Rev. John Churcher: More thoughts on Easter, 2011
Reposted from the Progressive Christian Alliance.
American motivational speaker Denis Waitley said, “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept responsibility for changing them.”
I am convinced that Rabbi Jesus refused to accept the conditions of the corruption of Judaism by the Temple rulers. He also refused to accept the brutality of the Roman occupation. In these refusals he accepted the responsibility to try to change those conditions for the better and especially for the benefit of the poor and exploited. In this process Rabbi Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.
Once again I am convinced that Jesus acted out of deep sacrificial compassion. Rabbi Jesus went to Jerusalem attempting both to reform the Judaism of his day, and to confront the political and religious leaders with the choices that he had made: and his choices were to live by the Kingdom values of compassion and loving one’s neighbour [and that included the Roman enemy] and not to live by keeping strictly to the letter of the Jewish Law.
Jesus had discovered that the power of love was eternal while the love of power was transitory and passing. In this, Jesus had found something in life that was worth dying for.
Jesus came from Galilee – a hot bed of revolution. Even though the crowds had welcomed him on Palm Sunday, expecting him to lead the people in rebellion against Rome, Rabbi Jesus chose to reject the way of violence and desired instead the way of non-violent civil disobedience.
His way was not that of the sword. And when the people realised that his intention was not to attempt to defeat Rome by the sword, they turned against him. Instead, according to the Gospel stories, the crowd wanted Barabbas released – Barabbas the notorious rebel and rioter!
As Jesus ventured daily into Jerusalem during that last week of his life he had to make a dreadful choice. He either had to continue down this path that could end up in crucifixion, the Roman punishment for attempting to challenge the authority and might of Rome, or he could choose to go back to Nazareth and settle down into backwater obscurity.
Jesus made his choice to go on.
And as the disciples, both women and men travelled with Jesus into and through that last week, they too had to make choices to stay or to go.
I wonder how Mary Magdalene chose to understand the Good Friday death of her Lord and Master? I wonder how she chose to respond on the first Easter morning as she went silently to the Tomb? And when confronted by the Angel in the story, Mary Magdalene was presented with another choice: “Do I go back to the disciples and try to describe the indescribable, telling them and letting them think that I am just making this all up? Or do I go back and say nothing?”
And in the story of the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene made her choice: she went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”
The message was that the One who was dead is alive! That was the experience of the Followers of Jesus in the decades after that first Easter – physically dead but spiritually alive. And our Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus were all human attempts to describe the indescribable – that the One who was dead and buried was still very much alive in their daily experiences.
In my understanding and experience of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus was the breaker of all barriers that separate people from people and people from the God experience. And the final barrier to be broken was that between life and death.
That was the experience of the early Christian writers – an amazing situation when one remembers that Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome at least 30 years after the execution of Jesus. This was in the immediate aftermath of the upside down crucifixion of the Apostle Peter and the beheading of the Apostle Paul. The Roman Emperor Nero systematically persecuted all who were associated with the Jewish synagogue in Rome, and this included Mark’s community. Many of the Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus who were worshipping in the synagogue alongside those Jews who rejected the witness of Rabbi Jesus were thrown to the lions; others slaughtered by the gladiators; others tarred and burned alive like candles. And what is it that Mark wrote in response to all this? “Do not be afraid!”
Today we are not being persecuted as the first century followers of Jesus had been, but our shout of reassurance in this broken, incomplete and uncertain world should be a similar experience for each one of us today: “Do not be afraid!”
The story of the empty tomb will be for many Christians an historical fact that is unchallengeable. But for others the Truth of the story of the empty tomb does not depend upon historical accuracy for it to reinvigorate and encourage us to live by the qualities and values of the Kingdom.
The story of the empty tomb symbolises the truth and the reality that nothing can nor should separate us from the God experience coming to us in one another every moment of every day. The Easter story is not simply something to be remembered and celebrated at this time of year but it is a truth to be experienced every moment of every day.
Good Friday and Easter Sunday are not just stories and traditions from the past – they are to be our daily experiences. Ours is a Calvary experience every time we put the needs of others before those of ourselves. And the Empty Tomb and the Easter Sunday Resurrection experiences are not something for which some wait beyond death, but it are ours to be experienced everyday in the here and now.
As we die to self-interest so we are raised again to new life. Every little death to selfishness and superficiality is followed by a resurrection experience that makes us a little more like Jesus; it makes us a little more Human and therefore a little more Divine.
My constant prayer is that we will daily experience Jesus as found in the words ascribed to Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord!” But where will we daily see and find Jesus?
It will be in all those whom we meet as we go about our daily business. This is summed up in a wonderful line in Joy Dine’s hymn, ‘God who sets us on a journey’: “Love for God and self and neighbor marks the way that Christ defined.” And of course, to meet Jesus is to be found in the life changing and life enhancing values of Matthew’s Gospel [ch. 25:35-40] “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’
Denis Waitley, whom I quoted at the beginning of this sermon, also said: “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”
The empty tomb, whatever that was, is not just something from the past but it is to be lived and experienced today and every day. And no matter whether you believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead or spiritually raised from the dead, the important point is that we can all give enthusiastic approval to the joyful Easter shout of praise: “The Lord is here! His Spirit is with us!” Jesus comes daily to us in all those whom we meet – in those we enjoy being with and just as importantly in those we cannot stand.
May you each know the blessing of the presence of Jesus with you now and always as you make your choice daily to take risks of love and compassion for the Kingdom. Amen.