From the Pastor's Desk
The wonder and mystery of the Easter season is always a welcome time for me. The Lenten preparations and services help build the anticipation. Then on Easter morning, the beautiful flowers, bright colors, and joy on people’s faces as we celebrate our risen Lord. Immediately following these events, I like to read again from the book of Acts, as it tells the stories of what happened later, after Jesus’s resurrection and subsequent ascension. This year, events prompted me to remember a time several years ago when Terri, Emily and I, traveled to Hawaii for a friend’s wedding. Emily was fifteen at the time and this was her first big trip. We had a wonderful time! For most of our stay, we were on the island of Oahu (there are eight islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago), which is where the wedding took place. But after the wedding, we flew from Oahu to what they call “The Big Island”, the Island of Hawai’i. The primary purpose of this side trip was to see the active volcano Kilauea (pronounced “kill-ah-wAy-ah”). You may recall hearing about Kilauea last year when it became very active and lava flows wiped out some communities. It has since calmed down a bit, the flows have cooled, and vegetation is starting to appear again on the lava fields. I think that was what amazed me the most—the spectacular plant life appearing in what seemed like the most desolate place on the planet. The picture above does not do it justice, but perhaps gives you some idea of the dark black lava and the vibrant green plants set against it. I still marvel at how anything could sprout and grow in that place! It is a stark illustration of the resurrection of Christ, how unexpected and spectacular it must have been to see and talk with him, in person, after having watched him die on the cross. Even the disciples, after having seen Jesus perform many signs and miracles could not comprehend it.
But perhaps they/we shouldn’t be so surprised. The prophets foretold it, and the angels announced it at his birth. Jesus even told them what was going to happen, multiple times. Yet somehow, they missed it. I suppose people then were much like we are today, preoccupied so much with day-to-day life, we lose sight of the eternal. Easter can be like that as well. Our excitement is short-lived, and we move on to the next thing far too quickly. The joy Easter Sunday brings is quickly replaced by the reality of Monday, and the sights and smells fade from our memories.
But the Easter miracle is far more than a one-day event. It is the foundation of our faith, and we are called to be Easter people, not just on one special day, but all our days. Remembering this, and the hope that lives within us as a result, is far more important than the mundane events of everyday life. We must stay connected—with God, with the church, and with the community of faith, and I’d like to add, with creation as well, because there are perfect reminders all around us, of whose we are and to whom we belong. The beautiful greenery on the lava fields of Kilauea reminded me of this; of the new life that lives within us, each and every day, and no matter how hard this world may try to destroy us, no matter how broken and burned out we become, we have nothing to fear. The promise of resurrection awaits.
Christ is for All
Last Sunday, Christian churches around the world celebrated Easter and the risen Christ. For Christians, this is the most important day in our faith history. In today’s culture, it is a joyous day filled with flowers, brightly colored hats and dresses, and family visits.
But that first Easter day was much different. It was a day that began with Jesus’ followers hiding in fear and despair. Added to that fear was confusion, upon the news of an empty tomb and a missing body. Their first thought was that Jesus’ body had been stolen—removed from the tomb and taken. But who would do such a thing? Certainly not the Romans or the Jewish council—they wanted this Jesus movement to end, once and for all. Some claimed the disciples took the body. But would that really account for their total change in attitude and behavior? Every one of them, without exception, were transformed by this event. Following Jesus’ resurrection, even the strongest threats of torture and death could not silence them. They believed so strongly that a thorough study of the disciple’s fates reveals that nearly every one of them died a martyr’s death, while sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. If the disciples had taken and hidden the body, they would have known the resurrection was a lie, and who would be willing to die such a horrible death, for a lie?
But my favorite part of the story is what comes next. Peter and John check out the tomb and then decide to go home. No words of comfort to Mary, no search for the body, nothing, they just turn around and head home. But not Mary. Mary Magdalene, the scripture tells us, was healed of seven demons. She played a prominent role in Jesus’ ministry, following him and helping to provide for him and the others out of her personal resources. She is mentioned at least twelve times in the Gospels, more than most of the other disciples aside from Peter and John. It was Mary that stood with Jesus’ mother while he hung on the cross; and it was Mary that goes early and discovers an empty tomb. As Peter and John leave the scene, only Mary remains, weeping outside the empty tomb.
It seems improbable that a woman would be credited with such a large role in a patriarchal culture if this were a contrived story. Ultimately, it is Mary that is first to see and recognize the risen Jesus, but only after confusing him for the gardener. That Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus right away is something I find very curious. Mary, of all people, should have known Jesus, but there was something different about Jesus in his resurrected form; aside from the fact that she knew Jesus to be dead, and wasn’t anticipating finding him alive again, you would think Mary would recognize him instantly. But it is only when Jesus speaks her name “Mary!” that he is recognized. I think this is significant and it reminds me of one of John’s famous images—that of Jesus as Shepherd. John 10 tells us, “…the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And then a few verses later in the same chapter, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus spoke, “Mary!” and she knew him. Jesus knows and loves each of us as well, by name.
There is a beautiful stained-glass window in our church which depicts Jesus as the Shepherd. It shows the sheep following Jesus closely while he carries a young lamb in his arms. Each Sunday I look up at this image and imagine myself as the lamb, resting quietly in the arms of Jesus. At that point I know that despite the worst the world might offer, my hope is secure, knowing that death has been defeated, and eternity awaits.