Lock-Down: The confining of prisoners to their cells after an escape or to regain control during a riot. A state of isolation or restricted access as a security measure.

kids behind bars

When I was in second and third grade, I can remember having drills where we would go out in the hallway, sit on the floor with our backs against the wall, put our heads on our knees, and finally, put our hands on our heads. This was to protect us in the event of nuclear attack. I remember being afraid that if some man named Barry Goldwater got elected as President, there would be nuclear war.

I recently overheard my daughter and some friends talking about a lock-down drill that they had had in school that day. I asked them what a lock-down drill was. They told me that they practice what to do if a person or persons enter the school with guns and start shooting people. I asked them what they practice.

It goes something like this.

Two students are assigned to move the teachers desk to block the door. One student is assigned to turn off the lights. The other students then pile desks and/or chairs on the teacher’s desk (they don’t actually practice this part). Then they all go to a corner of the room, out of line of the door, and stay on the floor away from all windows. They are allowed to call and text out. My daughter told me I would be the first person she would text. I asked her to call just to make sure she got hold of me quickly.

My daughter goes to a vocational high school, so she and her friends then calmly discussed the advantages of being trapped in one of the shop areas instead of in one of the classrooms. The shop areas have back doors and the shop teachers have told them that they can try to escape into the woods as long as they know the shooter(s) are on a different floor.

They discussed which would be better, running out one at a time? If they did, they would have to draw straws to see who would go first, as someone could be waiting outside. The first one out would probably get shot. Or, would it be better to all run out at once and run as a pack to the woods? Or, is it better to all run out at once and scatter in different directions?

I was standing there calmly going through the motions of getting dinner ready,

listening,

calmly,

while inside my head I was, well…

I was keening…

I was weeping with Rachel for all our children.

Weeping…

…for all God’s children.

Sermon: The Beautiful Gate

beggar at the gateLuke 24: 36 – 43
Acts 3: 1 – 10

A man who has been crippled all his life, sits begging outside the Beautiful Gate. He sits outside God’s house, begging for alms, pennies, or the smallest mites. Are his withered legs tucked up under him so as not to put people off? Or, are they stretched out, useless sticks stuck out in front of him…to encourage people to send some coins his way?

We don’t know who brings him to the Temple every day. They leave him outside, as they continue on their way into God’s house to pray and make offerings, asking God for forgiveness, for God to notice them and their problems, asking God to free them from oppression, to bless their families and children…all the things we ask God to provide for us. Then they leave, walking briskly past the man who has been crippled all his life, and they go about their busy day…

Although scripture doesn’t tell us who, someone must return in the evening to move the man crippled from birth to wherever he might be able to find shelter for the night. Or, simply to move him somewhere away from the closing Temple gates…somewhere to huddle until morning, when he will get carried back to beg outside God’s house.

Peter and John are about to enter the Temple and the crippled man asks them for alms. And like Jesus before him…Peter looks…and Peter sees. Peter sees the person no one sees any more…the person people try hard not to see…

Peter looks and sees this invisible person…who has spent his entire life, on the outside looking in.

Peter looks at the man crippled from birth and says, “Look at us.”

Does Peter have to say this because the beggar has spent his life averting his gaze from the fear, or pity, or scorn, or disgust that he sees in the eyes of his neighbors streaming by him on their way to worship and pray?

Or is it worse than that…does he avert his eyes from the fact that no one even glances at him any more, erasing him little by little, each time they pass by, eyes straight ahead, pointedly refusing to look at him?

Has he become nothing more than part of the wall, not worthy of a second glance…not worthy of even a moment’s thought. Or, does he hold out his hand or a cup with eyes downcast trying to ease this most uncomfortable of human exchanges? One with nothing, begging subsistence, from one with plenty?

Peter sees the man crippled from birth and says, “Look at us.”

And I wonder if the crippled man spends his days, sitting with his eyes closed, imagining what it would be like to stride along with those endless streams of pilgrims and worshippers and enter with confidence into God’s house as if he belonged…as if he were welcome?

Does he sit and imagine what wonders and miracles must lie within…within arm’s reach…a few short… impossible steps away…?

Does the daily smell of the burning doves, pigeons, goats, sheep, and cows make his mouth water and his empty stomach twist and shout? Does the chink and clank from the moneylenders tables drown out the sound of the tiny pennies and mites that make their way into his cup?

Does he even own a cup? or do the few, small coins make a dull whisper in the dust as they are tossed onto the ground around him?

Peter and John look intently at the man crippled from birth, and Peter says, “Look at us.”

The man crippled from birth, fixes his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. What is it we expect to receive when we enter the gates of God’s house? What is it we hope for and pray for?

And who is it we leave behind, sitting at the door…sitting on the outside, looking in?

Peter says, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk. And Peter takes him by the hand and raises him up. And immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

The people gathered in the Temple, all those who passed him by, recognize him as the one who USED to sit and ask for alms at the beautiful gate of the Temple…and they are filled with wonder and amazement.”

Peter says, “What I have, I give you.”

What is it that Peter has to offer? What do we as Christians have to offer? Peter starts with seeing this man, eye to eye..person to person…He offers a smile and a kind word. He offers acknowledgment of this man’s existence.

He offers the man crippled from birth, a hand up…compassion, and healing…in the name of Jesus. He offers witness to Jesus presence and power. He offers him the touch and power of the Holy Spirit and he transforms a crippled man’s life. And they walk into God’s house, together!

“What I have, I give you.”

What do we have that we can give to those left to beg at the gates? What do we have to give to others? Not what do they have to help us? It’s time to stop asking who is going to come and save us and our church and to start asking, “Who can we reach out to and save, in Jesus name?”

This is a part of our discernment process right now, to evaluate not what we need, but what we have to offer. This is a time to examine our skills, our interests, our assets, our finances, our building, and even our contacts and relationships in the community, in order to discover what we have to give. And then we need to discern, who most needs what we have to offer.

Who is invisible in our community that we need to notice? Who is waiting for us to see them? Who can we best serve? Right here in our town…right here in our neighborhood. Who can we reach out and touch in Jesus name? Who can we take by the hand and raise up?

There is quite a list to choose from: The homeless population in Massachusetts has increased faster than in any other state in the nation…even as overall homelessness in the country declines.

The Mass Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates that 9,493 high school-aged students in public schools are experiencing homelessness on any given day in Massachusetts. What about grade-school and elementary children, they aren’t even included in that estimate? I’ll bet they’re feeling hungry and scared. Do we have something to offer them?

One of our members is deploying on May 1st and we have promised to keep an eye on his family and help support them while he is gone. What about other families who have loved ones serving over seas? Do we have something to offer them?

Our Veteran’s are returning home with physical, mental, and emotional problems and the suicide rate and divorce rates among returning Vets is increasing at an alarming rate. 22 Veteran’s take their lives every day.

We have two Veteran’s hospitals within five minutes of this church. Those Vetarans are our neighbors. I’ll bet many of them are feeling alone and abandoned. Do we have something to offer them?

There are single parents, struggling to make ends meet, juggling multiple jobs, trying to take good care of their children, do we have something to offer them?

There are children and adults waking up hungry…and going to bed hungry. Do we have something to offer them?

The list goes on and on and the problems that we can see in the world can become overwhelming. That’s why part of our discernment is to find the one ministry, the one vision, the one calling, that best fits with what we have to offer.

Jesus appears among the disciples and says, “look at my hands and feet…touch me and see.”

Peter sees, reaches out his hand, and touches someone else. Peter takes a beggar by the hand and raises him up … And together, they enter the house of the Lord.

One, a man who stopped and reached out his hand in Jesus’ name. One, a man who USED to be crippled from birth, who now enters God’s house walking, jumping, leaping, and praising God!

Two thousand years ago, Jesus appeared among his disciples and said, “look at my hands and feet…touch me and see.”

Today, this day, we are now Jesus’ hands and feet. Who will we reach out and touch? Who will we lift up in Jesus name?

Peter says, “What I have, I give you.”

What do we have?

And who will we give it to?

Sermon: Heart and Soul

Doubting Thomas

John 20:19 – 31
Acts 4: 32 – 35

I went into the drug store this week to pick up a few things and I noticed that all the Easter products were on clearance. Chocolate bunnies with broken ears, bags of jelly beans, brightly colored baskets, “plastic grass”, and plastic eggs, all 70% off!

A smattering of stuffed chicks, bunnies, and even a random frog or two, looked at me hopefully from the nearly empty shelves. I could buy 1 and get one free! What a bargain! Clearly for the retailers, Easter is over and it’s time to clear the shelves for Mother’s Day merchandise.

For us Christians, Easter is just beginning! Having taken the long and challenging journey through Lenten darkness, we now bask in the glorious warmth and bright light of God’s Risen son! We look forward to seeing Jesus appear by the lakeside.

We anticipate sharing a fish breakfast with Jesus, and having him fall in beside us as we walk the road to Emmaus. We shout Hosanna and joy-filled Alleluia!

We look forward with anticipation to the Day of Pentecost when we will celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, present, accessible, and real in each of our lives and in our communal life together.

But for the earliest Christians, for Jesus’ first disciples, there is only the shadow of death and the mystery of the cross still lingering in the air around them. The tomb is empty! Jesus is gone! Mary has come to them proclaiming that she has seen their Lord, alive and risen!

And yet, they still sit in darkness, dis-belief, and doubt.

“It is evening on that day.” That day of discovering the empty tomb…that day of angel visits, that day of Jesus missing. It is evening on that day of fear and trembling …of Flight not fight. It is Easter evening, and the disciples are still hidden, still trembling, gathered behind locked doors. They are Still Afraid.

As promised, Jesus finally comes! Neither locked doors, nor the disciples doubt can keep him away! Jesus appears and now…finally, the disciples REJOICE! And again, I say, they REJOICE!

Jesus offers them peace and breathes on them with the Holy Spirit. Peace, after all the pain…peace, after all the suffering…peace, after the guilt and shame…Jesus appears and breathes on them…filling them with the peace of Christ which passes beyond all human understanding.

When he returns the following week, to assuage Thomas, he says, “Do not doubt but believe.” And these disciples whose many sins he has long ago forgiven, are sent out by Jesus into the world, to forgive the sins of others, and to proclaim the Good News!

Jesus appears to the disciples so they can finally understand what he meant when he said he was not their idea or expectation of a Messiah. They are learning what he meant when he said that he had to die, so that he could rise, so that the joy of life could conquer the fear of death.

He is giving them their final encouragement along the way, along his way, a different way…a road less travelled. He is laying the firm foundation upon which his fledging followers will build, the foundation upon which we are still building.

Jesus appears to them to bolster their conviction, to deepen their resolve, to give them what they will need to carry on without him. Jesus is preparing them to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, to open and strengthen their connection with God.

The Holy spirit isn’t a new thing. The Holy Spirit is at work throughout Hebrew scripture and throughout the Gospels…But Jesus is preparing their hearts and minds, opening the lines to allow the disciples, and us, to fully embrace and engage the spirit without a priest, without an intercessory, without a king, without an emperor.

Jesus is preparing them to connect with God and with each other through the awakening of their Spirit and to become God’s one heart and God’s one soul.

We see in Acts how the early Jesus movement is trying to create a new way of living and being together following Jesus’ teachings – they have created what today we might call, an alternative lifestyle…

It is a way of living together that flies in the face of Jewish and Hellenistic cultures which were based upon honor and community standing, prestige, accumulated wealth, patronage, and connections to important people in high places.

It actually doesn’t sound all that different from our culture today, where we too often measure human value in terms of “net worth.”

We are sometimes quick to value people based on their type of employment, which college they did or didn’t graduate from, what part of town they live in, the size of their house, brand of clothes, or the make of their car. That’s before we even get to the color of someone’s skin, their gender identity, their politics, their country of origin, and on and on it goes.

In the face of an unlevel playing field, the disciples, like Jesus, turn things around and upside down and they create a system of equality…maybe even better than equality…”No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. There was not a needy person among them…”

It doesn’t say that they parsed out all contributions in exact measure with each person getting an equal share…it says they held everything in common, no one claiming ownership of anything, everything shared…and not one needy person among them.

Their resources are utilized to take care of each person’s needs. That is very different from sharing everything equally. And there is a big difference between what I need and what I simply want or desire.

Taking care of people’s needs means making sure everyone has clean drinking water before water is re-directed from small communities for resorts and golf courses so that they can water their grass or spray it from fountains.

Taking care of people’s needs means paying a living wage, not paying based on our judgment of the type of employment. It means paying based on how much money a person needs to be able to afford decent shelter, food, clothes, transportation, health care, and the satisfaction of being able to pay their bills.

Taking care of people’s needs means no one going to sleep hungry at night. No one. Taking care of people’s needs means knowing when we have enough and recognizing and reaching out, when others around us don’t.

When our president talks about re-distribution of wealth, he isn’t being Socialist, he is being Christian. As we can see in our reading from Acts, re-distribution of wealth is one of the earliest Christian practices.

“For as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” The wealthy weren’t given special dispensation…they were called to share to ensure that all had enough.

Unfortunately, over the last few decades, we have become consumed with the supremacy of the individual vs. the Common good. We have forgotten our own motto…United we stand, Divided we fall.

Do you know what distinguished the earliest Christians? It was their generosity and spirit of all- inclusiveness…their generosity that flowed from gratitude for Jesus’ love and sacrifice, and God’s grace.

They cared for the beggars in the street. They brought food to those in prison. They healed and cared for the sick. They were thought to be crazy because of their communal sharing and generosity of spirit.

We human beings, sometimes forget we are generous by nature. My parents and millions like them got through the Great Depression because everything was shared. Our generosity of Spirit flowed after the terrible earthquake in Haiti, the tropical storm, Katrina, that drown New Orleans, and when Storm Sandy washed away communities in New Jersey.

Generosity of spirit sent firefighters running into the World Trade Center. Generosity of spirit and care for the common good, sent bystanders running towards the sounds of explosions on the day of the Boston Marathon, two years ago, this week.

We just need to remember in the plain old, ordinary events of every day, who we are called to be as disciples of Christ. As Christians, we need to find different ways of being together. We are called to turn things upside down and inside out. We are not called as individuals. We are called into community. We are called to empty ourselves and be of one mind, in Christ.

In her commentary, “Living Wages,” Rev. Denise Cumby Long, says this, “It is time for Christians to reclaim our vocation in the original sense of working for a fair and just society, where evil is named and oppressive structures are transformed.

Our work is to acknowledge the worth and dignity of those who work beside us, [not above us, not below or beneath us, not over or under but beside] whether it be in factory, field, office, or store. We work for the common good, so that we move closer to the day when we may all be “united, heart and soul, with not a needy person among us.”

Let us pray,

Loving God that gives us each day our daily bread, open our eyes and our hearts to make sure that our neighbor and our neighbors children also have bread on their table. Amen

Bles-sed: “Made Holy; consecrated”

donation bucket

One of my favorite signs of spring is the bucket men. I’m afraid I don’t know what else to call them. As the snow disappears, there is a group of black men who appear at a busy intersection near my church. They wear bright yellow and orange vests, their colorful spring plumage vivid against the not-yet-green of the still bleak landscape.

They carry large, plastic buckets that say, “Feed Hungry Children.” I don’t know who they are but I trust there is a good purpose that has them standing for hours in the cold wind, the drizzling rain, and the spitting, sleety mess we are calling spring this year.

They approach each waiting car with a smile and a cheerful wave, moving easily along the line of closed windows on either side of them. I imagine person after person staring straight ahead in their comfy climate controlled cars waiting impatiently for the light to change so they can speed along their way.

I always open my window as soon as I see them so they know they will find welcome along the way. I scramble for loose change in my cup holder or whatever bills I have stuffed in my wallet and I wait for a man with a bucket to come to my window and give me a smile.

Today, as I dropped all the coins I had through the rectangle hole cut in the lid of the bucket, I said, “You are one of my sure signs of spring! Thank you for what you are doing for children in need.”

He grinned at me and said, “No one’s ever told me that. I like being a sign of spring! You take care now! God bless you!”

Perhaps still raw from a hectic Holy week, some gush of emotion, some broken remnant of Easter Alleluia, came rising out of me all of a sudden, and my eyes welled with tears. Around the lump in my throat I said, “I can’t remember the last time someone blessed me, thank you.”

Suddenly serious, he looked at me from the cold, drizzling rain as I sat in my comfy climate controlled car, and he said, “Ma’am, don’t you let anybody ever steal your joy.” He leaned closer and smiled at me. And I smiled at him through the rainbow of tears in my eyes.

And the world stopped for a moment.

And then, bam! There it was! God’s kingdom!

Not in the handful of scrounged coins, or even in the bucket for a worthy cause…God’s kingdom was, and is, in that silent place between strangers who have just recognized that they are related…the silent place where you suddenly feel connected to someone else heart to heart…that sacred place beyond words where you feel the spiritual strings that attach all creation into one living organism…that consecrated space between heartbeats….that holy place of unexpected Blessing…

He leaned back and nodded to me. He tapped the back of my hand with his finger and moved on. I watched him through my rear-view mirror, shuffling down the narrow path between cars, waving and smiling. I hoped to see another open window welcoming him along the way but there wasn’t one….I watched praying…open, open, open…

Then the light changed.

It was time to move on…..

As I watched him carrying out his ministry in the world, in the cold and wet…I thought, “He blessed me?” And I thought, “Hosanna, blessed is HE…blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord with a blessing on his lips, healing in his words, and love in his heart.”

I drove off realizing I was driving on the road to Emmaus that morning…

…and I’d just run into Jesus with a bucket in his hand.

Sermon: Terror and Amazement

Copy_of_empty_tomb

Mark 16: 1-8
The first thing that God’s representatives say is always “Be not afraid.” “Don’t be alarmed.” “Fear Not.” Coming face to face with God’s emissaries, and realizing you have stumbled into God’s real presence should be terrifying.….and amazing.

Last week we read about a woman who comes to Jesus while he is having dinner with Simon the leper. She comes with an alabaster jar and anoints his living body with rich perfume and with her tears and with her blessings.

Now, in their turn, Salome, Mary Magdelene, and Mary, come. They come to wash Jesus’ lifeless body with their funeral spices and their tears. They come to tend a body broken by hatred and violence.

Their hearts are broken with horror and grief. Their spirits are exhausted and broken by the grueling vigil, and their faithful witness to the bitter end.

The women come with certain assumptions. They expect a rock they can’t move. A dead body to tend to. Rites and rituals to be performed to help them process the reality that Jesus is gone.

They expect to face the finality of death…the victory of death over hope…death over love…death over peace…and death, even over faith.

They are left carrying the weight of “What now?” They are filled with despair, not knowing what lies ahead. Overwhelmed by the belief that it is all over. Ended. Their hearts still reverberate with Jesus’ last words, “It…is…finished.”

They come, bent over by broken dreams, but what they discover is a tomb broken open. Where they expect the certainty of death, they find instead, divine mystery, and the promise of something completely unexpected, unimaginable, unfathomable…..and as it so often happens to those who follow Jesus, all their assumptions and expectations are shattered. Their world is once again turned topsy turvy.

-An immovable rock has been moved.
-A sealed tomb stands empty.

-And Jesus is gone.

A messenger of God awaits with news of great joy. He says, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

But all these women know for certain, is that….Jesus is missing….

The rest is too much for their grief-filled and exhausted minds to take in! Jesus has gone on ahead?….Jesus is somehow loose in the world? Unable to process what is happening, “Terror seizes them, (we know, the amazement comes later,) but for now, they bolt!

“They fled from the tomb, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Seized with terror they high-tail it and run away! Wouldn’t you? Tripping into the middle of divine mystery our “fight or flight” adrenal glands would absolutely kick into high gear…and we would be running right behind them. Terror first….Amazement and wonder comes later…

The ending of Mark’s Gospel is disturbing and dissonant because it leaves us with a difficult choice…to flee in terror or to follow in faithful amazement. In order to follow, we must first believe that Jesus has risen and waits for us. We must first step out in faith, before we can meet up with Jesus where he is waiting.

That is Mark’s challenge for us today. To believe first and then we will see – to step out in faith with the belief that Jesus goes ahead of us. The choice is ours. Will we flee in terror? Or will we follow in amazement? Or like the disciples, with a lot of both?

The author “Morna D. Hooker calls Mark’s ending “theologically profound” because of the paradoxical promise to believe first, and then to see: “Mark insists that we must finish the story for ourselves, by setting out on the way of discipleship.” [Weekly seeds:”Now What”, Kathryn Matthews Huey]

What does it mean to imagine that Jesus is loose in the world waiting for us to show up? To come find him? To come running?

Mark teaches us to step out into the uncertainty of each day with the assurance that Jesus is waiting up ahead…We must step out in faith in order to discover Jesus is in the world.

There is a tacked on ending to some versions of Mark that was added some time after that first Gospel was written, In that epilogue, Jesus does meet with the disciples, and leaves them this final instruction: “Go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation!”

We are called to run along behind Jesus and fly in the face of hatred, prejudice, and suffering wherever we find it…because that is where we will most certainly find Jesus.

We are called to step into each new day…filled with fear and trembling, terror AND amazement…we are to proclaim…”I believe….I follow….I witness…I have faith in the risen Christ!”

We are even called to stare down death, and live our lives of discipleship shouting, “Be not afraid!” “Fear Not!” Jesus has gone on ahead, conquered death, and he waits for us to believe, so that we can see.

Many of you know that I took a two – week Winter course at Andover Newton. One morning, our Professor shared with us that a dear, close friend had passed away the previous day.

As we all began expressing our condolences, he said, “Wait, I haven’t finished the story.” He then told us that his friend had been unconscious for several days, and everyone knew her time on earth was drawing to an end. But the previous day, while her husband and family were gathered around her, she opened her eyes.

She looked up towards the ceiling, and she smiled and reached out her hand to someone only she could see…..and then she said, “Wow.”

She laid her arm back down, and still smiling, she again said, “Wow.”

And then she closed her eyes and breathed her last.

With her eyes opening on what comes next for all of us, there was no terror left, only amazement. As she stared through the thin curtain between life and death, she saw into that place between “not knowing” and “knowing”,

…that breathless, heart-stopping place between “being” and “being something else”,

…that place where God works miracles of transformation – that place where something dies and something else is born –

She looked into that holy, sacred place…and she said, “Wow.”

-An immovable stone was rolled away. Wow.

-The tomb was empty. Wow.

-A young man dressed in a white robe, signaling the real presence of divine mystery, provides comfort and glad tidings of great joy to those women so long ago and to us today. Wow!

-Jesus has gone on before us and is waiting…WOW!!

Jesus has gone on before us…..What are we waiting for?

Jesus is waiting for us to spill out from the tomb running into a breaking and broken world that needs the promise of new life,

a breaking and broken world that needs the assurance of God’s love,

a breaking and broken world that needs the peace of Christ in the worst way!

Jesus has gone on ahead…

WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?

Jesus Christ is Risen! WOW!

Jesus Christ is Risen, he is risen indeed….WOW!

Let us pray,

Divine mystery, amaze and terrify us with your power, your presence, and your love! Send us running into the world to be your hands, and your hearts! Fill our lives with Hallelujah! Help us believe even when we can’t see! Fill us with the Wow of NOW! Amen

Sunrise Sermon: Mary Comes in Darkness

woman in darkness

John 20:1-18

Mary comes to the tomb while it is still dark.

Had she slept at all in the three days since Jesus execution? Had she been able to cry herself into an exhausted, dreamless sleep…or had she lain in bed…unmoving, as if dead herself…staring at the ceiling seeing nothing but those final, terrible hours…playing over and over again and again in her head…

Were her dry eyes burning, was her head throbbing, was she feeling nauseous and dizzy? Had she tried to eat something, only to discover that she couldn’t swallow even the smallest morsel of food because of the sorrowful lump of tears-still-to-come stuck in her throat.

Had she tried to erase those terrible images by trying to remember the last time they had all gathered, the last time Jesus had spoken to her, looked lovingly at her, that last meal they had all shared. Was she trying desperately to remember the sound of his voice, the sound of his laughter, his smile, his touch…

Was she counting how many seconds, and minutes, and hours it had been since he had breathed his last breath? Was she wondering how she could live through even one more minute with the pain of the grief that she was carrying? Was it as heavy as his cross had been?

Did the pain pierce her heart in the way that the sword had pierced his side? Was it her unbearable grief and emptiness that finally sent her running out into the night, running to his tomb, looking for all that she thought was left of Jesus?

Like Mary, haven’t most of us experienced some kind of grief or loss? Pain is certainly a part of being human, and haven’t we each had our share? For some of you…more than your share? Losing a job? Watching your children go astray?

Getting bad news from the doctor? Watching parents deteriorate or slip away into dementia? Watching loved ones succumb to depression or become consumed by addiction?

Haven’t we all had days when we have stood with our dreams in shambles feeling like our lives were over wondering how we could go on? Haven’t we all stood in darkness that had nothing to do with whether or not the sun was shining?

Mary comes to the tomb in darkness, shrouded in grief. The discovery of the empty tomb means nothing more to her than someone has stolen Jesus body. She sees the stone rolled away and can only think that she has lost Jesus again…lost him once and for all.

She runs to tell Peter and another, unnamed disciple, she cries, “They have taken our Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Now the two men set out running in the dark, but Peter lags behind. Perhaps his denials of knowing Jesus are still ringing in his ears and his steps are weighed down by his guilt and shame.

Is he afraid of what he might have to face in the dark bleakness of that night, as he now runs to Jesus tomb?

He isn’t the first to arrive, but Peter is the first one to dare to enter the tomb. It is the unnamed disciple who enters next and he “sees and believes…” Although “as yet, they do not understand the scripture…that Jesus must rise from the dead.”

You notice there are no hallelujahs, no cries of “Christ is Risen!” There is only confusion…grief…an empty tomb. And a Mystery…

The men return to their homes and leave Mary alone once again, weeping outside the tomb. She finally looks inside, and she sees two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying.

I can’t imagine the men wouldn’t have noticed two angels. So they must be there just for her…or does Mary see them because she isn’t looking for Jesus with her tear-swollen eyes, but with her aching and broken heart.

The angels ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” I always imagine that they are smiling and that they ask her very gently and kindly, because they already know and understand the joy of the empty tomb.

They are in on the big surprise, and they want to help her “see” the tomb for what it truly is…not an ending…but a new beginning.

Mary answers, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She turns away from them, perhaps to begin running again…running somewhere…running no where…trying to outrun everything that has happened….

She glimpses a man she thinks is the gardener…in the darkness with tear-filled eyes, searching for Jesus stolen body, is it any surprise she doesn’t recognize him? Do we always recognize Jesus when we unexpectedly bump into him in the dark?

Jesus says, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Mary cries out, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away!”

And then Jesus says, “Mary.” The good shepherd calls her by name. And Mary knows him for who he is.

Jesus says, “Mary.” And Mary knows him and she wraps herself around him.

Jesus gently says, “Do not cling to me…go to the others and let them know that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” The greatest gift that Jesus gives us is the assurance that God belongs to each of us and that we all belong to God.

“In the first creation story, God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden, from life to the knowledge and burden of death. But in God’s new creation, Jesus sends Mary out of the Garden rejoicing. He sends her from the certainty of death into the promise of new life.

She comes to the garden empty and she leaves filled with purpose. She is sent out to tell everyone that darkness has not overcome the Word made flesh.

She has seen her beloved Rabbi, and she now understands what she has seen. She has come face to face with Mystery. She has come face to face with God’s love in the flesh and in the Spirit.

She has come face to face with Resurrection and she can now rejoice and proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” And in that proclamation is the promise of renewed life through Christ’s message of hope, faith, truth, peace, and love.

Mary comes to the tomb in darkness and she brings us along so that we, too, can discover that Jesus waits there for each of us. She brings us along so that we, too, can come face to face with Mystery. Face to face with God’s love reflected in all those around us. Face to face with the Spirit always present with us.

It’s hard for us to see when we are lost in the dark. We don’t always recognize Jesus in our midst. But the good news of Easter, is that even when we can’t see him, Jesus is present with us. Even in our darkest days, God is working on our behalf even if we don’t know it or recognize it or understand it.

Mary comes looking for Jesus in darkness but leaves filled with light. The light of joy and hope and love. Mary brings us face to face with the promise of Resurrection and new life.

So on this Easter day, we join in spirit with Mary as together we proclaim, “We have seen the risen Lord!” Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!

Let us pray, O great light of all lights, in us you shine, fragile lamps you made to shed your light, lanterns you burnished with love! To you we say, “All glory!” To you we say, “All praise!” We join together with all your creation and give thanks! Amen

Slum-ber-ing: To be in a state of inactivity, negligence, quiescence, or calm. To dispel or forget by slumbering.”

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It is Good Friday.
I am sitting in a silent sanctuary.
Seven candles are burning on the Communion table draped in the black of mourning.
The door, usually closed and locked, stands open to the dank and drizzly day outside.
I sit within.

The door is my window to the world outside.
I sit waiting to utter Christ’s last words.
To extinguish the candles one by one.
To ring the church bells marking the time until the temple curtain tears from top to bottom and the earth shakes and the wind of God blows fierce through the world.
I am sitting in a silent sanctuary.

Alone.

I am hidden inside looking out.
No one can see me if they look in.
I don’t know if seeing me would discourage or encourage visitors
to creep up the stone stairs
and take a peek inside the darkened room.

I feel as if I am sitting in the empty tomb.
It’s not so bad.
I feel safe from the ills of the world, the dangers, the pain and suffering, the clamoring crowds, the demands for nourishment, rescue, and healing.

I wonder…am I trapped?
or hiding?

Am I dead?

I have been reading, and praying, and dozing off from a restless, sleepless night,
coughing and coming down with something.
Half awake, I hang suspended in that place between dreaming and wakefulness
That liminal place where mystery dwells.
I find I am in the garden slumbering.
Jesus suddenly appears and asks, “Can’t you stay awake with me, one hour?”
And then he is gone.

Gone.

The spirit is willing but the flesh is so very weak.

Outside, I hear footsteps hurrying past.
People in conversation seemingly with themselves although I know they are somehow
plugged in to someone, somewhere…or are they?
Plugged in, but are they really connected?
To anything? To anyone?

I can hear the delighted chatter of the birds celebrating God’s new day.
Chirping, croaking, whistling…the abundance of song is dazzling.
I hear the whispered pattering of soft rain on the pavement.
I can smell the freshness of the newly washed air.

Inside, the candles aren’t flickering, even with the door open.
Not a breath of air… not a breeze …
…nothing stirring….

Only the cold seems to find its way in…
making me tremble….tremble….tremble.

It is only by the open door that I can feel the promise of spring and new life.

New life.

Outside.

Matthew tells us that when Jesus breathed his last, “The earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After Jesus’ resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” [Matt 27:51 – 53]

And yet…here I sit.

Inside.

Have I not noticed that the stone was rolled away ages ago
and Jesus has long gone on ahead from here?

Gone.
Gone out.
Shaken off the sleep of death and gone out.
Out from the tomb.
Out into the world.

I hear the distant call of bells, sounding the alarm.
Is it time for me to wake up?
Is it time for me to go out?
To go out and join Jesus?

That is the question…Wake up?
Or go on dozing?
The snooze button is always so tempting.

Soon.

Soon the promised day will come!
Soon Jesus will arise!
Three days!
And all who are dead will rise up and follow!

We will!

We will!

Won’t we?