Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's Still Easter

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 27, 2014

Year A: The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

It’s Still Easter

            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            I’m obviously biased, but we had the most amazing Holy Week and Easter here at St. Paul’s.
            The highlight of Holy Week was, of course, our Stations of the Cross. I wish you all could have been there. It was so moving and powerful – haunting, as one parishioner said – to make our way around the neighborhood stopping and praying at places where there have been acts of violence in just the past year.
            And then we had the Easter Vigil service – by far the most complex and, I think, the most beautiful service of the year.
            We began in darkness – the room lit by just the Paschal Candle – and then gradually own little candles gave the church a soft glow. We had two baptisms – Adama and her son Aalim – and then, finally, we moved from shadow to light.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Then finally on Easter Day it really felt like Easter. The weather was sunny, just perfect, really. Lots of us were beautifully decked out. The church was nearly packed. The music was glorious. Easter eggs were hunted. And we shared in a bountiful feast in the Parish Hall.
            Last Sunday we heard the story of Mary Magdalene going to Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week. She is horrified to find it empty. She ran to tell the disciples that someone must have stolen the body of Jesus.
            And then later Mary Magdalene was back at the tomb, weeping over the sadness of the whole thing – the betrayal, the rejection, the death and now the final indignity of a stolen body.
            Mary was weeping when she met Jesus the gardener.
            And so last week we ended the resurrection story – this story of death transformed into new life – we ended the Easter story with Mary Magdalene going to the disciples to tell them the good news – the best news ever, “I have seen the Lord.”
            And then, Easter was over. Or so it seemed.
            Maybe we spent time in the afternoon with family or friends.
            And then on Monday or over the following few days, most of us went back to our ordinary lives. We went back to work. We went back to school. We went back to our usual worries and fears – worries and fears for ourselves and worries and fears for those we love.
            Paying bills.
            Keeping a job.
            Finding a job.
            Getting good grades
            And all the rest.
            For many of us the joy of Easter quickly faded – became maybe just a fond memory of some good church services and dressing up and eating good food.
            And even here in church, Easter week is traditionally pretty quiet and, as always, our attendance today is down quite a bit from last week.
            It sure feels like Easter is over.
            And at the start of today’s gospel lesson it sure feels like Easter is over, doesn’t it?
            We pick up right where we left off last week. The Evangelist John tells us on the evening of Easter Day the disciples were meeting behind locked doors. Mary Magdalene has told them the good news – the best news ever – but they’re still afraid.
            John tells us that they are afraid of the Jews.
            It’s important for us to remember that all of Jesus’ disciples – as well as Jesus himself, for that matter, - were all Jews. So this isn’t a conflict between Jews and Christians because there aren’t any Christians yet. Instead this is a dispute among Jews – it’s a dispute between Jews who believed Jesus was the long-awaited messiah and those who didn’t.
            Anyway, the disciples are afraid. It feels like Easter is over before it barely got started.
            Suddenly Jesus appears – the same wounded Jesus but somehow different – able now to enter through locked doors.
            Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
            And then he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Not only is it Easter but it’s a kind of little Pentecost!
            For the disciples, it’s still Easter!
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Well, it’s Easter for all but one of the disciples.
            We’re told that Thomas wasn’t there that evening of the first day, the evening of the first Easter.
            I always wonder where Thomas went, why he wasn’t with the others.
            He might have been afraid so he was in hiding away from the others. Though that kind of fear doesn’t seem to match the little that we know about him.
            In my imagination I always see him devastated and angry about Jesus’ death. I imagine him disappointed in himself, disgusted that like just about everybody else, he had abandoned his Lord in his hour of need – abandoned Jesus to death on the Cross.
            I imagine Thomas by himself out in the wilderness, shouting up to the sky, crying out to God:
            “Why did this have to happen?”
            “Where were you?”
            “We thought Jesus was the long-awaited one. Why have we – why have I - been disappointed, fooled again?!”
            For Thomas out there somewhere alone, it’s definitely not Easter.
            And it’s still not Easter when the other disciples tell him the good news – the best news ever: “We have seen the Lord.”
            Of course, Thomas earns his eternal “doubting” nickname by not believing his fellow disciples. But, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have believed those guys either. And, for that matter, the disciples were all “Doubting Thomases,” not believing Mary Magdalene’s story of seeing the Lord, not really believing until they saw the Risen Jesus for themselves.
            Then we fast-forward a week later.
            Everybody’s back together, this time including Thomas.
            The Risen Jesus appears again and despite what he said before Thomas doesn’t need to touch. He sees and he believes, crying out, saying more than he probably knew or understood, “My Lord and my God.”
            It’s finally Easter for Thomas.
            So, what about us?
            It was definitely Easter last week. But, with all of our worries and fears, with all of the demands of everyday life, is it still Easter?
            After all, Thomas and the other first disciples had a real advantage over us: they could actually see the Risen Christ.
            Well, I can only speak for myself.
            It’s still Easter when I gather with a family in a hospital room and we hold hands in a circle of love and pray for one that they love so much – love and hope in the midst of fear and suffering.
            It’s still Easter.
            It’s still Easter when I reflect on how we’ve been together for almost a year – when I think of all the good that God has worked in and through us. It’s still Easter when I think of all the exciting things that God has in store for us in the days and weeks ahead.
            It’s still Easter.
            It’s still Easter when I look at these beautiful new hangings made for us by the talented and generous Virella Clark, given by her to enrich our worship and to give glory to God.
            It’s still Easter.
            It’s still Easter when this afternoon youth and adults from St. Paul’s and Incarnation and many other churches will kneel before the bishop reaffirming their faith, wanting to publicly follow the Risen Lord we can’t see or touch.
            It’s still Easter.
            And, it’s still Easter when in just a moment we gather once again at the font. Even though we don’t see the Risen Jesus the way Thomas and the first disciples did, it’s still Easter when we say yes to God by renewing our baptismal promises. It’s still Easter when, like Thomas long ago, Shari declares her trust in Jesus, her Lord and God, our Lord and God.
            It’s still Easter.
            It’s still Easter.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, April 20, 2014


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 20, 2014

Year A: Easter Day
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18


            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            We have endured a long, cold, hard winter. We wondered if it would ever end. We wondered if spring would ever arrive. We wondered if we would ever see new life sprouting in the garden.
            But, we didn’t lose faith.
            Here at St. Paul’s our faithful band of gardeners have been planning and preparing. Some have been nurturing seeds in their homes on windowsills, waiting for the day…waiting for the day when new life could take root in our once frozen and inhospitable soil.
            And now that day has finally arrived. Our gardeners have been out working in that fertile Jersey City earth and new life is sprouting and blooming all around us.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            And, actually, long ago our story began in a garden, didn’t it?
            Our story began in a garden – a beautiful garden given to us by God – given for our enjoyment and our use… and our care.
            But, we messed up like we usually do.
            God came looking for us in the garden, calling out, “Where are you?”
            But, out of shame and fear, we hid from God.
            And in some ways we’ve never really stopped hiding from God.
            But, fortunately, God never stopped looking for us, never stopped calling out to us, “Where are you?”
            And finally God revealed God’s Self to us in the life, death and, yes, the resurrection of Jesus.
            We saw what God is really like in this perfect life of healing, prayer, teaching, service, sacrifice…love.
            But just like in that first garden, we messed up again – in a really big way.
            In another garden Jesus was arrested, setting in motion a chain of events leading to the brutality of the Cross. God came into the world and people just like us rejected him and crucified him.
            Dying on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
            And in one sense it was finished. Jesus had completed his mission, had given all he could give, had finished his life of loving service.
            But, in another sense, it wasn’t finished at all. It was just beginning.
            And so on Easter morning, we find ourselves in yet another garden – a garden that Mary Magdalene thought of as a cemetery, a place of death and grief and decay.
            But, the Good News, the best news of all time, is that God still didn’t give up on us.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            If you’ve been in church during recent Sundays we’ve heard some examples of misunderstandings in the Gospel of John. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again and Nicodemus wonders how he’s supposed to get back into his mother’s womb. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that he has living water that will quench her thirst forever and she notes that this is pretty big talk for a guy with no bucket.
            And now today back in the garden, we have one more misunderstanding.             
            After discovering the empty tomb and running to tell the disciples, Mary Magdalene returns to the garden. We don’t know why she’s back. Maybe she doesn’t know where else to go. Maybe she wants to see the empty tomb again. Maybe she doesn’t believe her own eyes.
            Mary Magdalene is back in the garden weeping.
            She’s weeping over the sadness and horror of it all: the betrayal, the rejection, the death and now the final indignity of a stolen body.
            Mary is weeping when the angels appear in the tomb.
            And she is weeping when the Risen Christ calls to her,
            “Woman, why are you weeping?”
            Maybe because of her tears, or maybe because she wasn’t expecting to see him, or because he was already somehow different, Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus. Instead, there’s one last misunderstanding. 
            We’re told she supposes Jesus to be the gardener.
            Except, this time it’s not really a misunderstanding, is it?
            Mary’s wrong but she’s right.
            Jesus is the gardener, nurturing new life where before there was only death and decay.
            And once she realizes that it’s Jesus there with her in the garden, what does Mary Magdalene do?
            In a way, she gets started on the gardening, going back to the disciples and announcing, “I have seen the Lord.”
            And then the first disciples and the generations that followed did their part tending God’s garden, tilling often rocky and even dangerous soil, sharing in words and through their lives the Good News – the best news ever – the news that, no matter what, God doesn’t give up on us.
            And now it’s our turn to work in God’s garden.
            It’s been a long, cold, hard winter and the garden needs a lot of work – God’s garden needs us.
            There’s no time to waste.
            So, like Mary Magdalene, let’s get started right away.
            Let’s go tell people the good news – the best news ever:
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Do Not Be Afraid

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 19, 2014

The Great Vigil of Easter
Romans 6:3-11
Psalm 114
Matthew 28:1-10

Do Not Be Afraid

            “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid’.”
            Do not be afraid.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            We live in a time of great fear, don’t we?
            Many of us worry.
            We worry about the economy. Will we find a job? Will we hold on to the job we have?
            We worry about the environment. We worry what kind of planet we will leave to our children and grandchildren.
            We worry about our health. Some of us are already sick others just fear what the doctor will say on our next visit. Some of us aren’t worried about ourselves so much as the health and wellbeing of those we love.
            Yesterday many of us had the powerful experience of walking the way of Christ through the streets of Jersey City. One person described it to me as “haunting.” It was haunting to consider how much violence occurs, how much despair lives in our neighborhoods and in or homes. As we walked I found myself worrying that things were just not going to ever get better.
            We worry. And I’m sure we worry about other things that I haven’t thought to include in this sermon. I’m sure you can make your own list.
            But, the first thing the angel said to the women at empty tomb was, “Do not be afraid.”
            And what does the risen Jesus say to the women when they meet him?
            “Do not be afraid.”
            “Do not be afraid.”
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            This is the night when we are most clearly reminded that God is not going to let go of us, no matter what.
            This is the night when we remember that God made all that is – and doesn’t give up on us even when we mess it all up, when break God’s rules, when we ruin that first beautiful garden.
            This is the night when we remember that God stands with us - by us - in us - no matter what – especially when the odds are against us.
            This is the night when we remember that even when all hope is lost, when all that’s left is a valley of very dry bones or the dead body of a crucified messiah, especially when all hope is lost, God does what God always does, transform death into new life.
            Don’t be afraid.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            And, finally, on this night we are reminded of the bond that God makes with us in the water of baptism.
            When Adama first approached me about baptism, I admit that I “strongly encouraged” her to have the baptism tonight. I told her that this is the night – the absolute best time, really, to be baptized.
            All of those saving acts we heard read from the Bible happened a long time ago, though they continue to echo through the ages.
            But, God just performed another saving act – tonight – right here at St. Paul’s.
            As Paul wrote to the Romans, in baptism we die with Christ.
            So, it may not have looked like it but, Adama and Aalim died with Christ tonight.
            And in an instant they began a new life.
            They began a new life, a resurrected life, a life permanently bonded with God.
            Nothing they do or don’t do – nothing we do or don’t do – can ever break the bond that God makes with us in baptism.
            I love the word the Prayer Book uses: the bond is indissoluble.
            And what that really means is, yes things will go wrong, life will have many challenges and failures and hurts.
            But, do not be afraid.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cross of Love

The Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
April 18, 2014

Good Friday
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22:1-21
Hebrews 10:1-25
Psalm 69:1-23
John 18:1-19:37
The Cross of Love
            On Good Friday it’s been the custom since very early in Christian history to read the Passion according the Gospel of John.
            It’s a beautiful and powerful account, but one that needs to be put into some context. Listening to the story of betrayal and abandonment and calls for crucifixion, we need to remember that Jesus and all of his first followers were Jews. What we are hearing is a tragic conflict within Judaism and among Jews of the First Century. It’s a tragic conflict that has nothing to do with Jews of today or of any other time.
            It is an act of memory when we hear the calls to “Crucify him!” But, we’re not just remembering calls shouted two thousand years ago in Jerusalem.
            That would be easy, wouldn’t it?
            No, our task today is harder than that. We are meant to remember that Jesus is still crucified today.
            Jesus was crucified again last week in Kansas when a notorious white supremacist and anti-Semite opened fire outside two Jewish community centers, shooting five people and killing three, including a grandfather and his grandson. As it happens, the three people he killed were not Jews, though that seems to have been his intent.
            But, we don’t have to look as far as Kansas. That’s too easy. Jesus is crucified much closer to home.
            This morning many of us walked the Way of the Cross through the streets of Jersey City, through Incarnation’s and St. Paul’s neighborhoods. It was a very powerful experience – I wish you all could have been there.
            As most of you know, each station was at a place where there has been an act of violence in our community. When Laurie and I were working with the police to plan our route, the biggest challenge was limiting it to just fourteen sites.
            When we reached one of the stations, a young man approached the bishop and me. He seemed a little out of it but he said that he knew the man who has been killed at that spot – the man whose death we were remembering. Although he was heckled by a few of his buddies, he joined in our procession for a while and even hammered a nail into our wooden cross.
            There is so much violence and poverty and despair right here in our community.
            Jesus is being crucified every day on the streets of Jersey City.
            But we don’t have to look as far as the streets of Jersey City. Even that’s too easy. Jesus is crucified much closer even than that.
            We join in the shouts of “Crucify him!” every time we refuse to love our neighbor as our self, every time we look down at other people, make fun of other people, every time we treat other people as things instead of as beloved children of God.
            Jesus is crucified around the world.
            Jesus is crucified on the streets of our city.
            Jesus is crucified in our own lives and hearts.
            We Christians proclaim that God came into the world and lived among us and people just like us rejected him and crucified him.
            It’s not a happy story. And it would be so easy to give in to despair. Our world is broken. Our streets are bleeding. Our own lives are a mess. We fail to live up to our faith, choose not to be the people God made us to be. And people just like us killed Jesus.
            And, yet.
            And, yet, despite all of that, God still doesn’t give up on us.
            We hate and we kill and we despise and we ridicule and we crucify and yet…God still doesn’t give up on us.
            Instead, on Good Friday, God takes some of the worst we can dish out and on Easter God does what God always does: turn death into new life.
            God turns death into new life.
            God transforms the cross – that old symbol of oppression and humiliation and death – into a sign of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.
            A cross of love.
            So, this morning we carried that wooden cross through the streets of Jersey City not just to mourn the death of Jesus two thousand years ago and not even just to mourn the violence on our streets, though that was part of it.
            We carried that wooden cross as a sign of God’s forgiveness, reconciliation and hope – a sign that another kind of life is possible – a sign that the God who came among us in and through Jesus – the God who raised Jesus from the dead - is still at work right now in and through us.
            Today is Good Friday.
            We turn our attention to the cross.
            We remember what happened two thousand years ago and we reflect on all the ways that we crucify Jesus today.
            We turn our attention to the cross – the cross, now for us a sign of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope for you and me, for Jersey City, for the whole world.
            It is a cross of love.
            And we are meant to carry this cross of love into our broken world.
            We are meant to carry this cross of love into our blood-soaked streets.
            We are meant to carry this cross of love into our lives and into our hearts.
            We adore you O Christ and we bless you.
            Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

In Remembrance of Me

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

In Remembrance of Me

            Every Sunday when we come to church we do lots of different things: we pray, we sing, we listen to a couple of passages of Scripture, and I preach.
            We exchange the peace and then our focus shifts to the altar and we prepare for communion.
            Each Sunday we pray the words of the Eucharistic Prayer – remembering and reminding us all of that night in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago around the time of the Passover when Jesus gathered with his closest friends in the Upper Room.
            A few weeks ago some of us had the powerful experience of an instructed Passover Seder, taught by our friend Rabbi Debby Hachen of Temple Beth-El. I bet that meal reminded many of us of what we do each Sunday when we bless the bread and the wine and eat and drink, just like Jesus and first disciples.
            Maybe we can imagine the scene in Jerusalem long ago, when Jesus gathered with his closest friends and disciples.
            It’s dark with just a few candles giving a shadowy light. The room is fragrant with the smell of food. We can hear the breathing of the disciples gathered around. Maybe we make eye contact and then quickly look away.
            What is happening? What’s going to happen next?
            Jesus knew that his time was growing short. And with sinking stomachs the disciples were beginning to realize that the One they called teacher and Lord – the One who they believed was the Messiah was going to be taken from them.
            In these last hours together, Jesus tried to get across to his friends what’s most important.
            This bread is my body.
            This wine is my blood.
            Do this in memory of me.
            I will always be with you. No matter how bad things seem, no matter how lost you are, I will always be with you. No matter what, I will always be with you when you come together to pray, to bless, to eat the bread and drink the wine.            
            This is my body.
            This is my blood.
            Do this in memory of me.
            And we know that Jesus’ first followers didn’t forget.
            This evening we heard a short passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. As far as we know, Paul never met Jesus during his earthly lifetime. But, he tells us in his letter that he has heard about the Last Supper from the Resurrected Christ. Or maybe he just heard about it from people who had known Jesus – from Peter and James and others.
            Thanks to Paul we know that right from the start the followers of Jesus continued to get together, to pray, to bless, to eat the bread and drink the wine. They continued to do all of this in memory of Jesus.
            Writing just a couple of decades after the Last Supper, Paul teaches this tradition to the Corinthians and just about everybody he meets as he travels around the Mediterranean world, sharing the Good News of Jesus.
            But, the Last Supper wasn’t only about the bread and the wine.
            Actually, the Evangelist John doesn’t even include that tradition in his telling of the Last Supper.
            Instead, he offers the powerful image of Jesus getting up from the table, taking off his outer robe, tying a towel around himself, pouring water into a basin and washing the disciples’ feet.
            If we were there, I suspect that we’d react like Peter, “Lord, you are going to wash my feet?!”
            But, through this menial and servile act, through this symbolic act but more than symbolic act, Jesus offers one of his most powerful teachings.
            We Christians who take the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and into our hearts – we are meant to go out into the world and offer love. We are meant to – actually we are commanded to – offer loving service to everyone, but especially to the poorest and most vulnerable.
            Not just talk. Not just symbolism. But, really roll up our sleeves and get to work serving each other and serving those in need.
            To be honest, the Church, we Christians, have done a better job remembering the bread and wine than we have remembering and washing the feet.
            We don’t always obey Jesus’ command to love one another the way he has loved us.
            But, there’s still time.
            Look, listen, in the flickering candlelight, Jesus is still teaching.
            Jesus is still teaching us how to live and how to love.
            This is my body.
            This is my blood.
            Wash the feet. Serve one another. Love one another.
            Do this in remembrance of me. Amen.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hosanna! Save Us!

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 13, 2014

Year A: The Sunday of the Passion – Palm Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Hosanna! Save Us!

            What we’re doing here this morning is very ancient.
            We know that since at least the 4th Century some Christians have been remembering and recreating Jesus’ seemingly triumphant arrival in Jerusalem.             
             And, of course, since the very beginning of our faith, Christians have been gathering together to remember and retell the story of Jesus’ arrest and death.            
            And so, since what we’re doing is so ancient, it’s also decidedly low-tech.
            In recent years I’ve read lots of news articles about how people today so much time looking at screens.
            At work many people spend just about their whole day working at the computer. I know that even my job finds me spending too much time sitting at my desk tapping away at my keyboard.
            And, of course, many of us are pretty well addicted to our so-called smart phones. We compulsively check our email. We – especially our young people but lots of us – repeatedly text family and friends and update our facebook, and instagram and whatever other social media we’re into.
            A lot of people worry that we’re getting disconnected from each other – that we don’t really have many face-to-face conversations. It’s been suggested that kids today have trouble reading facial expressions because their senses haven’t properly developed staring at all those screens.
            And, in part because our eyes are glued to all our screens and devices, people just don’t participate in community events the way they used to.
            And, I think that’s all true.
            But, you know, people still, as the old song goes, “love a parade.”
            The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade still attracts millions of people and millions more watch on TV.
            And even smaller, local parades still attract people.
            Here in Jersey City, just a few weeks ago, people lined the Boulevard for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This summer, the plan is for St. Paul’s to march in the West Indian Day Parade, which always draws a big crowd.
            And, each Sunday here in church we have our own little parade of acolytes, choir members and me at the start and finish of our services.
            Today we started the service with a bigger parade than usual – as we carried our palms from the Parish Hall into the church, remembering and imitating the parade long ago when Jesus entered Jerusalem.
            We’re told that there was a crowd of disciples and others ready to greet the one they called the Prophet from Nazareth.
            The crowd has gathered for a parade – they wanted to witness a big show as a new king enters his capital city.
            But, the crowd wasn’t there only for the spectacle.
            As Jesus enters the city, they cried “Hosanna” – a combination of two Hebrew words meaning “save us.”
            Hosanna! Save us!
            The people looked to Jesus – hoped – that Jesus would be the long awaited messiah to save them from the Romans – to get them their independence – to restore their greatness in the eyes of the world.
            But, right from the start there are signs that the crowd is in for a surprise and, yes, maybe even a big disappointment.
            Rather than riding a mighty horse, we’re told that this odd king from Nazareth enters Jerusalem riding a donkey. This humble king isn’t going to challenge the Roman occupiers as many people had hoped. This meek king isn’t going to rule over a new golden age of Israel. This Son is going to be a very different monarch than King David.
            Hosanna! Save us!
            But, it won’t take long for the crowd to realize that Jesus doesn’t offer that kind of salvation.
            It won’t take long for the crowd to realize that Jesus won’t challenge the empire – at least not in the way that they expected.
            There won’t be a great military showdown – no glorious battle for the underdog to defeat the world’s mightiest empire.
            For Jesus, there won’t be a crown of gold and jewels.
            And so, out of disappointment and disgust, the people – people just like us, really – will choose to save the bandit Barabbas.
            Just like us, people two thousand years ago looked elsewhere for salvation.
            Hosanna! Save us!
            And, finally, Jesus the meek and humble king will submit, will take all the brutal punishment human beings can dish out and die a disgraceful death on the cross.
            What no one grasped at the time was that Jesus, the meek and humble king, really was offering salvation – was really offering salvation to all of us.
            Jesus saves us by showing us who God really is – the God who loves with a bottomless love.
            Jesus saves us by showing us who we really are – who we were always meant to be.
            Jesus saves us by calling us to love and live as he loves and lives – to love with a self-emptying love – to give away our lives – to give away ourselves in loving service to each other, in loving service especially to the poorest and the weakest.
            Back in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, people came out for an old-fashioned, low-tech spectacle – people came out for a parade welcoming the new king to his capital city.
            Not long after, people came out again for another kind of old-fashioned low-tech spectacle – the people came out for another parade – this time to watch this disappointing meek and humble king die a criminal’s brutal and humiliating death.
            In one sense, today and again on Good Friday we’re recreating those parades, those spectacles.
            But, really, we are here for a different kind of spectacle – to see – to remember - to experience – the self-giving love of God poured out into the life, death, and, yes, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
            Hosanna! Save us!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

"Lord, Come and See"

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 6, 2014

Year A: The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

“Lord, Come and See”

            Last Sunday we heard the story of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles – one of his greatest signs, to use the language of the Gospel of John: Jesus gives sight to the man born blind.
            And now today we heard the story of what is arguably Jesus’ greatest sign: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It is a powerful and rich and amazing story of Jesus giving new life to his friend Lazarus.
            And, the way John tells the story, it’s this unprecedented and awesome act that finally convinces the authorities that this Jesus of Nazareth is simply too dangerous to let live for much longer.
            After Jesus raises Lazarus, the “powerful” people begin to plot against the One who is powerful enough to raise the dead.
            This story is about Jesus, so it’s no surprise that we don’t know much about Lazarus.
            We know his name; we know the names of his two sisters; we know he’s from the village of Bethany, which was just east of Jerusalem; we know he’s ill.
            And we know that Jesus loves him.
            Although we don’t know much about Lazarus, the first part of this story is in many ways a common, very human story – an all too familiar story to those of us who have faced the death of someone we love very much.
            We all know what usually happens when someone we love is very sick and near death.
            Family and friends gather around, in a kind of deathwatch. If the person is conscious, we may try to express our deepest feelings – to say things we might not have ever been able to say before.
            We might ask for forgiveness – or give forgiveness.
            Those of us gathered around try to keep up each other’s spirits, maybe by telling stories of happier days. If we’re strong enough for it, we might even begin making funeral plans. What funeral home will we use? Is there a cemetery plot? Did the dying person have any special requests?
            And we also send word out to family and friends who may live at a distance. Today that’s as easy as picking up a cell phone and punching some buttons. But, in the First Century, getting the word out required sending a messenger.
            So, Mary and Martha send a message to their friend Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
            It’s at this point that things get unusual.
            We would expect Jesus to drop everything and run to be with Lazarus and his sisters. Instead, he delays two days.
            Jesus waits because Jesus understands that, just like the man’s blindness that we heard about last week, Lazarus’ death will be an opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed.
            By the time Jesus and the disciples – including a surprisingly bold Thomas – arrive in Bethany, we’re told that Lazarus has been in the tomb four days.
            Lazarus is not just dead. He’s very dead.
            Throughout this story we hear more examples of the miscommunication between Jesus and others – talking past each other on different levels.
            Jesus tells the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
            The disciples think there’s nothing to worry about. What’s the big deal if Lazarus is just asleep?
            Later, Jesus says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”
            Martha, naturally enough, thought that Jesus was talking about the last day, rather than something that was about to happen in just a few minutes, right here and now.
            In the Gospel of John, Jesus is almost always presented as supremely in control – more divine than human, really.  But, today we get a rare glimpse of Jesus the human being, Jesus our brother.
            Remember two weeks ago in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well? We’re told Jesus stops at the well because he’s tired.
            And now today, we catch sight of Jesus overcome with emotion.
            I bet we can all relate to that. I know I can. Have you ever gone into a wake or a funeral pretty well calm and composed and then when you’re surrounded by brokenhearted, weeping people you find yourself beginning to crack and tears well in your eyes?
            Jesus asks where they have buried Lazarus. The crowd replies, “Lord, come and see.”
            And then right there in Bethany, surrounded by grieving Martha and Mary and a distraught crowd, Jesus weeps.            
            Then immediately, Jesus performs his most amazing sign.
            “Lazarus, come out!”
            “Unbind him, and let him go.”
            This is a powerful and rich and amazing story of Jesus giving new life to his friend Lazarus.
            And, the way John tells the story, it’s this unprecedented act that finally convinces the authorities that Jesus of Nazareth is simply too dangerous to let live for much longer.
            After Jesus raises Lazarus, the “powerful” people begin to plot against the One who is powerful enough to raise the dead.
            And, up to a point, the raising of Lazarus foreshadows the empty tomb on Easter Day. But Jesus won’t simply be resuscitated like Lazarus, he’ll be transformed – still himself but radically changed.
            But, I’ve been wondering, does the Lazarus story have anything to say to us today, right here and now?
            And, as I’ve reflected on that I’ve focused on the moment just before Jesus weeps.
            When Jesus asks where they’ve buried Lazarus, the crowd says, “Lord, come and see.”
            It’s an unusual moment because usually it’s Jesus who says, “Come and see.” It’s usually Jesus inviting people – inviting us – to an abundant new life.
            Come and see.
            But, this time it’s the people inviting Jesus to come and see.
            And, what are they inviting Jesus to come and see?
            In today’s Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Ezekiel has a vision. God brings him to a valley of old, dry bones.
            God tells Ezekiel that these bones represent the people of Israel during their time of exile: hopeless and dead.           
            And that’s what the people at Bethany invite Jesus to come and see:
            Hopelessness. Loss. Death. Decay.
            And Jesus weeps. And Jesus gives new life.
            Especially during Lent, you and I have the opportunity to invite Jesus to come and see.
            “Lord, come and see.”
            Maybe when we pray, or when we walk the Stations of the Cross, or when we make our confession, we can say to Jesus, “Lord, come and see.”
            Lord, come and see our hopelessness.
            Come and see the bills we don’t know how we’ll pay, come and see the empty shelves in our kitchen cabinets and refrigerators, come and see all the people begging up and down Bergen Avenue, come and see the beautiful world that we’ve polluted and ruined.
            Lord, come and see how we’ve messed up.
            Come and see how we’ve hurt the people we care about the most – how we’ve hurt even ourselves. Come and see our upside-down priorities, our selfishness and our lack of care for the poorest and the weakest.
            Lord, come and see what’s dead in our lives – come and see the dreams that have faded, the losses that we still mourn, the faded friendships and broken families that hurt our hearts.
            Lord, come and see. Come and see it all.
            And when we invite Jesus to come and see – to come and see what is already known and seen – I have no doubt that Jesus still weeps.
            And I have no doubt that Jesus still does what he always does – turns death into new life.
            If we invite Jesus to come and see, Jesus does for us just what he did for Lazarus.
            Jesus calls us out of our graves.
            Jesus unbinds us.
            And Jesus gives us new life.