Sunday, April 29, 2018

“Relentless Love”

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, John 15:1-4, 1 John 4:16b-21
Sunday, April 29, 2018
First Congregational United Church of Christ of Manhattan, KS
Sermon by the Rev. Caela Simmons Wood

Say these words when you lie down and
when you rise up,
when you go out and
when you return.
In times of mourning and
in times of joy.
Inscribe them on your doorposts,
embroider them on your garments,
tattoo them on your shoulders,
teach them to your children,
your neighbors, your enemies,
recite them in your sleep,
here in the cruel shadow of empire:
Another world is possible.

So begins the poem V’ahavta (vay-ah-hahv-TAH) by Aurora Levins Morales. “V’ahavta” is a Hebrew word that begins the second part of the Shema….that Jewish prayer based on the text we heard from Deuteronomy a few moments ago. The one that begins “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.” V’ahavta is “you shall love.”

These words are the ones Jesus quoted, of course, when he was asked about the greatest commandment of all. Without missing a beat, Jesus - a good Jew - knew the answer. He parents must have done just what the author of Deuteronomy commanded - drilled it into him, posted in on their doorposts, tattooed it on his shoulders, recited it to him in his sleep: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your might.

Jesus added, “And there is a second commandment that flows from it: love your neighbor as yourself.” Upon these commandments to love, Jesus said, hangs all of everything we will ever need to know about how to live.

Levins Morales paraphrases the command, the imperative that we’re to give our children, ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies like this: “another world is possible.”

At first you might think, “Wait. She got it wrong. The command is to Love God. Not ‘another world is possible.’”

But on further inspection, it seems she got it right. Because to live as if another world is possible is perhaps one of the best possible ways to love God.

Love creates possibility. Whether it’s seeing ourselves through someone else’s loving eyes and realizing we can do more than we thought or showing up again and again when the going gets tough and powering through difficult things together….love creates life.

Perhaps it’s already clear that I’m not speaking of love as an emotional response - the kind that gives you butterflies in your stomach. That warm feeling you get throughout your body when being with someone makes you feel good is one part or one kind of love, but it’s different, I think, than the agape-love that Jesus was talking about.

Agape-love is not a feeling. Agape-love is an action. It’s a doing. It’s getting up day after day and putting on work boots and relentlessly choosing to act in loving ways.

Agape-love is what pulls a parent from their sleep at 3am to feed the baby even though the warm fuzzy feelings are long gone at that hour. Agape-love is deciding to NOT engage in a debate with a stranger on the internet because it doesn’t seem like it will be productive or you’re unable to do it without calling names.

Agape-love isn’t one-size-fits-all and it certainly isn’t simple. I guess that’s why Jesus talked about it a lot. He knew it would take a lifetime to live into.

I have a clergy colleague in Texas, the Rev. John Gage, who posted a sermon title a few weeks ago on facebook that seemed to be intentionally inflammatory. Sermon “click bait,” if you will. The sermon title was “God doesn’t love you. God is love.”

I’ve been carrying that around with me these last couple of weeks. I mean, I talk a lot about remembering that we are beloved, being held in God’s loving arms. And I know that, in my own life, there have been so many times where I have felt hopeless or lost and really needed to carve out space to receive God’s love. So saying “God doesn’t love you” seems a bit over the top to me.

But then I also started thinking about the difference between having this notion of God as a humanlike-personal-figure-out-there-somewhere loving me and God as love itself. That’s a pretty significant difference, don’t you think? God is a person? Or God is an action? Or God is a concept?

I don’t know the answer. The God I know is somehow person-action-concept all at once. The God I know can love us while simultaneously BEING love. When God says “I am” and we say, “You are what?” God smiles or shimmers or shimmies and says, “I AM.”

That being comfortable with God being more - bigger than any box we can dream up - is part of what I appreciate about the concept of the Trinity. Through the Trinity, we see that God is constantly morphing, moving, blowing apart conventions, defying explanation. God is this and this and this and this and more things that we haven’t even dreamed of yet.

Another world is possible.

This notion that God is beyond our labels and limitations...This sense that resurrection exists on the other side of death...This deep knowledge that we are loved and can love and are love….This accompanying and being Love Incarnate for and with God and ourselves and one another - this is what Eastertide is all about. This is at the heart of Christianity.

For we worship the one who cannot seem to stop showing up. Before time began, GOD WAS, our sacred scriptures tell us.

In the swirling chaos, God is. When the floors threaten to overwhelm, God is. When we are in bondage, God is. When we, like sheep, nibble ourselves lost, God is. When we cannot tell the truth from the lies, God is. God IS in a stable in a remote village. God IS in the strength of a brave Queen. God IS in the bravado of a young boy armed with nothing but a slingshot. God IS in the song of two young lovers. God IS in the fire, the water, the storm, the silence.

And in that act of BEING - relentlessly - the Holy One shows us what Love looks like. We are invited to participate alongside God in this relentless loving.

We do this when we come to worship and tolerate a hymn that doesn’t do much for us because we know it speaks to someone else.

We do this when we look our new members in the eyes and make a pledge - when we covenant with one another
to seek the mind of Christ,
to be open to the new light and truth God has for us,
to bear each other’s burdens and share each other’s joys, to pray for each other, to serve in the name of Christ,
to give to this church and its mission,
and to take our stand for justice and peace,
confident God’s concern embraces the whole world. [2]

This is love. Through these simple, radical, relentless acts of love, we live our lives into that truth: another world is possible.

“Abide with me as I abide with you,” Jesus says. And so we abide with one another here, in this sacred space. But not only in this sacred space. We must be prepared to love relentlessly, boldly everywhere we go.

We must be prepared to love when white supremacy rears its ugly head in a coffee shop or at the grocery store. We must be prepared to love when the legislature tries, once again, to make those who are LGBTQ feel like second-class citizens. We must be prepared to love when a colleague or friend comes to us and says they’ve been harassed or assaulted or discriminated against.

When we truly abide within Christ’s love, we are freed for love and we must be prepared to love at a moment’s notice.

David Barrett says that it’s not that we SHOULD love because God first loved us. It’s that we CAN love because God first loved us. “God's love is the ground for a new possibility.” [3]

Through God’s love another world is possible.

Aurora Levins Morales closes her V’ahavta,(vay-ah-hahv-TAH) her poetic command to love God like this:

When you inhale and when you exhale
breathe the possibility of another world
into the 37.2 trillion cells of your body
until it shines with hope.
Then imagine more.
 
Imagine rape is unimaginable. Imagine war is a scarcely credible rumor
That the crimes of our age, the grotesque inhumanities of greed,
the sheer and astounding shamelessness of it, the vast fortunes
made by stealing lives, the horrible normalcy it came to have,
is unimaginable to our heirs, the generations of the free.
 
Don’t waver. Don’t let despair sink its sharp teeth
Into the throat with which you sing.  Escalate your dreams.
Make them burn so fiercely that you can follow them down
any dark alleyway of history and not lose your way.
Make them burn clear as a starry drinking gourd
Over the grim fog of exhaustion, and keep walking.
 
Hold hands. Share water. Keep imagining.
So that we, and the children of our children’s children
may live
[4]

[2] Our congregation’s Covenant



Sunday, April 22, 2018

“Earth Day: Practice Resurrection”

Psalm 23
Sunday, April 22, 2018 - Earth Day
First Congregational United Church of Christ of Manhattan, KS
Sermon by the Rev. Caela Simmons Wood
Exactly 163 years ago today, a group of people who would eventually become the First Congregational Church of Manhattan, Kansas, gathered to worship together for the first time. The Rev. Charles E. Blood, who had come to the Kaw Nation as a part of the Congregational abolitionist movement, preached to a congregation sitting on boxes and kegs.

Four years would pass before they had a permanent home here at 700 Poyntz. Between 1855 and 1859 the new congregation worshiped in homes, schools, and storefronts. I have to think that, from time to time, weather permitting, they also continued to worship out of doors in God’s creation.

As we gather on this Earth Day, it’s only natural to check in with ourselves and notice how we are connected to God’s Creation that exists outside these four walls. We paused earlier in worship to hear the sounds of birds singing. We center ourselves in the words of our Ancestors who speak of walking beside still waters even as we remember that in the year 2018 we walk in the valley of the shadow of climate change.

Even when we are indoors, many of us turn our hearts outdoors, contemplating the seasons as they pass, the creatures as they crawl and sing and swim and fly.

It is lucky for us, then, that the Bible is what Wendell Berry calls “an outdoor book.” Berry, whose words are featured throughout today’s liturgy is a famous author. He is also Christian prophet, healer, wisdom speaker, and guide.

I want to share with you an extended quotation from Mr. Berry about this idea of the Bible being an “outdoor book.”

I don't think it is enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is. It is a hypethral book, such as Thoreau talked about--a book open to the sky. It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther outdoors the better. Or that has been my experience of it. Passages that within walls seem improbable or incredible, outdoors seem merely natural. That is because outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances, will hardly balk at the fuming of water into wine--which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is fumed into grapes. [1]

This “outdoor book” - this Bible of ours - calls us 21st century folk out, beyond the walls, again and again.

Today’s passage from the psalms is another one of those texts that calls us out of doors. The 23rd psalm takes place outdoors - out in God’s green pastures, out beside the still waters carefully crafted by God.

Pastor James Howell notes that the phrase “thou art with me” is at the literal core of this psalm. [2] In Hebrew, there are 26 words before that phrase and 26 words after it. The point, it seems, is that no matter what storms assail us, we are to remember God is with us. When the sea waters rise and the wildfires rage, we are to remember God is with us. When we contemplate the destruction we have collectively wreaked upon our sacred home, we are to remember God is with us.

In the good and the bad. When we get it wrong and when we get it right. God is with us - and not only us. God is with and within every bit of created matter from bacteria to bees from neurons to narwhals. God is with us in our sinning and our saving. God is with us in our wandering and our wondering.

The 23rd psalm reminds us we are never alone. We are eternally connected to God, to one another, to all of creation.

It also speaks of the tension that seems to be an inherent part of our human condition - the desire to seek more than what we’ve already been given. “The Lord is my shepherd,” the psalmist proclaims, “I shall not want.”

God should be enough for us. Being guided and protected and lovingly nudged by the Holy One should fill us. But we, like sheep, go astray. We chase after more: nicer things, ease and comfort, disposable this and that.

The Rev. Howell wisely notices that if God is the shepherd and we are sheep then perhaps one of our characteristics is that, like sheep, we have a tendency to nibble ourselves lost. [3] Sheep will nibble a bit of grass here, a bit of grass there - unaware of the world as it spins around them. And before you know it - poof - they have wandered off and are lost.

We have a tendency to do the same. We wake up each day and step back onto the treadmill of 21st century USAmerican life. Earn-spend. Earn-spend. Produce-consume. Produce-consume. It’s like that iconic piece of art created by Barbara Kruger - “I shop, therefore I am” printed on the side of a shopping bag. [4]

And, of course, I’m not trying to suggest that we somehow try step off the treadmill completely. I mean, I don’t have my own farm, so I’m going to need to go to the grocery store in order to feed my family. I don’t have a loom, so I will need to buy clothing to wear. I mean, really, only a true radical would tell us to get completely off the grid and sell everything we own and give the proceeds to the poor.

Oh.

I’ve not yet found a way to do all of the hard things Jesus asks me to do. I’m not sure that I ever will.

And yet….there is something about that man of Nazareth who keeps calling to me and asking me, very seriously, to consider living differently. There is something about that Eternal Christ who bids me pay attention to the way my consumption affects people in far off places, and the water supply, and the little invisible creatures that live all around me. There is something about that Liberating Spirit that gives me pause on Earth Day and makes me wonder, “How can I just keep going on about my everyday life when the world, our home, is in such pain?”

The psalmist, no stranger to the challenges of being human and staring sin in the face, was also painfully aware of what it feels like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. If we follow the psalmist on that journey through verdant fields and beside quiet streams, nibbling away as we go, eventually we return, always, to the One who is at the core of our being.

The final phrase in the psalm, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” uses the Hebrew word yashab: to sit, to dwell. Bible scholar Joel LeMon notes that yashab shares a root with shuv, which is that command to turn, to repent. [5] And so we are called to turn, to repent, to refocus our attention and energy on the One who is at the core of our being. We are called to sit and stay with the One who created the heavens and the earth and blessed it all and called it good.

This turning towards God again and again is difficult work. This turning towards God is what I think Wendell Berry was writing about when he wrote the poem I’m about to close with. Berry calls this turning - this shuv-ing - practicing resurrection.

Read the full text of Manifesto: The Mad Farmber Liberation Front here: https://www.context.org/iclib/ic30/berry/


[1] Wendell Berry, full essay here: http://www.crosscurrents.org/berry.htm


[3] ibid



Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“JoyFearDoubtPeaceAnxietyLoveGrief”

John 20: 19-31
Sunday, April 8, 2018
First Congregational United Church of Christ of Manhattan, KS
Sermon by the Rev. Caela Simmons Wood
Here we are in the second Sunday of Eastertide and the lectionary committee serves up a passage from John’s gospel that runs the gamut of human emotion and experience. There’s fear, anxiety, disbelief, rejoicing, skepticism, community and love in the midst of doubt.

There’s also a lot of baggage.

Many of us have a lot of feels about Doubting Thomas….and about the ways his story has been interpreted over the centuries. Poor old Thomas. He’s been held up as an example of “what not to do” in terms of faith. Preachers have bemoaned his lack of trust and chastised him for doubting the Resurrection. Preachers have used him to admonish their flocks: believe without seeing. Don’t ask questions. Jesus doesn’t like it.

Except.

That’s not really what the story says at all. For starters, there is no Doubting Thomas in this story. Just a disciple named Thomas. The “Doubting” part was added to his name later as Church leaders interpreted the story and tried to make sense of it.

But if you read the text just as its written, you’ll find that Jesus does not admonish. Jesus, in fact, graciously anticipates his dear friend’s needed. Thomas doesn't even have to ask for proof. Jesus knows what he needs and provides it before he asks.

Furthermore, Thomas is not asking for more than the other disciples have already been given. We are told that the week are Jesus was resurrected he appeared to the disciples (well, most of them - Thomas wasn’t there) and immediately showed them his hands and his side.

Later, when the disciples tell Thomas what he missed he scoffs.”Right. Yeah. Unless I see that for myself, I’m not going to believe it.” Now, to be fair, Thomas does ask to take it one step further. He wants to see AND touch the wounds. Second Testament scholar Mary Hinkle Shore notices that this behavior is actually very much in line with other followers of Jesus in the Gospel of John. [1]

When Nathanael first encounters Jesus he scoffs, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip invites him, “Come and see.” After seeing for himself, he believes. When Jesus encounters the woman at the well and finds new life, she runs to tell her community, “Come and see the man who has told me everything I’ve ever done!” Some believed in the power of Jesus based on her testimony, but many more only came to care after meeting Jesus for themselves.

It’s understandable to want to see for ourselves. It’s rational to want proof.

Especially when we’re being asked to comprehend things that simply make no sense at all. Like Resurrection. How can life come from death? How can we start over when so much has been lost? I think maybe we should call Thomas “Rational Thomas” because he seems pretty clearheaded to me.

Furthermore, Jesus seems unbothered by his questions. Jesus greets Thomas in the same way he did the other disciples, “Peace with with you” and then he offers his wounds. “Go ahead, Thomas,” he says to his old friend. “Touch and see for yourself. It’s true. It’s real.” And Thomas, having received the proof he knew he needed immediately responds, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas gets it. Thomas is faithful.

The closest thing to chastising I can find in this story is in Jesus’s response to Thomas’s strong faith statement. Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” I suppose one way to read this is as a snarky admonition: “You’re not blessed because you needed proof.” But another way to read it is, “Thomas, you are blessed because you had the chance to see me and found faith. Those who don’t have the chance to see me but still find their way to faith are even more blessed.”

Maybe Thomas wasn’t being chastised. Maybe Jesus was just pointing out that there would be many more who would be asked to follow him without this physical proof. Like you. Like me.

We don’t have a chance to see Jesus face to face in the flesh. Or touch his side. But still we try, with all our imperfections, to follow the Risen Christ.

This story feels relatable to me. I mean, sure, the idea of Jesus walking into a room where we are hanging out seems far-fetched. But the human emotions and actions seem completely reasonable. This story contains anxiety and peace, fear and courage, doubt and belief, joy and sorrow, love, community, trust. It’s all there.

One of the things that makes humans so beautiful is that we can hold so many things together in tension at one time. The world is rarely black and white and neither are our reactions to it. We can trust and doubt simultaneously. We can love while feeling frustrated. We can act with great courage in spite of our anxieties. We can even rejoice in the midst of grief and sadness.

I trust we’ve all had this experience, or one similar to it: you’re at a funeral for a visitation for someone deeply beloved. Tears are flowing and the grief in the room is palpable. Suddenly, someone shares a remembrance of the deceased and tears of sadness are mixed with tears of joy as you hold your sides, laughing with abandon.

I’ll never forget our time in the hospital after our first child was born. The birth had been traumatic and scary for everyone involved. After an emergency surgery in the wee hours of the morning, our oldest son was wheeled off to the NICU and we were consumed with fear and worry. Everything turned out to be okay and as we were settling into our new hospital room in the early hours of the morning, my husband kept making me laugh. Every bit of laughter meant excruciating pain due to my abdominal surgery. I kept telling him, “Stop making me laugh!” Because it hurt. But it simultaneously felt so-so good to be together, just the three of us, as the sun was shining through the windows, coming down from the fear of the night that had passed.

We humans are able to be a lot of things all at once. I believe it is one of God’s great gifts to us. Because we know that God is the same. Time and time again in the Bible we hear stories of God being sad-mad-joyful-hopeful all at once. Being complicated is our birthright.

For the past several weeks I’ve been reading The Book of Joy which chronicles a weeklong retreat that His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu convened so they could examine this complicated human emotion: joy. Oh, friends, there is so much wisdom in this book and I commend it to you in its entirety.

The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop speak frankly about some of the perceived obstacles to cultivating joy like fear, stress, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, and grief. Many of us might think that joy cannot co-exist with these emotions. But, time and time again, these two sages talk about how joy CAN exist in us even when we are feeling these other emotions. The secret - or one of the secrets, at least - seems to be our perspective.

When we train our minds through prayer, meditation, and other spiritual practices we are really training ourselves to welcome joy - even in the midst of adversity. Joy is not the same as happiness. It’s not a fleeting emotion. And it’s not the same as pleasure, it doesn’t only happen when we are feeling good. Joy, as the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu describe it, doesn’t rely on our circumstances.

Douglas Abrams, while interviewing the two spiritual leaders, asks them to clarify how we might be able to find lasting joy - the kind that doesn’t rely on physical pleasure. We all know how nice is feels to enjoy a tasty meal or a perfect spring day. But how can we find joy that lasts longer?

The Dalai Lama says this kind of joy is “a genuine sense of love and affection.”

“Do you wake up with this joy?” Abrams asks, “Even before coffee?”

The Dalai Lama replies, “If you develop a strong sense of concern for the well-being of all sentient beings and in particular all human beings, this will make you happy in the morning, even before coffee. This is the value of compassion, of having compassionate feelings for others. Even, you see, ten minutes or thirty minutes of meditating on compassion, on kindness for others, and you will see its effects all day. That’s the way to maintain a calm and joyous mind.” [2]

One of the things that the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu come back to, again and again, in this book is the importance of connection and community. When we remember we are not alone, that we are all connected to one another, we find that our patience, empathy, compassion grow. We are oriented outwards. We can overcome that sense of loneliness that is so pervasive in our culture. Our perspective shifts.

The Archbishop talks about how we can handle our worries and insecurities by shifting our perspective. When we remember those who are in similar situations as us or who have had it even harder than we have - and have survived and ever thrived, we begin to cultivate a deep joy. Abrams explains, “the path of joy [is] connection and the path of sorrow [is] separation. When we see others as separate, they [can] become a threat. When we see others as a part of us, as connected, as interdependent, there is no challenge we cannot face - together.” [3]

It is this connection and interdependence that I see so clearly in John’s gospel today and, in fact, in the existence of the whole Easter story. Regardless of how we each understand the Resurrection, it is a story of community triumphing over separation. Jesus is taken away, but then he returns. Empire attempts to separate us, but we hold on to love tightly. Our human bodies fail but our connection cannot. We are knit together - inseparable from God and from one another. No matter what.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus keeps showing up. Again and again. He keeps coming back, reaching out, being who the disciples need him to be. He appears to Mary Magdalene, but that is not enough. He appears to the disciples, but that is not enough. He appears to Thomas, but he’s not finished yet. He comes back for an extended gathering by the Sea of Galilee. The closing line of John’s Gospel is “there are many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Christ is the force that cannot be stopped, knitting us together with the Holy.
Christ is the wellspring of joy that comes to us even in the midst of grief, pain, fear, and worry.
Christ arrives and reminds us we are never alone and that we cannot be separated from God’s love.

“Is it really you?” Thomas asks. “Yes,” Jesus says, “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

So be it.




NOTES:
[2] The Book of Joy, page 52.

[3] Ibid, 100-101.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

“Understanding Experiencing Easter”

Mark 16:1-8
Sunday, April 1, 2018 - Easter
First Congregational United Church of Christ of Manhattan, KS
Sermon by the Rev. Caela Simmons Wood
Have you heard the one that starts like this? “Bitterness, Rebellion, and Peace walk into an empty tomb…..”

You can find it in chapter 16 of the Gospel of Mark. I’ll warn you up front, though, the punchline is unsatisfying.

Early in the morning, when the sun was lighting their path, three women went to the tomb where Jesus’s body had been placed. Their names were Mary, Mary, and Salome. Mary was such a common name in the ancient near east that it becomes a bit difficult to know which Marys these were. We are told that one of them was Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s closest friends and followers. The other was Mary, mother of James, which could have been Jesus’s mother (also mother to James) or another disciple who also had a son named James. It’s hard to know.

What we do know is that there were two Marys in Mark’s version of the Easter story. Mary, like it’s Hebrew counterpart Miriam, means “bitter.” It also means “rebellion.”

Apt names for the women who followed Jesus to the bitter end, witnessing what some would call a failed rebellion. A ragtag band of oppressed Jews who tried to subvert the whole Roman Empire and lost their spiritual leader in the process. It’s easy to imagine there was a lot of bitterness, anger, and anguish in the days following Jesus’s execution.

The third woman who was present that morning with the two Marys is Salome. All we know about her is that she was also present as Jesus was lynched in broad daylight and that her name means “peace.”

So we have two parts Bitter Rebellion and one part Peace coming to care for the body of their slain teacher and friend.

Jesus was his name. His name means Deliverer.

In Mark’s Gospel, the gruesome scene at the cross is linked to Easter morning by the appearance of Joseph of Arimathea. He is the one who receives the body of The Deliverer from the government, wraps it in a linen cloth, places it in a fresh tomb, and seals it up tight. You may already be thinking of a few other Josephs in the Bible - the one who was Jesus’s father and that impertinent Dreamer from the Book of Genesis.

Joseph’s name means “God can do it again.”

God can do it again.

What an odd name for the man who has to shut the door on hope - literally sealing up the tomb with a heavy stone. The story of Jesus, the Deliverer, is over. The tomb is closed. All that’s left is for the women - Bitterness, Rebellion, and Peace - to come and anoint the body for burial.

As they arrive, they talk amongst themselves. There’s something they haven’t considered until just now as they are arriving at the tomb. “Who will move the heavy stone for us?” they wonder.

Imagine their surprise when the stone has already been moved. Who moved it? How? And why? Bitterness, Rebellion, and Peace walk into the darkness of the the tomb and are greeted by a stranger. We aren’t told his name. Just that he’s a young man, dressed in a white robe. Then, as now, young people were often the guardians of Wisdom.

The author of Mark’s Gospel tells us they were alarmed but the young man offers words of comfort. “Don’t worry,” the youth says, “You’re looking for The Deliverer, but he isn’t here. He has been raised. This is where his body was but it’s no longer here. Go and tell your other friends that The Deliverer is already on his way to Galilee and will meet you there. Just like he told you.” Bitterness, Rebellion, and Peace flee the tomb, terrified and amazed. And they tell no one what they saw because they were afraid.

The Gospel of Mark is the only version of the Easter story with no Jesus. He’s not here. He’s risen. He’s gone on ahead of us. We don’t ever see The Deliverer in Mark’s Gospel. We only hear the testimony of the young man with no name.

None of it makes any sense. The stone is moved - but how? The young man - who is he? Jesus has been raised - what does that even mean? The end of the story doesn’t provide answers - it just raises more questions.

I’ve always wondered - if the women didn’t tell anyone what they saw then where did this story come from? How do we even know it happened?

None of it makes any sense. Dead folks are supposed to stay dead. Tombs are supposed to stay shut. And disciples are supposed to believe and joyfully tell the Good News of the Resurrected Christ.

One of the things I appreciate about Mark’s version of the Easter story is that it is so confounding. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a reminder to me that Resurrection is nonsensical. Centuries of theologians have tried to understand what happened after Jesus died but, at the end of the day, I have the feeling Resurrection isn’t meant to be understood or explained. It’s meant to be experienced.

Mark’s version of the empty tomb is an invitation to experience Easter. When Jesus’s friends fail to tell the story we are left wondering what we might have done in their shoes. Faced with the impossible, do we quietly shake our heads and rub our eyes, pinky swearing we’ll never tell anyone what we saw this morning? Or do we go out into the streets loudly proclaiming this tall tale, risking our reputations in the process? Maybe we only speak of it in whispers, “I can’t really be certain, but what I think happened was….”

In a world where death seems to be all around us - where violent images stalk us from the television in the doctor’s waiting room, where it seems there is a never-ending flow of Bad News - in a world where it sometimes feels like we’re on a seesaw between Bitterness and Peace….what stories do we tell ourselves to make it through each day? How do we choose compassion and joy while struggling for justice? Where do we find Good News? How do we experience Resurrection when we can’t understand it?

This Easter it occurs to me that Resurrection isn’t something that happened once in the past. It’s not something we simply remember each year. Instead, Resurrection an ongoing force - a continual unfolding.

This sense that God isn’t finished yet - that Hope still lives and breathes and walks among us….This experience of new life and impossible dreams and Eternal Love….This Resurrection is something that we receive as a gift and something that we, as the Church, are invited to relentlessly share with the rest of the world with joyful abandon.

Remember the promise in Joseph’s name? “God can do it again.”

God can do it again. And again. And again. Resurrection without end. Amen and Amen.