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Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:1-6, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4 OR Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 OR Matthew 28:1-10

The lectionary gives us two Gospel lessons to choose from. Each tells the story in a different way. In John’s Gospel it is Mary Magdalene who comes, alone, “while it was still dark.” She finds “that the stone has been removed from the tomb” and runs to get Peter. He and “the other disciple” (John?) ran to check things out for themselves. (John 20:1-3) The details are explicit (vss. 5-7) describing “the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.” (The Shroud of Turin?)

It’s clear that the two disciples do not yet understand this as a “resurrection.” (vs. 9) They just turn and go back home (vs. 10), while Mary hangs around for the surprise of her life. A flash of angels and someone she thinks is the gardener interrupt her weeping. (vss. 11-15) She recognizes that it is Jesus when he calls her by name. (vs. 16) What affirmation comes from realizing that someone knows and calls us by name—the stuff of many sermons. We could also examine her response which is simply, “Teacher.”

Leaving John’s Gospel for the moment, Matthew’s Gospel tells of two Marys who arrive as the day “was dawning.” They experience an earthquake and an angel rolling back the stone and sitting upon it. (Matthew 28:1-2) That would certainly get my attention! No wondering about an empty tomb here. More like sheer terror. “For fear of him the guards shook.” (vs. 4) The women are told not to be afraid. Jesus “is not here; for he had been raised.” They don’t just stumble upon an empty tomb and walk in. They are invited to “Come, see the place where he lay.” (vs. 6) The women rush off to tell the disciples. While they are on their way, “suddenly Jesus meets them and says, ‘Greetings!’” Jesus shocks me out of my skin and all he can say is, “Hi”? It almost strikes my funny bone, like Jesus thinks it is a big joke to sneak up on the women and say, “Boo! It’s me! I’m here! Bet you didn’t expect this when you got up this morning.”

Two accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, and there are others. It’s no surprise that we sometimes get into asking, “I wonder what really happened.” The common element in both these accounts, though, is the instruction to get out of the cemetery. Don’t hang around here wondering. This isn’t where you will find him. This isn’t an ending; it’s a beginning.

In John 20:17 Jesus gives the puzzling instruction to Mary that she is not to hold on to him. Is our staying in the cemetery sometimes an attempt to hold on to what cannot be contained? In Luke’s Gospel the women are asked (this time by two angels), “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) Mary is go to back to the disciples with her life-giving message. (John 20:17)

I’ve always particularly liked what it says in Matthew’s account of the resurrection. Jesus is out there somewhere ahead of us. The angel says, “ . . . he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” (Matthew 28:7) Jesus instructs Mary to tell the disciples to “go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (vs. 10)

The resurrection is not something in the past. It is still out there ahead of us, to be lived into. Some have suggested that the church, God’s Love embodied in his people, is the resurrection that matters. If Jesus’ Love does not live in our ministry and mission and fellowship and caring compassion for one another and our world, what happened two thousand years ago doesn’t much matter. Sometimes listening to attempts to describe and define what happened in that cemetery all those years ago is our way of staying right there—in the cemetery—when Jesus is saying, “I’m way ahead of you, out beyond the walls of the church and cemetery. I’m walking along the roads of life on my way to places like Emmaus. Come join me if you want to know what resurrected life is about.”

While reflecting on this week’s readings, I kept thinking about a song made famous by the Carpenters. First written, by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams as a commercial for Crocker Bank, it rose to No. 2 on the charts and is frequently used as a wedding song. Although some may consider it a bit trite, it can perhaps also be sung as a resurrection song, reminding us that resurrection is something which begins anew each morning.

We've only just begun to live.
White lace and promises,
A kiss for luck and we're on our way.

Before the rising sun we fly.
So many roads to choose,
We start out walking and learn to run.
And yes, we've just begun.

Sharing horizons that are new to us,
Watching the signs along the way.
Talking it over just the two of us,
Working together day to day,
Together.

And when the evening comes we smile.
So much of life ahead,
We'll find a place where there's room to grow,
And yes, we've just begun.

Sharing horizons that are new to us,
Watching the signs along the way.
Talking it over just the two of us,
Working together day to day,
Together, together.

We've only just begun to live.
White lace and promises,
A kiss for luck and we're on our way.
And yes, we've just begun.

We try to be rational in our response to resurrection power sometimes forgetting at least two other dimensions of response—service (going “about doing good,” as Jesus is described in Acts 10:38) and worship. What do the women do in Matthew 28:9? They “came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.” On Easter Sunday, one can read the verses from Psalm 118 as a hymn of worshipful praise in celebration of resurrection love that endures forever. (Psalm 118:2) “I shall not die, but I shall live.” (vs. 17) In Jeremiah, the people finding themselves in what seems to them a bit like a cemetery, living in exile, are reassured by the Lord’s appearance saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

Even in Jeremiah that is not the end of things. It is a beginning. Rebuilding will get under way. Vineyards will be planted. (vss. 4-5) The people will participate in the work of resurrection, perhaps singing, “We’ve only just begun.”

So, as we celebrate Easter, we remember that “this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, as we move on down the road where Love is leading us. We’ve only just begun!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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