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Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

Scripture: John 11: 1-7, 17-25

For a few years, Rowan Williams was the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was leading a spiritual retreat at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York, a few blocks away from the World Trade Centre. After the attacks on the towers, the staff of the church provided a place of refuge, safety and comfort for the terrified people who came into the building that day and for the rescue workers in the days afterwards. Archbishop Williams wrote a small book reflecting on the events of that day and the days that followed: Writing in the Dust.

In the introduction to the book, he asks, “After the 11th, what are we prepared to learn?” Ten years later, that question remains. “Can anything grow through that terrible, terrifying event?” Williams states that he hopes that the answer is “Yes.”

The morning after 9/11, Williams was stopped in the street by a young man who was a pilot and an active Catholic. That young man asked the question that many people ask when confronted with unspeakable evil: “What was God doing when the planes hit the towers?” Williams mumbled something about human freedom. God creates us with free will and does not intervene. God does not just override the choices we make. Living in faith does not mean we escape evil. It means we are given resources to confront it. Through faith, we find a way to suffer, take it forward and then, in God’s own time, to have it healed by the grace and mercy of the living God.

Williams knew that whatever he said would be inadequate. Ultimately, he said, this man did not want a theological discussion about free will. This man was a lifelong Christian, committed to a loving and saving God. However, now, for the first time, it had come home to him that he might be committed to a God who could seem useless in a crisis.

Have you been there? If you have not yet, be assured that, the further you go in faith, the more honest you are about life, you will come to a place where God does not do what you want or expect God to do.

That was the hard truth both Martha and Mary faced in this morning’s gospel story. Their brother Lazarus was ill. They sent for their good friend, Jesus, to come to help. But Jesus did not come. “Lazarus” means “God helps”, except God did not help this family when they needed God the most. The writer of the story makes a point of saying that they “dwelt in Bethany”, the “house of affliction”. Their affliction was not just that Lazarus was ill. Their affliction was that the one to whom they looked for help was absent. By the time Jesus showed up, Lazarus had died. In fact, he had been dead four days.

First Martha, and then Mary, confronted Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” The same accusation was in the question that the young Catholic man asked: “Where was God when the planes flew into the towers?” We ask it ourselves: Where is God when children die of starvation in Africa? Where is God when someone we love suffers? Surely, if God is good, God should be there to help. God should fix things.

Much of living in faith is a matter of coming to terms with a God who does not meet our expectations. This God does not show up when we really need God to show up. All of us have some burden of suffering which we bear. There is some deep sorrow that hovers in the background of our days. There is some wound that we carry in our hearts that is in varying stages of being healing or refusing to be healed. Hopes and dreams have been shattered. We worry over our children. You can add to the list.

As Christians we know the promises of our Lord. Just before Jesus died, he promised, “I will not leave you orphaned; i will come to you. I will ask the Father and he will give you a Comforter to be with forever.” The psalms are full of such promises: “God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place . . . he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways . . . I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble” (Psalm 91).

Martha knew the promises. She knew the promises that the power of God is stronger than death itself. When Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again, she can recite them back to him. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

We know the promises but there are times when the promises seem all to lie in the future. They are some future hope we cling to in spite of all the evidence in the present that defies them.

Or, maybe they all lie in the past. They exist as memories of experiences where we did feel the presence of God, bearing us up as on eagles’ wings, holding us in the palm of God’s hands.

We can find ourselves living between those memories and that hope and all we really know of God is the emptiness of God’s absence.

This is a difficult place to be. We want to move through it quickly. We want to have confident faith renewed. We want to move beyond the questions and the doubts and the uncertainties; to move into the promised joy and peace; to get on with being productive again. Instead, we are stuck in that in-between place and we cannot move past it.

The Bible knows a lot about such a space. It calls it by many names: wilderness, exile, the Pit. It is “Holy Saturday”, that time between the agony of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. Nothing is happening. Life seems suspended.

Rowan Williams calls this empty place, this void, a “breathing space”. He says that what you need to do in such a breathing space is breathe. You are not to get on with some action as you try to persuade yourself that you really are in control of the situation. You are to breathe. You acknowledge your hurt and disappointment and rage and sense of powerlessness. You let go of the expectations that you had of God. You come to terms with this God who has given you this emptiness, this breathing space. As painful as it is, it is a gift that is filled with God’s grace.

“Your brother will rise again,” said Jesus to Martha. Martha replies, “I know the promises. On the last day, in God’s promised future, my brother will be raised up in the resurrection.” Jesus tells her, “I am the Resurrection. I am the Life. Now. Here. Already.”

Jesus brings resurrection and life into the midst of the emptiness. In the midst of suffering; in the midst of brokenness; in all the little deaths you die throughout your life, God meets us with resurrection power. In Jesus, God enters into the emptiness and makes it part of God’s holy purpose for your life.

Even the emptiness.

You are baptized with suffering. You go down into the waters of suffering. God raises you to new life. What emerges from the waters of such a baptism is not the old self you had before. You can never go back. You may carry the scars for the rest of your life. But a new self is given by God. You are made new.

It takes courage to enter into such a time. it takes courage to give voice to all that is in your heart. That’s why I keep urging you to learn to pray the Psalms. They are written by people, by a community, that has practiced breathing its faith in the void and the emptiness.

The Psalms teach a language that helps you give voice to your anger and your fears, your hurt and your hopes. They lead you through the evil that you suffer with persistence and honesty. They teach you to yield your life to God. They open you to the healing work of God. Ultimately, they teach to you to praise God again.

They teach you to praise God again in a new song. That new song will carry the sorrow you have known but it will now be gathered into God’s good and holy purposes for you and for the world.

I want you to learn to pray the psalms because they are such a great gift for your spiritual journey. I want you to learn to pray the psalms because we live our faith in a world full of suffering: not just the global suffering we hear on the news but also the suffering in the lives of people you meet day by day. You may not be able to do much to turn the tide, but your vocation as a follower of Jesus Christ is to be with people in the places of their brokenness. Hear their laments. Help them give voice to them. Pray with them to God because, in the end, it is God with whom we all must deal.

Stand with them as a member of a community of people who, from the days of our baptisms, have practised dying and being raised to new life in Christ. We are learning to let Christ take us, bless us, break our lives open, and give us life anew. Having trusted Christ to do that in our lives, we give our lives into his good hands over and over again.

You can help others hear God say to them in their suffering, “Do not be afraid. Nothing in life or in death — not even this terrible thing you are going through — nothing can stop my loving purpose for you.”

That will be a great gift. That will be a good and holy work. For such holy work, God has claimed you as Christ’s own.

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett on John 20: 1-18

On the evening before Jesus died, Jesus gathered his disciples together and made them a promise. He said, “In a little while, I am going to leave you, but I will not leave you desolate. I will not leave you orphaned. I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit to be with you in my name. So, don’t let your hearts be troubled. Don’t let them be afraid.” (John 14)

Though the centuries, in joy, in sorrow, in the midst of trouble, Jesus’ followers have counted on that promise. If I were to ask you, “What is the gospel? What is the faith that comforts you and sustains you and carries you when you suffer?”, I expect that many of you would answer, “God is with you. We do not journey alone. We do not suffer alone. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For Thou are with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me’ (Psalm 23)”.

A New Creed of the United Church of Canada proclaims, ‘We are not alone. We live in God’s world. . . . In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. Thanks be to God.” At Christmas, we heard Jesus named Emmanuel — God-with-us. As we headed into Holy Week, Jesus promised, “I will not leave you desolate.”

We count on it. We hold onto it. Time and time again people have told me that they have felt its truth in their lives.

And yet, there have also been times when counting on that promise has been more a matter of faith than of certainty. You can go through stretches — sometimes long stretches— when you do not experience God present with you. You can come to a place where you have to choose to trust that God is with you. You choose to trust the promise even thought there is so much evidence to the contrary. You lean into the promise rather than resting in it. There may be times when you cannot manage even that.

This morning’s gospel story tells us that that is where Easter begins. Did you catch it? “Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” “While it was still dark”, because on Friday, Jesus, the Light of the World, had died on a Roman cross and his disciples’ hope had died with him. “While it was still dark” — in those times when nothing you can do will fix what has gone wrong and you cannot make it right no matter how hard you try. “While it was still dark” — in those times when the disciples of Jesus, the community of faith, is scattered, and fragmented and frightened and not at all sure what the future holds.

In that dark place, where hope cannot be found, and you are full of questions and doubts and uncertainties and you may not even be able to pray, God is at work. Even there the promise hold.

Very often, God’s resurrection work in your life is going to be hidden from your eyes. That does not mean that nothing is happening. By the time any of us gets to Easter morning, God has already entered into the depths of our lives, overcome the power of death and brought the dead to life and begun a new creation, a new world.

The chances are that you are going to see the evidence of God’s resurrection, God’s saving work in your life, only well after Easter has already begun. More than that, the chances are that it won’t look anything like you thought it would.

Mary comes to Jesus’ tomb, expecting to sit for a while in her grief and her pain and her loss. She sees that the stone that had been rolled in front of the tomb on Friday now had been removed from the tomb. She does not immediately thing, “Oh, look — resurrection! God has raised Jesus from the dead. Everything is okay now.” No. She sees the emptiness and the absence and says, “Someone has taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” She thinks that the grave has been robbed. It wasn’t enough that the powers-that-be had killed Jesus. Now, they had added hurt upon hurt, sorrow upon sorrow and had stolen him away from her as well.

She runs to the church — to Peter and the beloved disciple. They are not too sure what to make of the empty tomb either. They both see signs of God’s resurrection power at work — the stone moved away, the missing body, the folded grave cloths —but only one of them ‘believed’ and they both just went back home. They went back to the way things already were, as if nothing had happened. Mary stays, weeping outside the tomb. She turns around and sees someone standing there and she thinks it is the gardener.

The God who comes to us in Jesus is a God who creates new life where there is only death; a God who takes our dead ends and opens up new possibilities; a God who makes new and heals and saves. Yet, this new resurrection life does not come easily. None of us receives it easily.

You can get stuck in your expectations of what God is supposed to do, or what God’s work is supposed to look like, or what God’s promised presence is supposed to feel like. You are going to have difficulty recognizing the risen Christ in your life. Nadia Bolz-Weber has said, “A God of resurrection means that the story is seldom over when we think it is . . . Being a person of faith doesn’t mean you get to be certain. It means you get to be surprised.”

Our God is a living God, a God of surprises. “I will not leave you desolate,” promises Jesus, but the only way to live into Jesus’ promise is to “live expectantly but without expectations”. All we know is this: God’s love is a firm, determined love that will not let you go. There is no situation so lost that God cannot find you in it and bring you home. There is no wreckage so total that God cannot redeem it and use it for good and holy purposes. God works way beyond your expectations. Resurrection is larger, deeper, more wondrous than any of us expects.

A Risen Saviour is on the loose. Nothing in all creation can stop him. And he knows your name. Thanks be to God.

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We praise you, living God,

with songs and prayers and listening hearts

and lives trying to obey your will.

You have created and are creating,

bringing life and hope and love.

You come in Jesus, your Word made flesh,

to reconcile and make new.

In a culture where the power death gets all the headlines

your Holy Spirit summons us to be people

shaped by your power to work resurrection.

We are not sure we believe as fully as we think we should.

We are not sure we trust as deeply as we think you require.

But we bring who we are and what we have become

into your presence,

longing to know your grace and your love.

Forgive what has gone wrong.

Repair in us what is broken.

Reveal in us what is good and turn us toward it.

So may we follow wherever your Spirit may lead.

So may we love with the love of Jesus flowing through us.

So may we, body, mind and spirit, be children of resurrection,

children of hope,

children of grace.

In Christ Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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A prayer of confession for Thanksgiving Sunday, October 13, 2013, based on Luke 17: 11-19. With thanks to Kayla McClurg and her reflections on that scripture.

At the heart of the universe,

at the heart of our lives

are your mercy and your grace, O God of unfailing love.

You work without ceasing to reconcile all things.

You work without ceasing to make all things new.

 

We confess that too often

we miss seeing and hearing the signs of your presence.

We do not recognize your transforming power.

Your Spirit heals our brokenness,

Your Spirit brings new life,

Your Spirit works a new creation

but we continue on our way,

unaware,

uncomprehending,

ungrateful.

Turn us around, Lord,

Turn us toward you, Jesus,

as you turn toward us in mercy.

 

Heal our blindness;

overcome the fear that binds our hearts;

raise us to your new life

here and now.

 

Then, let your Spirit carry our thanks

to your throne of grace.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you. Amen.

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“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”

We repeat our Easter shouts of
surprise and joy
again and again,
for news of your victory
over powers of death and evil
is news so startling
so amazing
so different from the news that bombards us day by day.
Beyond our comprehension
You startle us again and again
with resurrection Life,
bringin grace and hope and joy.

You, in your risen power,
are shaping all our days,
and so we praise you,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen

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A prayer based on Psalm 27

Light-giving, salvation-making God,
we have staked our living and our dying
and our being raised to new life
on your steadfast love and faithfulness.

You have promised
to hide us in your shelter in the day of trouble.
You have promised to set us high on a rock,
above those powers and forces
that batter us,
that tempt us,
that work against us.

We have sought your presence here,
listening for your Word:
your Word that gives life;
your Word that heals the wounded heart;
your Word that speaks truth.

Teach us your Way, O Lord Jesus.
Lead us on a well-lighted path.
In the times when you are silent,
grant us the courage to wait,
trusting in your grace that brings your resurrection power
to our dead ends.

You are doing a ‘new thing’ among us.
though, it is hard to see at times what that ‘new thing’ is.
We bring to you our grieving over what is being lost,
our fears about what the future might hold,
our desire to love and serve you.

By the power of your Holy Spirit,
you are refining us,
purifying our discipleship,
pulling us into following Jesus
In this new world.

Grant us mercy and grace
to trust you more deeply,
for the only secure place is with you,
our light and our salvation,
the stronghold of our life.

We pray all these things in the name of Jesus,
the first-born of your new creation
our hope, our life.

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Although it is well past Easter, I’m just getting around to typing this sermon up (yes, I still write my sermons out by hand). Many thanks to Craig Barnes and Ed Searcy for their reflections that proved so helpful.

Gathered in Christ

A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia, Ontario on April 8, 2012

Scriptures: Romans 5: 1-11
John 21: 1-14

Easter happens after a long, frustrating night of fishing and no fish are caught. Easter happens after failures and futility and coming up empty. At least, says the gospel writer John, that’s how it happened for Simon Peter.

Three years earlier, Simon had been a fisherman with his brother and his father on the Sea of Galilee. Then, Jesus showed up on the shore and said, “Come, follow me. I’ll teach you to fish for people.” Simon left the life he knew and started following Jesus and was renamed Peter. Then, Jesus was crucified and everything Simon Peter was living for was gone. His life was broken by cruelty. His hope was crushed by cowardice. Everything that held his world together was lost. His dreams and his hopes abandoned him. He was confused; uncertain as to how to move forward.

Craig Barnes has written that that describes the dominant experience of our time: confusion, loss, a sense of being abandoned. One age is dying. A new age is still struggling to be born. Nothing is nailed down anymore. We grow certain about less and less. How do you find your way forward when you are in the midst of that? Where do you find hope for living?

Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” He wanted his old life back. He wanted things to go back to ‘normal’. However, he discovered that there was no ‘normal’ to go back to. His old life was no longer ‘there’ to go back to. He spent the whole night fishing but caught nothing.

Have you ever been there? If you have not, someone you love has. It is a hard place to be. It is hard to be in that space where life as you know it is over but the new life, the new day, has not yet arrived. We have a name for it in the church: Holy Saturday.

Ed Searcy is a minister at University Hill United Church in Vancouver, B.C. He often reminds his congregation that Easter weekend is the heart of our life as Christ’s people. Three days — Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday — shape our life together. Those three days shape your life as a follower of Jesus. Those three days point you to the work of God in your life.

Good Friday is the day of loss and grief. It is the day when life as you know it ends. A job is lost. You become ill or disabled. Someone you love dies. Friends desert or betray you. Then, life takes you where you do not want to go.

We never get much of a crowd out at Good Friday services. This year, three congregations worshiped together and there were still plenty of empty pews. Who can blame people, though? Who wants to face the loss and the sorrow and the grief that comes into our lives? Most people would rather go fishing or golfing or cruising — anything but enter into that difficult time.

Nevertheless, this is where the gospel begins: on Good Friday. The gospel begins with Jesus not abandoning you when you feel most abandoned, but entering into your suffering; walking with you in it. Even when the path you walk takes you through the valley of the shadow of death, he walks with you.

Holy Saturday is that time between Jesus’ death and resurrection. It looks like nothing is happening. It can feel as if your life is stalled. You cannot go back to your old life but you are not able to move forward either. There is nothing you can do to fix what has gone wrong. You cannot find a solution no matter how hard you work at it. Whatever God is up to in your life, you cannot see it. Mostly it feels like God is absent, missing, unable to move against the chaos and the darkness. Holy Saturday is a time of waiting: you want to do something but every way forward is blocked.

Not until Easter arrives do you realize that God has been at work in ways beyond your comprehending. On Easter morning, as morning is now “coming to be”, as John puts it, the risen Christ shows up. He usually shows up unexpectedly. If this morning’s story is any indication, you won’t recognize him at first. He does not swoop in like a hero to rescue you. He doesn’t solve your problems for you. He does not fix whatever is wrong. Instead, he provides you with what you need to get through such a time.

“You haven’t caught anything, have you?” he asks. “Try fishing on the other side.” Jesus invites you to enter into a new life, a different way of being. When you listen and do as he says, you discover that the new life which is given is given lavishly, abundantly.  It is full of the presence of God.

Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday: this is the shape of your life with God. This is the bedrock truth of your life, even though your experience of God may be different as your life changes: No experience you have can take you beyond God’s reach. God loves you too much to abandon you any day of your life.

At University Hill congregation, the people ask each other, “How is the gospel with you? Are you living in Friday or Saturday or Sunday today?” God is up to something in your life. The question helps you recognize it and trust it and live into it.

The challenge comes when you find you’re spending most of your time in Good Friday and Holy Saturday instead of Easter Sunday. You can believe that God is at work; you can believe that God has a good purpose for your life. At least, you can want to believe that that is true, but that is not the way the human spirit works.  When you go through long periods of experiencing God’s absence and hiddenness, you can have doubts and questions that will not go away. It gets hard to hold onto faith; to keep believing.

That is why Jesus doesn’t just tell us about God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Jesus offers a meal. Over and over again in the scriptures, he gathers the people together. He takes bread and blesses it. He breaks the bread and gives it to them. Then, he takes the cup and blesses it and gives it to them, saying, “This is my life poured out for you.”

We are used to hearing those words when we remember the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples. However, if you look at the other meals that Jesus shared with people, those same actions are repeated over and over and over. Jesus take, blesses, breaks, gives. Take, bless, break, give. Ed Searcy says that it’s like a figure skater, practising her figures over and over and over until they become part of her muscle memory. She doesn’t have to think all the time about every little move. The body remembers, making the moves even when the mind cannot. It’s like a musician, practising scales and chords and arpeggios over and over and over until they become part of his muscle memory. The music can be played long after the mind cannot concentrate.

Take, bless, break, give.

Take, bless, break, give.

That is what God is up to every day of your living. God is taking what you have and even, even those parts of your life that seem wasted, useless, and too full of failure or compromise or grief to be of any use anywhere. The Holy Spirit takes all that intoa Christ’s suffering love, blesses it, and offers God’s presence within it. God breaks it open and works within it, changing and transforming it so that it becomes something new. It becomes a gift given to you and to the world. It becomes food for the journey. It becomes a way of serving others.

Take. Bless. Break. Give. Those are the figures we practices as Christians, over and over and over again. We practice so that, when life takes you to Good Friday or Holy Saturday, you will know deep in your soul’s muscle memory, that God is at work. God is taking your life and working a blessing into it. God is breaking your future open so you can be given a new life, full of resurrection.

Easter happens. After long nights of frustration and futility, despair and discouragement, ‘as the morning is coming to be’, Jesus stands on the shore, calling you into a new life, a resurrection life, a life full of the gifts and grace of God. He was there all along, making a new beginning. Now you get to enter into it. Thanks be to God.

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