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He is Risen!

April 5, 2015

The Resurrection of Jesus: Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Will your Easter Sunday worship begin with those words as mine will? I hope so because that is the reason we celebrate today and it is the reason we journeyed through 40 days of Lenten ‘fasting.’

For most of my adult life, Easter has been, and still is, my favorite religious holiday. In part perhaps because it is less commercialized than Christmas. (It is, however, plenty commercialized.)

I love the music, which often includes brass. We have energy in our worship. We see little girls and boys dressed up, sometimes we still see girls in the white gloves and patent leather shoes, and hats in which my mom adorned me at that age. It’s nice to see so many dressed up in honor of this incredible gift God gives us.

While we’re all excited, maybe from the Easter basket candy as much as from faithful joy, imagine the excitement – and fear? – from Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Above, Matthew tells us “they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.”

Who wouldn’t, right? But I don’t think I would have wanted to leave him for fear I’d imagined it all. If only they’d had cell phones. They could have texted the disciples and stayed right there with Jesus. Today the news would immediately be all over Twitter and YouTube. ‘#HeIsRisen!’

Thankfully for us all it wasn’t anyone’s imagination. God indeed loves us so much that He sacrificed His only son, Jesus, and raised him from the dead to assure that we have eternal life.

Even on the days or years when life on Earth is hard and we deal with assorted pains and struggles, we can hold onto God’s promise. Based on our faith alone, God promises that physical death will have no hold on us either. We will spend eternity with God thanks to Jesus.

He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

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Lent Day 40

April 4, 2015

A rock. A boulder. Cold and gray, smooth and rough to the touch. It blocks the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. Even if I could push it away, my Jesus would still be dead. Only when he died, did others recognize that he was the Son of God.

Matthew 27: 50-54 (NRSV) 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Matthew 28: 62-66 (NRSV) explains that fear about Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead in three days prompted Pilate, the chief priests and the Pharisees to secure the tomb. Seemingly they weren’t confident that Jesus was just a ‘foolish man,’ yet they still didn’t recognize his might and God’s might.

Are we really any different? It is hard to wrap our human brains around this power. And despite our faith, do we also at times use a boulder to seal the tomb? To separate us from God’s power? Perhaps so we can ignore God or cherry-pick what we like about faith in God?

Maybe when we insert our human-made rules that we say we base on faith or the Bible, we seal the tomb. God’s rules are pretty simple. Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-11 NRSV). The greatest of these is love.

Matthew 22:36-40 (NRSV)

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Still, in our humanness, we continue to ignore His commandments or twist them to fit our needs. In doing that, I think it’s possible we continue to seal Jesus’ tomb.

That adds to my sadness on this Day Two of Jesus’ death. When, or will, we all – around the world – accept God and these simple commandments? Wouldn’t it make life abundantly easier for everyone?

As I pause today to think about Jesus’ death, I need to ponder what it is I can do to help make this change. I can start only with myself and with God’s help, I can make a difference. Like the tiniest motion that begins to roll away the rock, my change can help unseal the tomb.

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Lent Day 39

April 3, 2015

Good Friday

Today is that day in our church year that’s hard to understand why it’s called what it is. What could be ‘good’ about killing Jesus?

Good Friday worship always moves me and often brings tears. We strip the altar and cover the cross in black. In my mind, I hear the pounding of the nails into Jesus’ palms, feet and sides and I can only try to imagine his pain.

I leave the service in silence with my fellow believers. And at least until we get in our cars, we are with Jesus in his death.

For Christians today, of course, we know now that Jesus will rise from the dead in three days. Impossible to believe, really, but through our faith in God’s almighty power, we know that all things are possible.

We know, also, that God loves us so much He sent His only Son to die for us.

John 3:16 (NRSV) For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

In that we can see the ‘good’ in this Friday. We can worship in sadness and darkness today. We can mourn today. We can question how they could have killed Jesus.

We can do those human things because we are confident in our faith that God will raise His Son from death – for us – on Sunday morning.

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Lent Day 38

April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday. The day we remember Jesus’ Last Supper. The day before we go on to crucify Jesus.

As a kid, “Maundy” always puzzled me. I still know adults who think we mean “Monday” not “Maundy.” Maundy references washing of feet, which we believe Jesus did at the Last Supper.

I’m not a fan of feet. I barely tolerate my own. Baby feet are perfect, cute, pudgy and even if they smell sweaty, they’re still sweet. That quickly disappears in my opinion so I have no interest in washing others’ feet or having them wash mine.

My church and my home church include feet washing in their Maundy Thursday worship services. I skip those. I’d rather watch Jesus Christ Superstar, which has a beautiful Last Supper scene. I prefer that image.

No matter how you remember this holy day, we should all focus on Jesus’ impending death and resurrection that saves us all. Tomorrow we will mourn Jesus’ death and Sunday morning we can celebrate. Hallelujia!

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Lent Day 37

April 1, 2015

Mark 14: 43-46 (NRSV): The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”45 So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.

“Judas, must you betray me with a kiss?”

Jesus sings that question to Judas in the movie, Jesus Christ Superstar. Why a kiss?

Have you ever thought about that? It kind of changes the meaning of a kiss. All of it was too much for Judas who went on to kill himself.

How much do we do with a smile or a kiss when we may have selfish motives? If we’re honest with ourselves, we may not be that much different from Judas.
If we recognize that, we can begin to change our ways. Of course, we can only do that with God’s help. He is there to help us.

We can begin, or begin again, today to stop our sinful ways. Thank you, God, for Your unlimited forgiveness, grace and loving help for us all. Amen.

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Lent Day 36

March 31, 2015

Mark 14: 10-11 (NRSV): Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus

10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

Judas. Not a name with a positive connotation. How could he do what he did?
I would never do that. Or, maybe I just wouldn’t be so blatant in my betrayal. Is it possible betray Jesus on a daily basis?

When I take His name in vain, am I betraying Him? I say yes.

When I ignore the ‘least of these,’ am I betraying Him? I say yes.

When I am impatient or angry with my loved ones, am I betraying Him? I say yes.

What about when I ignore opportunities to share the good news of God’s grace and eternal life? When I don’t take join into a discussion with a group about why I believe and attend church when they all say they don’t get it and won’t spend their time that way? When I skip my morning time for devotions?

Yes, I think all of those are examples of how I am a Judas, even though I don’t want to be a betrayer. As I finish this year’s Lenten journey, I again give thanks that God loves me no matter what. His forgiveness is endless and His grace is mine through only my faith. Thank you, God, and please continue to be with me to guide me and keep me from betrayal. Amen.

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Lent Day 35

March 30, 2015

Holy Week has begun. This final week of Jesus’ life some 2,000 years ago. The solemnity of Lent deepens as we move toward Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

It’s hard to fathom, isn’t it? That our loving God and Father would bring His Son to us only for him to die for us. It’s the opposite of what most human parents would do. We would give our own lives before we’d give up our children’s lives if we had the choice.

I wonder if that was a hard decision for God. Of course I can think only in human terms whereas God has a much grander vision. Still, for even a moment did He want to stop this course of action?

We know that Jesus, in his humanness, wanted to stop it at one point. “Remove this cup from me,” he pleads. Then, according to Mark, immediately returns to doing what God wants, not what Jesus wants.

Mark 14: 32-42 (NRSV): Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

If only my faith was always so strong. It is not. I say I want to do God’s will when in reality I want God to want (and provide) what it is I want. Thankfully, He knows better and does not listen to me. Our Almighty Father loves us all and protects us every minute of our lives.