Our National Infertility Week series continues today. (Did you miss the post from Chris Thomas earlier? If so, stop now and read it here). I'm so glad to introduce you to Maren McLean Persaud, my new favorite Canadian who tells a story of hope, longing and loss. Here are her beautiful words-
This past fall, we took all our hope, all our prayer, all our being, and all our money and invested it into the expensive and rigorous fertility treatment known as IVF (in vitro fertilization).
We had been trying to have a baby on our own for almost three years only to find out we had around a 1 to 4 percent chance of that ever happening. IVF was our only option if we wanted to have our own child.
If you have had personal experience with IVF, I don’t need to tell you anything and I salute you.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, IVF is a medical procedure that drains you emotionally, physically, and financially to “retrieve” your eggs and fertilize them with sperm from your partner, or a donor, to create viable embryos that can be put back into you to hopefully achieve a successful pregnancy and live birth.
The process involves a whole lot of needles, drugs, procedures, anxiously waiting for phone calls and embryo updates (spoiler: not all of them make it) and in the end, you might just end up with nothing to show for it.
So we did all that with the confident attitude that it would work, because, why wouldn’t it? We’re young!
And it did work! We got pregnant and even had one little embryo to tuck away in the freezer for a later date. What a great return on our investment.
Three days before Christmas, on our wedding anniversary, we floated into our fertility clinic for the 8-week ultrasound ready to hear the heart beat and successfully “graduate’ from the clinic.
Not even thirty seconds into the ultrasound our doctor said “I don’t have good news”.
After that it’s all a blur, but essentially our embryo was there and had grown, but there was no heartbeat. I would miscarry soon. That night I slept as though I was playing dead. No dreams, no restlessness, just darkness. The next morning, I woke up to myself sobbing, wishing I hadn’t woken up.
‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’
My husband turned into our PR guy, messaging family and friends, letting them know what happened and canceling Advent/Christmas events we had planned to host in our home.
My family rushed in to spend Christmas at our house and they let us be the couch potato, tear-filled slobs we had turned into.
They cooked for us, cleaned for us, looked after us and although we had trouble recognizing it in the moment, brought a lot of light to our darkness.
My husband is a minister and in the days after our ultrasound he had to soldier through services that celebrated a special baby being brought into the world.
Being the bad minister’s wife that I am, I didn’t go to those celebrations with him.
The baby has always been my favorite part of the Christmas story. The fact that God chose to enter our world in that new and hopeful form so full of potential has always filled me with wonder and joy, but not this year.
‘Screw you and screw your baby, God!’
I wasn’t having any of it. How could I hear the ‘good news’ when only days before my Doctor told me there was no good news?
I was literally losing my baby as I rang in the new year.
In the days and weeks that followed I threw myself back into work, almost manically making plans and getting things done.
All the while I was haunted by the exact moment when we heard “I don’t have good news”. I would cry almost every night.
By February every night turned into once a week and by March there was even more space between these “episodes”.
With the Christmas story long behind me I felt like Lent was a good place for me at this point in my life. Focus on the depravity of the human condition while contemplating death on a cross? Yes! Let’s get sad, people!
Lent is coming to an end though and I can feel the tension building in my body as we inch closer to Easter. The Lenten focus on depravity of our sinful nature will turn into celebrating the Love God has for us and death on a cross will turn into resurrection. Ugh.
I’m not pregnant and am still grieving our loss, you expect me to sing Hallelujah soon? I feel like the Grinch, “I must stop Easter from coming, but how?”
Currently, there is hope in the little embryo we have tucked away at the clinic, waiting for us.
There is hope in how even though this experience tried to shred our marriage into tatters, my husband and I have become closer and more tightly knit than before.
There is hope in the stories of infertility and loss that others have personally shared with us; there is hope in that every time I see my psychologist I can honestly tell her I’m doing a “bit better” than last time we spoke.
But ultimately, there is hope because 2000 and some years ago God proved that there is no darkness where God isn’t with us. God will bring all things to a good end, and that is where our hope is.
I will reclaim the doctor's words: “I don’t have good news” and hope that the absence of Good News is not real.
I want to live a beautiful story of hope.
Maren McLean Persaud grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and pursued her studies in music and theology at Mount Allison University and then Knox College, Toronto School of Theology. Most recently, she worked as Director of Camping Ministry for the Anglican Church in New Brunswick, where she currently lives with her husband, Christian. Prior to that, Maren worked as a ministry student intern in Alberta where she studied the ways that summer camp can teach the wider church to be more creative in community building and spiritual formation. Maren is most passionate about ministry with children and youth and incorporates her experiences in camping and her musical training into that work. She loves spending time outdoors, drinking her coffee black and laughing until she cries.
**If you are looking for another story of loss, hope and healing check out Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility wherever books are sold.***
What did you do to celebrate Easter this weekend?
I went to Oklahoma.
When I found out I wasn't preaching this Easter (which of course made me sad but is just a par for the course in a free-range pastor life), I knew I needed to do help our family plan something special. I wanted to be with people we loved. I wanted to act out Easter.
When a friend asked me last week about our plans, I joked that we were making a "resurrection pilgrimage." At first it sounded like dorky preacher talk but the more the words settled in, I knew I spoke right. That this was indeed what we were doing.
Spending Easter in Oklahoma was a resurrection pilgrimage.
If any day defines who we are as Christian people, it's Easter. Easter tells us that hope springs eternal. And new life is always possible. (Which is no small thing, people!).
As a pastor, I'm known to say to congregations I serve that resurrection is a verb. It's a living action that Jesus took. It's action that changes our living lives. It's an action that we take in response to what Jesus has done for us. It's action that keeps going and going. And resurrection is always personal.
We all have resurrection stories to tell. Here's one of mine:
There was a day when I thought I might not pastor anymore. The 2012-2105 years in Oklahoma beat me down. It had taken away my courage. And it made me feel like I didn't have a lot to offer the world when congregations kept saying to me, "You'll never work in the state as a lady pastor." So much in my life felt dead. Maybe the pastor part of my life was done and over?
Then I met the Federated Church in the middle of Western Oklahoma. They asked me to be their interim pastor.
And this church called out my gifts again and kept telling me how happy they were that I used them. And this church loved through my tears. And this church continued to be in my life (and the life of my family) in very significant ways even after I left my official role. I wrote about my experience of being "Breathless with Gratitude" because of them back in April of 2015.
My life was changed because of knowing this church-- a statement I don't make lightly.
So much so that my daughter's middle name comes from one of the families in the congregation. As she was a resurrection gift in our lives, she needed a name, we felt that equally came from a place of resurrection.
So, as I sat in the pew on Sunday morning, listening to their new pastor (who is wonderful, by the way) share his own resurrection story, a story that had everything to do with his experience of the same love I knew in that place, I couldn't help but think this is the best of what church can be.
Together, in community, we come together to experience new life. And we then share it with one another. We really are never the same!
Resurrection looks like pastors finding their vocation again through congregations that see them as they are.
Resurrection looks like people being joined together in family relationships, though no birth certificate demands it.
Resurrection looks like congregations singing, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" not in memory of some event that happened 2,000 years ago, but as a statement of fact about the present.
So hopefully next year, I'll be preaching on Easter-- for I have so much to say-- but if I'm not, I'll be sure to plan another resurrection pilgrimage.
Because what better way to celebrate Easter than with God's gift of Spirit-given family? I couldn't be more thankful for mine in Oklahoma.
And I know that more resurrection gifts in my life (and yours too) are still yet to be!
How was Easter just last Sunday?
I don't know about you but for me the emotion, the pace and even the struggle of my Lent discipline feel many moons ago this week . . . as do the moments of singing with gusto "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" and "Christ, the Lord is Risen Today!"
But because Easter is a season of the year not just one day, I'm trying to stick with the texts for a just a little bit longer this year.
Though I went with the Luke text for my sermon, I love the John's telling of story too.
In John 20, Jesus meets Mary Magdalene at tomb crying, calls her by name, and she believes instantly that her Teacher is alive.
One commentator describes how interpretations through the ages have tried to understand these words:
"They range from the absurd (Jesus' wounds were still sore) to the fanciful (Having heard of the Eucharistic meal, Mary was wanting Jesus to serve her Holy Communion) to the risqué (Jesus' risen body was naked, so touching was inappropriate!)."
But out of Jesus' mouth, we hear this explanation of his response to Mary saying: "for I haven't yet ascended to the Father."
Or Jesus wasn't finished with his resurrection work. There would be more people to see and meet!
Let me stop here and let you know how I want to protest!
Doesn't Mary deserve all the face time she wants? Hasn't she been through enough drama? Did Jesus really have to say that to her? (Bottom line: I want my Jesus to be gentler to sad Mary's soul).
The more I've thought about them, the more I realize there wasn't any better thing for Jesus to say.
How many times do you and I live with fists clenched onto what we have and to what we know?
How many times do we find ourselves attached to relationships that are nothing more than a security blanket?
How many times do we find something "that works" in our businesses or churches and just want to do over and over? (Hey, if it succeeded in the past, then I'm sure it will work again, right?)
Jesus says let GO of the grand moment. Let GO of the people keep you stuck.
Let GO of the doctrines that we would keep you here at the tomb crying (and there's tons of these aren't there?)
Most of all, our Teacher continued to teach. He says resurrection is a living thing! If it moves, we move. If it dances, we dance. If it re-arranges our schedules, we rearrange!
As much as any of us think we understand God, the purpose of our life, or even think we're "too old" to make any big changes, Jesus says let me show you the world from my resurrected lens.
And while the actual resurrection event is a great one, resurrection is a verb.
It's dipping our toes into all the great unknowns. It's springing wide our doors to new possibilities. It's the best work in fact. The work that has the ability to bring more life to our souls, our homes or our churches more than a blow out Easter day celebration ever could!
So, thank you Jesus for telling Mary to "Not hold on to me." Thank you for telling us the same. For if we just stayed put with you at the tomb, we'd miss out on the adventures you want to give us! Keep us moving, Lord. Keep us moving.
A Sermon for Easter from Luke 24:1-12
Preached at Springfield Christian Church, Springfield, VA
When we think of Easter the words, “an average ordinary day” do not come to mind, do they?
Nope, we think of new clothes. We think of bunnies. We think of chocolates in the shape of a crosses (which of course gives us less guilt in eating them). We think of big, bright and bold worship services with more people in the pews than normal And we think of that great revelation at that empty tomb!
But the truth be told, the first Easter morning began as “an average ordinary day.” It was a day for those closest to Jesus filled with grief, yes, but also going through the motions of what was required of them according to Jewish customs.
Several of the female disciples gather at Jesus’ tomb. They bring with them spices they’d personally gathered. They want to anoint Jesus’ body and further complete the burial process—a sign of devotion and respect. This was their last chance to do anything for Jesus in bodily form.
It’s the ancient version of the “pick out a nice suit,” “buy a pretty casket” and “make sure you have the nicest plot in the cemetery.” We, like the women that day, do these tasks when someone dies not because we enjoy them but because it’s some of the last strings of connection to our loved one. It’s an ordinary part of what it means to lay someone to rest.
And for the women who loved Jesus the most, I can imagine with tears rolling down their cheeks, they wanted this morning to be a special one—the last encounter, their last memories with their favorite teacher.
Then, the greatest surprise happens.
Panic, fear, and anger must have been running through the veins of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James and the others.
Who could have taken Jesus’ body?
Where was he now?
And why would someone be so cruel?
We might wonder: shouldn’t they know exactly what was going on? But there was no time for more thinking because before seconds passed, scripture tells us that “suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.”
Instinctively, Mary, Mary and Joanna bow to the ground and cover their faces, believing this was the most proper response. But still unsure what was going on.
The angel messengers had something to offer:
It took the angel’s further explanation—reminding them of all Jesus had taught and all he’d said, point by point for them to begin to understand.
Or, “Women, wake up! The best news you could ever imagine is HERE!”
Then, thoughts in Mary, Mary and Joanna’s minds start rolling. For in fact, they DO remember Jesus’ words. He’d had so much to say about death not defeating him. And so what were they waiting for? This is news worth sharing. Luke tells us that they leave the tomb and go and tell the 12 male disciples.
However, I want to stop here and point out one important word that we don’t hear within this encounter: believe.
We hear nothing of the women believing what they angel told them, only that they’re REPORTING to the others what they heard. (There is a HUGE difference between those two).
(You can tell someone you love them. But if you don’t say it with conviction from belief, what good are your words?)
Yet, kudos to the women of course for keeping the story going—for telling the others was an important next step.
BUT (and but seems to be the favorite words of Luke’s telling of this story, he uses it 6 times in only 12 verses!), when the men heard, scripture tells us that “these words seemed to them an idle tale.”
One commentary says that the translation “idle tale” is a generous one for it comes from the Greek word, leros which could be better translated as “delirious.”
This news of resurrection, according to them was delirious, stupid or just plain crazy.
Only a fool would believe that Jesus is alive!
Of course, there’s Peter, who needs some time to get all of this straight. Luke gives us another BUT saying that Peter runs back to the tomb to see the stone rolled away for himself. He’s amazed yet there’s no mention of belief either.
So this is what I have to offer you about the scripture from Luke 24:
Sit with that for a moment.
It was the best news that no one believed.
Really. And oh how we all have our two cents to offer about that. We might want to say: “Shame on them!”
But does it really surprise us that no one magically “got” the good news and joyfully proclaimed it?
Doesn’t resurrection ask us to change—when we experience it—in more profound ways than we ever thought possible?
Consider this, throughout history, until several centuries ago, there was a fact that just about everybody on this planet could agree on. Can you guess what it is?
No one could leave planet Earth and survive. The earth is for us. The heavens are for the stars. Stay put!
However, as the space age of the 1960s began to buzz with excitement and furor—all of this thinking slowly began to shift. As the Soviet Union successfully propelled the first man up into space, he lived and came back, then, well maybe everything we’ve clung to for the possibilities for our lives was wrong? Maybe the heavens were not just for the planets, the moons and the stars, but safe for us too?
An ordinary day turned extraordinary on July 20, 1969—day that millions of Americans and countless others around the world too were glued to their television screens to watch. Neil Armstrong step foot for the first time onto the lunar surface saying (and you all know it) “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The moon in the night sky hasn’t looked the same since!
But, this is what made me curious this week: did seeing this event come true shift the paradigm of “we belong right here” vs “we belong out there” in space? Did flocks of people start to beat down NASA’s doors after that wanting to go to space?
According to a recent Gallop poll, a large group of Americans were asked: “Are you interested in going to the moon if you could?”
Only 27% said yes, which is roughly one fourth of all Americans. I’ll say it again, only 27% of the population they had any interest in space—even seeing it being done again and again and even with 40+ years of even better technology in place to make the journey safer.
Nope! Nobody wanted to go!
The stat could be summed up by this statement: we’re comfortable right here where we are!
And furthermore, isn’t it true that there are countless documentaries played on the science channels in the year 2016 which tell us the man on the moon is all a hoax? It was simply a made up story for political purposes? There are so people who STILL don’t believe it happened in the first place.
And such IS where we land with our resurrection story with those first disciples. The resurrection asked for a complete life re-orientation. And that’s tough stuff. And many still don’t believe.
Yet, consider again what the angels say to the women.
Or in other words WHY are you staying here? Jesus is not here. The past is through. It’s finished.
Jesus is over HERE. Jesus has opened up a world beyond what we can see! Jesus made a way for us to participate fully in the kingdom of God. Jesus has opened up for us the blessed life forevermore.
If you want to keep following Jesus, the angels are saying, YOU CAN’T STAY PUT and You can’t be over here!
You can’t live in the past.
You can’t be defined by what was.
You have to lift up your eyes, oh disciples, toward what is to come. You’ve got to be on the move!
I want you to know I understand embodying resurrection IS hard work. Many of us don’t want to be on a journey like that. It’s so difficult! We like it just fine over here, where we’ve always been.
A preacher friend of mine, Anna Carter Florence said once about this, text,
For if something is going to be dead (and of course we don’t like that) at least we get the consultation prize is knowing what we know, right? There’s a comfort in the finality of death, isn’t there? It’s something we can lean on. KNOWLEDGE
But this is the message of Easter, my friends, we can no longer lean on what we know.
But you might say, preacher, “If I don’t get what I know, then what do I have?”
I’ll tell you, what you have, you have Jesus.
The resurrection gives us Jesus.
Jesus is the one we can count on. Jesus is the one that will lead us to our future. Jesus is what we have in this world.
It’s the best news we could ever experience called resurrection!
But hear me say, the ask of resurrection is NOT to check our brains at the door. But it is to allow God and what God offered us through Jesus to be the center of our story.
And though there are many who might call our faith a scam. Or a hoax. Or just a delirious tale.
And though we not not believe. Or want to believe. This does not change the fact that resurrection morning was the best news the world ever got.
That what we see is not all there is.That we don’t have to be defined by the failures of our past.
For when we least expect it, for when we’re clueless and not even paying attention on an ordinary day—new life can find us. It did to those women at the tomb! This is such good news. Such good news for today and every Sunday of the year.
Today, church, let the resurrection not be the best news news none of us believed!
For years, Holy Saturday was my every day. I knew all too well the death of Good Friday. Easter had not yet come.
Pain, loss and more pain and loss. Kicks in the gut. No obvious way out. No clear path about the future. Days when I didn't know how to get out of bed. I wondered if my life really matter to anyone or anything.
As much as I wanted to move on to the joy, to the hope to the shouts of affirmation of "The Lord is risen! The Lord in risen indeed!" I couldn't. (In 2013, I even wrote about my depression during Holy Week).
Actually during this time, I didn't like Easter Sunday at all.
Not because I didn't need its hope. Not because it wasn't a good story to preach. Not because it wasn't fun to see the big crowds the Sunday draws.
No, I didn't like Easter because it came too quick. I needed a longer Saturday.
If that. We do such a poor job in the church of teaching people to stay put on Saturday. To sit with the hopelessness of our world. To cry tears for the injustice. To mourn what the world must have felt like when Jesus was gone. And to remember that our world, even with risen Christ here doesn't always feel like it.
This world can really beat us down sometimes. And in life we're good at avoiding this kind of pain.
For most of us the Holy is taken out of the Saturday because we spend the day running around preparing for a big meal, shopping for new clothes or even dying eyes and hiding them in the backyard.
And for me, during my years of many Holy Saturdays, I just felt so lost at church-- no matter if I were the preacher in charge or not. I can imagine tomorrow there are countless people sitting in the pews of your resurrection celebration that might feel the same way.
They'll be struggling to sing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today."
They'll be crying tears for the loss of someone who is not sitting beside them this year.
They''ll not be able to shout about any good news in their life.
I think we start by remembering that as much as we are a people of the supper of Maundy Thursday and the "It is finished" of Good Friday and Easter to come, we also belong to Holy Saturday.
We belong to that yucky, in between, not sure how the story is going to ever get better club.
We belong to a God who doesn't answer prayers in a timely way (according to us at least).
We belong to a world of so many unanswered questions. And because our faith story includes Holy Saturdays, we must champion those who are stuck there.
As for me, today, I woke up with such gratitude for those who were companions for all of my Holy Saturdays.
I'm grateful for those who were never afraid of my tears, my questions or even my rants on hard days about "How I didn't believe in the resurrection" even as a pastor.
I'm grateful for the pulpit that gave me words to preach my way through these hard days.
I'm grateful, too, that I'm not there anymore. (I've got SO much to say about Easter that I can't wait to preach soon!)
Here's my word; if you're stuck, see it through. Take all the time you need. I promise you won't be there forever. Sunday is coming! It really is. So keep going. This is the best Holy Saturday prayer I know. Just keep going.
For all of us whose lives are firmly planned in the church, there's one week of the year that exhausts us more than any other. And it's this one. Holy Week.
Extra services to plan.
Extra crowds to usher.
Extra bulletins to print.
Or church administrators talk about "getting through."
And when it's all said and done, the Sunday after Easter is one of the lowest attended services all year with the excuse "We're all too tired to come back." (And we really are).
Sometimes it's hard to think the "extra" is worth it.
I heard a clergy friend recently say, "I worked so hard on my Maundy Thursday sermon last year and only 10 people came. What's the point?"
I sat in a church council meeting a couple of years back when the leadership debated whether or not to have both a Maundy Thursday and/or a Good Friday service. The consensus was, "Oh that's too much to ask folks to come to! We possibly couldn't do both!'
I heard a member of a worship committee once offer about first time guests on Easter: "If the people really cared about church and God, they'll come back another week on their own. We don't need to do anything special for them!'
These encounters are full of frustration, annoyance and even anger, aren't they?
These leaders didn't want to give any more to Holy Week than necessary! If their efforts in previous years weren't acknowledged, appreciated or supported (or resulted soaring attendance numbers the next month), then why bother?
But to all of this my church loving friends, put your best foot forward.
It's our week to show up.
The story of a triumph, the clash of money and power, service, betrayal, denial, death and new life is our faith!
Where would our narrative be without the Upper Room, the cross, the tomb and the resurrection?
How would we have anything to say the other 51 other Sundays without the message of Easter? The themes of Holy Week are what we believe!
So why not go for the gold this week and show up every time your church doors open? Why not plan and offer the best possible worship experiences we can muster up?
Really, why not?
I know it can be exhausting.
I know it might be thankless.
I know you might want to crawl into your cave on Sunday afternoon and not come out for awhile when it's over.
Preach your best sermons.
Show up on Thursday night, sunrise and Easter am too!
Love on your visitors.
Claim it. Name it. Own it.
Put your best foot forward, church. If you don't who will?
And P.S. If you live in the Washington DC area and don't have anywhere to go in particular this Holy Week, join me for services at Palisades Community Church. Learn more here.
A sermon preached at Federated Church: John 20:19-31
I don’t know about you, but when I have something really big happen to me, what usually follows is a hangover.
I don’t mean a literal drunken hangover (well, maybe it has happened before), but an emotional one where I have to take a step back and process.
Call it the day all the kids leave the house after Christmas or spring break holidays.
Call it the day after you get home from a vacation when you discover you need a vacation from the vacation.
Call it the day after you just graduate from the college program you’ve been waiting for years to complete.
You know, the kind of day where all you want to do is stay in your pajamas, let incoming calls to go to voicemail or you sit your kids in front of the tv without guilt so that there’s space in your life to rest and regroup. We ALL needs days like this—days without calling ourselves “lazy” for taking them—especially when we’ve just gotten through something that required a lot of energy from us.
And this is exactly the place where we meet the disciples on two different occasions after the resurrection occurred.
On the first occasion, it's the evening of resurrection day and the second is exactly one week later. The 11 disciples (Judas is no longer with them) and probably some women too have locked themselves in a house. This house is not far from Jerusalem, and they are camped out there because they can’t bring themselves to do much of anything other than be together as Jesus’ closest friends.
They are exhausted. They are moody. They are disillusioned. They probably don’t feel like eating though maybe Lazarus’ sister, Martha was there trying to force feed like a good Jewish mother would. But, most of all, I can imagine the disciples were afraid.
If they had their pajamas near by, I’m sure they were wearing them. I can imagine they had not combed their hair in a while.
For Jesus, their beloved, teacher, leader, prophet, healer and friend has died. And when someone we love dies, the best thing, we usually know how to do is retreat.
The greatest grief of all for the disciples, I believe was the fact that they are now living in a world without a plan B. They've all severed family ties, left jobs and made a fool of themselves—some would say—to commit to follow Jesus. And this revolution, they thought they were leading, seemingly had died with their leader. What in the world were they to do next?
But then strange things begin to happen. Reports come from Mary that “she’d seen the Lord” Peter and John confirm her testimony that Jesus’ body was indeed gone from the tomb.
Maybe, just maybe, what Jesus said all those years about rising on the third day was true? Or maybe not?
Wasn’t it the case that grief can play tricks on your mind? What these three saw couldn’t really be true, could it?
But then, an even more surprising even occurs—without knocking on the doors and entering in as a normal person would, the resurrected Lord, is in the room with them. He says these simple words, “Peace be with you.”
What a shock of an appearance!
“Peace be with you.”
Of all the words that Jesus chose to be his first words of resurrection to these guys, isn’t it amazing that “peace be with you” was his first?
Jesus could have played the role of a disappointed parent.
“How could you boys disown me like you did? Not one of you showed up at the cross to be with me?”
Jesus could have played the role of an angered friend.
“How could you call me your best friend and not stay with me when I needed you the most?”
Jesus could have played the role of a strict teacher.
“How could you students not pay attention to all I had told you about the way I would die?”
But Jesus does none of these things—he only says, “Peace be with you.” It’s a word of forgiveness and most of all love!
For what his resurrection brought to these broken down, emotionally tired and depressed disciples was PEACE, not harassment, disapproval or judgment.
So if we are talk this morning about what it means to be people of the resurrection, then I believe our first clue is the word peace.
Peace can kind of be one of those clique words with religious and cultural meaning that we rarely define.
When I say peace, you might think of the hippie movement of peace and love for all made popular in the 1960s.
When I say peace, you might think of a word we use a lot at Christmas time—signing our Christmas cards with the words, “Love, Peace and Joy from our family to yours.”
When I say peace, you might even think of a practice of greeting at churches—that we don’t do often around here but many others do—the practice of greeting one another in the peace of Christ. “The peace of Christ be with you (and also with you).”
But what did Jesus actually mean when he offered peace to his disciples?
Theologian Elisabeth Johnson helps us understand the context for Jesus’ use of the word peace in this resurrection appearance saying his greeting, “Peace be with you,” carries the sense of the Hebrew greeting “shalom’” (a word all the disciples would have known as a way to talk about the presence of God among them).
Johnson goes to say that this blessing “connotes more than tranquility, but a deep and holistic sense of well-being.”
Or in other words, Jesus’ “Peace be with you” during the appearance to the disciples alone and the appearance when Thomas is present—tell us that resurrection isn’t about perfect clarity or even perfect restoration of mind, but it is about a deep sense of knowing.
Though outward circumstances may not have changed and may not anytime soon, Jesus’ gift of peace is an invitation to abide differently in the world.
For though the disciples could have chosen at this moment to believe Jesus was maybe a phantom of their imagination or maybe a ghost, the gift of peace said, “Even if you don’t understand what is going on right now, it is going to be ok.”
The more specific call for the disciples came after the this greeting of peace. Saying in verse 21: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Or how I would paraphrase it, “Boys put your pajamas and your comfort food away and get out in that great big ole world and share my message with other people. Don’t confine your life to these locked doors!”
But how much more secure these locked doors made them feel! And how easy it was to consider staying there!
This week, Kevin and I traveled throughout the northwestern part of the country of Honduras, visiting communities and programs supported by the donors of Feed the Children. Honduras, as we have learned over the course of our numerous visits to the country is a nation that struggles with deeply embedded corruption, gangs and thousands of its citizens living on less than $1 US a day.
And one of his most important issues all Hondurans if you asked them is security. Seemingly, the government is “working on it.” For, you can hardly travel from one town to the next without being stopped at a police checkpoint run by the members of the Honduran military. It would be like traveling from Weatherford to Clinton and being stopped at least 2 times on I-40 by an armed guard wanting to inquire as to your plans for movement.
Thus, you would think with all of this security that Honduran residents would feel safe. But the thing is they don’t.
We heard story after story along the way this week from some of our Honduran friends about how even the poorest of the poor spend their money to build barbed wire fences around the high walls and gates of their homes. Francisco, our regional director based there told us about the security strategy of most: “Get good locks and don’t come out unnecessarily.” He went on to say, “What people don’t realize by insulating themselves in this way, it doesn’t actually save their lives. Instead, it just cuts them off from their larger community, a community that could help them if a crisis came. Walls and wire don’t keep danger away. But it’s a hard lesson for us to learn.”
And so, I believe the same way Jesus speaks to his disciples. As much as they wanted to build walls and add more locks to their doors, keeping the pain “out there” Jesus says, I give you peace so you don’t have to be afraid to “go out there.”
You don’t have to be afraid of what is to come because I am alive and I am commissioning you for greatness in my name.
And for us as modern-day disciples, the call for us is the same too.
Resurrection in our own lives means you and I might not get all the answers we want about life when we want them.
We might not understand the crazy things that happen to us as we follow Jesus, when resurrection appears right before our eyes.
We might not be handed from on high a document with 20 bullet points of what comes next.
But, as people of the resurrection Jesus leave us peace, peace that leads us out. For what might normally keep us with the covers over our head at home is the gift that leads us to connect with others that we might have otherwise known.
Kate Huey, a member of the leadership team at the United Church of Christ in Cleveland says this about living out this text:
“It's a great temptation in the life of the church to huddle behind massive, beautiful doors, to hide out from a world in pain and great need, and to make our faith a personal, private thing that has nothing to do with that pain or that need.”
But, isn’t it our mission she goes on to say, to fling open wide the doors of our homes, our families, our churches and to love the world without judgment as Christ has loved us?
And it’s peace that leads us out! It’s peace that teaches us that all shall be well, all matter of things shall be well. It’s peace that invites us from despair to get up wash our face, brush our hair, put on better clothes and show love to somebody. It’s peace that gives churches like ours courage to keep on keeping on, even when we feel like we’re suck more in the emotions of Good Friday rather than Easter Sunday. It’s peace that leads us to create new ministries, to welcome in the stranger, and to dream new dreams.
“My peace I leave with you.”
No matter what comes your way, no matter how insecure you feel, no matter ho much you long to retreat, lock your doors and hide, we are Easter people. God gave us peace through our resurrected Lord so do not be afraid.
It was a online cute photo fest over the weekend, wasn't it?
The sweetest family photos we've ever seen at church, children decked out sitting next to the Easter bunny, and even grown-ups too posting pictures of themselves hiding eggs in their backyard.
Beautiful dresses at church. Children in green yards holding Easter baskets. And happy couples in front of their homes.
When we see these photos posted, we start to make assumptions about people's lives. What's the state of so and so's marriage? How are their kids doing? Oh, they must love their new church!
And on a day like Easter, it's as if everyone's life goes from a frazzled mess to beautiful in only the matter of a day.
I mean, I had no idea my friends could die such beautiful eggs!
On Sunday, I joined in all the celebration and posted a picture. And it was a good day!
Lovely friends who hosted Kevin and I on Saturday night, two great worship services at church, an unexpected Easter basket from Kevin that I found in the floorboard of the car on the way home, a causal lunch with some good friends in the afternoon and some down time in the evening.
But I think the smile on my face was about something deeper than all these things. The stories that led to the photo are beyond what any 140 character tweet could articulate.
If you and I could pull up a chair right now and chat, I could tell you stories.
They'd be stories about hopelessness, loss and wondering if I could ever find my place in a state I never planned to live.
They'd be stories about perseverance and vulnerability-- trusting in the fact that resurrection was indeed possible when it finally came.
They'd be stories of 4 moves and one house that finally felt like home.
They'd be stories of gratitude for a landscape that I once scorned but now overwhelms me often with its beauty!
Most of all they'd be stories about death-- dying to what I thought my life was so that I could see what was right in front of my eyes.
And I don't think it's just me.
All our photos tell stories that aren't communicated, that go beyond the surface.
When I think about the dear ones that I love, what I want most is hear more of these stories.
I want to slow down, drink more coffee slowly and listen.
I want fewer days to go by where I don't connect in meaningful ways. I want to get more of my news from real life conversations, not Facebook.
So, let's get together soon! Let's not allow the photos we post to speak for us.
No matter if we express them or not, Easter is full of expectations.
If you attend church on Easter, you might expect to see some fine dressed folks—it’s the Sunday best of the Sunday best day of the year, isn’t?
You might have expected to see more people in the pews than on a more normal Sunday.
You might have expected to sing familiar hymns that you grew up loving like, “Christ the Lord is Risen today” or hear some beautiful choir music.
You might have expected to hear a really moving sermon.
And I tell you, there isn't anything worse than having your expectations unmet on Easter!
But I believe all this business of expectations and their being either fulfilled or unfilled truly says something about what we all believe Easter to be: an event.
Yet, when we do this, when we make Easter just an "event" we're robbed. Consider the story again on this day. This year, I thought a lot about John 20:1-18.
From John’s telling, we learn that early in the morning, the first day of the week while it is was still dark, grief-stricken Mary comes to visit the gravestone of her beloved Jesus. She needed to be close to him. She needed somewhere to go with her grief. She could not be penned up in her home anymore. She goes to be in the place where she knew Jesus’ body was laid to rest. But as she approaches the tomb she realizes that the stone on Jesus’ tomb was no longer there.
Afraid, Mary runs to get the men for some backup. Simeon Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus loved race their way out to the cemetery. The other disciple, John bends down goes in to look and see the grave-clothes of Jesus, but no body was there. Simeon Peter actually goes in and sees the same. Both men return to their homes.
But, sweet little Mary who has been watching this peek in, peek out game the men were playing, still weeps outside.
Taking just one more look at the tomb, Mary sees something that the guys don’t get the privilege of seeing: angels.
And these angels ask her an important question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
When she answers, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they laid him” the biggest shock of her life is about to come next.
WHO does Mary see when she turns around? None other than Jesus himself. But the narrator warns us that Mary’s doesn’t really see.
For, as the old saying goes, what you see is what you get, and for Mary she saw only what she expected to see, the grounds keepers. Mary believes she’s talking to a gardener and so asks him about what might have happened to her Lord’s body. And it takes Jesus shaking her literally to help her to see rightly.
Can’t you just picture it? “Mary!” Jesus says as he grabs on her shoulders and rocks them back and forth. “It’s me Mary, can’t you recognize me? It’s me. It’s me!”
And suddenly the most unexpected miracle IS before her eyes: a risen Jesus, a Jesus who is alive, and a Jesus who says Mary “don’t hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
And it was a grand event, I tell you. A really grand event of Jesus fulfilling the promise he made to his disciples before he left the earth. Jesus faithfully kept his word. He was alive.
And so it's true, Easter is a great festival day to celebrate the occasion when Jesus arose from the grave!
For many, Easter is simply this. It's a day to celebrate Jesus atoning for our sins, paying the price for us so that we can go to heaven when we die.
Easter, however, can be so much more! If we are looking for it . . .
It can be about a God who brings the kingdom of heaven to this earth, a God who can make the worst of all possible days worth living, and a God who can breathe new life into the deadest parts of our soul and communities.
I believe Resurrection is a verb that can change us. Easter is a way of life.
Everything that I had expected would have happened to me hadn’t. Everything that I had hoped would have cheered me up didn’t. Everyone who I thought would have come to my aid in comfort hadn’t shown up in ways I could receive.
And life really was terrible, Kevin, my husband, could vouch for me on this. And I think if you are honest about your own journey, you’ve right there too at some point as well.
For me, I’d gotten to that point when praying was something I didn’t do a lot of because my prayers weren’t being answered, why bother?
On one really bad day, I never said to a dear pastor friend, “Maybe I don’t believe in God anymore.” (which is of course the stuff that you aren’t really supposes to admit aloud—but we’re good enough friends now, so I think you’ll be ok). But this is where I was and my gracious friend received my confession and I know God did too.
For in only in a matter of hours, did I felt shaken in an internal way while I was doing chores around the house—much like Mary’s experience with Jesus in the garden.
It was as if in those moments, God spoke to me and said, “I don’t appreciate your non-acknowledgment of me. You can say and do a lot of things, but don’t forget I’m here and always will be.” Whoa! I was listening again. That was God.
And it wasn’t as if everything magically fell into place after that. Or that there weren’t many hard times to come. But from that moment on, I didn’t doubt the Almighty anymore and haven’t since. Hope found me bit by bit.
Practically speaking to my life without a lot of plans, an invitation to co-lead a youth camp with a friend came within hours to my empty calendar. I got eyes to see the joy around me that wasn’t in bed with the covers over me. And my persistent friends finally got through to me in the weeks to come—that my life had value, even if it was not exactly what I wanted.
This is what resurrection looked for me. I can’t imagine my life without resurrection in the moment I just described to you and so many days since. Resurrection is what my spirit longs for in this broken world in which you and I live. I don’t know how to live without the possibility of resurrection anymore.
I’ve told you this personal story this morning because what I most want you to hear is that the beautiful witness of Jesus’ resurrection was personal.
Mary experienced resurrection among the angels and an appearance of Jesus himself. Peter and John experienced resurrection by believing Mary’s testimony, trying to our race one another to the tomb and seeing for themselves the abandoned grave-clothes. Everyone God what they needed to see when they needed it.
And this why if we read all three other encounters of resurrection in Matthew, Mark and Luke we see it’s not the same story in every one.
This is used to bother the analytical side of me—I mean, which one is the “right” one? (I only want to preach on that one!)
But the more I journey with Jesus and help others do the same: I’ve realized that the Holy Spirit guides us at our own pace. We all see God in different ways which why we have four resurrection stories, and not one is better than the others.
Easter is a great day to remember that God keeps his promises and that everything Jesus said about his life was indeed true. But it’s also a day reconnect ourselves to living Easter.
So I ask you as you're reading this:
What hurts in your heart today?
What nagging issue in your family keeps you up late at night?
What dream in your life plan is unresolved?
What is dead in our church that needs new life?
Resurrection can change your answers!
This is the good news:
For there’s no hurt that can’t be mended because “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
For there’s no unresolved dream that can’t be fulfilled because “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
For there’s no dead part of you that can’t have it’s tune changed to joy again because “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!”
And with such great news, we need to keep celebrating, don't we?
Back for my birthday in February, I got a new toy: a Fitbit. It's a activity tracker that I wear on my body at all possible times. Kevin already had one for a couple of weeks. A true competitor at heart, I happily accepted the gift and the challenge of walking my way to a more active life and of course seeking to out step my husband!
Since the addition of the Fitbit to our lives, I've needed to rediscover the neighborhood where I live. You can only pace around the grocery store and your house for so long before you need a wide open space to quickly accumulate your steps. So off I've gone pacing around my Oklahoma neighborhood on a daily basis.
There's so much to enjoy about the beauty of the neighborhood where we live (we will miss it so when we move), especially early in the morning and late at night. Oklahoma sunrises and sunsets are bar none! And around our family friendly subdivision so there's always so much joy to take in from the kids running around barefoot in their yards or playing soccer and basketball with their friends in the community park.There's grandmothers tending their flowers with such zest that make me want to garden again.
But as I'm doing my laps, there are moments when I quickly am shocked back to where I am: the buckle of the Bible belt. Being a Christian in this state it seems is something you drink in the water. You can't go very far without someone saying "God bless you" or telling a story that begins, "Well, it's just a God thing."
And then yesterday on my walk, I noticed this in front of several of my neighbor's homes.
A white wooden cross in not one yard but multiple yards throughout my neighborhood. With each passing one I saw, I started making up stories about how one of the local mega churches (and there are so many!) must have distributed them on a Palm Sunday and told congregants to place them in their yards as a way to "mark their homes as Easter celebrating Christians."
The thing is about Oklahoma that I've learned during my three years here is that it doesn't need a white cross campaign to identify some households as Christians and others as not because for goodness sake, we're in Oklahoma! Being a democrat is a sin!
You may think I've gotten off my whacker here. "Aren't you a pastor? Wouldn't you also promote a white cross campaign?"
No I wouldn't. It's true, I am a pastor. But this is the thing: I am not a showy pastor.
In my experience, I've never made anyone "won over" the gospel by the fact that I wore a "Jesus Saves" t-shirt or put a fish symbol on the back of my car. No one has ever wanted to talk to me about my relationship with Jesus because I wore a cross necklace or made a dramatic entrance to a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon while wearing my Sunday best.
Faith, you see, for me is about how I treat you. It's about how I quiet myself before God. It's about how I give back in my time and finances. It's how I love all my neighbors, especially those of a different faith from me or no faith at all. It's not about outward acts of piety or my church attendance record.
I believe when folks see that you are the real deal-- that you love God and love others--- they want to know more.
So my friends, this Easter weekend before you consider making resurrection Easter eggs and taking them to the neighbors' kids or posting comments on Facebook about your holiness activities, stop and ask yourself the simple question: "Why?"
Maybe if we all spent less time concentrating on what hung on our exterior, we'd have more time to ready our interior for the great JOY that is ours to have on Easter morning.
This is the second part in a series. If you missed the first entry begin by reading here.
It all started on Easter Sunday morning-- the most joyous day of the Christian year and I was not excited about getting out of bed.
It took Kevin almost an hour to move me.
The problem was that I didn't want to go to church even though I knew we'd be attending the services of a dear pastor friend.
I didn't want to be around happy clappy Christians. I did not want to be forced to say "Christ is Risen Indeed!" with a smile on my face.
And though such sentiments went against what I wrote in my "If I were Preaching Easter" previous blog post. It just was where I was. I am just not in a season of life of Easter. Good Friday or Holy Saturday might be more like it.
And I realized in that moment that I was not that kind of Christian (even if it is what my friends or husband or colleagues want me to be).
I can't pretend.
I'm not a "let the injustices of this world or of my own heart roll off my back" sort of Christian. And I am most certainly not an "everything happens for a reason" sort of Christian. And it really annoys me when others try to belittle my pain by offering such platitudes.
Though I have such amazing Jesus loving friends with lighthearted outlook on life, I'm simply not that kind of Christian.
I'm not a Christian that can be encouraged by, "God works all things together for the good" (because sometimes that good may not come in our lifetime and it really sucks).
I'm not a Christian that believes suffering happens because "God is testing us" (because suffering often comes hand in hand with what it means to be a living breathing and walking human being).
I'm not a Christian that can go to church and eat shortbread cookies afterwards with the church folks and let sexist or racist comments pass for small talk (because if I didn't call it out-- even if it meant I wouldn't be welcome there anymore-- who would?).
BUT, I am the kind of Christian who is not going to give up. I am going to keep seeking. I am going to keep wrestling with the mystery of the Divine.
Even when nothing makes sense and I don't want to go to church, I will keep on keeping on. I will go to church like I did on Easter.
Last Sunday, passed the peace. I sang, "He Lives, He Lives." And, I shared an Easter meal afterwards with friends.
All of these, I believe are signs of resurrection, even if I didn't feel them in the moment. A spiritual mentor reminded me afterwards that Easter is a fact. It's not a feeling. So at least I observed the fact which didn't need me to feel it to be true.
Most of all I want you to know that I am the kind of Christian who is always going to tell you the truth.
And this year Easter was a lot like rotten eggs. Maybe next year will be better?
Every year when I was a preaching pastor, I felt the anxiety rise the closer we got to Easter Sunday morning.
The expectations. The crowds. The desire of the people to hear something new and meaningful.
Though I had a mentor once tell me don't sweat it, just tell the story. The problem is that everyone already knows the story: Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. The women came to the tomb. They were afraid. They go tell the male disciples. They don't believe them. Yet, everything changes for the world on this Sunday morning. Death has been beat. New life is possible. Jesus is alive!
The last time I preached Easter in 2012, I was over the Easter hoopla. I found myself fixated on the idea that resurrection is much more complicated than super happy hymns and families coming together in a church pew. Resurrection is hard work, I said. I ended by encouraging the congregation to not choose a resurrection path unless they were ready for their lives to be turned upside down. Because we need to remember what got Jesus to Easter morning: death!
On the way home this particular Sunday, Kevin told me that my sermon was a real downer. He wanted to know: "Where was the lighthearted mood from the pulpit?" But, I stood by what I said. Sermons are always about proclamations for a moment in time and that is where I was.
This week, I've been wondering if I were preaching Easter this year, what would it be about?
I'd land a bit more on the side of pro-Easter celebratory joy this year. Not because I am any less aware of how cruel and harsh the realities of life are. And most certainly not because I've come to believe that resurrection's moments in our lives are any less work.
Rather, I would preach in this way because life is so difficult. I have come to believe that life's problems make Easter's joy so important.
For we all need days in our year (and in our liturgical calendar at church) to remember what it looks and feels like when hope comes, when grace surprises us, and as the old hymn goes "when love's redeeming work is done."
If I were preaching Easter this year, I would do so with full voice and lots of exclamation points written into my sermon manuscript.
In many ways I would be forcing upon myself a joy that isn't all there, but I would do it anyway because to follow Jesus is to claim our status as Easter people.
I would preach that we have to cling to good when it comes.
I would preach that the greatest good that ever came to the world was Jesus.
I would preach that even when we are bearing our crosses, we serve a God who can make all things new.
Most of all I would preach that love never fails. It's what sustains us all our days-- the good and the bad alike.
I would ask the congregation to rejoice. For it is the day that the Lord has given us to especially rejoice.
But because I'm not preaching in a congregation this year, I leave my Easter musings with you.
Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Let us be glad-- even if it is just for today. AMEN