Sermon for April 30, 2017

Preached at St John the Divine, Victoria
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35 (The Road to Emmaus)
Audio file is available here.

 

“But we had hoped…”

There are some walks that are longer than others. The length isn’t necessarily because of the distance, or even the landscape. Sometimes it is a long walk because of what is being carried…

It had been a long day already. A long weekend, really. Huddled with friends in an upstairs room – all together since sometime on Thursday or Friday. Our hopes have been growing cold along with the body that we laid in the tomb just before the sun set and the Sabbath began.

The Sabbath came and went and finally it was Sunday and we had a little more freedom to move around. Some of the women were up at the crack of dawn to head over to the part of the garden where the graves are. The rest of us stayed put in the room, still sitting in that stunned silence that often accompanies grave disappointment. And then the women returned with the news that his body was no longer there and a story of a vision of angels who said he was alive.

But … still, no one saw him and we’ve been beginning to suspect that the whole thing has been a mistake.

So, with the disappointment still clinging like an anvil to their shoulders, two of them left to head to Emmaus, a village about seven miles away.

Not a terribly long walk – it is only slightly further than the Times Colonist 10K that hundreds of people are walking or running this morning in Victoria… yet from the sounds of it, it was a really long walk. Carrying a heavy burden will make even the shortest distance seem like an eternity.

As they were walking, a solitary walker came near and joined their party and their conversation, and he walked the seven miles with them, sharing in their conversation and discussion.

The gospel writer uses three words to describe the conversation – the first is the word from which we derive our word “homily” (but don’t worry, I don’t intend to have a seven mile walk length sermon this morning!), the second describes a rhetoric-full exchange of words, and the third, an emotional dialogue.

As drenched in disappointment as the two walkers, Cleopas and his friend, were, I imagine that it really was an incredibly emotion-full conversation for them: their despair is encapsulated in the phrase, “But we had hoped that he was the one…”

But we had hoped.

But we had hoped … to bring our baby home from the ICU.
But we had hoped … that the cancer was gone.
But we had hoped … that our relationship would work out.
But we had hoped … that this would have been a good job.
But we had hoped … that they had truly beaten their addiction this time.
But we had hoped…

All of the theology of Easter joy and hope and a dawning future cannot stop us from getting caught in that moment of deep disappointment – where the only thing that actually expresses how we feel is a painfully imperfect verb tense. But we had hoped…

This is one of the things that I love about the gospels, though: they know and express the things that we sometimes dare not say. Crucial hopes have collapsed and we are feeling overwhelmed with disappointment because of it.

It isn’t easy.
It hurts.
It blinds.

I do take some comfort in realizing that even Jesus’ earliest followers didn’t recognize him after his crucifixion and resurrection – some comfort in realizing that belief in Jesus as the risen Lord wasn’t self-evident even to them. Because Jesus walked with the two followers for nearly seven miles – walked and unpacked the scriptures with them, starting with recent events and unfolding history all the way back to Moses and the prophets – and they still didn’t recognize him.

Jesus entered into their despair and disappointment and walked alongside them, talking with them and being present with them, and they still didn’t know him.

And I don’t blame them for that – in the depths of depression, in deep disappointment, when all of our hopes are dashed, I think it is pretty normal not to recognize Jesus or know how he might – how he could possibly – be with us.

And in those moments, the grace of this story is that that our inability to see or recognize Jesus is okay. Jesus is still there, walking alongside us.

As the window in our chapel reminds us, it is in the simple things that Jesus might become known – it isn’t when he first appears on the road, it isn’t when he is walking alongside them, it isn’t even when he is expounding the scriptures and reasoning with them. It is when he sits down at the table with his friends, takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.

And they knew Jesus.

Jesus enters our lives, not in the miraculous, but in the ordinary things: the taking, blessing, breaking, and giving.
In the hug of a friend we haven’t seen in some time.
In the joy of a new flower poking out of the garden.
In blessing a meal together.
We recognize God and know her presence with us.

But we had hoped…

What does Jesus do with dashed expectations? He enters into them and, in the breaking of the bread he reminds us that he who was himself broken lives in them too.

The body of Christ, broken for us…

 

Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

Preached at St Andrew Memorial Church, London, Ontario.
Text: Mark 16:1-8

Well, here we are at the end.

Lent is over.

The eight short verses contained in our gospel reading this morning are, as determined by biblical scholars, the final original verses of the gospel of Mark: The gospel of Mark is over. We have reached the end of this too.

The end of the gospel of Mark begins with the equivalent of a Biblical all-nighter: The Sabbath has ended with the going-down of the sun on Saturday, but it is too late to do anything about Jesus’ body tonight. So, the women conclude, we may as well just try and sleep a little.

It has been an emotional and heavy week – Jesus: friend, leader, and hope, has been killed.

The women – Mary, Mary, and Salome – these faithful women who have followed Jesus from a distance all through his ministry and then, even when none of the other disciples remained, followed him right up until his death.

They watched while their friend Joseph from Arimathea collected Jesus’ body from the cross, wrapped it in linen cloths, and then laid it in a stone cold tomb. The stone door was rolled in front and that was the end.

The Sabbath began and everyone rested. Though I imagine it was more restless than it was rest: All of Jesus’ ministry has been building, working towards this point, culminating in Jerusalem where it would be launched and recognized by everyone around them, the oppressive government would be overthrown, social injustices would be righted and our nation would finally be restored to God’s favour.

And then it failed. Jesus is killed so dishonourably that nearly everyone fled and went into hiding, and those who did stick around, like the women, did so from a distance.

I can imagine the women deciding that though Jesus did not fulfil their hopes for their nation, they still loved him and he was their friend and leader and they aren’t about to leave him, even in death.

So they wait until the sun goes down and the day of restless rest ends. Then, they head out to the market to find spices. They’re not prepared with all of the ointments and spices that you would anoint a body with at death: In their mind, Jesus wasn’t supposed to die so why would they have them on hand?

Since this rest is so restless, they probably don’t sleep much that night. Up all night pacing, waiting to finish their duty to their friend and then fade back into obscurity when they return to “normal” life. Then tossing in their beds, watching time tick by:

3:48 am: I should really get some sleep

3:49 am: I can’t believe Jesus is dead!

3:50 am: It must be time for the sun to rise soon; I want to get this done with.

How much, in a time before battery operated flashlights or iphone flashes, we depended on the sunlight of day to get us through.

5:10 am: Never mind sleep. I’ll just get up. The sun will be rising soon anyway.

5:11 am: Oh no! I forgot about the stone door. Who will roll away the stone for us?

For some reason, the women set off anyway, without any plan about how to actually get to Jesus’ body in the rock tomb on the other side of the stone door.

Perhaps it is some unconscious remembrance of Jesus speaking to the disciples while he was alive: three times the gospel of Mark has Jesus tell his disciples that he will go to Jerusalem, be condemned to death, be mocked and beaten, be killed, and then that he would rise again in three days. But I don’t know if the women actually heard, understood, or remembered this, after all, in the gospel of Mark everyone who knows Jesus and should know what is going on, don’t get it. Jesus keeps telling them and they keep not understanding, so it isn’t too surprising that the women would be debating about how they would roll the stone away from the door of the tomb to get to a body.

And so the women arrive at the tomb, expecting to find death, even though they have been promised life, in order that they might anoint Jesus’ body.

However when you are looking to find death and you find life instead, amazement and surprise are pretty natural responses.

Not only is the stone door moved and no longer covering up the opening to the rock tomb, but there is, what is described as a young man dressed in a white robe, just sitting to the right of the opening.

Sounding a little bit like the office administrator for a busy CEO, he says: “Oh, you’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.”

Perhaps realizing that the women are, understandably, a little freaked out, the young man, who scholars think is an angel, says what all angels tend to say when they encounter a human: Do not be alarmed.

Then: He has been raised; he is not here.

These two phrases pack some pretty major punches:

First the angel says, He has been raised, like this is the obvious one that the women should know and understand.

He has been raised.

I am told that it was normal for people from that time period to speak of resurrection like it was a more common event. The Caesars were, in popular lore, apparently resurrected to be gods when they died.

The women lived during this time, they heard Jesus speak about being raised after three days, and they’re still surprised. But then again, this isn’t popular folklore that we’re talking about.

Either way, when you’re expecting death and you find life, amazement is a pretty natural response.

I mean, if any of us were to go to the cemetery and find graves open and bodies gone, we’d be, at the very least, surprised.

He has been raised: We can say with the apostle Paul, Death has been swallowed up in victory!

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Jesus is alive and with that resurrection he has broken any of the power that death might have held on us. Death is not the final answer. In the ultimate inversion, the final answer is not death, but life.

The women went to the tomb expecting to find death when they had been promised life. How often do we go through life expecting to find death when we, too, have been promised life? In the liturgy of baptism, [which we will all participate in this morning with Kathy as she is baptised,] we thank God for the water of baptism, because through baptism we are buried with Christ in his death and then also share in his resurrection, being reborn by the Holy Spirit.

Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, the angel tells the women, He has been raised: he is not here.

He is not here.

This second phrase is just as terrifying as the first. At least with He has been raised we can talk about resurrection.

But He is not here? If Jesus is not in the cold, dark box where we left him, where is he?

It might have been simpler to have a safe, contained, and predicable God who stays put, right where we left him.

If we have learned anything these last weeks of Lent, it is that Jesus does not stay put. That following God is not simple or safe – and certainly not predictable.

After all, we are talking about the one who whipped corrupt moneychangers out of the temple, who spoke back to unclean spirits before casting them out, who healed a disciple’s mother-in-law, and who challenged us to take up our crosses and follow him.

Take up our cross and follow him. That is so much more poignant this side of Good Friday. Suffering, death, resurrection, life.

Follow him to life.

So when the angel says He is not here do we stop and peer into the empty tomb and wonder where God is?

It is certainly understandable that we might do that, with violence in Kenyan universities, discriminatory legislation being passed in the United States, and financial injustice and extreme economic disparity on display in our own city.

But then we might remember what else the angel said to the women: He is going ahead of you to Galilee there you will see him, just as he told you.

And if we decided to go back to Galilee, we might leave the end of the gospel of Mark and turn back to the beginning. Going full circle to read, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God … In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee …

So it isn’t the end: this story is not over.

It is only the beginning and we have a part to play.

It is only the beginning and, if you wonder why there is still so much pain and distress in the world, it is because God isn’t finished with it yet.

It is only the beginning. Mark is inviting us to get off the bench and get into the game, sharing, with everyone we meet, the good news of Jesus’ complete identification with those who are suffering and his triumph over injustice and death.

It is only the beginning and we are empowered and equipped to work for good in all situations because we can trust God’s promises that all will, in time, come to a good end, even when the only evidence of that we can see in the moment is a cold, dark tomb.

Death has been swallowed up in victory! Where, O death, is your sting? Where, O death, is your victory?

Well, here we are at the beginning…

Amen.

It may be Easter but it feels like Good Friday.

I’ve been AWOL. It wasn’t a planned blogging break, nor was it a complete social media break (though it was close to complete, the only place I have really been posting over the last couple of weeks has been on Instagram), but it was a break and it felt good to have it. This may be a little heavy for a “first day back”, but it feels like it wants to be written here and not just in my journal.

We may be several days into the season of Easter, but in many respects this last week feels a little more like it is still Good Friday or Holy Saturday. That knife was twisted even deeper last night as I sat through (because I didn’t really feel like participating in) a Celtic liturgy celebrating the resurrection. As I was expressing my frustration at that false-feeling sentiment, a friend gently reminded me that the bleakness of Good Friday is just as real as the hope and joy of Easter Sunday. It is true. But this has been a week of loss and so it feels more like Good Friday.

I’ve heard it said enough to be unclear on the actual origins of the words, “We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world”. That is clearer to me working at the shelter than anywhere else I have ever spent a good portion of my time: In the last three and a half months, we have experienced the death of five of our clients. One of those was yesterday. Really, we should be experiencing it more frequently and it is a testament to the hardiness of the human body and spirit that we do not experience more deaths amongst that incredibly vulnerable population.

**

It was inevitable.

It was an incredibly popular song when it first came out about 10 years ago and received a lot of airplay on pretty much every radio station on the planet. The lyrics are powerful and tell the story of the hope of someone who expects to experience the resurrection. Mum requested we use the song for a slideshow at her memorial service and I spent many hours at the computer with photos realizing that request.

On Monday I went to the memorial service of a client who has been with us for a long time. His family held a lovely service at a local funeral home and I went, almost by accident: I was the only one of us free to go at the time of his service. It is amazing how you can know someone for so many months in a very specific context and have no idea about the rest of their life. It is such a privilege to be allowed to peek inside the past lives of people and catch a glimpse of what life has been like. That can take many forms. On Monday, it took the form of a moving slideshow of his life, set to that song.

It was inevitable.

**

In my last year of my undergrad, I took a random collection of courses to fulfill all of the requirements I had not yet met. In my attempt to find something that both fit my schedule and seemed remotely interesting, I ended up in a philosophy of literature course. In the first days? weeks? of that course, I made friends with a Canadian/Swiss student who ended up also being involved in IVCF with me. We became good friends and she and her family even hosted Nat and I on our European Adventure in 2006.

Her mother had been sick for some time and my friend returned home to Switzerland once she finished her degree. I’ve missed our tea and knitting and haven’t stayed as in-contact as I would have liked to have been… though I could say that for many people and I certainly haven’t helped any in my multi-week withdrawal from the Internet.

On Good Friday, I awoke to an email saying that her mother had passed away that morning. Fitting day. But not, because losing a mother always sucks. In contrast to the lyrics of that song above, this time I can imagine what it is like for her and I would love to be able to have some more tea and offer a shoulder and a hug.

**

I feel the need to close this off by saying that I am okay and that there is no reason for alarm-filled emails to check on that. Really.

Easter Morning

I ended up at church far more than I had intended over the last week: six of the last seven days. I even participated in all/nearly all of the services in the Easter Triduum (I am not going to Evensong tonight).

Last night was the Easter Vigil service and, true to the term “vigil”, it went late. The Easter Vigil service is usually one of my favourites and I did appreciate it last evening. However, the service which impacted me most this year was the 6am sunrise service I attended this morning. One of the churches in this area holds a sunrise service down in Cadboro Bay, one of my “thinking” places. It was actually warm-ish this morning, making it one of the first years I can remember when it was not freezing cold and/or raining for the service.

As I was hurrying (because I thought I was late) along the roads and pathways – up the hill, through the university, and down the other side, I was able to see the pink-orange glow of the sun coming up over the ocean. Here I was, rushing to “see Jesus,” perhaps not unlike the early disciples rushed to the tomb once the women had told them He is Risen. Like the disciples, there will still be doubts about how the story unfolds. Unlike the disciples, I have 2000 years of hindsight to know what I will find when I reach the beach. However that sense of anticipation, expectation, and, eventually, joy is still there. Let’s never lose the wonder.

On the Way to the Cross

Simon helps Jesus carry his cross (Station III)


As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, ad they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. Luke 23:26

Consider the things you have in life that weigh you down. Can you let go of them? Write them on a block of wood and place it into the shopping cart.

Almighty God, your Son was not too proud to accept help from a stranger when he was weakened by whipping and scourging; help me to not be too proud to accept help from others when I am weakened by disability, illness, or age; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Also remember those for whom the shopping cart is their life and the only means of storing their life.

From our modern retelling of the Stations of the Cross.

Alleluia, He is Risen!


Every year that I have been in Victoria for Easter, I have made the trek down to Cadboro Bay for The Place’s sunrise service. Easter morning sunrise services were something we used to do growing up and it is fun to go whenever I get the opportunity. As my friend Eric notes, it was raining this morning, making it fairly difficult to get up and out of bed. But that didn’t stop the 100 or so people who turned out at 6am. There were bonfires on the beach, and three driftwood crosses stuck into the sand. As it slowly got lighter, we sang songs celebrating the risen Lord and reflected on some passages of scripture.


I took this picture as the service was ending, it reminded me of one of the readings that morning, John 21 when the resurrected Jesus appears to his disciples along the seashore and enables them to catch a boatload of fish. After they have cooked the fish up on a fire, Jesus “reinstates” Peter.

Then I rushed back home to get ready (shower and rid myself of the smell of campfire) before heading down to the Cathedral for the Easter service this morning. We had helium balloons and chocolate! There was a fun energy about the service this morning, perhaps because of the tambourines and trumpet, perhaps because we were all excited. He is Risen, Alleluia!


As I sit here and reflect on the photos I have included with this post, it strikes me that they are so different yet so the same. One is celebrating the resurrection in the beauty and simplicity of the outdoors, God’s natural creation. It is cold, dark, and raining but that doesn’t dampen the spirits of those there to celebrate. The other is inside of one of the grandest churches in town with lofty ceilings and beautiful stained glass. However, the result is the same, a group of people gathered together to celebrate the resurrection and praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.