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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Joy is Back

Easter Day, 9 AM
John 20:1-18
4/8/12

Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Boo
Boo who?
Don’t cry…it’s Easter!

What kind of music do bunnies like?
Hip hop

What do you call ten rabbits marching backwards?
A receding hareline.

Jokes are wonderful. Whether they're groaners or knee slappers or just plain silly, they're one of the great little free things in life. But how amazing that I can stand here and tell jokes...because only a few days ago, on Friday, we also gathered here, and the mood was anything but funny.

Jesus's friends had not done well. They'd fallen asleep when he asked them to stay awake with him, one denied knowing him and another one turned him in to the authorities, and almost all of them abandoned him as he was dying. The people in charge were scared by the influence Jesus was gaining with his message of love and justice and forgiveness for everyone, not just the VIPs. Unthinking crowds went along with the sentiments of a few. Somehow it all combined in the worst mix ever, and Jesus was put to death on the cross. The Word of Love that God sent to speak to us was silenced by a world of fear and anger and greed and insecurity. There was nothing to laugh about, nothing at all.

And then, on that Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene came back to where Jesus's body had been placed in the tomb, and marvelously, miraculously, amazingly, she encountered the Risen Christ. He'd been dead and now he was alive. She didn't have to understand how, nor do we; it's enough that we know why: because, nothing, not even death, can contain or constrict God's love. Probably confused, but even so, giddy with wonder, Mary ran back to tell the disciples that their grief was ended, that hope could return to their hearts and lives once more. Joy and laughter were back!

Good Friday had to come; Jesus had to embrace rejection and betrayal, fear and anger, evil and death—all that separates us from God—in order to conquer them. He bridged that chasm with the cross and now leads us to new life. Painful things still happen, but they no longer have the last word. Our Easter rejoicing has its greatest meaning not in spite of the crucifixion, but because of it.

It's a paradox that the brokenness of the cross restores us to wholeness and the fullness of life...but that shouldn't come as a surprise. This is the same Jesus who told his followers that they'd lead by serving, that in giving away everything they'd have so much more, that life's losers will be breaking the tape at heaven's finish line, that only by letting go of their life would they gain it. This is the Jesus who turned everything upside down when he reigned as king from the throne of the cross and whose first castle was an empty tomb.

In the end—our new beginning—the joke is on us when we think that the one with the most stuff wins, that our bank balance is a measure of our worth, that power is measured by our titles and strength by our muscle mass. How much better to be fools for Christ, to celebrate the joy of the improbable truth of the resurrection, to be the ones laughing because Jesus. Is. Risen…and the impossible has become a glorious reality.

Why didn’t the egg cross the road?
It was a little chicken.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Way

Palm Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a, Mark 14:1 – 15:47
4/1/12

So many words.
So many emotions.
So much happening.
So overwhelming.

Palm Sunday inundates us in every respect, taking us on a roller coaster of people, places, and events, certainly more than any other Sunday. The temptation for me every year is simply to shut down, to make sense of it by only allowing in a tiny sliver--whatever happens to grab me at the moment--and insulating myself from intensity and the demands of the rest.

Maybe that's why our reading from Isaiah was like a jerk on my chain: "Morning by morning he wakens--wakens my ear to listen...the Lord God has opened my ear." I'm pulled back, reminded that if I'm going to try to figure out this whole follower of Jesus stuff, I don't get to pick and choose. Somehow, God directs me to listen to it all, including--maybe especially--the parts that are hard for me. In reading, in marking, in learning, in inwardly digesting the truth of what Jesus has done for us, I'm shown the model of the kind of love I'm called to show to others.

Make no mistake, none of us is the Messiah, and none of us is going to get it right the way he did. Jesus has already done the job of saving us, which takes a lot of pressure off us. But we can follow, we can imitate, we can try...because God opens our ears to God's call and God's way.

It's a way of celebration, of rejoicing in the often hidden but very real reign of a King who has already come among us. It's a way of sorrow, a deep sadness over a world that has gone so far astray from our Creator's loving intent for us. It's a way of nurture, being fed by Christ himself and then going forth in that strength to feed others. It's a lonely way, in which we're called to continue on our path even when others don't understand us or mock us. It is a way of humility, in which the heart of a servant matters more than public acclaim. It's a way of despair, when we can feel like God has abandoned us, even as we try to trust that God is only silent, not absent. It is a way of death, as we learn to let go of everything in this world that pretends to have power, including the illusion that we are ultimately in control of our life. It's more than all that, too...but today, we don't get that part of the story.

Our ears have been opened; will we listen?