Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Be Not Faithless...



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 in the garden. Here, we join the account that now stressed to first century readers concerning the Resurrected Christ Jesus. It boldly stated 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 tomb was found to be empty, Christians throughout the city were being systematically hunted down by those in power. Therefore, the empty tomb and its possible repercussions fostered a very turbulent time after the Passover festival. The upper room hid the shocked group as they tried to secure themselves from the Jewish temple leaders.
 Historically, Passover celebrations marked the prophetic sacrifice of lambs that had been killed to save those whom God chose to lead through Sinai’s desert wilderness. With the celebration over, crowds of people had begun to leave the city. The disciples, fearfully hidden, were trembling in like nature to those of the past… the historic Jews who were once imprisoned in Egypt.
 Suddenly the men who had been called and taught by Christ during his ministry were startled. Eventually they would step out of their hiding place, just as Moses had called to the children of Israel to march out of Egypt in times of old. You see, the disciples knew that Moses did not die in Egypt, but had died before entering the Promised Land of Israel. He had not been raised from the dead. Jesus our Lord, had also died, and at that moment was not standing in their midst telling them to go with him to the hills.
 Then Jesus suddenly appeared before them. The words he spoke came to those in hiding. He spoke with calming words. A traditional “Peace be with you” (read “eirene umin” in the Greek) was given.
 These words must have echoed in some respect like the messenger at the tomb that had told Mary… “Do not be afraid”. The words invoking “Shalom” came out as asking for a peace beyond all understanding. But the words fell on fearful ears. It may seem now to us that resurrection faith was insufficiently held within them. Lest we sinfully strain to consider these words spoken in that upper room and judge our predecessors, we must intellectually imagine the impact of hearing the voice of one believed to be dead. They heard Jesus’ voice. He who was dead spoke!
 “Peace be with you…”, he said, and 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.., 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 was prophetically promised. Let us take due note however, that here at this point in the telling… is where John quickly changes our focus. Our writer revealed that not all disciples were there. John told that Thomas was not present. As readers and hearers today who arrive to the text untimely, we are brought into the scene. Those who now hear the news concerning an empty tomb, join across the centuries to understand the report.
 First notice that John told his readers the message of the empty tomb was difficult for Thomas. I think that many who receive the gospel report today can surely identify with this. Many persons that 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. Only through a gift of faith provided by the power of the Holy Spirit is the message captured. Certainly thus rewarded we accept how John’s churches came to understand. Know this! Faith to believe this miracle only comes from God’s Word as provided through the Holy Spirit. In this, as we search the Word, we understand that scripture declares scripture! Thus faith comes by the receiving of scripture. 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 historical stage was thus described wonderfully by John’s writing. The writer brought Thomas face-to-face with the Risen Lord, and as such, we readers become witnesses to the scene as well. The Truth is revealed! Immediately, the normative declaration is made, "My Lord and my God!" With exclamatory zeal, kingdom building is furthered.

Tell Truth!
When we examine the words of John looking for lessons for our own day, we need only look to the history of the church the latter years of the first century. John’s gospel was likely written c.85-95, as a highly symbolic telling. It includes rather sophisticated symbols of double entendre. Indeed, within 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 Hebrews who were gathered within the heart of the Roman Empire. His symbolic writing style pointed out in witness was subtly meant to attract upper, educated classes, as well as the lesser learned.
 We ask, “Were educated and moneyed persons confronted by the gospel witness?” If so, we modern persons may liken ourselves to those of that ancient world who had arrived in finance and education. Are we then not challenged also by this gospel reading?
 Some biblical authorities contend 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 as to 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 invited to highly recommend the Gospel of John. I especially contend that it be placed on the “must read” list of those who like a good book. When some say to us, “How is this thing possible…?”, surely we may 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 to tell the great story concerning the saving grace of Almighty God. May we pray that our Lord would reveal himself to us as prophesied, just as He once blessed his disciples with a seeing faith in the Upper Room.



 




Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Go and Tell...



THE TEXT we read for our celebration of Easter comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint John. This account, written in the latter days of the first century, brings to us the startling announcement that caused initial confusion for the disciples… and the good news through the Holy Spirit which brought clarity to the unfolding drama…


Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.
 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
 Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
 She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”
 Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
 She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-boni!” (which means Teacher).
 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
 Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18)

Chaos Reigns?
The scene at the Lord’s tomb immersed everyone in confusion. Guards and authorities trembled. Though Jesus had repeatedly told the disciples what was to occur, the women who discovered the empty tomb were startled and afraid. The men who they initially told, came with them to see… and left the scene perplexed. They quickly retreated into hiding to talk about the happening.
 Subsequently, it seems that none of Jesus’ followers could get things done in orderly fashion. First came denial. Some may have thought, "Who could believe these wives tales”?"
 The world was turned inside out and upside down. The women, those who were thought of in that society as property... were first to know... and not the men. In John’s telling we see that the men themselves even reversed proper order, as the unknown and unnamed disciple went into the tomb first, and the supposed leader followed. Indeed, chaos seemed to take hold. No one had previously done such as thing as coming back from the dead. The very thought caused tumult…but the evidence was there... the tomb was indeed empty.
 Our gospel writer, caught by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus revealed the Truth in near breathless fashion. The discovery was certain that the tomb was empty. Things like that did not happen… should not happen… but it did. Jesus, just as he had told the disciples… had been raised from the dead.
 After the men had left, tears fell from Mary’s eyes. They ran down her cheeks when the impact sunk into her mind. The body of their beloved rabbi was gone. She went into the tomb to learn more. Suddenly messengers were present. They told her that he had risen. And what is more, the tears and blurry eyes of grief that would not allow her to visually recognize Jesus…. suddenly cleared as he spoke. It was he who was, and yet is God’s Word from the beginning… who spoke to her. She heard and knew. That is the power of the Word.

Clarity Rules!
In that moment of recognition shared here by John and other Christian believers since the very first Easter morning, Mary realized the Truth that stood before her. Jesus, the Way the Truth and the Life… stood alive and spoke to her. In that precious moment, in the singular breath that remains as the centerpiece of all human history… he told her to go and tell the others. So she quickly ran to tell those who had retreated… those who could only mutter and wonder. She went and did so… telling them of what she had seen… and the world has not been the same since.
“I have seen the Lord”, Mary said to the others who were gathered. She boldly told those men who were afraid and hiding. Afterward, they and many others would see him as well.
 Thus we note from biblical history that eventually the report spread as the disciples wrote of it. We who now hear the gospel can marvel with them at the message. The Holy Spirit provides the power of faith upon those who will hear. That which was impossible is now possible. He who was finite is Infinite. The one who died innocently upon a cross is alive. Jesus, the Christ… the Redeemer who was lifted up on high, died so that we might be forgiven and justified before God. Certainly, Jesus is alive forevermore. He has instructed his church to go and tell others that he has Risen. That is what Mary heard. That is what the disciples heard. That is what we now have also heard, and we are to do the same. We are to go and tell others… He has Risen… Risen indeed.