Archive for the ‘Thirty-First Bundle’ Category

MARK 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

What, really, was the resurrection all about? Was it simply a matter of a body coming back to life? Was it some kind of mystical transport to another realm, outside the dimensions of ordinary consciousness? The crux of the problem, surprisingly, has less to do with the intrinsic meaning of the resurrection itself than with the way our question is phrased in the first place. We shouldn’t be asking what the resurrection was, but what it IS.

Taking a clue from Paul, whose ministry and writings predate our earliest Gospel (Mark), the resurrection needs to be understood as a possible experience in present time, and not simply a reference to a miraculous event in the past. Just as the redemption of the cross is unfinished until that moment the believer grasps its import and surrenders to its simultaneous judgment and forgiveness, so the resurrection is more an event vibrating on the threshold of reality than something for the history books. In fact, in the larger picture the cross and the resurrection belong together, as two sides of a single yet dynamic mystery.

The darkness of the cross is our realization of standing with those who put Jesus away, owning within ourselves that which rejects the essential truth by nailing it to the beam of our anxious certainties. But when the experience comes to us, utterly unexpected and undeserved, of a generous love that is given again and again despite our best efforts to destroy it, and opening at last to its irresistible grace, we are set free and filled with the holy light of new life.

Advertisements

MARK 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

There’s another thing about Mark’s version of the story. What later writers (Matthew, Luke, and John) would expand and elaborate into dramatic and even first-hand accounts is a simple discovery on the part of the women who came to finish the job of burial that early Sunday morning. No earthquake and descending angel, as in Matthew. No glorified body capable of eating a piece of broiled fish, as in Luke. No resurrected flesh still with the wounds of crucifixion that could be fingered and touched, as in John. In Mark’s Gospel, all we are left with is … absence. “He is not here.”

Once more we must ask, Why the brevity? Why such thin support from the supernatural beyond?  Why leave us with nothing to hold onto but a vacant tomb and the hysterical report of a few terrified women? If Mark is writing for the purpose of promoting the early Christian movement, then his choice of an ending amounted to bad advertising. Who wants to get behind that?

We get the sense that Mark is trying to draw our focus away from such surface sensations as angels, appearances, and palpable proofs of what can only be grasped, felt, and understood by way of an inner realization. Faith has never been about evidence, or the lack of it. The true disciple walks by faith, not by sight.

MARK 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

It is difficult for modern readers to believe that the original manuscript of Mark’s Gospel ended with the women’s fleeing the tomb in terror. That’s hardly a mood you would want to leave your audience with – or is it?

It’s possible that the so-called appearance narratives where Jesus is seen by the women (or Mary Magdalene), his disciples (except for Judas), and hundreds of others (according to the tradition) came later, as the experience symbolized in the resurrection was further explored and understood. If they were around at the time Mark was writing his Gospel, and assuming he knew about them, then the question arises as to why he chose to leave these appearances out of his story.

The answer may lie in the effect that Mark had been trying to cultivate throughout his biography of Jesus. A primary theme in Mark’s story centers on the cost of discipleship, on whether the reader is ready to accept the call to follow, all the way to the cross. Great courage is required, for this path of Jesus is guaranteed to be filled with dangers, sacrifices, and opposition from every side.

As Mark is writing, there are no supernatural sightings of Jesus to either embolden the believer or convince the skeptic. The resurrection made discipleship no easier than it had been when Jesus first issued the challenge to follow.

ACTS 10:34-43

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Who was Jesus? Definitions abound and creeds have been written, to be confessed by the faithful and defended against heresy and corruption. Again, the Church has spilled much blood and divided its own community over this matter of defining Jesus. Certainly there is something worthy in this pursuit of clarity; even our definitions of God – as long as we acknowledge them as only provisional and finally inadequate – should be as clear and concise as we can possibly make them. But sadly there are often darker forces at work as well, seeking to reduce the mysteries of faith to simplistic and literal formulas. One thing is for certain: if murderous defense is being made on behalf of some religious doctrine or definition of God, you can be sure it is about as far from the truth as it can be!

Peter’s “definition” of Jesus, delivered in a sermon to the Jews in the second chapter of Acts and here to the Gentiles in the tenth, is given in the simple report of what Jesus did and where he got his power. In both instances, the emphasis falls on the fact that Jesus “went about doing good” and that it was the indwelling Spirit of God that gave him authority over demons and disease. Notice the absence of reference to the virgin birth or to his being “of one substance with the Father” (as a later creed would state). The clearest and most accurate – as well as the most convincing – definition of Jesus that Peter or any church theologian could offer consists in the observation that he was a good person who did right by God and others. Underneath all the dogma, here is a portrait worthy of our admiration and loyalty. To believe in Jesus is to unite your own heart and life to his visionary example and living presence.

ACTS 10:34-43

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Many evangelical explanations begin with the premise that all of humanity outside the small circle of believers who hold to the pure doctrine of Christian salvation are rejected by God and without hope of redemption. Jesus did what needed to be done, what no one before or after him could do, which means that God’s acceptance is made possible only through a personal and doctrinally sound belief in Jesus. This place Jesus not only  at the devotional center of the Christian religion, but at the exclusive center of the world’s religions as well.

A religion becomes dangerous when it presumes to capture and represent the mysteries of God, the soul, and salvation in propositions that are absolute and beyond question. Christianity itself has repeatedly fallen to the temptation of idolatry – of elevating some doctrine, symbol, office or individual to the place of final authority. In Peter’s sermon to the Gentiles he confesses his belief that God looks first upon the heart, and upon the life that bears it forth in word and act, without apparent regard for the purity of doctrine that occupies the mind. In every nation this is so; a wide field indeed!

PSALM 118:1-2, 14-24

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

14 The Lord is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
16     the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me severely,
    but he did not give me over to death.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

The evolutionary ascent of consciousness to the level of human self-awareness opened two new frontiers simultaneously: the aspiration for God and anxiety over death. We have an exceptional ability to observe ourselves, to sustain a subjective stream of impressions, feelings, judgments, and expectations as “commentary” on our experience. A capacity for seeing ourselves within the larger context of space and time – to imagine a universe and entertain theories about its origins, limits, laws and mysteries – moves the mind inevitably in the direction of anticipating our extinction, when we will come to an end. Such mortal awareness is not a pleasant place in which to dwell, surely, but it can be argued that our sense of time’s arrow is what has given urgency, intensity, and beauty to the best of what we have achieved as a species.

As a matter of faith, the psalmist found assurance in the belief that something eternal and deeply stable stands beneath and graciously upholds the fleeting drama of his individual life on the earth stage. God is our name for the provident mystery and present help at the heart of reality, available and freely given to the one who can love life without wanting to possess it, who can let go of life in order to enjoy it to the full.

ISAIAH 25:6-9

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
    of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
    the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
    the sheet that is spread over all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
    and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
    Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
    This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The prophet Isaiah lived in the eighth century BCE in the southern kingdom of Judah. During this time, the Assyrians were pressing down from the north, having invaded and dispersed the ten tribes of the north just a few months earlier. Judah’s king had been considering the political advantage of joining some of the emerging alliances among smaller kingdoms in their effort to fend off the armies of Assyria.  But Isaiah was critical of this idea, since it represented putting Judah’s trust and fate in the hands of foreign powers. What was needed, the prophet insisted, was for the king and his people to anchor their faith in God.

At this point, Isaiah held forth a vision of the future. A vision is a clear and compelling mental picture of an ideal future that inspires new values and pulls our behavior into alignment with higher aims. By definition a vision is idealistic, and yet the influence of a truly powerful and long-range vision lies in its ability to help us see beyond the limits and conclusions of our present world – that is, the world as presently arranged. Isaiah saw a time when his people would have enough food, be free of sorrow, and live forever in joyful celebration of  God’s sovereign grace and generous hand. For those who could believe it, the anxious threat of Assyria would not be the last word.