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“The Smallest Light”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 65:17-25
John 20:1-18

 

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

 

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


 

This is a wild story.  It’s the kind of story that makes one wonder if the teller of the tale has gotten any sleep, whether or not they’re delirious, whether they’re high, or just how connected they are to reality.  That is why the presence of these other believers at the scene is so critical.  What Mary Magdalene experiences is astonishing.  It is inconceivable.

She goes from the worst kind of grief; …to anger and sadness that Jesus’ body appears to have been removed; …to surprise, disbelief, relief, and joy to find the Teacher speaking with her.  And this is the kind of radical joy that changes everything.  It’s the kind of surprise that reminds you you do not know everything but that there is infinitely more to life than you can perceive.  It’s the kind of wonderment that squarely reminds you that God is God and you are not.

Can you imagine?

 

How many of you have been in mourning?

How many of you are there now?

How many of you have witnessed atrocity?

How many of you have listened to stories that make your heart feel like it will burst?

Who among you has witnessed the deep darkness in human hearts, both in yours and in others’?

 

For everyone who has despaired.

For everyone who has felt fear and isolation.

For everyone who has witnessed loss of life.

For everyone who has seen fear lay waste to what was vibrant.

For everyone who has watched as the innocent suffer.

For everyone who have listened as evil and sin claim the day…

 

This resurrection is for you.

For you.

 

For there is infinitely more to life than we could ever perceive.

And the smallest light will pierce the blackest night.

 

There is more to life, and there is more to death, than we can conceive.

But if we trust the Maker of the stars

…the Author of the love that glimmers in eyes of our beloved ones

…the Creator of the Sun that energizes us by day and soothes us reflecting off the moon at night.

If we trust the Maker of earthworm who breaks down matter to make earth and till the soil

If we trust the One who made the ground that filters our water making it pure again

…the One who makes the land bring forth good food to nourish and sustain…

THIS One makes good things out of the dust.

THIS One summons life after death.

THIS One is ever remaking the world that we destroy.

THIS One is ever reaching out to hearts who have turned away.

THIS One is ever inviting hearts to repay evil with good.

This One is ever working ALL things for good.

 

This One

 

While in Israel, we got to speak with many different people, some famous, some simple and unknown.  One of these folks was an unassuming, quiet gentleman named Yuval Roth.  A Jewish man living in Israel, he lost his brother one day in ’93 when a group of extremists picked him to give him a ride, while posing as Orthodox Jews.  Yuval would never see his brother again.

And after such tragedy and loss, one can imagine a multitude of ways his story could have gone.  But at some point, he was compelled to help his Palestinian neighbor reach medical treatment in Israel.  And this started a movement.  He continued assisting Palestinians in crossing the borders to access life-saving medical treatment.  And others began joining him such that now it consists of thousands of Israeli volunteers who, just last year, provided over 10,000 rides to over 20,000 Palestinian patients, most of them children.

He received a text from one of the Palestinian men he helped.  It read, “You saved me two times.  The first time from cancer.  The second time from extreme hate.”

 

 

Our God is the author of new beginnings, over and over and over again.

Jesus Christ modeled for us a forgiveness beyond anything we’d ever witnessed.

And our God, in Jesus Christ, has shown us just how far God’s love extends.

It is inconceivable, uncontainable….

 

Our God is not just out for the good and the righteous.  Our God came for the lost and those in deepest darkness.

 

So when you are tempted to believe there is no hope

-that evil has destroyed all you love

-that injustice has stolen your future and your joy

-that these dry, dry bones can no longer live…

REMEMBER, that the smallest light pierces the deepest darkness.

Jesus rose from the dead and is alive in you and in me.

God is still working miracles – making goodness from evil, calling life out of death.

And you, dear ones, are shining in the light and love of the Lord.

 

 

Shine on!

Remain steadfast in hope.

Believe.

For this is the GOD we serve!!

“Don’t Press the Fast-Forward Button”

Easter Sunday

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 19:1-7, 14-19, 28-30, 38-42
John 20:1-18

John 19:1-7, 14-19, 28-30, 38-42

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

It’s Easter!  What comes to mind?

I always remember the flower covered cross.  I loved doing that as a kid!  And I remember my grandmother’s backyard. She’d hide those candy-coated marshmallow eggs around the yard for us to find.  To this day, I love those eggs!

And I think of pastel colors!  Smocked dresses in delicate colors!  White Sunday shoes.  Colorful eggs artfully dipped in vinegar-smelling colored dyes.

I think of Spring, and how the whole earth bursts with color!  I think of green everywhere – fresh, spring green!  Azalea’s laden with blooms! Wisteria vines with their purple, grape-ish blooms!  I think of honeysuckle, and pollen coating everything!  (Can you tell I grew up in the south?)

I think of the hope of summer – that yearning for a bit of warm weather so I can get outside!  I look longingly at the summer dresses in my closet asking like an eager child, “Is it time yet?  Is it time yet?!!”

Growing up in the south, Easter always cued the coming of Spring!  Easter symbolized hope after despair, vibrant life invading the dull, cold, life-less winter. Easter symbolized a long-awaited hope! It reminded us that winter would not last forever.

I love all these things!  It is fitting to celebrate new life.  The coming of Spring, the life springing from dormant ground, the reminder that the cold and the dark too will pass…  all of this alludes to the true celebration of Easter. When all was lost, hope sprung again! When evil had done its worst, goodness overcame!  When the tomb was sealed, Jesus arose!

But the whole story is hard.  The whole story opens more questions.  The wholestory makes me uncomfortable, and I want to find the fast-forward button. I want to fast forward through the cross to Easter.

Peter wasn’t so different.  Remember the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain? Jesus and a few disciples had climbed the mountain to be with God, and God met them in a big way.  Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white.  They could hear God’s voice, and saints who had passed, famous ones like Moses, showed up to talk with Jesus.  And Peter thinks to himself, “This is it!  This is how it should be!”  And he makes a suggestion, “Let’s build shelters here for you all, on this mountain!”  In other words, let’s preserve this moment in time!  I don’t want to lose it!  But this is not what Jesus was about.  Jesus’ face was set on Jerusalem.  He was set on what he had to do.  The cross was in his sights.  And Peter didn’t understand.

It makes sense, does it not?  To see Jesus exalted in that way – how perfect!  How fitting!  How divine!  And yet it was not yet time.

Later, we hear again as Peter grapples with Jesus’ coming death.  Scripture tells us Jesus had begun to show his disciples that he would be killed at the hands of the chief priests and later be raised, but Peter protests: “God forbid it, Lord!  This must never happen to you.”  Jesus’ response to Peter is alarmingly sharp, “Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me, for you are setting you mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter is just not getting this suffer and die thing. What’s his deal?

He confesses Jesus to be the Messiah.  He sees and believes.  He knows Jesus is worthy.  He sees the appropriateness of Jesus being exalted.  So how does any part of “suffer & die” fit into the picture?  How could it be right?  How could it ever be just?  Isn’t there another way?

Peter wants Easter, without the cross.

And I’m the same way.

Couldn’t God have saved everyone and thrown a big party? Why couldn’t Jesus have simply come and said, “The party’s on!  Your debt’s been paid!   God loves you!!!  You’re in the family, now!”

And yet my few years of parenting are teaching me differently.

As a parent I continue to grapple with the desire to save my child from his mistakes.  But over the years, I have found that when I did step in and rescue him, I did not find a child who was grateful – one who knew the truth of what he’d done, feeling regret and grateful for my help.  No, I found a child who felt entitled.  I found a child who was demanding.  My action of stepping in to save my child, though done in love, only created further distance and injustice between us.  Instead of feeling my love, he felt self-pity, of all things! Instead of seeing me as one who had blessed and lovingly cared for him since birth, he saw me as the obstacle to his dreams and desires.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Funny creatures we are.

The reality is that we need to know the truth about ourselves firstbefore we can ever feel the love of another.

Jesus came that we might know God’s love for us! And yet, until we know the truth about ourselves, the truth about our sin, the truth about what we’ve destroyed,
…we cannot recognize or feel God’s love.

If we feel deserving of another’s affections, their love is never enough.

If we feel entitled to another’s generosity, we grow to feel short-changed when we don’t get what we want, when we want it.

But the truth is, we do not deserve affection.
We do not deserve generosity.
We do not deserve kindness or charity.
We do not deserve comfort.

There are moments when we know this to be true about ourselves.  We have moments when we can’t run away from the shame and ugliness within us.  There are times we cannot mask the darkness, the selfishness, the hatred…

There are moments when we’re taken aback by another’s true beauty, true honesty, true kindness, sincere charity…  There are moments when we witness the poor widow giving her last coin, and we glimpse true generosity.  In these moments, we know we do not meet the mark.

And in these moments, we are most ready to know God’s love.  Like a lover, who sees all our mess and still says, “I want in.  I want to love you.  I’m not going anywhere.”  So Jesus comes to us in our mess.

And in these moments – the very moments we try hardest to avoid – we can know true love. 

When have you most known the love of another?  Was it when you shined?  Was it when you looked your best, did your best, said all the right things?

Or was it when you really screwed up?  Was it when you had fully judged yourself and found nothing of worth there and yet someone else saw all that and loved you still.

This Easter, I want to invite you to pay attention to the moments, and hours, the days, and weeks of brokenness.

When we are cut off.  When we are despised.  When we are lonely and broken and afraid…  That is precisely when we are most ready to absorb the life-giving rain of God’s love.

Pummeled by circumstance.
Battered by pain and suffering and injustice
When we feel rejected…

This is when, like so many we read about in the Bible, we are most thirsty, most hungry, most ready for Jesus.

When we are face to face with our demons,
When we feel the pull of addiction,
When we go down the darkest paths of our minds and hearts…
We too, know our need for a Savior.

So friends, I beg you.
When the rains come.
When hardship presses in, and you feel you may not make it.

In your darkest hour, when fear closes in, and you question if the day will ever come for you.  When a stone seals-in death, and guards keep watch over your tomb, and the whole earth shakes in mourning…

When the cross, and evil all around seem to have killed what you love most…
Pay attention!
For our Savior is near.

Let us quiet our hearts and listen,
For like Mary,
In the depths of her grief and pain and loss,
We may find Christ already there,
And calling out our name.