March 27, 2016
Easter Sunrise Meditation
Here we are this Easter morning, out as the sun comes up on the shore waiting to hear those words the first disciples heard, “He is risen!” I like meeting Jesus this way. When I was a teenager, Easter sunrise was celebrated in a football stadium with canon fire—honest! That’s some form of triumphalism! But that wasn’t his disciples’ experience. On an early morning, they found an empty tomb. They were astonished by a sudden appearance in a locked room where they huddled in fear for their lives. They met Jesus on the shore one morning where he had prepared a breakfast of fish. And Peter, the disciple that had denied that he knew Jesus three times as Jesus was being tried and beaten had to face Jesus’ questions. Three times, “Do you love me?” One for each denial. And with those three questions, Jesus wiped the slate clean. “Now go and feed my sheep.” “Have some breakfast, you have work to do.” Discipleship is a job.
This has been kind of a Peter week for me—the kind of week when I was a little more than grumpy when Jesus showed up in the guise of several persons needing help. I hope I wasn’t as rude as I felt inside. Each time I was grumbling and figuring a way to dodge ministry because I had a lot of work to do. And every time, I heard Jesus’ voice, “When you did that for the least of these. . .” But I didn’t want to see Jesus in any of those folks. And when I got to the prayer of confession on Maundy Thursday, just hours after my last attempted denial, it was as if a cock crowed. Is it ever that way for you? I come here in the cool of the morning because, if I’m going to be a disciple, I need to hear Jesus ask me over and over again if I love him. I need to start with a clean slate. The miracle of Easter is that Jesus always meets me with kind eyes and a loving heart. And this morning there is even a bit of fish on the fire to feed us before sending us out to feed his sheep. And, by the way, that’s our job when we leave here. Feed someone else. That’s what disciples do. They share God’s love with the next person in whatever form that person needs. So have some fish this morning and share some love.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
10 a.m. Worship: We Are an Easter People
We are a people shaped by the resurrection—not the crucifixion, but the resurrection. Did you know that images of the crucifixion, or the death of Jesus, did not appear in churches until the 10th century? Almost a thousand years after Jesus. Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock have written a brilliant book, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire. I suggest you read it. For those of you who may not know, Rebecca Parker was pastor of this church from 1987-89 and has been until very recently the president of the Starr King School in Berkley. Rebecca and Rita searched for early images of the crucifixion through the Mediterranean, but found none earlier than the 10th century. In fact, in the Italian city of Ravenna, they discovered a 26 panel depiction of Jesus’ life in a 6th century church. The Last Supper was in the middle beginning the Passion narrative. On the 10th panel of the Passion, Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus’ cross. They expected the crucifixion to fill the next panel, but it did not. Instead there is the scene from this morning’s gospel reading. Two women are leaning forward in astonishment where an angel is speaking to them from an empty tomb. The final panels show the risen Christ with Thomas and the other disciples and on the road to Emmaus. The authors write:
We found no Crucifixions in any of Ravenna’s early churches. The death of Jesus, it seemed, was not a key to meaning, not an image of devotion, not a ritual symbol of faith for the Christians who worshipped among the churches’ glittering mosaics. The Christ they saw was the incarnate, risen Christ, the child of baptism, the healer of the sick, the teacher of his friends, and the one who defeated death and transfigured the world with the Spirit of life.
No death, only life. But not just ordinary life—a return to Paradise. Not heaven after death, but Paradise restored here and now. What an amazing concept!
The early Church understood the day of Resurrection to be the restoration of Paradise and the beginning of Eternity. Baptism in the name of Jesus was an entrance to new life, eternal life in Paradise. I love this story from Janet Wolf, a United Methodist pastor in the deep South, that illustrates how powerful that new life can be.
In a world that pronounces so many of us “not good enough,” what might it mean to believe that we really are chosen, precious, and beloved? In a new members’ class we talked about baptism: this holy moment when we are named by God’s grace with such power it won’t come undone.
Fayette was there—a woman living on the streets, struggling with mental illness and lupus. She loved the part about baptism and would ask over and over, “And when I’m baptized, I am . . .?” We soon learned to respond, “Beloved, precious child of God and beautiful to behold.” “Oh, yes!” she’d say, and then we could go back to our discussion.
The big day came. Fayette went under, came up spluttering, and cried, “And now I am . . .?” And we all sang, “Beloved, precious child of God and beautiful to behold.” “Oh, yes!” she shouted as she danced all around the fellowship hall.
Two months later I got a call. Fayette had been beaten and raped and was at the county hospital. So I went. I could see her from a distance, pacing back and forth. When I got to the door, I heard, “I am beloved . . .” She turned, saw me, and said, “I am beloved, precious child of God, and. . . .” Catching sight of herself in the mirror—hair sticking up, blood and tears streaking her face, dress torn, dirty, and rebuttoned askew, she started again, “I am beloved, precious child of God, and. . . .” She looked in the mirror again and declared, “. . . and God is still working on me. If you come back tomorrow, I’ll be so beautiful I’ll take your breath away!”
Fayette was counting on resurrection. How like Paradise would it be to know that no matter what others may say or do to you, or what you may see in the mirror, you know deep in your bones that you are a beloved, precious child of God?
How like Paradise would it have been in the early Church to have eaten the Lord’s Supper together around a table with men and women, with slaves alongside masters? With rich and poor? How like Paradise to receive gifts from a sister Church when times were difficult and food was scarce? I was in a large gathering of island neighbors yesterday. We were members of the same political party. We shared many of the same values. But it wasn’t Paradise. Here with you this morning is like Paradise. I know how you take care of one another. I have seen you sign up for shifts to be with someone who has just returned from surgery. I have received your kindness in the form of meals when I was sick. I know how many rides you offer, chores you do, invitations to fellowship, check-in calls you make, cookies you bake, dishes you do. I’ve discovered you cleaning up someone else’s kitchen, mowing someone else’s lawn. I know you share vegetables and wood and tools, and a listening ear. I know how much pastoral care happens when you say you’re having coffee. I know how you pray for one another. I’ve heard you ask how you can help. Do you know how like Paradise this is compared with the world outside? There is life here because there is love here.
We are by no means perfect, but we do love one another the best that we can. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we care for one another and for our neighbors. So if you’re struggling to find a way forward today, know that you will find a loving and supportive community here. I won’t and can’t promise that God will rescue you, but God will hold you, I can promise that, and we will walk with you. We will listen to you and encourage you because we have all been in a dark place and have found new life. We have learned that we do not have to be afraid because God’s love is all about life, and life is all about how we love one another.
I believe with Jesus that God’s love cannot be defeated and that God’s love will continue to work miracles through us when we share that love in community. New life can be ours every day when we follow Jesus. Paradise is ours to discover right here and right now. We are an Easter people, fully alive. Alleluia is our song!