“Authentic Joy”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
John 17:6-19

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

John 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

What a tender prayer, we have gotten to overhear Jesus pray.

I love the desire Jesus shows to protect us from the evil one, while still calling us to discipleship, in the world that is not our home…

Jesus would know more than any human soul, the hatred and rejection of the world.  I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that Christ walked his path for all our sakes!  I feel grateful for this prayer, that God would protect us while we follow after Jesus…

And I find most tender this prayer that we would have Christ’s joy and that it would be made complete in us.  How wonderful!  Joy. That life-giving fruit of the Spirit. The kind of gift that lifts our heads, strengthens our bones, and enlivens our hearts.  Joy is longed for, sought after, sometimes given up on.  Joy can feel elusive.  Because we constantly face challenge, after dilemma, after difficult and heart-wrenching circumstance.  Joy can feel like a myth.  Or a façade.

And indeed for so many, it is merely the paint-job.  It’s the veneer over the pain.  It’s the curtain or the closed closet door masking the mess & wreck of our emotional closets, where we hide all our questions and pain and aching.

I don’t know about you, but I hunger for something real.  I long for authenticity.  I can find myself exhausted in the presence of those who feel the need to mask their own honest feelings behind positivity.  But honestly, so much of Christianity has been presented like a positivity workshop.  It is easy to get the message that Christians should be positive at all times.  They should be smiling.  They should be radient.  They should be always grateful, always kind, always polite…  In some faith communities, positivity is actually like a measuring stick used to sort out the Olympic-grade Christians from those who are more ordinary.

And so we compete.  We wear the mask.

And in some cases, the mask is wise to wear.  After all, not all people and not every circumstance will hold the sacredness of your authenticity well.  In fact, authenticity makes many a person uneasy, as real feelings and circumstances are not nice and tidy, black and white, easy to fix or even understand.

Both being authentic and beholding another’s authenticity requires a courage to face the mystery and the unknowns, to accept what is and what is not, and to resist the temptations to judge or fix or prescribe a solution…  Being authentic requires a courage to be seen, to be courageously whole in the light of day.  Beholding authenticity requires us to be, …simply be.  To listen.  To see.

And so, it is hard to be real.

This world does not reward real.

The world photo-shops our images, tidies up our rough edges – all to present a flawless image to the world, because flaws are the places were folks have dug in their claws and ripped us apart.  Spots on our apples doesn’t sell…and so we kill bees and butterflies and a host of other creatures to get shiny, marketable apples…

Real is not very marketable.
Real is not very invincible.
Real can in fact feel more like a liability than an asset.

But what Jesus is praying for here is not the façade, not the image, not the shiny exterior, or tidy looking closed closet door.  Jesus is praying for the whole shebang.  Jesus is praying for joy, real joy, abundant life joy!

I don’t know about you, but I could use more joy in my life!

Life is hard, and joy feels in short supply.

So how do we access this joy? If Jesus prayed this for us, then it would seem there is nothing capable of keeping it from us.  But God has shown us time and again that God is most courteous and does not force Godself on us.  Rather, God invites.

So I invite you to pray that God would open your eyes to the outbreaking of joy in your life.

Where is God breaking into your day?
What small thing brings you delight and satisfaction?
When do you have moments of clarity in which you feel your connectedness to everything and sense your very invaluable purpose in this life?

We indeed need Christ’s eyes to see.
We need Christ’s heart to perceive.
We need Christ’s obedience to receive.
We need Christ’s mind to understand.

How can you and I access this joy?

There are two clues I see. In this same scripture, Jesus prays that we would be one, as he and the Father are one.  This, in my estimation, feels like an impossible prayer, a child’s fantasy.  How will all of us believers ever be one?!  We disagree about so very many things!!!

Many of you I am sure followed the life and ministry of Billy Graham.  He was Southern Baptist and his wife Presbyterian, and they had a home in Montreat, the Presbyterian township in the mountains of North Carolina.  He often said that if he and his wife agreed about everything that one of them would be unnecessary!  I love that statement.  It shows a wisdom that not all have discovered:  the precious and vital gift of our many differences and disagreements.  He knew that despite the challenges of not seeing eye to eye, the challenge was indeed an invitation to go deeper, to open one’s heart wider, to see more clearly and love more deeply.  And I am sure Billy and his wife Ruth had many an occasion for disagreement.  But as scripture reminds us, we sharpen one another, as iron sharpens iron.  Our friction, our disagreements, are a gift, if we will but receive it.  We do not need to be in lock-step in order to work well together.  In fact if we were, we wouldn’t be doing as good a job at all!  It is the very diversity of our perspectives and experiences, areas of strength and areas of weakness, that invite us into a way of living and being that is stronger and powerful, than the sum of its parts.

Indeed, we are exponentially stronger together.

But we must resist the urge to reject one another from the table of our Lord.  We must resist the urge to simplify our processes by silencing or walling out those we disagree with.

Perhaps our unity is tied to our joy.

Another clue I see is Truth. Jesus prays that we would be sanctified in truth.  We need truth.  Truth cannot be devalued.  It is vital. It is foundational.  And the call to truth is yet another invitation. Because we do not naturally see truth. We see OUR truths.  We see partial truths.  But we do not, indeed we cannot even perceive THE TRUTH.  But God’s Word is truth.

Could it be that by returning to God’s Word and living in unity with one another that we come closer to joy?

Honestly, most pains in life seem to come when people treat one another badly, not living as one, not living as if each person were vital to the whole.

Could it be that when we start living all these teaching of Jesus, when we start believing the Word of God, when we start following the call of the Spirit,…that we might begin to unlock the joy Christ longs to give us?

Our loving Lord is most tender.  And we are the subject of one of his last prayers on earth.  And Christ prayed
that we might be one as he and the Father are one
that we might have Christ’s joy, complete in us!

That we might be sanctified in truth….

Even something as personal as our joy is important to our God.

May we not neglect the gifts Christ has prepared for us!  We are made to live in joy!  That’s why we yearn for it!

May Christ show each one of us, how to access and receive that fullness of joy, that life to our bones, that lift to our Spirits, that mysterious glow that emanates from a true and real joy.

And may we live in it,
ever more and ever more,
day by each gift of a day.

“We Know Love by This”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 5:1-8
1 John 3:16-24

John 5:1-8

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

1 John 3:16-24

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Beloved, let us love not in word or speech but in truth and action.

There is something magnificent about this scripture to me.

We all approach things in our own ways.  For some, speaking the words, “I love you” can be extraordinarily difficult.  For others, the words come rolling off our lips.

For some, we would rather love be seen and felt and known before it is said.  This is how I’ve always felt about the Christian fish folks put on their cars.  Perhaps not unlike many of you, I struggle to keep my cool when I drive.  I can be pretty calm much of the time, but then there are those moments when the struggle against road rage is real.  I have always thought how horrible it would be to put that fish on my car and then drive in anger.  And while I don’t do this often, I figure one time is too much for the negative witness I would be giving!

It is not enough to proclaim that one is Christian.
It is our actions and truth that speak louder.
I have always wanted my actions to demonstrate Christ before my words.
But this is almost always harder.

Words are cheap.  Words are easy.  Symbols are easy.  Even routines and habits can become easy to us.

But action, intentional action…
Living, intentional living….
That is hard stuff.

It is one thing to say we believe something, for instance, and quite another to walk the walk and live into the truth we say we believe!

And so we have this seemingly clear call to LIVE and to ACT in love.  And yet, the living of this proves incredibly difficult.

First we have our moods and emotions.  Many times we do not feel love or affection, compassion or kindness.  Many times we in fact feel anger or hurt, frustration or resentment…

Loving when every fiber inside us does not want to, is a major challenge for most of us.  Some of you may recall the story I shared last fall of Corrie Ten Boom who was faced with forgiving one of her former captors during WWII.  Faced with what felt like a very cruel request to forgive this man so deserving of her hate and condemnation, she found liberty in simply being obedient to the Spirit of God – in extending her hand in forgiveness.  And you may recall that when she did this, she found God supplied all the feeling she needed to be able to sincerely say, “I forgive you brother, with all my heart.”

This was most surprising. That by simply obeying God’s call, she found her emotions fell in line afterwards.

As surprising as this feels to me, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising.  This is the pattern with many things in life.  I have repeatedly found myself not wanting something that is good but when doing the good thing, filling up with joy and the DESIRE to do it after all.

God can work and move in our sheer obedience.

So even when we do not FEEL love for someone.  It is possible to love in action, and we may find our hearts and emotions following suit.

But then we have the question of what love is.

What is love to you? To what can you compare love?  Is it ice cream and comfort food and hugs? Is it safety and being known?  Is it possible only under certain circumstances? Is it unconditional?  Is love being kind and nice and polite always? Is love unfiltered honesty?  Is it pleasing another?  Is it pleasing ourselves?

What is love?

Is there a place for anger in love?

Well, with Jesus as our guide, I would say yes, based on how he responded to the selling of goods in the temple and to various religious leaders with whom he interacted.

Is there a place for setting boundaries in love?

I’d say yes again, recalling the story of Jesus saying to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan” when Peter was outspokenly dead set on Jesus not suffering and dying…

In Jesus, we do not see pandering to other’s feelings.  We hear truth spoken, sometimes with edge, sometimes with the utmost compassion.  I’d say Jesus is not comparable to a warm blanket and teddy bear; he was not all warm fuzzies, but there were definitely those who followed him and found warmth and welcome and home in his presence. Even the children wanted to be near him, and he made time for them.

So many human emotions are seen within the person and life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  We see his need for time alone with God.  We see him exhausted and sleeping while others are working.  We see him hungry.  We see anger at injustice and falsehood.  We see delight in children and in the faith of those considered least among them.  We see him mourning the pain and loss facing him as he weeps in tears like blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. We see him resolute when questioned and condemned before the council of the Elders.  We hear his cry out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” – this feeling of being far from God, when he needed God most…

Thanks be to God for giving us such a one to look to.
To see,
in a life,
what love looks like,
lived out! 

The first part of the scripture we read today, says it very plainly,
“we know love by this, that he laid down his life for us…”

In this supreme act of self-giving, we know love.

Now, there has been a lot of theologizing over these many years since Christ’s life and death and resurrection, and not all of it has been equally beneficial to body of Christ over the years.

Some theology has made God out to be the baddy who won’t be satisfied without the blood of an innocent one. While this is an understandable interpretation of history and scripture, I think it has had most unfortunate affects on the church.  It has led folks to dismiss the Old Testament entirely…and I concede that there is much in the Old Testament that seems contrary to the God we’ve come to know in Christ…and yet I do not believe Christ is different from God.  Rather, I believe Christ is opening our eyes, in the clearest way, to the heart and true nature of God.  Christ came from God.  Christ is God.  They are not separate or different.

And so, through the lenses of Jesus Christ, I read all the Old Testament differently – believing we see more clearly, through Christ, and trusting that the God we have known in Christ, is the God who has been from of Old, for all times.  And this God came near, meeting us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The scripture read today from John about the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep is a good counter to these severe images we may have of God.  Here we have Jesus saying that he lays down his life, of his own accord, and that he can take it back of his own accord.

The crucifixion was not something done to Jesus.
It was not done to him by God.
It was not done to him by Pontius Pilot.
It was not done to him by the Jewish Elders.
It was not done to him by the people, who joining in crying out, “Crucify him!”…

The crucifixion was Jesus’ own act of pouring himself out for the life of us all and the healing of all the world.

Jesus, of his own power and will, laid down his own life, that through him, we might find life, and find it to the full!

So may we go out, renewed!

May we go out, knowing we are loved, beyond all loving!

May we know that the One, able to do all, humbled himself for us
Poured himself out for us
Lived for us
Died for us
Rose for us
Lives eternally and reigns in power…for us.

We know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us…
So let us go and love one another
Amidst rush hour traffic
Amidst broken systems
In times of prosperity and times of want
In times of good leadership and times of poor leadership
In times of peace and times of turmoil…

May we live in love, following the example of our Lord, our Savior, our God, our friend…

Praise be to God!!!

“A New Creation – Heart by Heart”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 20:19-23
2 Corinthians 5:1-6, 16-20a

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

2 Corinthians 5:1-6, 16-20a

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ.

More and more in this life, I’m finding myself craving a different sort of Messiah than we received in Jesus of Nazareth.  Scripture says that the old is gone and the new has come.  We are a new creation in Jesus Christ!  And yet, I struggle with the same issues, day after day.

I wanted everything to be set right.  I wanted my struggle with temptation and sin to be no more.  I wanted evil and sin to stop, for good.  I want to feel all shiny and new, and not struggle with the same issues, I had yesterday.

But that is not the Messiah we get.  We do not get the Savior we want.  But perhaps we have gotten the Savior we need.

The kind of Savior I want grabs hold of the whole world & forces everyone’s hand.  The kind of Messiah many of Jesus’ followers wished him to be was the same – the kind who would shake the Roman government’s grasp off Israel and claim his rightful place as King of the land.  We want a Savior to do all the things we cannot do. We want a Savior to control and make things right, right before our eyes – now and forever.

And this is so not what we get in Jesus of Nazareth.

This Messiah knew his place. This Messiah knew he was the Son of God and yet still allowed himself to be crucified, for all to see.

This Messiah could stop storms, heal diseases, and raise the dead, with his mere words, and yet he did notrescue himself from the pain and suffering. He did notheal all people, everywhere for all times,…with a word. He did not stop all storms for all times.  He has not stopped our loved ones from dying.

This Messiah does things in the most opposite way than what we want.
This Messiah shows power in death on the cross.
This Messiah shows leadership in servanthood, washing the dirty feet of his followers.
This Messiah does not pick the cream of the crop to be on his team, but he chooses folks who were largely simple and uneducated to carry his light and life to the world.

This Messiah is not what I crave.
This Messiah does not stop all my suffering and pain.
This Messiah does not rescue me from sin and evil, at least not in the way and timing that I want.
And so what does it mean that the old is finished and gone, the new has come?

In some ways, the old way still seems to rule and carry on.  The rich get richer.  The poor get poorer…  Still people are oppressed.  Still those most vulnerable are preyed upon.  Our struggles with sin, persist…

But at the same time, everything is different.

While before my sins were a death sentence, now I have the hope of forgiveness and belonging.

While before I was caught in cycles of sin and death, now I can receive the life-giving love and forgiveness of my Maker and choose to live by the Spirit of God, more and more.

While before knowledge and understanding was only for the elite and educated few, now God’s Spirit is being POURED OUT on rich and poor, young and old, man, woman, and child.

While at the surface, everything seems the same.

Just below the surface, in the depths everything is changing.

God’s love, God’s Spirit, God’s forgiveness is changing the deepest parts of human ourselves.  Jesus’ life and ultimate sacrifice are doing what no human can do:  heal the human heart.

So while I want God to deal with all these symptoms.

Christ, in God’s wisdom, is dealing with the root of the problem, the heart of the matter.

And as with most lasting change, the results come over time, as people participate in the life-giving work of God in their lives and in this world. And just as patients will make their own choices about whether to follow their doctor’s advice and counsel or not, so we are continually making choices as to whether or not to join in with what our God is doing.  The more we seek and listen and follow our Savior’s lead, the more healing and life we usher into the world.  The more we seek, listen to, and follow after our own purposes and preferences and interests, the more we can grow deaf and dumb to the Spirit of God.  For seeking after, listening to, and following after God are all active muscles of faith we are called to engage.  When we do not use those muscles of faith, they atrophy.  And if, in their place, we are listening to the voices of everyone around us and even our own hearts, to the exclusion of our Lord, we can become masters of following in the ways of humanity and the world, but complete amateurs at following in God’s ways.

Becoming a disciple of Christ is more than mere lip service.
It always has been.
It is not about believing all the right things.
It is not even about ascribing to a certain set of beliefs.

Being a disciple of God means to turn toward Christ, positioning our whole selves in relation to Christ.  It means spending time in the presence of Christ.  It means quieting our hearts and minds, our hopes and fears.  It means surrendering control and trusting God to guide us better than we could guide ourselves. 

Discipleship is an active choice, day by day, moment by moment.
Discipleship is carried out by actively using our muscles of faith, and choosing to seek, listen, and follow.

Discipleship is not life insurance.  In fact, our leader allowed himself to be killed in one of the most cruel and painful ways.
Discipleship is not a way to get ahead in the world; Jesus’ commitment to speaking the truth and walking in love made him enemies in high places.
Discipleship is not easy. It is not popular, even in our Christian-friendly culture; because really we value autonomy and individuality; thus, surrendering our will to God’s bigger work is actually not very bold or sexy.

Discipleship is a giving over of our lives to the One who has given his life to breath true life into our dry bones,
It is a giving over of our lives to the One who has given his life to shine light into our darkest depths,
It is a giving over of our lives to the One who is making whole, all that has been broken.

Despite how much our culture seems friendly to Christianity, there are marked differences in them.  No culture, no company, no business will adopt Christ’s model in full.  It is a model of self-sacrifice.  It is a model of servanthood.  It is a model of power through perceived weakness.

Christ goes against all we are taught.

But what I can witness to, in my short years, and imperfect life of faith, is that God is faithful. Our God knows what we need.  When God speaks, it is water in the desert, life to dusty dry bones, hope from the depths of despair.  When we tune into God’s presence, when we actively remember God’s love poured out, when we give thanks for all the blessings and gifts in our lives, we can find ourselves standing on holy ground, on solid ground, before the Maker of the Universe!

It is no small thing to be a tool in the hands of our God.
It is no small thing to be wholly known and wholly loved by the God of the Universe!
It is no small thing to be called a friend of God, Child, Beloved. 

Friends, do not be discouraged by the winds that blow.
Do not lose heart by the same old stories of sin and oppression and injustice.
Do not think that all is lost and these stories are only stories…

For in fact, our God is on the move.
Our God is on the loose.
Poured out in hearts and minds,…
Forgiveness poured out for the whole world!…

Light and love and life are on the move, inviting hearts and healing us from the inside out, so that our whole lives become radiators of God’s love,…

And God’s love is never lost or wasted.  God’s love was poured out on us all in the life and death and resurrection of our loving Savior.  Love is never wasted.

So let us be disciples.
Let us exercise our muscles of faith, seeking and listening and following.
Let us join in the amazing work of God, living, moving, radiating heart to heart.

And may we find ourselves smack in the middle of God’s powerful working in our lives, our culture, and the world,

Truly living as disciples of Christ, ambassadors of God’s love!

May it be in us. 

“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.     

“Claiming the Narrative”

Maundy Thursday
Rev. Katherine Todd
Mark 14:12-16, 22-15
John 13:1-17, 34

Mark 14:12-16, 22-15

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

John 13:1-17, 34 

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Fatherhad given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Do you ever fantasize about making things right?
Do you ever wish to be able to grab a hold of all that is wrong and fix it?
Do you mourn all that is wrong in the world?
All that is wrong in your life?
All the wrong that has been done to you and around you?

I often fantasize about making the world better.  Sometimes, my fantasies are ones in which I employ every beautiful tool in my personal toolbox to win hearts and remake the world around me.  Other times, I wish for God’s wrath and righteous judgement to step in and remove from places of power and authority all who dare to step in the way of God’s good and right ways.

We all experience injustice differently.  We all have seen things we wish we could unsee.  We have all been diminished, suffered violations, been held back from our fullest potential.  In one way or another we all have grown jaded about certain things – things we can’t seem to change, things that seem rooted in evil and injustice, things that are so fraught with wrong that to remove one wrong would only uncover another and another and another…

These wrongs.  These injustices.  These gross falling from the holiness and wholeness and righteousness of God in our world can get us down.

Way down.

Some of us have felt down for hours, for days, for years, for lifetimes.

We can watch as every glimmer of life ekes away under the weight of injustice and oppression.  We have watched as powers that be make decisions about other people’s lives,…our lives.  We have watched as powers that come and powers that go use and abuse our lives, our needs, for their campaigns, forgetting those on whose shoulders they climbed, after they have arrived.

So much pain.
So much injustice.
So much harm.
So much loss,
Loss upon loss.

And so we cry out with the stones – crying out for justice to roll down like the mighty waters and to cover the earth.

There is much that is out of our control.
Many things happen to us and around us that we cannot change.
Our hearts bleed and bodies ache from the brokenness of ourselves and of this world.

Where is our deliverance?

Jesus Christ too stepped into this world

This world of endless possibility and endless and pain and suffering.

Our Lord Jesus Christ walked a heavy road,

A road of painful awareness of ALL the brokenness and sin and suffering and oppression all around him.

If any have seen a life lost,

A life wasted

A precious life thrown away

Jesus saw more

Equipped with eyes that could see all that one could ever be, Jesus knew that extraordinary pain of loss, seeing life after life directionless, life and after life barely surviving, life after life trying to gain off the sufferings of their brothers and sisters, life after life trapped and caught in cycles and systems of poverty, suffering, and oppression.

Equipped with eyes to see, Jesus was vulnerable to all.  Jesus was not numbed or comforted by his own ignorance.  Equipped with eyes to see, Jesus could see all the beauty and tragedy, all the goodness and evil that stirred deep below the surface of what is seen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was more than “acquainted” with grief and sorrow.
Our Lord Jesus Christ knew suffering.  Knew sorrow. Knew grief, loss, and pain.

And so on the eve of his time of greatest pain, greatest sorrow, greatest heartbreak, greatest loss, our Lord spent an intimate evening with those who knew him best, breaking the bread of the Passover, pouring the cup, washing their feet, and showing them in symbol and in action what he was going to do and why.  He demonstrated love in service, showing us a new way to live and to lead.

And he took back the narrative. 

Because A LOT was about to happen TO him.  Evil and injustice, harm and brokenness were about to take him by the throat and try to choke out the life in him.

He needed his disciples to know that it was NOT a HAPPENING to him that was taking place but rather HIS OWN ACT.

He would choose to go with his armed pursuers.
He would choose remain silent.
He would choose to remain nailed to that tree.

But all that pain.
All that suffering.
All that injustice and flashing evil were not the authors of this story.
All the powers that seemed so in control.  The powers that took it upon themselves to condemn and to kill.  These powers were not in control.

No, this story was God’s. And Jesus had the lead role.
And afterwards, we would finally know and see that all our darkness could not quench the light.
Afterwards, we would finally see that all our evil, could not overcome the good.
Afterwards, we would finally see that all our hate, could not overcome love.

Love was writing this story.
Love was driving this script.
Love was pouring itself out,
without restraint,
without reservation

That we might know how unstoppable, unbreakable, unwavering, unquenchable is God’s love for us.

I don’t know about you, but I need God in this very hour.
I need God to show me again, that evil is not in control,
that our sin and brokenness don’t have to rule and control our lives,
that God is working all things for good,
that God has plans to prosper us and not to harm us,
…that there is hope.

I need God to show me once again that light is more powerful than darkness,
That goodness is more powerful than evil,
That love is stronger than hate.

Read this poem from Tyler Knott Gregson’s book, “chasers of the light.”

Mr Roger’s shared a similar wisdom given him by his mother.  Whenever tragedy struck, she encouraged him to look for the helpers. There are always helpers, she said.

There is always grace. God is with us, Emmanuel!  Not just when Jesus walked our dusty roads, but stillliving in the hearts of each one who will make room for Christ. 

May the power of Christ, living in us, reclaim our stories.
Our job is to diligently,
find the grace.