The angels at the tomb said it best: “Why do you seek the living among the dead.”
The women had walked to the tomb on Sunday morning, presumably to properly treat Jesus’ body that had been the victim of a hasty and improper burial three days earlier. They met something they did not expect.
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
The women did not remember the words of Jesus, the words that promised he would return within three days of his crucifixion. Jesus was dead. They witnessed the tragic execution and the burial. The bold predictions of their master were just no match of systems of power and Roman brutality.
And yet, there it was – an empty tomb where Jesus body had been laid.
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
Why is it that we put our faith in all the wrong things? The important things in life are all things that will die, or can be taken away from us. We seek life in our money, our homes, our jobs, our reputations, our governments, our machines, our weapons, our prejudices and our hate. The angels ask us – Why do you seek the living among the dead?
The power of the Resurrection is this – that Christ be the one that you look to for life – the Christ that lived, taught, died and overcame death. The Christ that lives for others, the Christ that loves, the Christ that serves, the Christ that sits with us in our pain and suffering.
The Christ that does not live among the dead!
Devotions for Week of March 27, 2016
Blood dyed red the ground where he had kneeled.
Dripping from the brow so clenched with care.
Wanting freedom from the suffering now revealed
While toward his dear ones loving and aware.
He rose from prayer now strengthened by devotion.
While foes amassed prepared with swords drawn high.
To quell a movement misguided by a notion.
To bind God shackled, sentenced now to die.
His followers were quick to rise and fight.
Still clinging to their sense of what was true.
But Christ would not accept more death this night.
He said “no more” I won’t lose one of you.
For love our Master left us for the cross.
For love we now give honor to his loss.
Today is Maundy Thursday. On this day we remember the events of Jesus’ last night before his execution on Good Friday. I grew up thinking that somehow Monday had become Thursday in Holy Week, until I learned the real significance of the name “Maundy”. This word is related to the common word “Mandate”, and the mandate we remember on this day is Jesus command to “Love One Another”.
It’s a love Jesus modeled for us, by offering a celebration of remembrance and thanksgiving that we observe each time we partake in Holy Communion. It’s a love Jesus modeled for us when he knelt down in front of his disciples and washed their feet as a symbol of how far we should go to love one another. It’s a love Jesus modeled for us when he gave up his life for us – naming it the greatest love a human could have.
It’s also the love he showed for Peter, who despite claiming he would go “all the way” with his Master, fell well short of the mark, and abandoned Jesus in his hour of greatest need. Jesus, knowing Peter would not travel all the way to the cross, told Peter “when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers”. This is a powerful message for discipleship in a church that so often speaks loudly, but fails to go “all the way” with Christ. It’s a message of love and forgiveness, acknowledging that none of us will ever be perfect disciples. We will fail, time and time again, to worship Christ as we ought, to serve others as we ought, to love the world as we ought, and even to give our lives as we ought.
We will fail to go “all the way” with Jesus. But that never means ultimate failure. When we are turned back by hate, fear, blindness, injustice and death, Jesus wants us to use those experiences to strengthen each other, to gather with each other around the cross and remember Christ’s ultimate sacrifice; to remember the master who knelt and washed the feet of his servants; to remember the simple command to “Love One Another”.
That, my friends, is going all the way with Jesus.
Right at the end of Luke’s Palm Sunday report, there is a short, but meaningful exchange between Jesus and Jerusalem’s religious leaders. It’s easy to overlook since the main focus of the story is the grand parade and spectacle that marked Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem. Made to feel threatened by the mass adulation of this new Messiah, the Pharisees asked Jesus to call the celebration to a halt. In response Jesus makes the statement “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would cry out.”
It’s an arrogant statement, on its surface, and one that if uttered today, would undoubtedly be dissected by modern news media for its lack of political correctness, and for the sheer hubris it seemingly reflects. We would be subject to relentless sound-bites of this statement on late night talk shows. We might be wondering if Jesus was fit for leadership.
While Jesus was certainly a charismatic and confident leader, Jesus’ was not making a claim about himself, but about the inevitability of the Kingdom of God rising up and changing a world that had grown out of balance. It was a confession of faith in a God that promised reconciliation and restoration with God’s people. It was a movement that had become so strong, so connected to God’s ways, that no amount of force would be able to keep it from growing.
There is another inevitability contained in this statement as well. Jesus was referring to himself – telling the Pharisees that even if he, himself were silenced, there would still be voices to shout Hosanna, to speak truth to the powerful, to advocate for the poor, and to represent the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus knew the inevitable – that his journey to the cross would ultimately unleash an even more powerful force. One that would overtake the ruling empire, despite the decades of persecution that would follow. One where the stones would cry out far after the death of this Messiah.
We are the stones that Jesus was referring to. We are the stones who speak for those who are voiceless. We are the stones that grind injustice into dust. We are the stones that shout love into a world of hate, and life into a culture of death and violence.
As we follow him to the cross, how will you cry out as a stone in Jesus’ name?
It all began with such great promise. Crowds gathered to welcome him into the city of God. His ride through the streets on a donkey was like Jesus was sitting on top of a parade float, with palm branches, the ticker-tape of the day, tossed toward him in adulation, and in honor of the great expectations accompanying his arrival. The world was about to change, and Jesus was taking a victory lap.
Or so it seemed.
Jesus had led a movement which started with an inner circle of twelve ordinary men, supported by the gifts of a number of incredibly brave women and one which picked up momentum with every village visited, every miracle performed, every malady healed and every proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God along the way. Just days earlier, Jesus did the unbelievable – he raised a man from a tomb who had been dead for several days.
Word spread of these mighty acts, and now he was coming to the big city. Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one, the one promised and now sent by God to restore Israel to its former glory. Jerusalem would once again be the place where God dwelt. The oppressive and brutal Romans would be thrown out, the corrupt Herodians toppled from their puppet thrones, and God, and not the Pharisees would be the center of religious life. Jesus was going to do all that! Jesus would be their new king.
But, if we learned anything from Jesus, we know that our ways are not God’s ways. And Jesus came to town to do God’s will and not ours. As he had said to his disciples so many times before, Jesus’ destiny was not a throne, but a tomb. Jesus didn’t come to usurp the deeply embedded power structures and start some holy war. Jesus came to Jerusalem to die. His mind was set on the cross – the brutal, public and humiliating form of execution employed by the Roman occupiers. That was how Jesus was going to change the world – by suffering and dying.
And so it begins, the week that changed the world. A week of opposites. One that began with a bang and ended with a whimper. One where the tragic becomes the happy ending. One where death becomes the beginning instead of the ending. A week of love emerging from hatred. A week set apart from all others.
A week that we call Holy.
Devotions for Holy Week
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.