Faith in the raw. A United Methodist Certified Lay Servant (aka Speaker, aka Preacher) blogging the Revised Common Lectionary as a spiritual discipline, with other random thoughts thrown in.
On Twitter: @thenakedalien.
His followers hid in a small shuttered room: a room they had been using for the Passover time; a room where they had sat and supped with their Master one last time. They were wanted criminals - on the run; but they felt the human need for fellowship in a time of mourning. Lost! All was lost.
John and Peter had slipped in earlier, telling them of an empty tomb and of abandoned grave clothes. What could it mean? Were the Romans or the religious leaders removing all evidence? Mary had come in later, telling them that she had seen him preparing to ascend into heaven. He had left them again? All was lost.
Surely this was good news, that God had called his prophet to heaven in triumph over death? He had gone on to glory, but he had also left them behind to suffer the consequences of his actions. All was lost.
Suddenly, there in their secure crowded sanctuary, he stood among them. They only recognized him when he gave them his shalom: "Peace be with you." They were too stunned to reply "And also with you." They stood eyes wide and jaws dropped as he patiently showed them his punctured hands and feet - his opened side. When they understood that it was him, in the flesh, they were ecstatic! Again, he shared his peace with them, but this time as a preface to mission: "Just as I have been sent here by the Father for you, so do I now send you out into the world for the world."
When he said this to them, he breathed the breath of life upon them. "Receive the Holy Spirit," and Pneuma surrounded and filled them. "Whenever you forgive someone, they will be truly forgiven. But if you hold their sin against them, it shall remain bound to them for eternity. Yours is the saving power of love, forgiveness, mercy and grace, over sin and death."
As suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone. But they no longer felt lost. Hope had been resurrected. They believed that the Messiah had been raised from the dead. This was truly the Son of God!
Thomas had missed it. Thomas still felt lost; breathless. They tried to share the awe and the mystery of the moment with him, but they might as well have been speaking in tongues. "You say you saw the mark of the nails and the hole of the spear upon him? I did not. I can not believe until I've seen it so for myself - until I've touched these signs that my eyes so badly want to see!"
A week passed, seven days - a fullness of time, when again they all met in hiding in the same room. This time Thomas was among them. Again, the doors were all locked in their fear of the authorities. Again, Jesus stood up right there from their midst. Again he soothed them: "Peace be with you." Before anyone could speak, he turned to Thomas and smiled. "See my hands Tommy? Place your finger here and feel where the Roman spikes nailed me to their cruel tree. The nails from which I hung in agony. Reach out your hand. Stick it into the gaping maw left by the spear meant to test or finish me. You are mine. Do not continue to live in doubt. Believe!" And as he touched Jesus' wounded side, Thomas' deep wound from despair's spear closed and he breathed deep of the Spirit.
A sheet of tears covered Thomas' vision as he shouted out in joy: "My Lord and God!" Through his doubt, Thomas had discovered what had been overlooked by the others. Jesus was more than the Son of God, he was the Living God beside him - Emanuel.
"My son, you now believe because you have been blessed to see and touch me for yourself. Even more blessed are all those who have not seen me, touched me or heard me, and yet they still believe."
As the Father had released the Son from death's bonds, and as he had breathed new life of the Spirit upon each of them gathered there, so too will all who believe in him live a new life in his name.
Night lingered on as the low cloud bank camouflaged the coming day. Mist gathered into growing droplets, collecting into rivulets flowing down the window, creating a map of fantastical lands. Tall dark grasses were divided from the darker sky by an even darker tree line on a near horizon. The birds knew a secret which they could not keep to themselves.
Unexpectedly, the fiery sun found freedom above the earth's shoulder below the somber ceiling. The grass exploded before me like amber on a Baltic beach or bourbon magnifying the candle's flame. Soon, the clouds again intervened. Just as quickly as it appeared, the magic moment went. The prairie faded back to its preppy khaki and grey rain-coat attire.
Enjoy such moments. They are rare collectable ephemera worth treasuring.
Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
David said about him:
‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
(Acts 2:22-32; NIV)
It is important to:
Reflect upon our experiences;
Honestly evaluate our roles in events;
Reflect upon scripture that relates;
Sort out the prophetic word of others from the profane; and
It was still dark, but shadows were slowly surrendering as the sun cracked the horizon. The Sabbath was over and it was a new day dawning - Mary from Magdalene could get to work. The body of their Lord had not been fully prepared, nor given due respect. She rushed to serve him one last time, and got there before anyone else. The round door-stones in the cemetery's hillside looked like glowing eyes in dark brooding brows as first-light found them. But when she came to her Master's tomb she was shocked; someone had violated the sanctity of the tomb and opened it! The guards were gone. The tomb's dark invitation was palpable. She fled.
She ran to find Simon the Rock and her other friends and fellow disciples to share the news of this outrage. She found Peter and John and gasped: "They have stolen our Lord's body! Where can it be?" The two went to see. Mary followed.
John, young and lithe, got to the tomb first. He knelt down in the portal-way, but feared to enter alone. The sight of the grave wrappings lying there filled his mind. Finally, Peter arrived and stepped inside. He too was struck by the linens lying deserted. As his eyes adjusted to the cave's darkness, he saw something more. The body's head covering was not with the rest of the grave clothes. It was rolled up and put away neatly in its own spot! John too dared to enter, and his eyes followed Peter's stare. He saw and he believed.
They did not yet understand, but they believed. Scripture was still kept hidden from them - scripture that said Jesus must die and rise from it. They went home deep in thought, not noticing or speaking to Mary at the foot of the tomb's approach.
Mary wept in frustration. What had they seen? What was happening? Why weren't they outraged? Through her tears, she peered into the darkness. She saw two beings, all in white, inside. One sat casually where the body's head should lie, while the other sat where there should be the Master's bloody feet: "Dear, why do you weep?" Although a woman should not talk to a strange man, Mary looked him in the eye and spoke: "My Lord's body has been taken away! I do not know where to find him." After she had said this, she sensed someone behind her and turned her head. The man said: "Why do you weep? Who do you look for?"
Ah, the gardener; surely he would know where the body had been moved too! "Sir, if you have relocated the body from this grave please tell me where so I can take care of him."
Gently, he said her name.
Her heart flooded with peace and comfort when she heard her name on his lips. She faced him and squealed: "Teacher"! As she reached to embrace him, he cautioned her: "Do not touch me yet. The smell of death and the impurity of hell lingers upon this immaterial body for I have not yet fully risen - I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go! Tell the others the good news of what you've seen and heard. Tell them that I am ascending now to my Father - to their Father. Tell them that I am going to my God - to their God."
Later, she stood before the apostles, the disciples and all those gathered followers who were confused and in hiding. "I have seen him!" She told them everything she had witnessed. I wonder who came to their minds - Elijah or Jonah?
(Adapted from John 20:1-18)
So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.
Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life - even though invisible to spectators - is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too - the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
We could stand by helplessly and watch the genocide of our people, or we could allow a known trouble maker to be executed. When Judas Iscariot came to us, it seemed like fate - that this was ordained to be. A scapegoat dropped into our laps! God had provided a sacrifice in Isaac's stead.
Some of us from the Temple and the various rabbinical schools had been planning for years. We made the Emperor, his vassal kings and his appointed governors think that we would keep the people in line in exchange for power. We had been talking with a powerful brigand named Barabbas. He was following David's strategy, by living in the hills, inflicting what damage he could, raising troops and stockpiling weapons. The plan was for us to incite the pilgrim masses one Passover. As the Legions came out of the their bastions and encircled Jerusalem to keep the Pax Romana, Barabbas and his followers would sweep down out of the surrounding hills and mow the Romans down from behind. God is great!
But then, the fool warlord was captured in a raid. It looked like our plans were dead, with us to follow. He would not be able to long withstand the "questioning" of his captors. He would soon rat out his fellow plotters, and Pilate would crucify us all. We tried to get Zealots into the Antonia Fortress to kill him before he could talk, but no one could get to him. Suddenly, we were given a pawn to play. We went to the governor, and told him that this Jesus claimed to be the Son of God the Father (Bar Abba). This was the rebel leader Barabbas they wanted, not the petty thief they had captured! It being the Passover, we were able to convince him to let the people choose between the two. All in the name of keeping the "peace".
After the execution was over, I felt bad about what had to be, but we all believed that we had had no choice if Israel was to survive. It was for the greater good! That is the tough choice that a real leader must make.
Barabbas soon ran off with the treasure he had collected over the years. While our well reasoned designs all came to fruitless ends, Jesus' followership seemed to explode after his death with little or no leadership. As I handed Saul my cloak in the Valley of Stoning one day our eyes chanced to meet. I could see the fire of "righteous" hate in his; I wonder if he saw the budding tear in mine?
It was only later that we realized that it was embryonic scales that we saw in each other's eyes. But scales fall away with time. Saul's in Ananias' house in Damascus. Mine on my death bed.
There was a small family in Bethany of Judea that Jesus dearly loved. They had neither the expectations of family, nor the neediness of students. With Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, Jesus could relax and be himself. Their physical and emotional support helped make the physical aspects of his ministry possible. It was Mary who had anointed Jesus for his coming death with precious oils and tears.
The sisters sent a message to Jesus out on the road: "He whom you love lies ill." That's all. No mention of pending death. No plea for him to rush to Lazarus' bedside. Just a status update. A six word tweet.
Upon hearing the message, Jesus told his disciples: "Don't worry - His illness will not lead to death. It will lead however to God's glorification before your eyes. You will stand witness to the Son of God's glorification through it. Even though Jesus loved the little family deeply, he waited two days before going to them. He waited for the ripeness of time. Finally, to his followers he said simply: "Let's go back into Judea."
"Rabbi," they warned, "the religious authorities in Judea were just trying to stone you to death! Surely we're not going back there so soon?"
"Daylight is still upon us. Those who see the Light will not stumble, but those who see only darkness will live blindly. We have a friend who sleeps there, and I must open his eyes and awaken him."
"But Master, if he only dozed off he'll be fine!"
Jesus spoke as plainly as he ever had with them: "Lazarus is dead."
"For your sake, it is good that I was not there. If I had been there, I would have healed him because of love - to keep from losing him. I must go to him now, come with me so that you may believe." Thomas had no doubt about what to do. Even though it could very well lead to all of their deaths, he convinced the others to return to Judea.
By the time they arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had had been four days in his grave. Lazarus was an important man, and many of the religious leaders surrounded the sisters to console them for their loss. When Martha heard Jesus was in town, she left Mary at home and went to him. "Lord. If you had been here, my brother would still be alive. I know God would do what ever you asked!"
"Lazarus will rise again."
Martha had heard this blessing a lot in the past four days: "Yes I know - he'll rise again with us all during the resurrection on the last day. But this is of little comfort here and now."
"I AM. I am the resurrection. I am the Light. I am the breath of life. Those who believe in me will live beyond death. Do you believe?"
Martha realized that she had long suspected what Mary had always known: "Yes my Lord. You are The Anointed One. You are the Son of God. You are the Incarnate One: Immanuel." Then she joyfully ran back home, running like she once did long ago as a child, to share this epiphany: "Sister! Jesus is back, and he calls for you. Come!"
Mary got up and ran after Martha to Jesus. The Pharisees and the Sadducees followed, thinking everyone was going back to mourn at the graveside.
Mary collapsed at his feet, and clenched his legs for support: "Lord. If only you had been here, my brother would still be alive. Why weren't you here?" Her tears for her brother and the tears of all those who huddled together before him moved him. He was greatly disturbed at the Spirit that he had had to wait and leave them to face this without him. He joined them in their mourning: family; students; friends; villagers; Pharisees; Sadducees; all. All united in the fellowship of tears. Living water flowed.
"Take me to him."
Some of those gathered noted how much Jesus had loved his friend. But others were tempted to think: "Jesus was seen opening the eyes of a man born blind! Couldn't he have kept Lazarus alive if he had bothered to come when he was needed?"
As Jesus stood before the cave and its stone door, he became even more dispirited: "Move the stone."
Martha whispered to him: "Lord, the cloying stench of death behind that stone is overwhelming. It clings to your hair and clothes, and curses your nostrils for days after. Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Remember Martha: I said that by your belief you would see God's glory here today. Move it."
Jesus faced the gaping maw of the tomb: "Abba: thank You for hearing me. I know that You hear me always without my speaking it. But for the sake of all who stand here as witnesses, I say this aloud so that they may see Your glory and know that I was sent by You.
LAZARUS! COME OUT!"
And out he came. Hands and feet bound. Eyes wrapped in cloth. But the stench of death was gone.
"Untie him. Free him of his bondage."
Many of those who saw this believed ever after. But not all.
The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones.He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”
So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”
·What part of my life is dead?
·How does this speak to my country? To my denomination? To my local church or synagogue?
·What was the message to Ezekiel regarding his ministry? How does this apply to disciples today?