because our worth and dignity is found and secured in Christ!
We also are encouraged to pray this prayer in the language of our hearts, a reminder of the beauty of Pentecost – that all languages are fit to be a crib in which the Lord may rest, all languages fit and ready to speak of God and proclaim the good news. And so we pray the Lord’s prayer together.
The Bread and Wine
At this point we take up the bread and the juice, simple material things… but in this moment they are quite wonderful, glorious even, because for us right now Jesus is present – not necessarily in the bread and wine themselves (as some traditions hold) but in the moment, the event, the taking of these elements together.
As we eat and drink together we remember that Christ is the bread of life who shared food with those who were hungry, and we remember that Christ is the cup of joy, who revives us when we feel faint.
And Christ feeds us on the way, because Christ has called us to be what he was for others, to follow after him into the world. And so we eat and drink together to remember who Christ is, and to pray that we might be like him to.
As we say:
Let us receive what we are;
let us become what we receive.
The body of Christ.
Prayer of Thanks
As we said from the beginning, this is a table of thanks for communion is a gift from God. And like all gifts, the point is not to receive and keep, but to let the gift well up in us and flow out into the world. The table extends. We have been fed so as to be ready to meet a hungry world. And so we say thanks again to God, and we ready ourselves to go forth and try and live like Jesus. Being open and hospitable with all we have. As a sign of this commitment to follow, to go forth in imitation of Christ, to participate in Christ’s mission of love and justice, we dedicate our offering, a reminder that what we have received is to be used to bless others.
Blessing and Sending
Christ call us to his table
It is here we receive what we are
Christ feeds us at the table
It is here we become what we receive
Christ leads us from the table
We gather and go as the body of Christ
And that is (partly) why we do what we do
Thanks be to God, who gives all good things.
*Rabbi Shai Held, The Heart of Torah: vol.2 (The Jewish Publication Society, 2017)
Readings Matthew 6:7-15 and Romans 8:14-27
There are lots of politics about asking for something in this world. you might have been encouraged when asking for a raise to ask for more than you're willing to settle on so that if there's a negotiation you have room to move. Or perhaps you know you want to ask a family member for a bigger favour in two weeks, so you try to ask for less in the weeks leading up so it won't seem like a burden. Or perhaps you always ask after doing a lot of front porch work to make it seem like the most necessary thing in the world to say yes. Whether we've learnt, observed, or practiced any of these strategies, they reflect the reality that it can be difficult, awkward, and complex to ask for something. So how does that shape our practice when it comes to petitionary prayers; prayers in which we ask?
We are continuing our series Why We Do What We Do. Last week we explored the reason and purpose of ending the service with the blessing and sending, and now (continuing to work backwards) we arrive at the Prayers of the People.
Along with considerations of the politics of asking, when we start to think about why we spend time each Sunday offering the prayers of the people, or the prayer for others, a host of questions emerge:
Are we praying for people and situations (such as the war in the Ukraine, or a sick member of the congregation) because we’re worried God doesn’t know about it? Are we praying because we hope our prayers move God to action? Are these prayers kind of a news bulletin or announcement in prayer form? Do we pray so that we would be spurred into action?
We’re not going to answer or approach all of these directly, but they are in the background as we consider today, why and what we pray when we pray the prayers of the people. And, in keeping with this whole working backwards thing, let’s begin by talking about the Lord’s prayer which we use to close out our time of prayers of the people.
When Jesus’s disciples ask him, “teach us to pray”, he gives them a simple prayer beginning with a world-changing address: “Our Father”. In this invitation to pray, not to Jesus’ father, nor to ‘your father’, but to Our Father – ‘our’ as in yours, mine, and Jesus’. Here we witness a clear indication of the “spirit of adoption” we have received, we have been made co-heirs with Christ.
Jesus has made it possible to speak to God not as strangers, but as those who share in the very relationship of the Son and the Father. In this way we can speak of prayer happening not as much to Christ, but in Christ – in prayer we stand before God on the same holy ground as the Son.
But it goes further, and gets more intimate still! For not only do we pray in the place of the Son, as co-heir, the Spirit swells within us as we clasp our hands. In Romans, Paul writes that we do not know how to pray as we ought, and so the Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding with sighs too deep for words. For this reason when we offer our prayers of the people (and when we pray alone) we don’t stand as if we are on earth looking up to the heavens hoping that God hears us and takes an interest, but we pray within the Trinity. Prayer then, is less a conversation between an individual and a distant divine king, and more a movement of the Triune God happening within us – it is “God answering God in and through the one who prays” (Coakley). It is a call-and-response of the divine desire to see us find rest and grow into Christlikeness.
This means the work of God in us when we pray is not based on our grit, holiness, or eloquence but resides solely in the power and relations of the Trinity. We don’t have to have the right words, we don’t need to fear forgetting something or fumbling over how to pray for a friend in hospital. We never need fear that we don’t know how to pray. This also means that we never need a particularly holy (or ordained) person to pray on our behalf, we never need to worry that we haven’t been on enough retreats – for in simply attempting to pray, the work of God begins within us; deep calls to deep, and we are transformed.
This is why it is important that our prayers of the people are of the people. This is why when we offer these prayers is it typically offered by one of the elders (speaking as representative of the congregation - who has crafted these prayers in conversation with the concerns of the community) or we do it collectively, sharing what it is on our hearts and commending them to God in Their grace. By this we recognise that all Christians – not just the ordained – step into this Triune relationship when we pray, all have received the spirit of adoption. It is one of the best practices we have to affirm the great reformation doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers. We are priests to each other, modelled after Jesus (our great high priest).
Hebrews teaches us that in Jesus we have a high priest able to sympathise with our weakness, a high priest who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. It is because Jesus is our high priest that when we seek to minister to one another and the world in prayer we approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
In teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus does not provide magic words, but an invitation into a particular relationship with the Father – his own relationship. This is why we are not bound to the words of Scripture or a prayer book when we pray. The words of the Lord’s prayer are important, and they provide a pattern to prayer that speaks profoundly about what it means to be a disciple, but as co-heirs we receive the freedom to pray our own words from the same relationship as Jesus. And of course, as Paul would remind us, no words are required!
This is the best of news I think, because we all face days when every word feels hollow and no amount of words feel sufficient. Yet the good news is that when we pray the Trinity prays within us. God speaks to God and in hearing the music of this holy call-and-response we are transformed so as to better resemble God’s way toward the world. With God speaking and moving within us we come to see and live in the world in a way more richly resembling the way of Jesus Christ.
To pray the prayers of the people then serves a multitude of purposes – in some ways it is a reminder of the woes and wounds of our world, it is a reminder of those who are absent to us whether because of sickness or isolation, it is a way of opening our hearts and homes to the needs of others, a stirring to personal action through an appeal to divine action. But as well, and most of all, all prayer (including the collective prayers for others) is about what we are letting God do in us. It is about the way God transforms us – breaking us out of apathy and self-involvement into a neighbour-loving, justice-seeking disciple ready to walk humbly with our God in the way of Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Why do we pray the prayers of the people? Because prayer is the movement of God within us; it is an act by which we are drawn into the relationship of the Trinity (standing in the place of the Son, calling out to the Father, through the movement and sighs of the Holy Spirit). Prayer is an act by which we are drawn into the Trinity so that we might be made ready to go forth into the world to tend to the woes and wounds that we have brought before God. The prayers of the people sit right before the blessing and sending. This is because through these prayers we encounter the responsibility of the believer (sent to imitate Christ in love and service of the world) and we encounter the promise to the believer (blessed by the confession that God will forget those who suffer, and will bring about the fullness of mercy and love and justice in the new creation).
Image: Gbenga Offo (Nigerian, 1957–) Fervent Prayer, 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 121 × 173 cm.
Readings Luke 9:46-10:12 and 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
We are beginning a new series, Why we do what we do… which provides us an opportunity to explore the building blocks of our Sunday service (the call to worship, communion, singing, a sermon, etc) and ask why… ask what are the reasons, stories, and purposes that motivate these common aspects of our worshipping life together.
Today we begin that series, but not with the beginning of our service, indeed we are going to be working backwards. And we’re working backwards, not just because it’s a neat gimmick, but because to start with the sending and the blessing is reflective of purpose of gathering and identity of the Christian community - we are a sent people, the church is missionary.
The service ends with sending because that reminds us that this time is not the end, not the Christian life in completion… this time is for the rest of the time. This service is to refresh, revive, and refocus us to go out in service of the world. We worship to shape our witness.
We live now in the era of the gym. I think of the old squash courts next to Glen St Theatre. When I was younger these were squash courts (8 courts with maybe a couple of pieces of exercise equipment) and yet, over the last decade and a half, the sqaush courts got squashed… there were fewer and fewer as the gym equipment and group work out space encroached and expanded until the old squash courts became Energize, a gym (with one squash court left). This is reflective of a broader cultural change. For many preceding generations exercise was activity based… you played sports or were active through employment, chores, handiwork, and other such activities. Exercise (such as weights or cardio) was generally engaged to enhance ones proficiency in those activities/sports. Alternatively, the general impulse behind exercise for aesthetic gain was in order to impress another person. We live now in a time of exercise for the sake of exercise, exercise without an end, but which often exists within a closed circle where the focus is on how it makes us feel and look to ourselves. Now, I’m not condemning this or saying this shift is a bad thing (it's good to feel healthy and good about ones self) it is to notice the trend and to draw our attention to how, analogously, sometimes a similar thing happens in the church. Where the worship service ceases to be about preparing us for activity and engagement out in the world, and rather becomes about itself. Where worship becomes a closed circle, something we do for ourselves with no opening toward others. Where we try and get really good at worship without thinking what is this activity performed for.
This is why we are beginning with the sending and blessing. It is the reminder that the worship service does not exist in a closed loop. At the end of the service we are sent out, at the end of our service we go forth. The sending serves as a reminder that we are not an island. It reminds us that the end of worship lies beyond itself, in love and service of the world.
Let us briefly consider the shape of our worship service. We are called to worship, brought in from our life amongst our neighbours as those following after Christ witnessing to his completed work. We then spend time in worship to build one another up in love, to confess where we have fallen short and hear Christ's word of grace to us. We spend time in the Word and hear it proclaimed, we respond through praise and prayer (and sometimes communion) and then we are blessed and sent… and that progression is intentional, because all that leads up is there to prepare us to be sent again… the Sunday service is a pit stop in the Christian's week.
Today’s gospel reading gave us a broad picture about what it means to be sent. We are sent with the reminder that greatness is found in welcoming those who often forgotten, those who cannot pay back our welcome with money or clout. We are sent in the reminder that those who cast out demons (those who resist and fight against the injustices of the world) in a name other than Christ’s are not against us but for us. We are sent and reminded that if we do not receive welcome it is entirely the wrong reaction to wish that town/person obliterated. We are sent out vulnerable but asked to be crafty, wise to the ways of the world. We are sent out to rely on the hospitality of others (but encouraged not to be exploited). We are sent out and told not to exploit the hospitality of others but to live well with our neighbours developing long-lasting relationships of trust and mutual care. And we are sent with the reminder that we are not sent alone.
Importantly, sending is not detached from the blessing, but also blessing is not independent of sending. We are not sent alone, and so at the end of the service we receive the blessing and reminder that we are blessed by God, that we go with God (even as God goes before us). And yet, because the blessing is tied to the sending it reminds us that the blessings are not ours and ours alone, they are not meant to land and rest on us. We are blessed to be a blessing, we are blessed so that we can share in Christ's work (a work that is always for the world). This is in keeping with the broader conception of the gifts we receive from the Spirit… these gifts are not to be kept under a bushel, but shared. The blessing, like the gifts of the Spirit, is not static, but moves between and beyond us as we go out to love and serve the world.
And so, this is why we do what we do… this is why, at the end of this service we hear a blessing and sending. It is a reminder of the fundamental character of the Church, of the Christian community… we are - like Christ - sent into the world to love and serve the world, to witness to the good news, to be ambassadors of reconciliation, to share in Christ's redeeming work of justice… we are a people on a mission… but we are not on it alone… for as we are sent we are blessed, we are reminded that the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is with us.
The time we spend together on a Sunday morning is important, it is special, it is holy… and it is not the whole story. Indeed rather than being viewed as the culmination, climax, or crescendo of the Christian life, it is foundation, the launch pad, the fuelling station where we are refined by and reminded of the power, presence, and promise of God, so that we might feel ready to once again step out in Faith to follow after Christ who is found out ahead of us, tending to the world's wounds.
Image: Corn Harvest in Provence. Vincent van Gogh, 1888
Note: We began the sermon sharing various ways we answered the question: what is God like? Which emerged form our Kidzchurch time.
Readings Hosea 11:1-4, 2 Peter 1:16-18, and Matthew 28:16-20
We often drag our feet into discussions on the doctrine of the Trinity. Perhaps we are worried we’ll be subjected to dry Greek words and obscure diagrams. Perhaps we are timid that if we accidentally say the wrong words we’ll be scolded for having blasphemed. Perhaps we just don’t think it is all that applicable to the Christian life; after all we don’t need to master any complex philosophical concepts to love our neighbours.
Now that’s absolutely right. But what so much of the talk about talk of the Trinity misses is that the Trinity emerges – like most of our religious language – out of need. The language is sparked by a desire to speak about God in light of our experiences of God. Like we’ve just explored, the way we describe ‘what God is like’ is informed by scripture, community, and the very personal moments where God is felt. Developments of speaking of God as Trinity emerge in just the same way.
The early church knew three things: One, as those who followed Israel’s messiah, they were strictly monotheists. Monotheism meaning the belief that there is one God. This was vital, central, pivotal to Judaism and was one of the big reasons they were persecuted in Rome. Christians, emerging as a movement out of Judaism, kept this commitment – there was just one God, who had sent the anointed One Jesus Christ.
And yet, it was in knowing this Jesus Christ that put their monotheism to the test. Could there really only be One God if Jesus was also divine? Could also forgive sins? What did it mean to confess one God when Jesus said that he and the Father were One? That whoever had seen him had seen the father? Who was Jesus in relation to God if he given all authority on heaven and earth? What’s more, far from being silenced in death, Jesus continued to be experienced as intimately and powerfully present in the community. The early church, reflecting on what Jesus said (and what was said of him) and experiencing his ongoing presence in their midst, recognised divinity in Jesus and spoke of him in much the same way as they had the God of Israel… how could they do this if the Lord God was to be One?
Finally, the third thing they knew was the Holy Spirit. Promised by Jesus, sent by the Father, present in the community, present at creation, present within us as we pray. The Spirit empowers the apostles, guides, teaches, equips them to do remarkable things in the name of Jesus. The Spirit also comes to be recognised as also holy and divine, and comes to again be spoken of, praised and worshipped in similar language as the God of Israel and Jesus… so again they face a question: how could they do this if the Lord God was to be One?
Talk about the Trinity is a response to the experience of the community in worship and witness. It emerges out of a desire to speak about God/Jesus/Spirit in a way that reflects scriptural testimony and community experience. While it might end up taking on some complex forms it is first and foremost an endeavour to speak about what God is like. First and foremost an attempt to reflect in human language something of the majestic glory that the community experienced – the faithfulness of God, the presence of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Trinity Sunday is a celebration the nature of God, experienced palpably in the life of the community, and a recognition that what we have to say of God is formed by our experience.
Christians confess that God is Triune: traditionally this is rendered as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but there are many other ways to capture this holy, equal, and undivided relationship of love that is turned toward the word: Sovereign, Saviour, and Shelter - Life, Liberation and Love - Creator, Christ, and Compassion - Potter, Vessel, and Holy Fire – Parent, Partner, and Friend – Lover, Beloved, and the Love between them. Each of these express something of what God is like, of how God has been experienced, contemplated, and worshipped across the history of the church.
Trinity Sunday (like the doctrine itself) is not put in the calendar to trip us up. This Triune God is not a problem to be solved but is a way of recognising the ways God is the loving presence enveloping the fullness of our life. It is the Triune God who creates life, who invites us into the continuing work of reconciliation and rectification, who accompanies us through trial, teaches us to pray, and works within us as we do. More still, this Triune God is also where we (and indeed all things) find our end, our perfection, and our hope. Trinity Sunday reminds us that God exists in relationship and invites us to celebrate that we have been swaddled in this dependable, non-intermittent, unfailing relationship of love.
And that this is, at least a little bit, of what God is like.
Image: Maximino Cerezo Barredo (Spanish, 1932–), Emmaus, 2002. Painted mural, 200 × 190 cm. Dining room of the Centro de Formación de Animadores, Gatun Lake, Panama.
Readings Acts 2:1-17 and Revelation 21: 1-6, 22-26
Pentecost arrives with a bang! The Spirit is poured out upon the disciples, hovering over them like tongues of fire. They begin to proclaim the good news to the crowd gathered in the city from across the known world, and each person in the crowd hears the proclamation in their own native language.
In this moment, one of the great truths of the faith is confirmed: Christianity is a translating religion. All languages and all cultures are suitable for housing and proclaiming the gospel. Christianity does not have a holy language: not the Hebrew of the Old Testament, nor the Greek of the New, nor even the Aramaic that Jesus spoke. No language is more suitable or sanctified, more holy or hallowed, more appropriate or accurate.
The gospel of our Lord, the good news of salvation, the form and language of worship, theology, and witness is meant to be translated. Not only in different places, but in different times.
Pentecost is the blessing of cultural diversity. It instructs the church as it goes forth that it does not need to impose a language or culture on another in order for the good news to be heard (sadly the church has often forgotten this message).
Indeed far from being commissioned with a colonial or imperial task, Pentecost’s blessing of cultural diversity and the plurality of language, provides an invitation to the church to celebrate and learn from difference. We are commended to ask how might other cultural practices and stories deepen our understanding of the good news (for instance, how might deeply communal cultures with a strong connection to place and nature – such as Indigenous peoples here in these lands – help us to see where our own culture has become too individualised, self-sufficient, and self-interested to receive the fullness of the gospel). We are similarly commended to consider how another language might enrich our comprehension of the great words of our faith (words that have for some become so common – or so loaded – to have lost their power and precision. Words like hope, sin, grace, forgiveness, peace, love can be bolstered through learning the way these words are parsed, constructed, and understood in other times and places).
It is also important to note that Pentecost is not a standalone moment in the story of God – it is not distinct in the truth it conveys. This most remarkable event points backwards and forwards in Scripture to show us that this diversity of language and culture is not a blip or concession on the part of God.
In the shadow of Pentecost we look back to the story of Babel and see that the sin of that great city was in their efforts to resist God’s mandate to humanity to spread across the earth. Their failure was in their desire to be singular, to eradicate difference through stasis. God frustrated their language so that they would be forced to spread, to become different. And in the blazing light of Pentecost we also look forward to the coming of the new city. We heard in our reading that gates of the great city of God will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations.
The picture here is not of uniformity – there is peace, there is harmony, but the image is one of an open and hospitable city ready to receive the gifts of difference, ready to receive what is glorious and honourable in the other nations. People will come in and out freely and peacefully. In this the hope of creation and the promise of Pentecost is fully realised; the beauty of our difference, the holiness of our diversity, the splendour of our uniqueness carries on into eternity. As those fearfully and wonderfully made, the cultures and languages we develop reflect the generous creativity of God who made not one tree, but an abundance of trees, in so many shades of green one could list them for days!
Of course, no culture is perfect, but this serves as just another reason that each is suitable to receive the gospel, because in that reception the opportunity arises to have what is good and true and beautiful confirmed and celebrated, and what is malformed and malevolent exposed in order to be judged and refined.
So what does this mean for us at the Kirk?
The first thing Pentecost reminds us is that we must remain open. Our style of worship, our ways of being church are not the only one’s fit to worship and honour God. The language we use to speak of God does not exhaust what there is to say about God, nor does it take precedent over other ways of speaking just because it is more common or more familiar to us. We must remain open to critique from others, open, for example, to hear the challenge that when our Christianity has come too accommodated to the surrounding culture. We must remain open to being challenged when we start to assume that the way we have always done something is the only way to do it. Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, and that includes the people we’d least expect have something to teach us about what it means to follow Jesus. Pentecost reminds us: listen – the Spirit might be doing something quite remarkable in a group of people who – for all intents and purposes – seem to be drunk at 9am.
The second thing Pentecost reminds us is that we too are invited to bring our riches into the holy city. Our stories, our gifts, our love, our own manifold and personal ways of being a Christian and witnessing to the good news are glorious and honourable and ready to be received. We don’t have to be cookie-cutter Christians, don’t have to commit to memory a particular way of confessing our faith, don’t have to be a Christian in the same way as our neighbour or our parents and grandparents. We get to bring our whole selves – filled with passions and experiences and quirks into the city of God and say “look, this is how I have lived for you.”
Readings Luke 24:46-53 and Acts 1:1-11
“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and dine with you, and you with me.” Rev 3:20
The ascension feels like the poor second cousin of Christian liturgical dates (so much so that it doesn’t actually get a Sunday… I pulled it in from this coming Thursday). And yet, Luke tells the story twice.
Both accounts follow roughly the same shape. Jesus urges the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus speaks of their going forth as his witnesses as the necessary extension of his earthly ministry - the outflow of his death and resurrection, and Jesus is taken up to heaven whilst speaking to/blessing them. The Acts account gives us some more details – including the somewhat humours ending with these enigmatic figures asking the disciples why they are staring off into space.
There is something of a throwback to the empty tomb, where a figure in a white robe announces that Jesus has already risen… these surprising and enigmatic figures, perpetually (though gently) nudging the disciples to stop looking for Jesus in all the wrong places.
So what is happening in the ascension? Or, perhaps better put, what does the ascension teach us about Jesus (and what it means to be one of his disciples)? Let’s say two things it doesn’t teach us:
The ascension is not the moment in which a great distance or chasm opens between us and Christ. As that little verse from Revelation reminds us, Christ is always knocking and ready to come in for a meal. In a similar way, Paul would attest that the ascended Christ is still ready and able to break in and confront us with the truth of our actions (a confrontation with very earthly effects). Indeed, we attest each communion service that Christ meets us in the bread and cup, is present to us at his table, feeding us along the way to a promised end.
Neither does the ascension establish a distance between the ascended Christ and the earthly, crucified Jesus. Just as the resurrected Christ (now able to move through walls) is still recognisable to his friends, is still able to eat with them, and still bears the wounds of his death… so too, we are reminded in Revelation, the ascended Christ who will come on the clouds in glory is recognisable to those who pierced him. The ascended Christ, who sits at the right hand of God advocating mercy for all, does so with the same heart of mercy that Jesus demonstrated when a woman bleeding for 12 years dared to reach out and touch the hem of his garment. The ascended Christ, to whom all authority over heaven and earth has been given, exercises that authority with the same love that wept over Jerusalem when he considered its coming trials, that wept over the tomb of Lazarus when death had (momentarily) snapped him up. The one who lived among us is the one lifted into the heavens.
The ascension then is not about Christ putting a great distance between himself and humanity (neither his humanity nor all of humanity). The ascension is not a departure from all we have come to see from Jesus in the gospels, rather it is an enlargement! It is an intensification and an expansion.
The ascension is tied to both the sending of the disciples and the sending of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is sent to aid, empower, and comfort the disciples as they are sent (not only into their local regions, but indeed to the ends of the earth). Jesus ascends so that the disciples, in the power of the Spirit, might carry on his way all across this wide and weary world.
Jesus, whilst incarnate, is bound bodily and geographically as we all are. Whereas the disciples (and the church to come) is Jesus’ body, but no longer bound or confined in the same way; it can now spread and move and be in many places at once. In the ascension (and accompanying Pentecost) the ministry of Jesus pours out, overflows, beyond the Jesus in his singularity and is now taken up and shared with us. The ascension teaches us that we have been called (and empowered by the Spirit) to be Christ in the world.
It also teaches us that Christ – ascended – is able to be present to us wherever we are, at whatever time. “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and dine with you, and you with me.” I mentioned earlier the story of Lazarus. In that story Jesus’ journey to ailing Lazarus is delayed and by the time he arrives Lazarus is dead. Jesus weeps at the tomb of his friend. There is great loss and sadness, which, Martha tells Jesus, could have been avoided had he had been there, but – as one bodily and geographically bound – he wasn’t there.
Now the story of Lazarus is about many a thing, and Jesus goes on to demonstrate his power over death, raising Lazarus from the tomb – but the point we glean from it today is that, there were limits as to who Jesus could be present with at any given time during his earthly life – by the virtue of it been earthly. In the ascension, these limits are no more. Christ is everywhere all at once, present to us, within us. Christ is there when we seek and knock, Christ is there when two or three are gathered in his name, Christ is there in the breaking of bread, and Christ is present through his Spirit, poured out on the church at Pentecost.
So we do not need to look to the heavens, waiting and wondering when Jesus will return… when we will see him again and what it will mean to do so. No, the ascension teaches us that Jesus is present to us always. And that this ascended (and present) Christ, to whom all authority over heaven and earth has been given, seated at God’s throne advocating mercy for all, is the same one we meet and have met through the stories of the gospel, the signs of the sacraments, and the witness of those sent into all the world to carry on what he began.
Image: Bagong Kussudiardja (Indonesian, 1928–2004), Ascension, 1983.
Readings 2 Corinthians 4:13-15 and John 5:25-29
In the Stephen Sondheim musical, A Little Night Music, Charlotte – reflecting on the infidelity of her husband and the many indignities she is forced to bear as a wife he holds in little esteem, sings the song, every day a little death.
Every day a little sting
Every day a little dies
In the heart and in the head.
In the looks and in the lies.
Every move and every breath,
Brings a perfect little death
There are many kinds of death faced before we die. Many deaths and indignities. It is now commonly acknowledged that a kind of social death precedes literal death for many in old age, as the ability and opportunity to remain connected with social activity, friends, and family can decrease in a society that often resists varying its pace and making even the most basic accommodations for the needs of others. Similar experiences are often shared by people with disability, particularly in cases where the only appropriate available housing takes them far away from established connections and employment. In another way there is the death of opportunities, the foreclosing of futures faced by those in poverty – where the abundance of choice and individual autonomy (supposedly a key marker of our time) is but a pipe dream. Many children of immigrants, whose English quickly surpasses that of their parents, face the death of a particular form of childhood as they are quickly thrust into the role of translator and interpreter of the world, unable to enjoy the freedom and frivolity of others their age. Queer folks often speak of the particular death of the closet, the denial of the truth of one’s self, of having that ignored or overlooked by those closest to them, the death of an inauthentic life and suppressed desire.
In our gospel reading Jesus speaks of the hour that is coming when those in their graves will hear his voice and be brought out… in the epistle, Paul reminds the church that the one who raised Jesus from the dead, will raise us also into Jesus’ presence.
In the weeks following Easter, our readings brim with consistent references to God’s power over death and to the way this power is shared with and demonstrated by the disciples. We are reminded again and again that in Christ, Sin has been made captive and Death swallowed. And while these reminders point us forward to the final resurrection, the reconciliation and rectification of all things, they also point us to the way in which Christ came so that we might have life in its abundance now – how resurrection begins in us the moment we die with Christ. We are each of us Lazarus, we have heard the voice of Jesus saying “come out” and have made our way back into the world, transformed and revived.
We are, each of us, called from the various graves that we might have found ourselves in, that we might have been put in, that we might have put ourselves in. We are called forth into life – abundant, true, and glorious life, the life that truly is life!
This is why, traditionally (and like we did recently) the church performs baptisms on Easter Sunday. For in baptism we remember the great easter promise that those who die with Christ rise with him also. And while this dying and rising (this movement from death in Adam to life in Christ) is achieved by Jesus in the dramatic and decisive event of his death and resurrection – it is also ongoing and persistent. We are constantly dying and rising with Christ.
This does not mean we somehow (in dying) are falling outside of Christ and then finding our way back. No, we are never beyond Christ – for even our death is in him. To say we die with Christ reframes all the moments it feels like we are surmounted by social and existential death. When we feel deep in our graves we have not slipped into a void, but have died into Christ (died into his tomb which is known by its rather questionable ability to hold a body down). Those moments, when we face the little everyday deaths, those moments when we feel as though no future, no hope, no possibility remains… those deaths are not faced alone, for in those moments – yes even those – we have died into Christ (our comfort and care) who holds us, who tends to us and our wounds, until it is time to rise again.
And that rising is not solely something reserved for the end of the age. Every time hope breaks in on despair, tomorrow on today, every time we live on in the face of a little death, every time we take a step toward life and joy and peace and kindness in the face of its opposite we rise with Christ.
So if there is a grave you feel trapped inside, if there is a tomb you have lingered in for longer than you’d like, open your ears to the voice of Christ, he is calling you out from there… allow his voice to silence all others that denigrate and dismiss and diminish – whether they are the voices of our past, the voices of our society, or the voices of our own anxiety and sense of unworthiness. Allow his voice to declare who you are: a beloved child of God, a commissioned image bearer, a reconciled and redeemed co-heir, worthy of love and dignity and community and meaning. Allow that voice to break in and wash us clean. That voice, which lies beyond the threshold of death in the victory of the resurrection, and which is spoken from within the tomb with you. Heed the voice, tarry no longer, let it lead you into life.
And if it feels like the voice itself is not enough to grab onto, if it feels as though it is not enough to beat back whatever it is (socially, financially, psychologically, historically) that keeps you in that tomb, then turn to those around you, turn to those here, your siblings in Christ: the body of the voice! Turn to one another so that we support each other, empower each other, lean on each other, so we might walk out together. We have been called out of our tombs so we may help others as we go, so that we might not live lives defined and determined by death in its many and varying forms, but that we might know the life abundant, the life eternal, the life we have died in Christ for.
Readings 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 and Luke 7:18-23
Fundamental to the Christian faith is the idea that we are meant to imitate Christ. Being a Christian is about following after Jesus, about living in the way of Christ, about seeking first the kingdom of God. After all, being the church is about being the body of Christ. Later in this service we’ll make this explicit when, during communion, we will exchange a refrain that comes from the earliest centuries of Christian practice: receive what you are, become what you receive: the body of Christ.
That’s simple enough, right? The tougher part is asking: what does that look like?
In the gospel reading John the Baptist’s disciples come to Jesus to ask: are you the one we have been waiting for, or should we wait for another? Jesus tells them to witness to what they see and hear. Jesus points to the work, to the way, to the actions of his ministry in the world, far more than he points to his lineage, his identity, his titles. Jesus says, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.’
The question for us then, is if this is what Jesus feels is sufficient enough to point to as an answer as to whether he is the Christ… then should this be not also what we point to if someone asks if we are Christians? If someone came and asked, my friend wants to know are you the Christians we have been waiting for or should we wait for another, should we not too say: go and tell them what you have seen and heard… what would we point to in that moment, what can we point as sign and testament of our following after Jesus, our continuing his work, our fidelity to his way, our presence in the world as his body?
Now don’t quake in fear, we don’t have to be able to point to miraculous reversals of ocular degeneration, nor bodies popping out of coffins, but when we look at what lies beneath the miracles and signs Christ points to, we see that it is about actions that restore people to life, restore them to community, restore to them a future in which they can fully participate in society and flourish in abundant life, it is about beating back the forces of death. What are we doing and what can we be doing that performs this same restoration?
How might we, as disciples and a church, create a community in which people find a place to exercise their gifts, feel their worth, and grow into themselves as those called into life by Christ?
How might we, as disciples and a church, walk with and resource those who society has excluded, diminished, or degraded?
How might we, as disciples and a church, be present and open to our neighbours so we may know how to best share of what we have so that new futures may be open to them, so that old fears may pass away?
And how might we, as disciples and a church, proclaim good news to the poor. Jesus highlights this specifically when sending John’s disciples on their way. In many ways it departs from the other items in his list. To say he proclaims good news to the poor, is not to say he preached to the poor… it is to say, that what he had to say was good news to the poor –he concerned himself with their plight, he addressed their needs, and he proclaimed a present and future change, hope, and transformation that was a joy to their ears. Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor: the forgiveness of debts, the coming of jubilee, the reversal of fortunes in which those who were rich would find it nigh impossible to enter the kingdom of God while those wasting away on the streets would be invited into the great banquet. Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor and went and found Zacchaeus and through ministering to him provoked him to return what he had taken from the poor. What might we already be saying, and what might we have to say and do, in order proclaim good news to the poor?
As the rhetoric of church decline has increased in prominence these past decades, so too has rhetoric of growth. Yet too often the picture painted of growth is far too narrow, too disconnected from what Jesus himself pointed to and demonstrated as a sign of the vibrancy and vitality of his ministry. As we, like many churches, wrestle with our past, present, and future, as we too yearn to be vibrant and vital, as we seek to be the body of Christ, we need to ask ourselves how we would answer the question posed by John’s disciples… they ask Jesus: are you the one… are you the Christ? And we have seen what Jesus points to… when we are asked (or ask ourselves) are you Christ’s? Are you his ones? What will we point to, what could we point to, what have people seen and heard? This question is always posed as an opportunity and invitation, never a condemnation or guilt-trip.
As we consider and reconsider our response – if we should ever feel daunted or insufficient for the task - we do well to remind ourselves, as Paul reminded the church in Corinth: we have a treasure! We have the gospel, the good news of God’s live and Christ’s victory! – and in this treasure we have a great power from God. And this power exists in the clay jars of people… in normal, ordinary, every day, still figuring it out people you and me… That is where the treasure of Christ’s gospel is housed, that is where God’s extraordinary power rests. Our body carries Christ’s death, so that his life may be made visible in it as well. While death is upon our mortal flesh (and while decline is upon our churches) that is not all that is there, no! we may be afflicted but we are not crushed. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our body. Christ’s life is in you – and so we follow after, and so we imitate, so that when people see and hear what it is we are doing … and see that we are but clay jars, they will know that the power to do what we do comes from the One who sent us, the One who redeemed us, the One who sustains us. Because of him, we are and will… so let us receive what we are, and become what we receive: the body of Christ.
Readings Deuteronomy 5:1-10 and John 20:19-31
Do you have an event in history you’d have loved to be present for? A concert, a theatrical production... perhaps you've listened to a live recording of it, or found grainy video footage... maybe you've been lucky enough to find someone who was there and ask them to recount every details, the feels and the smells! Even with all those ways of connecting you to the event, it is still evident that there is a gap, a gap between the experience of those who were there in the flesh, and you, who have come to experience it later via witness and media. No matter how familiar you became with the event, you can't say: "I was there"
Both our readings today stress that the experience of God’s revelation is not diluted with time. Those of us who have come to believe and follow in the years since the Bible are no less the recipients of grace and truth as those who stood before Sinai, or pressed their hands into the wounds of our Lord.
Deuteronomy serves as the last book of the Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Israel has already been liberated from Egypt, they have already made the covenant with God and received the law at Sinai, they have already failed – catastrophically – and have buried an entire generation wandering in the wilderness, and now stand on the precipice of the promised land. To prepare them to enter the land, Moses recounts the law and how it came bed to received. So Moses is talking about events that happened some 50 years previously, and happened to those who are no longer living… and yet he says:
The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire.
Moses does not talk about this event like something that happened in the past, to those now dead, but to the present company, who were not there. Moses tells them that not only is this covenant with them, but they received it face to face from God. Later rabbinical tradition will learn from this noted choice of tense to remind all later Jews that they too were there at Sinai, that all who come to be part of the covenant were – somehow – present at Sinai, and received Torah directly from God, not via the passing on through human witness. And since God is eternal, and by that exists in an entirely different relationship to time as you or me, why shouldn’t this be possible?
It is then not surprising that in John’s witness to the resurrection of Israel’s messiah, we find a similar spurning of any kind of privileging of the first, of the ‘historic’ eye witness.
Jesus said to Thomas “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
In Jesus’ words a hand reaches out to the audience who are hearing John’s gospel read in their congregation, that says “you, here, you who have never met Jesus – in the flesh – who were not there where you could reach out and touch, you are not a lesser disciple, your experience of Jesus is not diluted or diminutive of the real thing that “the twelve” got to experience.” For blessed, Jesus says, are you (and me) who have come to believe without having seen. Indeed, as John sums up at the end of the reading: these words are written [not that you might understand what the disciples experienced, not so that you might come to trust their account, but] so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. That through believing, through following we too become a disciple, and we too have life in Jesus’ name, we too come to share in Christ’s life directly.
This is in part why Paul is so against Christians talking about who baptised them (as if they can find some lineage back to the twelve, and through the twelve to Christ in such a claim). As Paul reminds the people, we are baptised into Christ, that is all that counts. Paul himself has no problem speaking of his own encounter with Jesus, his own standing as one of Jesus’ apostles, even though he did not encounter the ‘earthly’ Jesus in the way that Peter or Thomas could claim. Paul sees no distinction between Jesus calling Peter out of his boat and Jesus calling to him on the road to Damascus – even though one was a man leaving footprints in the sand, and another a voice and light breaking through the heavens.
Because a relationship with God is not, and has never been about being first, or being an eye witness to a ‘historic’ event, it is about an encounter, an interruption, a meeting in which our lives are touched by grace, in which we are set free from that which binds humanity in misery, and in which we are called to witness to what God has done, is doing, and will do. This is a moment – a transformation – that is there for all, in whatever age and whatever place, it is there for young and old, and it is there for you and me. God meets us, personally. We might learn what it is to recognise and understand and order our lives in light of this meeting in community and conversation with the witness and experience of the past, but the encounter, the meeting is a personal one – there is no intermediary, no dilution, Christ speaks to us, the Spirit wells up in us, God claims us in our own moment… and in doing so, God (holy and eternal) weaves us into the grand story of God’s history with humanity, weaves us into the tapestry of revelation and salvation, so that we too might say we were there when God spoke at Sinai, we too were there when Christ breathed out his Spirit.
To be a Christian, here today, in C21st Forestville is to be someone that Christ has sought, called, redeemed, and commissioned in just the same way as those Christ gathered up throughout his earthly ministry. It is just as strange, just as holy, just as terrifying, just as joyful, just as transformative.
To be a Christian, here today, in C21st Forestville is to be someone God has rescued from oppression and misery, someone God covenanted with, someone God has called into a life ordered after God’s own heart for justice, in just the same way as the crowd standing before Sinai. It is just as strange, just as holy, just as terrifying, just as joyful, just as transformative.
No matter the distance from there to here, it is nothing to an eternal God. Who meets us, personally and intimately, and weaves us into the great story of redemption, calling us to follow with hearts full of joy, into the work of Easter, into the resurrection and the life!
Image: Poplars, Claude Monet (1891)
Readings Isaiah 25:6-9 and Matthew 28:1-10
At Easter it is a common to say Jesus was abandoned by all his friends and followers. But there is a group of women who stay. They stay through the entire, gruelling, devastating crucifixion. They stay through the chill of that sorrowful night, as Jesus’ body is buried. And they return, as soon as the Sabbath is fulfilled. Matthew does not include any details about why the women are going to the tomb. As with their silent vigils across the Friday - they just show up. And I think they stay and they show up for the same reason - it appears that, unlike the other disciples, they have taken Jesus at his word.
Jesus has again and again predicted his death and announced that he will rise. At almost every occasion this is met (by the male disciples) with confusion, objection, or disbelief. These women on the other hand, responded with action. The first act was the anointing at Bethany. Jesus commends the unnamed woman for her act of preparing him for burial with a most lavish display of reverence and affection, saying the gesture will be held forever in the memory of the church. The second act is the solidarity of the silent vigil these women held while watching their friend, their messiah, their hope, slowly extinguish on the cross. Last week we noted that in the psalm Jesus prays on the cross, he laments the fact that he is completely alone, but the women stand in solidarity with him - ensuring that even if he feels completely alone, they are keeping watch. The third act is here, on the day of the resurrection, when the women show up – perhaps in expectation that God will vindicate and raise their friend, their messiah, their hope from the depths of the tomb.
And so it is! The earth shakes, the stone rolls away, and the angel of the Lord appears with the good news - fear not! He is not here, he has been raised, he is on his way to Galilee - just as he said - go now, and tell the others. Just as he said… the women’s trust and action has been vindicated. Who better to bestow the first Easter proclamation to than these women who took Jesus at his word, and kept showing up? These women, who continued to demonstrate their trust and are now entrusted with the most important words of all - Christ is Risen!
At this moment the narrative takes a funny turn. The Angel of the Lord tells them to go, preach the good news to the disciples, and then meet Jesus in Galilee. The women run off, in fear and great joy but then Suddenly (what a word!) Suddenly Jesus met them.
Why didn’t Jesus wait? The women were doing what they were commanded, and Jesus doesn’t add any information. So why this interlude? Why this cameo?
We cannot know for certain, but today I want to suggest it happened because they expected it to happen; they had shown up for Jesus, so Jesus shows up for them. Jesus continually promises to be present (when two or three gather, when you knock and seek, when we remember him at the table) and these women came to the tomb, gathered in his name, seeking his face, remembering his promises - and Jesus responds earnestly. Out of lavish grace and generosity he is moved by their faith and becomes present to them.
I also want to suggest, that Jesus just couldn’t wait to see them! The resurrected Christ is still the fully human Jesus of Nazareth - who made friends, shared meals with his followers, and invited them into in his relationship with God. One of the most important truths of Christianity is that the resurrection can never be detached from the crucifixion - Jesus, though resurrected is still marked by the experience of the cross - as John records, he still bears its scars. Perhaps Jesus felt gratitude to these women who prepared him for this most humiliating and painful of experiences, felt gratitude and love for these women who kept watch over him as he died, who stood by him when so many others turned away, who stayed to watch him be laid in a tomb and who showed up again at that tomb as soon as they could. I mean if you had friends like that, how would you feel?
Jesus just couldn’t wait to see them and so - suddenly - he appeared to greet them. This moment is an overflow of grace, and love, and affection from Jesus the crucified and risen one, for his friends and followers.
It is the same for us today. Out of an abundance of affection, Jesus longs to meet us. Wants to appear suddenly on the road. Jesus wants to fill our hearts with jubilation and thanksgiving. When we gather together and when we go, Jesus bursts forth to meet us. And not just those who, like these women, have never faltered in their trust; Jesus shows up for all his disciples, even those who fled and denied, and enfolds them all back into the new family he has created.
Whether we show up expecting a miracle, or whether we have lost all hope, or whether we never thought to look for the living amongst the dead - Jesus is showing up, often quite suddenly, and he stays with us. In this Jesus reminds us that whenever we want, we can meet him in Galilee and join him in the good work of the Kingdom of God - work which brings hope where there was despair, justice where there was oppression, community where there was brokenness, life where there was death!
Image credit The Resurrection, Donald Jackson, in the Saint John’s Bible
Please enjoy a collection of sermons preached in recent months at the Kirk. If you have questions about the sermons, or attending a service reach out using the Contact Page.