Alleluia, Alleluia, we made it.
We made it through the forty days and forty nights in the desert.
We made it through the Season of Lent. Through the journey that lead us through deep prayer.
We made it.
We made it through the journaling, devotionals and art and poetry, maybe some pleading with God.
We made it.
We made it through winter, and it’s offering of hibernation.
We made it, and so did Jesus. He grappled with the devil and he grappled with himself and God. He went into the desert to go deep within himself. To meditate. To contemplate. To pray. And, then he came out. He might not have known exactly what was ahead of him. But he had a sense. He knew life for him would change. Today, is the saddest and happiest day.
I like to think about what the week before Jesus’ death was like for the disciples and his family. In order for me to deepen into the sacredness of the moment I relate it to something of this world. Some of us have experienced what it’s like to be with those that are sick. When those people begin to say goodbye but it is not explicit goodbyes. It is often in subtle messages. Perhaps they start preparing. They go and visit people. They are prepared by gathering their closest people around them. They have special meals and make sure that rituals are kept for the last time. You never know exactly when death is upon you. But, folks that are near death have a sense, and so did Jesus.
Jesus comes out of the desert after his time in prayer and contemplation. He knew that it was the beginning of the end for him on earth.
“Thy kin-dom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
He begins the subtle messages of goodbyes.
His desert time allowed him to realize that it is not this life, but the next that really matters for him. The most important time will come later. When our scriptures say that Jesus died and was resurrected for us, it is truly to send us a big, huge message and that message is:
it is YOUR turn, now.
The most important thing that Jesus could do was enable the world to believe in him, follow him and spread the good news. He knew he could not do it by myself. He believed it was time for all of us to go back out into the world, to spread the good news, to unfold the kin-dom of God.
It is our turn now to embody love.
And then, Jesus, was put on that cross, he was taken off the cross, he was buried, he was taken to a tomb with a large boulder, slid over the opening. The next morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came and the rock was removed, the cross was nowhere in sight. And, then the glowing Angel of the Lord directed them to Jesus in Galilee. And that is where they knew he was alive. He simply said, greetings. Greetings, as if they were meeting for the very first time. And, they were, in this new life. Jesus was resurrected. It was our turn now.
Jesus’ greeting was more than a simple hello. Jesus announces himself in new life with out-stretched arms and simply says, greetings. Mimicking the cross he had just been pulled down from. Only this time, the symbol was love, a symbol of hope and the symbol of life, instead of death. Greetings.
And, from that moment on, Jesus became alive for the people. He became alive in their minds, he became a live in their hearts, he became alive. It was our turn now. It was also the saddest and happiest day.
I went to that Dr. Howard Thurman film last week, called Backs Against the Wall. The filmmaker worshipped with us on Sunday. Some of you met Martin Doblmeier. Thurman was one of our great black theologians and pastors of the twentieth century. And one of the things that the movie portrayed about him was that he was a contemplative first and foremost, despite being on the perimeter of the civil rights movement.
He invited great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and others to go to prayer, first. He believed that before taking action in the world, we must pray and use the prayer
“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace.”
These words, taken from the prayer of St. Francis, speak to one of the most insistent conditions of the human spirit. He believed that becoming instruments of peace before engaging the injustices of the world was essential.
Perhaps, Jesus in Galilee with the simple gesture “Greetings” was simply to announce himself or maybe it was an invitation to the work ahead of us. What we do know about Jesus is that first he was a contemplative. First, he prayed. First he grappled with the devil before he went out into the world.
It is our turn now
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.”
Howard Thurman believed that Jesus did not want us to worship him, but to believe in him and to follow him. It is our turn to embody love.
It is hard to believe and follow another when they are not physically with us. The cross, the very thing that brought Jesus to death was also the very symbol that brought him life. “Greetings (with outstretched arms)”
Christian communities have used the cross for centuries. That physical image has become a symbol of all that is good. The cross has been a symbol that has helped us to believe and follow Jesus. Crosses have been great tools for action. Crosses have adorned our worship centers, our chapels, our sanctuaries. Crosses have lined our altars, crosses have been put in our pockets and held in our hands, crosses have been made beautiful creations of art, crosses have become jewelry we have hung around our neck, and prayer beads that we have used to pray with Jesus.
Crosses have become the resurrected Jesus in this life. They have become our instruments of peace and love.
They have become a part of our deep religious tradition through ritual and through worship. When I was growing up we had a large chicken wire cross, and every Easter Sunday we would come and put fresh flowers on it and Jesus would become alive for us. On Ash Wednesday, a black cross is placed on foreheads. That cross is placed on people as a reminder of our humanity and as a reminder of Jesus’ humanity. And as a reminder of life. The story that accompanies that ash cross reminds us that Jesus is journeying with us.
I bless those little children, in our preschool, about once a month. I take the holy water and I put a cross on their hands and I say you are a beloved child of God. Jesus becomes alive again, when that cross is put upon their hand. It’s as if we can hear Jesus saying “Greetings” through the beautiful energy and small giggles of young children.
I love that we have decided to transform the cross. Once a tool used to put those to death, now a tool to remind us that there is life after death. I love that we have taken this deeply traumatic story of Jesus and held it in our palms and have decided to use it as a gift to guide our own lives. Both Mary’s on that day came to see and witness Jesus’ lifeless body. This would bring them a sense of closure, they thought. But, when they arrived the body was not there. And, an Angel of the Lord was in their midst and said, he has risen, he is alive indeed.
It is your turn now. Believe and follow.
It is hard to take action in the midst of grief, but this is exactly what this Easter story is about. It is about hope after death. It is about new life. It is both the happiest and saddest day. It is a call to be Easter People.
Again, I can only imagine what this was like for Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and all of his disciples. I recently read a story of a woman, another theologian, Elaine Pagels, whose husband was in his early forties, and he went hiking and never returned. He fell off a ledge and was put to his death. She had two young children. A year before her husband’s death her first born child also died. She could not find life anywhere after these deaths--similarly as tragic as Jesus for Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.
On the first anniversary of his death, she drove out to a familiar monastery to sit with the monks, who were good friends of hers. She sat with two monks on a wooden bench in a simple brick chapel, and began to meditate, hoping, even expecting, that the day might bring some consolation. It seemed that Howard Thurman was right: going quiet in the midst of chaos may bring something of new life.
For this woman, it was not the consolation she had expected. When she closed her eyes, she saw the familiar tape loop, visualizing her husband starting to descend down the path of where he had fallen the year before. This time, the story changed, the meditation went deeper, now supported by the presence of the monks engaged in prayer. This time, in her meditation she witnessed his full death upon the rocks, with rivers of blood. She says: “Transfixed with horror, I watched, sitting entirely still, uttering no sound. I had the distinct impression- and still do- that somehow I’d actually seen it happen but had blocked it out of consciousness until that moment. When we finally emerged from prayer, she walked unsteadily out of the darkened chapel into startling sunlight, and drove home.”
Perhaps the startling sunlight was the Angel of the Lord? Perhaps the Angel had finally showed up and sent a message to Pagels, like the angel that showed up for the Mary's on that Easter day. It was the saddest and happiest moment for all of them. It was a message of resurrection. It was a message of new life. There would be hope. It was their turn now.
Grief counselors will say that when someone dies in a tragic way or accident and survivors cannot see the body, they do not fully comprehend that the person has died until they completely visualize what happened. Both Mary and Mary, that dawning morning, knew their Jesus was alive, and they too unsteadily walked out of the darkness of tomb, not seeing the physical body, but walking into the starling sunlight and realized the life after death. When they reached Galilee, they met their darling Jesus with his hand stretched out like a cross, “Greetings,” he said. “Do not be afraid.”
The cross had been transformed.
For Elaine Pagels, who meditated in the chapel, it was the point of emerging into the startling sunlight that she was able to do the things of life that she needed to do. There was life after death, for her. And, for the women at the tomb, it was the startling light of the Angel of the Lord that said, “There is life after death. Go to Galilee.”
Jesus was resurrected and we continue to carry his cross because it is transformed into a symbol of hope and love. The power of those two Marys, their prayer that morning, their belief in Jesus and their ability to follow him, was the life after death that we know today. Thurman says: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” He has risen, He has risen indeed. Alleluia
It is OUR turn now.