Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What Do You Talk About?



OUR READING for the Third Sunday of Easter comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. We hear words that describe the encounter between Jesus and two men just after the Resurrection. The event happened on the road to Emmaus. This profound meeting reveals a tone for future gatherings between our Lord and his followers…

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad.
 Then one of them, named Cle'opas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
 Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see."
 And he said to them.., "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them.  (Luke 24:13-35)

Along the Road…
Both Mark (see also Mark 16:12-13) and Luke record this occasion, However, Luke’s account reveals far more, in that the scripture tells us about the conversations that occurred on that first Easter day. The two men walked out of Jerusalem, apparently returning to their homes from religious observances in the city. However, we find that the men were not just examples of the great number of religious who had celebrated the festival. These men Luke relates, were among those who had looked forward to Jesus taking on the role of Messiah. One of the men, named Cle’opas, is thought by some biblical authorities to be the father of Simeon. Simeon was the man who took on the ministry of James, in serving as the head of the Jerusalem church after the leader’s martrydom.
 The two men walked toward Emmaus wondering about the recent, tragic events. They discussed the death and burial of Jesus. They talked about the startling report of the women who had been to the tomb… that the tomb was empty. And then, Luke tells us… Jesus joined in walking along with them as they journeyed. But the two did not know it was Jesus.
 To hearers, this last side note rests profoundly. The account writer found it important to note this. The comment allows us to assume that at least one of the men had seen Jesus before, and should have recognized him. We fathom then, “Why was it stated that his identity was hidden?” Anyone psychologically-minded today, may question whether their inability was due to the travelers’ confusion, disappointment or grief. Or was it denial and lack of faith? Sins of unbelief? Human short-sightedness? We cannot know. But lest we judge them, consider that anyone today may also suffer tunnel vision on account of similar happenings. In the midst of unexpected chaos, how often do our own problems isolate us? We have been known to shrink our conversational circle to confidants. We stay away from church, religious counselors, and from our Lord … so that we do not recognize God working by the power of the Holy Spirit.
 Note in the reading how surprised the two men were that the fellow traveler did not seem to know what had occurred during the festival. Though Jesus surely knew, there seemed to be a conversational chasm... created and widened by their faith gap. The existence of this discourse may indicate that for Lukan communities some forty years later... many persons also knew of the crucifixion and death of Jesus... but also did not know the meaning. The dialog thus engaged persons in Luke’s later churches. It also engages us. The reading urges us toward mining the words of scriptural prophecy that foretold of the Messianic resurrection. Such was the content of the reprimand that Jesus gave to the two men.
 In extended conversation, therefore, given while walking along… Jesus witnessed to them from scripture about his own death and Resurrection! We in today’s Christian church should pay close attention to his evangelical method. Possibly using prophetic witness, conversation about this very topic could occur amid a carpool, commuter train ride, or lunchtime stroll. I woefully consider lost evangelical opportunities that occurred on my own commuter train rides among co-workers.

Tasting a Eucharistic Flavor?
As told by Luke, the three men soon arrived at the destination of the first two travelers. There they invited the Lord to abide with them for the evening. And by doing so, they gave opportunity for Jesus to be known to them through the breaking of the bread and blessing of the meal. He then revealed his identity to them! The hearers of this account in the Lukan communities long ago, therefore, were reminded as well of the Lord’s historic breaking of the bread on both mountainside and plain. They were provided opportunity in the Spirit to recall the telling about the disciple's Passover meal. That wondrous event had occurred in the upper room where Jesus had said, “This is my body given for you.” and, “This is the blood of the covenant shed for you...” Therefore, Luke told of the history that stands forever behind the established Eucharistic sacrament for his communities to come. He related the divine foundations of holy remembrance. Luke, a blessed evangelist to be sure… opened a window for his churches to see the event. The light dawns also in our mind’s eye when we hear the message, for we can clearly apprehend the unfolding miracle through the power of the Holy Spirit.

On Being Evangelical
 In today’s church we may now ask ourselves, just as Luke's hearers likely queried.... “What are we to do with this good news?” The continued reading openly explained to clouded minds. We are to do as the two men did so long ago. Even in our despair, we are called to turn and face God. We are to turn and confess of our sins and unbelief. Then, having received God’s forgiveness through Christ, being empowered through sharing of the body and blood of our Lord through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist…, we are urged by grace to witness. We are to let it be known among ourselves, and others… that we have been chosen to run and tell the good news. Indeed our house has become the Lord’s house! We have seen the Lord in both minds and hearts.
 Yes indeed! Jesus surely comes amongst us through Baptism by  the power of the Holy Spirit and by our participation in His holy meal. In this reading, therefore, we are privileged to hear once again the story of Jesus who died and rose again so that we might receive the gift of eternal life. That good news brothers and sisters, relates to us that our gift is  to be given to others. Having received grace upon grace through this gift, we are called to go out from our churches rejoicing. Let us race to tell others just as Luke described.
 Blessed Christians! If nothing else comes to your mind, simply begin your first conversation with a companion by joyously saying. “He is Risen… risen indeed!”



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

God Strengthens Faith!



IN OUR scripture study for this week we read from the Gospel According to Saint John. For your perusal here, I offer my edited thoughts previously written on the subject. In this text, I find that we encounter a wondrous event wherein Jesus appeared to the disciples. To set the historical stage written, know that the disciples had already been informed by the women about the empty tomb. One of the women, named Mary, had even encountered the Risen Jesus amid the garden. Here, we join the account that now stressed to first century readers concerning the Resurrected Christ Jesus. It boldly states that he was physically raised from the dead, and was not an apparition simply conjured by grief-stricken minds…

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 
 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 
 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." 
 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." 
 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." 
 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 
 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." 
 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
                                                                             (John 20:19-31)

Know the Truth!
The disciples were gathered in the upper room on an evening after the Resurrection. It was a secret place to hide; a tomb of their selection. After the Lord’s grave was found to be empty, Christians throughout the city were being hunted by those in power. The empty tomb and its possible repercussions fostered a very turbulent time after the Passover festival. The upper room hid the shocked group, secured from the Jewish temple leaders.
 Historically, Passover celebrations had marked the prophetic sacrifice of lambs killed to save those whom God chose to spare from death and lead through Sinai’s desert wilderness. With that celebration over, crowds of people had begun to leave the city. The disciples still fearfully hidden, cowered in like nature to those of the past… historic Jews who were once imprisoned in Egypt.
 The men who had been called by Christ during his ministry were very afraid. Just as Moses had called to the children of Israel... those Jews that marched out of Egypt in times of old were afraid. You see, the disciples knew that Moses did not die in Egypt. He had been with them. Jesus our Lord, however, had died. He was was not standing in their midst telling them to go with him across the sea.
 But then Jesus suddenly appeared. The Word spoke to those in hiding. He spoke with calming words. A traditional “Peace be with you” (“eirene umin” in the Greek) was given. The greeting must have echoed in some respect like the messenger at the tomb that had told Mary… “Do not be afraid”. The words came out as asking for a peace that existed beyond all understanding. But the words fell on fearful ears.
 It may seem now to us that resurrection faith was insufficiently held within them. But, lest we sinfully consider the words spoken in that upper room, let us not judge our predecessors. Can we intellectually imagine the impact of hearing the voice of one believed to be dead? They suddenly heard Jesus’ voice!
 I think that we certainly cannot imagine the shock that came upon the men. Bedlam resulted. I venture that fear, crying, yelling and even more... began to shake the men who hid in that room even though they had been told by the women that he had risen.
 After the din quieted somewhat, a first daring soul moved beyond initial shock and doubt. Then, one by one, all were amazed by bodily proof about the Lord’s identity. John revealed to his churches that as the tumult lessened, Jesus’ aim was to empower them. Jesus reminded them that what had happened had been prophetically promised. Let us take due note that here at this point in the telling... is where John quickly changes our focus. John revealed to his hearers that not all were there.
 John told that Thomas was not present. As readers and hearers today who arrive untimely, we are also brought now into the scene. Those who hear the news of an empty tomb join across the centuries to understand the report. John told his readers that the message of the empty tomb was difficult for Thomas. I think that many who receive this gospel report today can surely identify with this. Many persons I know struggle today with intellectually gripping the Resurrection report. It is a hard thing indeed. We seek evidence!
 But today, as over centuries of witness, the Truth of the miracle comes to us as a gift. It is a gift wrapped in faith provided by the power of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, thus rewarded we are called to accept what John’s churches came to understand. Know this! Faith to believe in this miracle only comes from God’s Word as provided through the Holy Spirit. For this reason we search the Word, comprehending that scripture surely declares scripture! And faith comes by the receiving of this spiritual knowledge. As Saint Paul echoed..,

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
 
The stage was thus described as set wonderfully by John’s writing. The writer brought Thomas face-to-face with the Risen Lord, and we as readers now become witnesses to the scene as well. The Truth is revealed to all! Immediately, the normative declaration was made, "My Lord and my God!" Thus with exclamatory zeal kingdom building was furthered.

Tell This Truth!
Examine the words of John looking for lessons in our own day. We need only look to the history of the Christian church the latter years of the first century. John’s gospel was likely written c.85-95, as a highly symbolic telling. It included rather sophisticated symbols of double entendre. In this gospel, many forms of storytelling which are found in classical Greek texts are used. Therefore, we collectively assume that John wrote primarily to Greek or dispersed and highly educated Hebrews that gathered within the heart of the Roman Empire. His symbolic writing style points out a witness subtly meant to attract upper, educated classes, as well as the lesser learned.
 Were educated and moneyed persons confronted by the gospel witness? If the answer affirms, we modern persons may then liken ourselves to those of the world who had arrived in finance and education. Are we then not challenged also by this gospel reading?
 Some biblical authorities say that the original gospel text ended here. It is taught that the following chapter was applied by a later editor. Therefore, if these scholars are correct, the initial telling ends with a rather appropriate phrase. The text tells us why this gospel writing even exists. Blessed John stated that he wrote this enchanting storytelling, so… “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
 Therefore, holding to this scriptural appraisal, we in modern society are now invited to highly recommend the Gospel of John. I especially contend that it be placed on the “must read” list for those who like a good book. When they say to us after reading, “How is this thing... this Resurrection possible…?”, surely we are invited to witness about the faith given to us. We may say with certainty that the Spirit answers… “With God all things are possible!”
 Therefore it is for us who are made wealthy in the knowledge of our redemption, those who have been granted faith without our seeing the tomb… to be empowered by the Spirit. In the modern world we are called to tell the great story concerning the saving grace of Almighty God.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Stone Rolled Away!



OUR READING for Easter arrived as stated in the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, to a community that was striving within its usual traditions. But, as we read we see after Easter the usual had been rolled aside. The lesson depicts the tremendous earth shaking good news that rolled forth. Words of a divine messenger had been heard. The world could never be the same. These words are revelation even now to us, and press us into the act of repeating them…

Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 
 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you." 
 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Hail!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

Of Angels and Empty Tombs…
Amid the dark times for the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus, on that Sunday morning occurring after the Hebrew Sabbath had ended, the women who had followed Jesus during his ministry… walked toward his tomb. We can safely assume it was not a joyful journey. They knew only of doing the business of burial as usual. You see, in the rapid storm of the crucifixion proper respectful grief for the death of Jesus had not been expressed. They were in thus walking in the dark, bent on accomplishing that which was expected.., that which was religious. The grave site as they arrived, however, was not found as expected. Indeed, the place to which they arrived was to be brought far from the death-laden remorse expected. It was to become alive and thunderous!
 The scene they saw became unsettling as they came upon the grave. As witnessed in Matthew, a thunderous earthquake first shook the place. The tomb was opened by an angel. It opened not apparently to allow Jesus to exit, but to rather reveal to them that the grave could not hold him. They were to clearly see the “Vacancy” sign!.
 Like the “young man in white” as described in the earlier written Markan gospel, the angel was clothed like one in lightning…in startling brilliance. But unlike other gospel records, he sat alone upon the rock. He shockingly appeared before them, sent from heaven to say that the tomb was empty.
 The angelic messenger thus appeared to them in brightest drama. The revelation he made was such that the brightest light previously known could not describe it. God’s whole point about the divine power over death was being made to the witnesses. It was revealed that death does not have eternal hold. The angel, therefore, came as someone whose task was to tell of this great importance. His powerful presence made even the guards reel back in fear. The women were very afraid. They all, both women and guards may have cowered, wondering greatly from their hiding places. The soldiers were taken aback, frightened. Some of them, likely dropping useless weapons, ran to tell the religious authorities. The tomb was indeed empty. As servants of the worldly they could not comprehend the reason.
 But the angel’s words to the women then gently prepared them for the revelation with, “Do not be afraid…” Beginning with this wondrous and comforting phrase, the messenger told them the good news and showed the open tomb as proof positive for those who would believe. Jesus was not there. The messenger of God told them exclusively… “for he is risen, just as he said.”
 The messenger then instructed the women to go and deliver that same good news to the other followers of Jesus. And as the witnesses went joyfully to tell the good news, they were strengthened in their purpose by the Lord himself. The Risen Lord met them, and commanded them to spread the gospel and go into Galilee. This last instruction was also meant to be heard in Matthew’s church as it gathered for the Passover message some fifty years later. Christ was risen, and this is most certainly the message expressed to the Christian churches in our own day.

Go into Galilee!
You see, what Matthew related to the people of Antioch in Syria, and through the power of the angels to us today as well… is that we are all called to go to Galilee. He promised the women and those who followed their footsteps… that we shall see him there. But I offer that we are to know in scripture that we are called to go not to just a physical lake, a city or a country village. We are not just to go to the seaside and stay there. We are not simply to rest in comfort in a small, quiet mountainside village. We are instructed to go to a region… the wondrous, watery region of Galilee!
 Go quickly they were told. Yes, for those first witnesses…, it was good to be there. It was worth a try to capture the moment. It was a good and desirous try for them to anchor the Risen Christ of God by holding to his feet. But Jesus would have his followers know that the servants of God have other work appointed. They, and we, are called to the public witness of God’s love expressed. This must be so for an outgrowth of communion with God. Galilee then becomes for us an existence far more than a confining earthly place. Galilee becomes for us a greater nation dispersed. It is a nation mired in sin, waiting for the Light which casts out darkness!
 Thus from the church of Matthew, I believe we hear a life saving message. We become a community that was, and yet is… brought into existence by the blessed waters of Holy Baptism to become apostolic. We are symbolized to be a people whose sin is drowned by the whole of the scriptural Galilean sea. You see, within the waters of baptism we are forgiven our sins though the power of the Holy Spirit. This is saving Spirit of the loving Father and his obedient Son, Jesus Christ.  We are thus empowered of Galilee! We are freed by baptism.
 In baptism God comes to us. We are joined with him! We share his life, death and Resurrection, and therefore share his purpose. Therefore, know this!  I thoroughly believe that Galilee represents the whole, baptized church. We are thus by water and the Word made his own. We become sent ones like our Lord Jesus was the Sent One. Therefore, we being beloved disciples of Jesus, shall witness in Galilee… in war-torn Syria, Europe, Asia, or the Americas. We are exhorted out of the darkness both by the bright angel disclosing Truth at the tomb, and our Lord Christ on the road. In the face of darkness and confusion we are called to cling to baptismal power given. We are called to witness of God’s love.
 Let us remember! The Law given to Moses had formerly condemned us as sinners to a tomb. But the tomb of death has been opened for us. Though the Law yet exists and we die, through Christ it does hold us in death. By grace of God the stone is rolled aside. The power of the Spirit reveals the Resurrection strength of God.
 The Law and its weighty traditions only serve to drive us out of darkness toward Christ, and these burdens of the Law today even yet drive others to seek Christ. Thus to offer us escape the penalty of the Law, the good news told to Matthew’s church reminds us of the promise made and fulfilled by Jesus. It is a promise that as we yet travel into the future to spread the good news revealed by the angel of God, we shall meet Jesus on the road.
 We are to understand that Jesus, as the Resurrected Son of God, is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Therefore, the message of blessed Matthew comes to us in this Easter season, just as it did to the women at the tomb. The Word comes as a Light shining for us in the darkness of a modern world. The Light shines truly to reveal the empty tomb and Jesus tells us at the last… to go ahead of him into Galilee. He then comforts us along our path with his Word..., “Lo I am with you always, even to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)