There are two parts to this message – the first being random thoughts on the preparation of a message; the second being the actual thoughts. I think the first is needed to set the tone for the second.
Random Thoughts on The Preparation of a Message
The first few times that I gave a message I used specific scripture readings. I was only preaching once or twice a year so this method worked (and it is something that I suggested beginning lay servants do as well). This works well when you have sufficient time to prepare and think through what you want to say and do.
But I quickly found out that this didn’t work as well when you had to do it on a weekly basis. (The first lay speaking assignments that I received were on a multi-week basis and not spot assignments; not the assignments a typical lay servant would receive today.) So, I turned to the lectionary for the basis of my scriptures; first using the Common Lectionary outlined in The Guide to Prayer (published by the Upper Room) and then with the Revised Common Lectionary.
But whether I was using specific readings or readings from either lectionary, I wanted to make what I said a connection between the readings and what was taking place at that time and place. I also made the decision to use all three of the lectionary readings (which is something that I have suggested beginning lay servants do not do).
But the Holy Week readings have always been, for the lack of a better word, a dilemma for me. Over the years, I have begun to understand how it is all set up and the need to know what is happening at the church where I am to work out what I shall say. And I came to the decision that works for me is to look at the complete story, not simply the story expressed by the Gospel writers.
I have, with unspoken thanks to others, also seen that there are other ways to give the message and have tried on occasion to take the message outside the confines of the pulpit.
And so, it is that I come to this Easter Sunday.
Thoughts on Easter Sunday, 2017
I assume that you, dear reader, are familiar with the Gospel readings for this Sunday (if not, the lectionary readings for today are Acts 10: 34 – 43; Psalm 118: 1 – 2, 14 – 24; Colossians 3: 1 – 4; and John 20: 1 – 8) so I am going to focus on the setting and the thoughts of those that were there and try to put where we are today, socially and spiritually, into that context.
Keep in mind that this day is a nexus. It marks the end of one story and the beginnings of a new story. We have the benefit of knowing this; those that were there that day do not. But even today, we are faced with as much of an uncertain future as those who had followed Jesus two thousand years ago and, perhaps, we are, just as they may have been thinking then, wondering what it is that we do next?
Easter Sunday begins in a cloud of doubt and fear. Jesus is dead, buried in the tomb, and the disciples are in hiding, fearful for their lives and not certain what, if anything they can do. Everything they have done for three years has been destroyed.
Can they go home and pick up where they left off three years before? Will they even be welcome? What do they say to those who question their friendship and devotion to one now considered by religious and political authorities to be rebel and a criminal? Can it ever be safe to talk about what they did when someone asked them where they have been or what they have been doing?
And what of all the people with whom they worked or encountered? What do they say to all those people who were healed, fed, or comforted? Was it a trick or a con? What will they say to those who come to them now, seeking the same healing, the same comfort, or seeking to be fed?
Right now, the only answer that they have is that HE is not here anymore so you must go somewhere else.
Is this not how so many of us feel today? We see our world being destroyed. Our land is being taken away by corporate and political systems our water, our air is being poisoned, often with the support of religious authorities. Religious and political authorities seemingly want to tell us what to think and how to act (all while they themselves think they are immune to the same laws).
And the church, which in the past was a sanctuary of hope for those without hope, a refugee for those cast out by society, has become a mirror of the church two thousand years ago, exclusive and restrictive, saying to many, “go away, you do not belong here and you are not welcome.”
The person who is called Jesus in these churches is not the Jesus who lives in me. I do not know the person who would say to any person, “go away or you are not worthy.” I do not know the person who would say that wealth is good and one should see all one can, even if it means that others go hungry or become sick or have no place to live.
The Jesus that I know, the Jesus that is in my heart and soul is the one who let the children come to Him at a time when children were ignored. The Jesus I know feed the hungry, even when it seems as if there was not enough for one person. The Jesus I know healed the sick, even when doing so would make it impossible for Him to enter the Temple because he had become unclean. The Jesus I know looked at the person and not the law; he gave meaning to hope.
And somehow, I think those where the thoughts that had to have been in the minds of the disciples and the followers that first Easter morning. And yet they were probably also asking what they were going to do next.
And then it happened. The word came, first with uncertainty but then with clarity that the tomb was empty and Jesus was not there! The word was passed from one to the next that He was alive and all that He had said and done for three years was did, in fact, have meaning. And it meant that there was a future.
It would be a future that became a vision and then a reality, first by the Twelve and those that were there at the beginning, then by Paul, and then by generation after generation of believers until today. It would be a message that reached the limits of the known world.
It would be a future expressed by John Wesley. In a world of danger and despair, of revolution and revolt, John Wesley would gather together a band of friends and work out a system that would offer hope. It has been said that England at the time of John Wesley was on the verge of the same violent revolution that swept over and through France. And yet, England remained calm, perhaps because John Wesley saw that the way to avoid violence was to remove the causes of violence.
How is today not unlike the world in which Jesus began His ministry or the world that John Wesley saw when he began what became known as the Methodist Revival?
And, on this day, when our doubts and fears are removed as easily as the stone was rolled away from the tomb, is it not clear what we must do?
It will take more than one day (remembering that Easter is a season and not just a single day on the church calendar). It will take a lot of effort; even if Jesus had not predicted the violent deaths of all but one of his disciples, I am sure that they knew it would not be easy.
It will make us outcasts in society but no more so than John Wesley who would be barred from preaching in churches or even the early Methodists in this country who could not build churches of their own.
But we who know the truth know in that truth we will be set free. And we know that what we do will change the world, even if we are not here when that change comes.
So, we remember why Jesus came and we remember that death could not keep him imprisoned. We remember that the lives of people were changed two thousand years ago and through the ages until today. And then we will know what we must do.