Sunday, April 20, 2014

Deo Gracias Anyway

Today has been a day of highs and lows. Easter is like that. The sheer exhilaration of knowing that Jesus is risen, couple with the joys and sorrows of life around us.

This morning I preached on a difficult joy. Not a giggly sort of fake happiness which people see straight through but something more enduring.

No matter what else is going on with us in life we can come to the garden and meet the risen Christ who will recognize us by name and make us shine with light from the inside out.

This is not cheap or easy. As I looked at my congregation this morning I knew that two families were mourning fathers and grandfathers this week, there were folks with all sorts of pains and emotions, some folk were missing and missed  because of out of state funerals.

But it is still true that Jesus calls our name and transforms us.  It is not about running away but rather about living into the person who we are

And there is gratitude in this. Gratitude that Jesus waits for me , calls me, transforms me not as a puppet of pretence but as a person who is good and bad, happy and sad but shot through with resurrection joy.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Vigil

The funeral service might seem like a strange place to start an Easter sermon but that is where the disciples as they entered the garden, found themselves.
Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant(s) with thy saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return. For so thou didst ordain when thou createdst me, saying, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” All we go down to the dust;

And until this evening, in the celebration of Holy Week, this is where we would remain.

But remember this is the dust we talked about on Maundy Thursday, not the sort of talk of dust which denigrates our beautiful humanity but rather the elemental nature of our human bodies, elements which Jesus transforms.

…..yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

It is not just in the elements of bread and wine which we find transformation in the Resurrection, it is in our whole selves – now it makes sense why Jesus washed feet and not bodies, this inward transformation is complete as the tired disciples make their way to the garden and find out, one by one, that they truth is very different from what they had imagined.

The grime and dirt of Good Friday had not stuck to them and they were transformed into Resurrection people.

I don’t know whether you have many of those moments in your life when everything just falls into place, when time seems to stop, if only for a moment, and all seems right with the world. Those moments are still moments, moments when we are fully ourselves and feel alive.
The story of the Resurrection is surrounded in the three of the Gospels by a lot of running and shouting. Peter, of course, his ebullient self. It is left to John to provide the quiet moment of realization, that whispered Alleluia to the risen Lord, in the story of Mary Magdalene.
I said last Sunday that we were on a journey into silence, the silence of an empty church which has become a tomb for a dead Christ. Then, early in the morning there is the shout of “He has Risen!”  But between those two things there is a moment of silence transformed – it is real, Jesus is alive and they catch their breath in wonder before jumping for joy.
The truth of the resurrection sinks into the disciples, just like any news, they have moments when they are jumping for joy, and moments where they whisper quietly, Jesus really is alive, He really is risen. It is real it is true.
The reality of that caught breath is an invitation to all of us. Just a moment of pure joy as we realize that we are invited to contemplate this moment of completeness even as  we explode into glorious shouts of praise.
We are an Alleluia people. We are people of the Resurrection, we are people of joy. Some people will feel irritated at that, as if Easter Joy is all a bit artificial. After all life may pause as the reality of the Risen Christ is revealed but it does not stop, everything is the same afterwards – isn’t it?  It is not a magic happy spell.
No it isn’t but Easter Joy is real and lasting.
Several years ago I was really down in the dumps and remember getting really annoyed at daffodils. The turning circles in England often have bulbs planted in them and in the Spring they pop up with their cheerful yellow faces. I was hurting and really was annoyed that these flowers had the cheek to be so peppy when I was not. I can imagine to folk outside the Church can look a bit like that at Easter, as if we are pretending that life it not really there.
But what we can fail to see in that is joy – Easter Joy is not about pretending that there is nothing else going on, it is about brining all of that stuff with us and knowing that there is a truth which holds onto all that and changes our dust deep inside. Knowing that Jesus is there in the Garden with each of our names on His lips – and that Him speaking just our name is enough.  It doesn’t Teflon coat us, if anything it makes up more vulnerable to things that go on around us – just like Jesus was – but Easter joy soaks into us, gradually fills us from the inside out until we begin to shimmer and then shine with the light and truth of the Resurrection.
The disciples did not all go and retire to the beach and take up leisure fishing,  they went out filled with this news to tell people about the experience of Resurrection and Resurrection Life. As we come to this Easter we must bear in mind that this is our mission as well. We are called in invited to contemplate the great moment – to let it sink into our dust like rain on the barren earth, we are called to bear Alleluias like a great river cascading through the desert, but we are also called to be a place where there is new growth, to become fertile soil.
But for tonight let’s just let it sink in, Christ is Risen, not was, is. This is not a memory of a happy moment but a present reality of the truth of salvation. Christ is Risen, really, really, risen. Alleluia.Alleluia. Alleluia.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday 2014

We left the disciples yesterday in the Garden of Gethsemane,  they slept on the hard ground, the dust chilled and settled for the night, inviting them to rest. Today we meet Peter in the Courtyard of the house of the High Priest. He looks at his feet – they are dirty again, and still speckled with the blood which he had shed when he drew his sword. What else was he to do – they were attacking Jesus – and especially after Jesus had said he would deny Him – Peter was not about to deny anyone, he was fighting to the end.
Except the end seemed to be a different one to the glorious battle he had imagined. Sitting in the baked courtyard, surrounded by all sorts of folk, laughing and singing he felt utterly alone.
Jesus, meanwhile, is questioned and the quiet dust of the night turns through these hours into the burning angry dust of the crowd. Jesus has become more than inconvenient, he is downright dangerous but, even in the moment of their victory, some of the Pharisees notice that this is not what they expected. That fool Peter had drawn his sword, but Jesus had reacted swiftly, somehow healed that man. Enough of this trickery! Jesus must die.
And so the night gives way to day and the dust rises with the heat. Dust mingled with sweat and blood, dirt which grimes itself into Jesus as he falls time and again under the weight of the heavy cross. Peter watches from a distance, his own face still wet with tears – but this is a dangerous place for anyone not fueled by anger, weeping and not spitting and he remains in the shadows.
As the heat of the day breaks they come to Golgotha. The ground here is baked solid, stained from death after death. When gusts blow, earth and humanity swirl together but the spectacle is just too much. Jerusalem is busy at the Festival and this is a good morning of entertainment.
John glances at his feet, remembers last evening, remembers the words and the betrayal. Remembers with a sob the laughter they shared, the light in Jesus eyes, those strange and quiet actions – eat this -  and, although it hurts, looks at Jesus, filthy, broken, naked. He tries to understand how these things go together, if I have done this for you runs through his mind time and again, this too? He wonders. What will become of them now – will the authorities hunt down the twelve, what about the women. Surely a mother may grieve.
Mary pushes through to the foot of the cross, the centurion pushes her roughly but then relents, he knows who she is without her saying it, John follows expecting a blow, but this soldier is different to some, seems to have compassion and John places his arm around the broken woman, her heart broken, she looks as though she had been cut in two.
They watch those final moments, hear strange and wonderful words. Almost feel the last breath as if it were their own. Mary stoops then, her strength spent for a moment, and John holds her, scanning the hilltop for some sense in the moment. The centurion looks almost human, their eyes meet,
“This man was the Son of God,” he says. Just like that, as if it was so obvious. As if that was a gift. He puts a ladder up to the cross and, as he had many times before, places a spear into Jesus side – he is dead and he orders that young soldier, who had been standing and jeering with his friends, to get up there and cut the body down.
The boy looks like he has been stung. Cut him down? But they leave them up there, examples, forget the religious sensibilities, the Romans are in charge.
“Did you hear me,” booms the older man, “cut him down,” more hesitation, “Now.”
John notices then the silence, the sound of the cords being cut and the nails wrenched out. As they hand over the body there is no memory of cleanliness. From the crowd a few familiar faces step forward. They barely notice it is dark now and it will be hours before they realize that the hilltop was now empty  - they would hear rumors about the Temple, about the dead being raised. Silence surrounds the procession to the tomb.

We can imagine the state the disciples were in by the end of this day, plastered in grime and dirt. I wonder what they thought when they finally got to wash – whether they pondered Jesus’ words. It cannot have been about physical dirt after all. There was something else.
Perhaps this is a message of Good Friday – in this day when we immerse ourselves in this story of Jesus we might also remember the grime and dirt of this world, but with hope. However hard we try, we will always pick up dust but we know there is another ending. We look forward .
Today though, let’s look at the world around us through the eyes of those who have witnessed a death, a crucifixion. Perhaps this dusty, grimey place of death offers us a God of possibility for those places and people and times in which we have forgotten what it feels like to be clean and put together.