In the days before Easter, preachers find themselves ricocheting back and forth between anticipation of full-to-overflowing sanctuaries and anxiety about being up to the task. In the case of the people who make it to church only on Easter, the preacher has only one shot; we want to make it count.
Most New Testament scholars say that the Gospel of Mark originally ended with the story of the women who go to the cemetery, only to encounter a mysterious young man pointing to Jesus’ empty tomb and announcing the resurrection. One of the challenges of this view is that if Mark truly ended his narrative here, he seems to have concluded by deliberately not concluding, by dangling something incomplete and unsatisfying before the reader in the final verse.
As long as the ascension is in any way related to upward movement (like an elevator going to the clouds), I am and will continue to be unmoved. The vertical directional imagery just doesn’t do it for me. I am not even moved to argue about whether or not “it” happened.
Paul is making an unexpected visit to Athens. His proclamation of Christ crucified had angered the Jews at Thessalonica so much that they had followed him to Beroea to incite riots in the crowds there. Rather than risk Paul’s safety, the Beroean believers had sent him off to Athens. There, while he waits for his colleagues to join him, Paul takes in the sights, tours the city and tries to learn something about its people.
On a recent visit to Washington, D.C., I saw the Hope diamond at the National Museum of Natural History. It’s odd to think that a large piece of carbon, refined by millions of years of compression and cut by human hands, could draw such crowds. Yet people are continually huddled around the display case, which is wired with numerous sensors for security.
A funny thing happened to a pastor friend of mine. His congregation was baptizing a family in a river that ran not far from the Hispanic church that he served. As the newly baptized members came out of the water he handed them their baptismal certificates. Afterward, in true Latino fashion, they celebrated a fiesta.
Good shepherd Sunday! The imagery in the readings is beautiful and triumphant, a fitting trumpeting of Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. The foreboding passion sayings are past, the betrayals have been left behind. Jesus is the good shepherd and we are his flock, the sheep of his pasture. Jesus has proven his love for us by giving his life for us, and we show our love for Jesus by listening to his voice and no other.
Whoever tied Easter to the spring equinox made a very good decision. For those who are so inclined, there is no better time for feeling alive, as the whole world wakes from winter and makes new birth look easy. Clumps of green grass erupt from the flat tan lawn. Bluebirds appear on the clothesline. There are so many redbuds in the woods that a pink haze seems to waft through the trees.
Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Dark. First light. Dawn. A few minutes of extraordinary encounter. This scene at the tomb of Jesus bestows a supreme gift upon the beloved of God. Time and place and character unfold and then reveal a threshold through which the hearer of the word may enter. Here, as in an icon, you experience Mary’s transformation from desolation to animation, from inertia to action.
Hey you! Don’t even think of parking that sermon near this playground! Take your Doubting-Thomas-Mobile to some other lot. Don’t even wait here with your motor running. OK—maybe it sounds like I don’t have a life. But Bible people are real to me. And my relationships with them change as I mature, just as you come to appreciate relatives at family reunions.