Surprises Around Every Corner

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He has risen!  He has risen, indeed! Hallelujah!

At the beginning of this week, I had the pleasure of spending time on a personal retreat at the Mt. Angel Abbey.  As always, on personal retreats, I take my Bible and a plethora of books that I hope will inspire or speak to me. Usually, I carry more books than I will ever have time to read.  And it seems, I end up focused on just one book the entire time (if only I could pick that book before retreating – I would have a lighter bag).  This time the book was “The Book of Joy.” In it Archbishop Desmond Tutu says something that was profound for me and I believe speaks to our condition, and the importance of Christ’s Resurrection on those first to experience him after he rose.  I would like to use this quote to help us center down and focus our time this morning.

“Despair can come from grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak.  Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass…Despair turns us inward. Hope sends us into the arms of others.”

[Reflect]

Let us pray…

Our text for this morning is the resurrection account from the Gospel of Matthew 28.  I am reading it from The Voice translation.  You may follow along as I read.

Matthew 28  (VOICE)

28 After the Sabbath, as the light of the next day, the first day of the week, crept over Palestine, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb to keep vigil. 2 Earlier there had been an earthquake. A messenger of the Lord had come down from heaven and had gone to the grave. He rolled away the stone and sat down on top of it. 3 He veritably glowed. He was vibrating with light. His clothes were light, white like transfiguration, like fresh snow. 4 The soldiers guarding the tomb were terrified. They froze like stone.

5 The messenger spoke to the women, to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.

Messenger of the Lord: Don’t be afraid. I know you are here keeping watch for Jesus who was crucified. 6 But Jesus is not here. He was raised, just as He said He would be. Come over to the grave, and see for yourself. 7 And then go straight to His disciples, and tell them He’s been raised from the dead and has gone on to Galilee. You’ll find Him there. Listen carefully to what I am telling you.

8 The women were both terrified and thrilled, and they quickly left the tomb and went to find the disciples and give them this outstandingly good news. 9 But while they were on their way, they saw Jesus Himself.

Jesus (greeting the women): Rejoice.

The women fell down before Him, kissing His feet and worshiping Him.

Jesus: 10 Don’t be afraid. Go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee. Tell them I will meet them there.

11 As the women were making their way to the disciples, some of the soldiers who had been standing guard by Jesus’ tomb recovered themselves, went to the city, and told the chief priests everything that had happened—the earthquake just after dawn, the heavenly messenger, and his commission to the Marys. 12 The chief priests gathered together all the elders, an emergency conference of sorts. They needed a plan. They decided the simplest course was bribery: they would pay off the guards 13 and order them to say that the disciples had come in the middle of the night and had stolen Jesus’ corpse while they slept. 14 The chief priests promised the soldiers they would run interference with the governor so that the soldiers wouldn’t be punished for falling asleep when they were supposed to be keeping watch. 15 The guards took the bribe and spread the story around town—and indeed, you can still find people today who will tell you that Jesus did not really rise from the dead, that it was a trick, some sort of sleight of hand.

16 The eleven disciples, having spoken to the Marys, headed to Galilee, to the mountain where they were to meet Jesus. 17 When the disciples saw Jesus there, many of them fell down and worshiped, as Mary and the other Mary had done. But a few hung back. They were not sure (and who can blame them?). 18 Jesus came forward and addressed His beloved disciples.

The disciples don’t know what to think or how to act. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

Jesus: I am here speaking with all the authority of God, who has commanded Me to give you this commission: 19 Go out and make disciples in all the nations. Ceremonially wash them through baptism in the name of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 20 Then disciple them. Form them in the practices and postures that I have taught you, and show them how to follow the commands I have laid down for you. And I will be with you, day after day, to the end of the age.

As a pastor, I have been with people in times of despair, in times of grief, in times of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak (as Archbishop Tutu described in the quote from our centering time.  As well, I too have experienced those times.  But this week as I have been engaging in this Easter text, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those first responders, those first on the scene.

For three years, Jesus had intimately walked with these women and men that he was discipling.  He lived with them, he ate with them, he simply was faithfully present in their lives and knew them like family.

But just as when we experience loss of a close friend, a relative, a spouse, despair, grief, disappointment, and heartbreak can set in – and rather quickly.  Just think of the days after a memorial service or the news of someone passing, life often doesn’t make sense.  We are going through “all the feels” as people say today.

The Marys and the disciples in our text haven’t had all of this set-in quite yet.  Unlike for many of us, they watched a public execution of their friend.  They stood by as bystanders and watched death overcome a beloved friend.  It was graphic, it was bloody, it left a mental picture that could not be erased.  For them Jesus was dead because they could not imagine anything else.  Their mind would not allow it.  Ours would not either if we would have been there.

This is why studies show brutal violence of this nature on the TV and movies sticks with us and continues to cause pain and anxiety in our lives.  I remember one time telling Sue I needed to stop watching CSI because of the mental images that I could not erase.  But for these bystanders of Jesus’ death – it was more than palpable  – it wasn’t on a screen or at a movie theater it was in real-time – in person – the smells, the images, the emotions would not be erased.

They had buried Jesus on a Friday and spent a full day trying to make sense of what happened all while trying to remember the Sabbath.  It probably wasn’t happening.  Hope had died and life had to go on.

Have you ever simply run through the motions of worship or work because your mind was so focused on someone or something else?

Maybe you came here this morning with that feeling?

Just as God knew their pain, he knows ours. He has a plan (often he tells us and we simply miss it). He also has some surprises that our completely out of our boxes, that catch us off guard.

As an artist, it reminds me of when I visit an art museum.  Inside I am very excited, I don’t always know what to expect, what I will see, but that is part of the experience.  I still remember the first time I turned the corner and saw one of my favorite pieces, Chagall’s “White Crucifixion” at the Art Institute of Chicago just a couple summers ago.  I almost had to sit down.  I was overcome by the emotions, the beauty, the awe of seeing a painting I had only previously encountered in books or online.  I heard that last year, Pope Francis had the “White Crucifixion” brought to the Vatican so he could spend time with it and fully experience it.  Much like Henri Nouwen did with Rembrant’s “Return of the Prodigal Son.”

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White Crucifixion – Marc Chagall

Or this week when I was at the Abbey, I found myself wandering the grounds trying to make sense of life, only to be surprised by a beautiful and engaging piece of art in some nook or cranny  —  and what was interesting was that they were often images of Christ that stopped me in my tracks.  It was like Jesus was surprising me around every corner.  And it took my mind, my emotions, my physical presence and refocused them.

The Marys in our story had very similar experiences. First, they ran into a glowing figure of light – a divine character or image – what we would call an angel.  Their response was to be terrified.  Sometimes what is around the corner of our lives is a messenger preparing us for what is to come.  And when we have been through a lot, one more thing can be disabling – like the women we freeze like stones  (physically, mentally, and spiritually).  And just as the Marys we can become terrified.   But if we are willing to see what God may have in store…what God is doing…we may be in line for a surprise around the corner.  If you noticed in the story the Mary’s were both terrified and thrilled at the same moment.

I don’t know about you, but I know I have been in this place on many occasions – actually, I am in this place right now.  We can be both terrified and thrilled about what God is doing in our lives.  We don’t always know what is around the next corner.

But our text this morning teaches us one more important lesson – and it is probably the most important of all…

If you listened carefully to the text you noticed that when Jesus showed up there was a different response than the one the angels received.  When Jesus surprised the women and some of the disciples, they fell down, kissed his feet, and worshipped him. Hope had returned and they recognized it.  They may have been deeply despairing, grieving, disappointed and heartbroken, but they were fully aware and able to recognize Jesus when he appeared in their midst.  And their response was IMMEDIATE WORSHIP in that moment.

The text says, that a few “hung back”.  I think I would have too.  “They were not sure (and who can blame them?) They did not know, not for sure, what to do or how to be.”

God has given us a great picture of how we respond to his surprising ways – doesn’t he?  Some will recognize him and worship immediately – like my awe at seeing Chagall’s White Crucifixion – it knocked me off my feet and into a place of awe and worship.   Some will not be sure or even skeptical and will need some more proof (like we find out later with the disciple Thomas).

And Jesus doesn’t address only those who worship right away – actually he commissioned them all…right where they were at…in their doubt…in their grief…confused….stunned…wondering if they would wake up sometime soon because this was all a dream…

And in his commission to all of us after his great surprise…he turns the table once again.  He says, for three years I have made you my disciples, I have taught you, I have been with you in the good times and the difficult ones, I have had some surprises along the way, but now the HOPE that I have brought and taught is now in YOU!

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in that quote from our centering time:

“To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass…Despair turns us inward. Hope sends us into the arms of others.”

When we choose to take up Jesus’s great commission we are bringing the Hope of Christ to our neighbors – the hope of Resurrected lives – the hope of resurrected families – the hope of resurrected communities – the hope of resurrected work situations, relationships, marriages…the list is endless.

You know what this means? Jesus is commissioning us to be this His surprise in someone else’s life.  He wants us to be the surprise around the corner for those in  despair, for those grieving, and for those disappointed and heartbroken.  He wants us to embody His presence in their lives.

  • That means we have the privilege of creating the same community with others that the Triune God has exemplified for us.
  • That means we have the honor to take out the basin and serve, wash, and receive others into this way.
  • That means we have the duty to form that community in the ways (practices and postures) which Jesus taught.

And if we do it…there is one more surprise from Jesus.  He says,

“I will be with you, day after day, to the end of the ages.“

That means if we are being Christ to others he will continue to show up in our lives each and every day.  Not just surprise or unexpected visits once and awhile, but as Quakers we know that he will be with us each and every day through our neighbors, our friends, our spouse, those with whom we work, live, and play …He will be with us – surprises and all.

That is Good News and worthy of Worship!

Let us pray…

___________________________________

Easter Message from Silverton Friends Church – April 16, 2017.  by Robert S. Henry

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