Rev. Heather J. Blais
On the day of Resurrection, most of the disciples were gathered together in one house. They were still mulling over the news that Jesus’ body had been removed from the tomb, when Mary came bursting in, announcing she had ‘seen the Lord’. Yet instead of rejoicing, the disciples got up, and locked the doors. They were afraid. Maybe they were afraid this was some cruel power move by leaders at the Temple, in order to finally put an end to the Jesus Movement. Maybe they were afraid that Mary, in her grief, had completely lost her mind. Maybe they were afraid that it was true. What does it mean to see the dead rise? What were the disciples supposed to do now? This information overwhelmed them, terrified them. Like children afraid of the shadows moving in their room at night, they closed their eyes, and pretended nothing was happening.
We can likely all relate to that feeling. Being so afraid of the unknown, of the possible effects of change, that we long to calm down our hearts and minds by simply locking the door and pretending this isn’t really happening. Yet when we are overwhelmed by our fear, Christ comes to meet us where we are. The resurrected Jesus appeared in the house, walking thru walls to get there. In order to help the disciples overcome their fear, he greets them ‘Peace be with you’ and then shows them his hands and side. In that moment, the disciples knew they no longer needed to be afraid; they rejoiced. Jesus responded to their joy by starting the conversation again, greeting them a second time, ‘Peace be with you’. He then commissions the disciples to go and be the Jesus Movement, breathing the Holy Spirit upon them, giving them new life in the process.
When we are unsure, and afraid, Christ comes to meet us where we are. Thomas missed meeting the resurrected Jesus, doubted it was possible, explained to his friends that the only way he would believe is if he touched Jesus’ wounds for himself. A week later, the resurrected Jesus shows up, just so Thomas can touch and see for himself. With God’s help, Thomas overcame his fear and doubt. With God’s help, we too, can overcome our fears and doubt. Because two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke to future Christians, by blessing us. He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
It is so easy to let fear and doubt overwhelm us, to keep us stuck in place, or even behind locked doors. Take a widow and widower who find one another after losing their respective spouses. It might have been easier to never love again. The widow and widower will always have a lifetime of memories and love for their former spouses that they will bring into their new marriage. Yet for it to be a joyful marriage, one that is life-giving and loving, neither the widow or widower can expect their new spouse to simply fill the void of their deceased spouse. They will have some things to work out as they live together and love one another.
The widow may have spent the last sixty Christmas Day’s at the family farmhouse, surrounded by her large extended family, while the widower may have been accustomed to a quiet morning with his former spouse. The widow may have kept the coffeemaker in one place, and the widower another. The widower may have used Scotch toilet paper, and the widow may have used Charmin.
The longer we have lived, the more likely we are to become stuck in our ways. So you might imagine, a couple that marries later in life, after having each lost a beloved spouse, has a few more things to sort out as they learn to share a home and make a life together. Yet there is no doubt in either of the couple’s minds, that this marriage is for the better. They know in their heart of hearts that they will be better together, loving one another until the very last.
As our two communities come together to become the people of Saints James and Andrew, we too must overcome our fears of leaving our former lives to create a new life together. A new life where, we too, will be better together. Just like the disciples gathered in that room, I believe the Holy Spirit is breathing on us as a beautiful new life unfolds for us this Easter. Just like the widow and widower, we will have to sort out what toilet paper we use, where the coffee maker goes, and how we celebrate Christmas. There will be unanticipated bumps, that we will work out as we learn to live together.
At nearly every wedding ceremony, the couple chooses 1 Corinthians 13 to be read because it beautifully captures just what love is supposed to look like. Yet Paul was not writing to a couple in love, he was writing to the church. He was telling us, the body of Christ, that love is patient, that love is kind. He was calling on us to be generous with one another, hospitable, showing one another kindness, love, and respect as we create a life together.
Only God knows what ministry, mission, and spiritual growth will unfold as we come together to become one new parish. Yet, I assure you, I have never felt more joyful, more hopeful for our future than I do today. I have never felt more respect, and admiration for your faith and courage as the people of God.
As we begin our life together today, let us remember Paul’s words for the church: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
How does the empty tomb change us? Today’s gospel shows us how three of Jesus’ followers are impacted and changed by the empty tomb. Their journey of transformation is much like the process of metamorphosis, like tadpoles on their way to becoming frogs. In fact, let’s look at the gospel with that life cycle in mind, because it helps to illustrate how Peter, the narrator, and Mary’s are at different stages of understanding and discipleship.
Now these disciples are not complete newbies. They have already given up their lives to follow Jesus, even before they fully realized what that would mean. If they were born to be frogs, they have already hatched as eggs and become tadpoles clinging to nearby water plants. When they chose to follow Jesus, they developed the external gills needed for breathing. As they traveled with Jesus, they were further changed: their tails kept on growing, hind legs began to appear. They are still water creatures, but they are closer to becoming land creatures.
Upon learning of the empty tomb, Peter finds himself mid-metamorphosis as front legs begin to appear, but his long tail remains. He races to the tomb with the narrator, painfully aware that two nights ago, he denied his Lord three times. He inspects the tomb, observing the linens on the ground, but is unsure of what it means, so he returns to the house where the disciples are staying. Later, when Mary comes to the house a second time, this time claiming to have seen the Lord, he and the other disciples will hide in the house, afraid. Like a tadpole changing from a fishlike form to a frog, he is reluctant to leave the water; honestly he’s just not ready yet, but soon he will be.
The narrator is a bit ahead of Peter in his own metamorphosis, with his tail having already become a bit shorter. While the narrator joins Peter in racing to the tomb, when he reaches the tomb, he hangs back. It's as though he remembers Jesus’ words that the disciples are to be servants, not contenders in a race to be the greatest disciple. He remembers his job, is not to lead Jesus’ flock, but to care for Jesus mother, Mary. So he shows respect to Peter, by waiting outside the tomb while Peter runs in to investigate. While the narrator believes Mary’s testimony, he doesn’t yet understand that Jesus has risen from the dead. John is lifting his head above water, but is still not quite ready to hop out.
Mary is like a young frog, fully out of the water, yet still changing; eager and ready to become an adult frog. She earnestly waits for Sunday morning to arrive, when the Sabbath will be over and she’ll be able to visit the tomb. Yet when she arrives, she finds the tomb empty and runs to tell the other disciples. After Peter and the narrator left the empty tomb, Mary remains, holding vigil, weeping. As she bent over to look into the tomb, she notices two angels who ask why she is weeping. A bit startled, she explains someone has taken Jesus away, and laid him elsewhere. In a flash, the angels are gone, and she sees another stranger, this time a man she supposed to be the gardener, and he asks her why she is weeping. She explains again: Jesus has been taken away and laid elsewhere, does the stranger know where? Yet when the stranger calls her by name, she immediately realizes this was no stranger, but the risen Lord, who instructs her to go and tell the other disciples.
Like Peter, the narrator, and Mary we are all in our own metamorphosis as the empty tomb impacts us in different ways, depending on where we are in our relationship with God. If you had to describe your relationship with God by pointing to one of the life stages in the metamorphosis from a fish like form to an adult frog, where would you be? If you are early on in your metamorphosis, you likely hope that resurrection is real. You hope that God loves you and forgives you for your mistakes, but you still aren’t quite sure whether it is really possible. Honestly, you don’t spend much time thinking about it all, and it doesn’t have much impact on your daily life. If you are a young frog, you believe with all your being that Jesus is the Christ. The resurrection has changed everything for you, and guides the way you live your daily life. If you are an adult frog, you have spent much of your life in service to God. The Good News of the resurrection has defined and shaped who you are as a person. You have mentored other, newer Christians as they seek to find their way. You’ve encouraged them to lift their heads out of the water and hop onto land.
Several years ago, someone came up with a saying, that got way over commercialised and made to be a bit cutesy, yet there is a deep truth behind it-so let us ignore the cutesy. F.R.O.G. can not only symbolize our metamorphosis as we seek to follow Jesus, but also is an acronym of how to live our lives as followers of Jesus: Fully Rely on God. Has the empty tomb led you to fully rely on God yet?
Wherever you are on your journey know that God is there with you, delighting in your metamorphosis. Know that unlike a real frog’s metamorphosis, sometimes life events will send us backwards a step or two, and that is okay. The process of metamorphosis is a reminder within nature that resurrection is all around us, and it changes everything. When have you experienced metamorphosis? When have you experienced resurrection? This Easter, we are invited to see the world with eyes changed by the resurrection--a world that Jesus has turned upside down and inside out. Amen.
By Jason Burns
Matthews version of the resurrection story is short, which means he is a man after my own heart because he just gets to the point. Angel comes, angel opens tomb, angel says, Jesus has been brought back from the dead and you will find him in Galilee. Jesus appears and confirms this and then the work begins. Simple? right?
My most favorite phrases in Matthew’s account of the resurrection are “rolled back the stone” and “he has been raised from the dead and indeed is going ahead of you…” The stone at the mouth of the tomb was nothing more than an attempt by the authorities to make sure that no funny business occurred; they wanted to make sure that their attempt to destroy the idea of Jesus didn’t blow up in their faces by his body being stolen and used for some symbolic purpose. What they didn’t know, because they didn’t listen Jesus or any of their prophets, was that their puny attempts to control the situation were pointless. Their attempt to control the situation stemmed from their own need and desire to exercise power and remove what they perceived as a threat to that power. The boulder placed in front of the tomb really had just one purpose, which was to seal the tomb. There should have been no reason the tomb ever needed to be opened except to prove that Jesus wasn't in it, but knowing the disciples, who, more often than not, just didn’t get it, it was important that the tomb be opened as evidence that Jesus was not there. I often point out that the disciples didn’t really seem to understand much of what they were told by Jesus, and because of that some people might think that I believe they were some sort of idiots, but that would be an inaccurate assessment of my opinion of them. The truth is that they were human, just like you and me, and they were trying very hard to figure out what Jesus was asking them to do. Keep in mind that they didn’t have anyone to interpret what Jesus was saying, we have the benefit of 2000 years of interpretation and we still struggle to understand it, so imagine what it would have been like after having heard it for the first time. To the disciples, the empty tomb represents pain, loss and fear; but to us, 2000 years later, it can and should represent so much more. It represents not only the defeat of death, but also the expansive forgiveness and love of God. The promise of Christianity is rooted in the fact that death holds no power over us and the reason it holds no power over us is because God has given us everything we need to beat it. The purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to give us the knowledge necessary to overcome our sin, and he kept that lesson simple, “love each other as I have loved you”. These eight simple words are the most powerful, and yet the most deceptive, words in all of scripture, at face value it sounds easy, if we love each other, our spirit, our soul, our inner essence will live forever and someday be resurrected. We get a glimpse of what that looks like with the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Upon the death of his human body the power of God returns in the form of the resurrected Jesus and he begins the next stage of his ministry.
When I began this roaming journey of a sermon I said that I liked the phrase “he has been raised from the dead and indeed is going ahead of you…”. The reason I like this phrase is not just because of the raised from the dead part, but the “going ahead of you” part. After being raised Jesus didn’t stick around to flaunt it in the faces of the priests and scribes, he got to work. In fact, he didn’t even stick around to tell his friends the good news, he went straight to Galilee, which is 70 miles away and went right back to what he was doing before he was killed.
As modern followers of Jesus we need to look to not just what he said, but also to his example for guidance in our daily lives. His death and resurrection have opened the tomb of our hearts to Gods love and has empowered us to carry on the work Jesus began. We are a resurrection people, which means that we don’t need to worry about what happens to us after we die, so we can focus our attention on the here and now, which, you know, needs a little work.
Jesus never stayed in one spot for very long, he moved around because he had a big job to do. He didn’t worry about what other people thought; he didn’t worry about whether he had the time to do anything, he just did it. He didn’t let his humanness get in the way of God’s work. He didn’t let the stone sit on his heart like a tomb. He opened himself to everyone and allowed Gods love to flow unimpeded and that is exactly what he told us to do.
I would argue that as much as we celebrate the rolling back of the stone, we still don’t fully understand what that symbolic action means and we spend most of our time rolling the stone back into place because that is easier than leaving the tomb open and trying to explain why it is empty. It is empty because nothing can contain the love of God, no matter how much we might try to keep it hidden, it is going to leak out, so why not just roll back the stone and go. Don’t roll it back and sit on it; don’t be like the angel telling people where Jesus went, be like Jesus and go tell them yourself and if you really need to, use words. Jesus worked hard to free us from ourselves; he worked hard to get us to understand that being a faithful follower of God is only difficult if we make it that way; he worked hard to show us that loving people through actions is far easier than telling them; and he worked hard to unblock the tomb of our hearts by rolling back the stone, so don’t roll it back into place! Don’t roll it back by refusing to smile to strangers; don’t roll it back by not saying good morning to everyone you meet; don’t roll it back by refusing to fight for justice. Smile to those strangers, say good morning and wait for their response and see what happens.
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