Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Easter Sunsay

Easter Sunday rolls around each year and for me it is a challenging Sunday to preach. How do I find the right words to convey the joy that comes with this day? Especially when I’ve heard the story all my life and the logical part of my brain says, “really, Jesus died, he was dead and three days later came back to life. Really?”  Then my faith reminds me Easter Sunday joy just doesn’t make sense. We can understand resuscitation. We see it on all the hospital dramas. People flat line their hearts stop and then paddles come out and that flat line starts to flutter. Resuscitation we can understand – it is a medical miracle.  But resurrection is another matter altogether. 
Resurrection is three days dead and all of sudden living, breathing, walking, talking. Resurrection is coming back to life – not like the in zombie movies and tv shows but to fullness of life. Not just existence but life filled with joy, possibility and hope.  It does not make logical or rational sense. So is it any wonder that Mary didn’t recognize Jesus and thought he was the gardener?
After finding the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, Mary runs to find Peter. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:2) she tells Peter.  Peter and the other unnamed disciple run to the tomb finding nothing but linen wrappings and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head rolled up in a place by itself. The two disciples not knowing what to make of the scene left and went home. Mary stayed. Mary always stayed. 
She stood outside the tomb weeping. Waiting. Watching. Finally Mary looks inside the tomb but filled with grief she can’t make sense of the linen wrappings. She hardly notices the two angels who ask her what is wrong but all she can manage to say is, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:13) Then comes another voice that Mary thinks comes from the gardener, saying, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:15) Hoping to find answers Mary says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)
What happens is amazing. Jesus says, “Mary!”  And somehow in hearing her name spoken everything is clear. It is because of this moment that John’s account of the resurrection is my favourite. A split second and one word transforms grief into joy. Mary hears her name changes her weeping to joy. Jesus says, “Mary!” and she turns and says “Rabbouni. Teacher” Nothing is the same again. Mary runs to the disciples and announces, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18) 
Peter Buehler says, “Easter is an event beyond seasons, beyond time and space. Easter is resurrection: impossible hopes made possible by the power of Christ raised from the dead.” (Peter Buehler, Further Up And Further In!
We may not be able to logically explain resurrection and what happens at Easter. It is divine mystery. But we do know those holy moments like the moment Mary hears her name and her life changes.  Like those moments when we feel God’s presence. We remember that with God all things are possible – even if we can’t explain and we don’t understand it. Dead people stay dead except when God enters in and breaks all the rules and changes everything. And because Jesus is risen death loses its sting and holy mystery opens for us a life filled with hope and joy. In some divine mysterious way God changes everything. The tomb is empty. Jesus Christ is risen. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Say Something

One of my favourite childhood memories was the annual natal day parade in Halifax. The parade route started so close to my house you could hear the bands warming up. In my memory it was always a warm sunny summer’s day. My brother and I would sit on our front step waiting listening and then run down to the end of the street to watch the floats and my favourite pipe and drum bands march past us. There is so much joy in a parade – the music, the laughter, the children.   
Do you suppose that this is what the very first Palm Sunday parade was like? This parade didn’t have an organizing committee with a date set in advance – it was a spur of the moment kind of parade. By the time we arrive at our reading for today the stage has been set. There’s been miracles, the feeding of the 5000 and Lazarus was raised. The Pharisees and the high priest Caiphas sent out the word that they wanted Jesus arrested and they will pay for information. But the crowds who heard that Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the festival had something else in mind. 
They took branches from the palm trees and went out to meet him. In Jesus’ day Palms were a universal sign of victory whether it was athletic or in battle. Jesus finds a donkey which all the kings of the Old Testament rode. Horses were used for war. Jesus rides the donkey as the crowds yell, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel.” (John 12:13)
It’s a parade with a whole lot of expectations of a world and lives changed.  You can hear it in the cries of the crowds who gathered there that day. Hosanna quite literally means “save us.” As Jesus rides on the donkey, they cry out, “Save us the one who comes in the name of the lord. Save us king of Israel.”  The expectation rings out in every word and with every wave of the palm branch. The crowds expect Jesus is the one who will save them from the Romans and save them from their lives. 
The disciples hoped? knew that Jesus was the one to save their people from the heavy hand of the Romans who ruled the land. They hoped Jesus was the one who would end their misery. The same is true for us today. Scott Black Johnson writes: “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, "Hosanna," do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from debt. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom... Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears. Please God take the broken places that will tear us apart and make them whole. We beseech you, God, jump into the water and drag our almost-drowned selves to shore. "Save us." "Hosanna." (
Palm Sunday is more than the sweet band of children waving palm branches. It is an invitation to let Jesus come into the broken places in our lives. The disciples did that – they were people on the margins. Tax collectors that no one wanted to socialize with and people with demons that needed to be cast out and fishermen and people longing for something new. Peter followed Jesus from the start. He loved Jesus and he probably waved the palm branch harder than anyone else. Peter is at once the disciple who is closest to Jesus – who gets what Jesus is all about and the one who understands least. 
After the parade, Jesus takes his disciples aside and begins to teach them about what is to come next – how to live when he is no longer with them. Jesus washes their feet. Reminds that they are called to serve others. Gives them the commandment to love one another just as he has loved them. Peter asks “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36) But it is nowhere the disciples can follow. Peter jumps in, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay my life down for you.” (John 13: 37) Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” (John 13:38)
We know the story – the painful cries of holy week. It is the ones like Peter who would follow him the ends of the earth who cry crucify and deny. In Peter’s story we find our own. Most of us long for that saving power to fall on us, to pick us up, to heal us and at the same time when it gets hard we say good bye. It is easier to go back to familiar ways. Peter is the rock upon which the church is built and the one who denies Jesus three times.
The days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday are sobering days. It is in going through the pain and sorrow of this time that we arrive at the good news of Easter. There are no short cuts only the promise that the hope will come. I’m about play you song. I’d heard it many times but one day as I pulled into the parking lot on Bannerman Street I heard something new. I heard Peter as he followed Jesus in the shadow of the cross. I heard my story. I heard our story as we wait in the shadows for the joy of Easter Sunday. 

Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere, I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I am feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at all
And I will stumble and fall
I'm still learning to love
Just starting to crawl
Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
Anywhere, I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I will swallow my pride
You're the one that I love
And I'm saying goodbye
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
And anywhere, I would have followed you
Oh-oh-oh-oh say something, I'm giving up on you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
Say something. (A Great Big World)