Monday, April 23, 2018

One Flock, One Shepherd

'Jesus said, “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.”'
--John 10: 11-18

 Jesus and his pals at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at General Seminary

For years when I would hear the story of the Good Shepherd I would immediately think of my chapel at General Seminary—the Chapel of, you guessed it, the Good Shepherd.  At the front of the chapel, behind the altar, is a reredos with nine statues—Moses and Elijah on the outside, the four Gospel writers (two on each side), Peter on the left, Paul on the right, and in the middle is Jesus.  I called them Jesus and his pals.  Jesus stands there, holding a shepherd’s crozier and cradling a little baby lamb in his arms, while the mama sheep looks up from Jesus’ feet.  All of the other statues are looking in Jesus’ general direction, but he is focused on that little lamb, holding it to his chest, their eyes meeting.  He knows that lamb, knows its story, and has brought it home because, after all, he is the Good Shepherd. 

There is a lot of layers to that word shepherd for us Christians.  In a great many churches the spiritual leader is called the pastor, another word for a shepherd—except for us Episcopalians, who use the term 'rector', which means 'ruler', but that’s a different sermon!  Speaking of us Episcopalians, our very name is connected to the notion of shepherdship.  We we get our name from the fact that ‘episcopal’ means ‘bishop,’ and our name reflects the hierarchy of our church, with the bishops being the shepherds for a whole collection of churches, which is why our bishops carry those big shepherd croziers, just like the one Jesus has at my seminary chapel.  Oh, and how many rectors and pastors and bishops have you heard refer to their congregation as their flock?  Yeah, a bunch.

I find that fascinating, and a little disturbing.  For a person in my position to refer to the folks in y’all’s position as “my flock,” is to insinuate that I am somehow the shepherd of this flock.  The truth is that no pastor, no rector, no bishop—for that matter—is the shepherd of the flock.  That role belongs only to Jesus, who is the described as the Good Shepherd.  The Greek word used is kalos, which does not just mean that something is good, but rather that it has a quality about its goodness that makes it lovely, special, even holy.  That's the kind of shepherd Jesus is.  If anything, the rest of us are the Mediocre Shepherds.  We council and we administer sacraments, but we ourselves are flawed.  Too often we fall into the trap of trying to be perfect, trying to make everyone happy, trying to impress upon our clergy colleagues that our particular flock is the best, the one that finally figured this Christian thing out, the one that has absolutely no problems whatsoever!  And when we try to be perfect, guess what happens, our people try to be perfect.  That is a recipe for disaster!  The truth is that perfection is not the point of our Christian journey.  Discipleship is!  A disciple is one who follows, and that is what we are called to be—that’s all of us, you and me both!  Furthermore, discipleship begins with the realization that we are, all of us, part of this one great big wonderful flock with this one Good Shepherd, who calls us each by name, who lays down his life for us, and whose love and mercy for us endure forever! 

Many nights when we were in seminary my dog Casey and I would go into the Chapel of the Good Shepherd to pray or practice a sermon or to just vent to Jesus.  I would look up at that statue and so often wish that I were that lamb.  Oh how I wanted to just feel held in Jesus’ arms!  How I wanted my Good Shepherd to call me by name.  When the tears would start to well up a little in my eyes I could feel the telegraph on my heart:  “You are mine, Joe!  And I love you!”  I was that lamb all along.  Even now, as I continue to live into my role as the spiritual leader of a different Good Shepherd, I am reminded from time to time—in quiet prayer, while standing at the altar, or hearing our children and adult choirs sing—that I am still that lamb.  I am still held in the arms of my Good Shepherd, and I understand that so much of my call as a priest in his Church is to remind the people I meet that they, too, are that lamb in his arms.

A closeup of Jesus and the lamb at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

That includes you, brothers and sisters.  You are each the lamb in his arms, and he calls you each by name!  As he searched out that little lamb and brought it back home he has searched you out and will continue to bring you home whenever you are lost.  He lays down his life for you freely so that you can know what life really looks like, and what’s more, so that you can share the abundance of your life in him with those you meet.  He said there were sheep who did not belong to his flock, but that he would bring them also.  So much of the pain of this world is the result of the fences and walls that we have erected, keeping others out of our flock. We say that it is in the name of security, bur really it’s a lack of compassion and mercy and love—the very values our Good Shepherd lives out.  We see people everyday who are hurting, who are broken, who need a shepherd.  Imagine what would happen if we told them they were loved and treated them with that kind of love.  Imagine if we told them they were held in the arms of Jesus, that he calls them by name, and that his love has saved them.  Imagine if we built bridges instead of walls and invited them into his flock.  What kind of flock, what kind of beloved community, might we sheep create in the name of our Shepherd? 

I mentioned how I usually think of the chapel at General Seminary whenever I hear the story of the Good Shepherd, but over the last couple years I think of a different statue.  It sits in the columbarium of our church here in Asheboro.  It is still Jesus the Good Shepherd with his lambs, but there is no crozier or group of pals around him.  Instead, Jesus kneels down and meets his lambs where they are.  It's super vulnerable, and even a bit jarring to someone who sees it the first time.  But this vulnerable posture, I have found, is the very posture with which our shepherd meets us.  Perhaps it is there to show his sheep the way that we are to meet with one another.  

The Good Shepherd and his lambs in the columbarium of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Asheboro

You know, they say that sheep are pretty dumb animals, so it seems a bit funny that we would use such imagery to describe our lives as people of faith.  Yet in spite of their lack of intelligence the sheep listen to and follow their shepherd—they are disciples, if you will—and we are no different.  Discipleship does not mean expecting our mediocre shepherds and our church communities to be perfect.  We all make dumb decisions sometimes, after all.  Discipleship means remembering who we are, and whose we are.  Who we are is a part of the flock that is the family of God, and whose we are is Jesus Christ's, and there is nothing in this world that will ever take that away.  In spite of the divisions we see, the pain that we inflict on each other, and the bad news that we hear all the time, we will not stop proclaiming the Good News of love and mercy and salvation that belong to all people.  For we are all one flock with one Good Shepherd.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Values From the Ancient Church: Why They Still Matter

One question I get asked often is:  What exactly was the ancient church about?  It's natural for us to wonder, isn't it?  How did our fathers and mothers, those who payed the foundation of our faith, worship and conduct themselves?  What was important to them?  And what did this Resurrection thing mean to them?   You know another question I get?  How does any of it apply to us who are trying to be Christians some 2000 years later?  Does it really even matter?

We are lucky that throughout the season of Easter we hear readings that offer us a glimpse at the communities that made up the ancient church, letting us know what was going on with them.  During Eastertide we hear from the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of John, which tell us how those folks who experienced the Resurrection first hand lived their lives. We also get perspectives from different Gospel writers, each of which tells a different story about what meaning these communities assigned to the Jesus’ Resurrection; for example, on Easter Sunday we heard from Mark, on the following Sunday we heard from John, and this past Sunday we heard from Luke.  When we examine each of these readings from this past Sunday we learn what was truly meaningful to the early followers of Jesus, and we find that values, not rules and organization, were at the heart of their faith; what's more, we might just be able to take those values and apply them to our own faith here and now.

'Peter addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses."'
--Acts 3: 12-15

An artist's depiction of Peter healing the man outside the temple.

Let's start with our reading from Acts, where we hear Peter speaking to a group of folks outside the temple just after he has healed a man by simply telling him: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”  That part was left out of our reading, unfortunately, but what we got is Peter’s explanation to the crowd for how such a thing occurred.  We see in Peter a principle  that was essential to the early followers of Jesus—humility.  Peter explains that neither he nor John, who was with him, made this man walk, but rather the name of Jesus did so.  Faith through Jesus, not faith in any human being or human institution brought healing to this man.  It wasn’t Peter who did it, but rather Jesus working through him. The early Christians understood something that the 20th century theologian William Barclay would later say:  that as long as Christians think only of what THEY can do and be, there can be nothing but failure and frustration, but when they think of what Christ can do and be through them, then there can be nothing but peace and power at work."  Humility was a core piece of what it meant to be an early Christian.

'See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.'
--I John 3: 1-3

A Renaissance-era depiction of John writing his Gospel and letters (aided by cherubs).

Next we hear from the First Letter of John, which is dated sometime around the end of the first century, so about the year 100.  A lot of time had passed since the days of Acts, and many of the followers of Jesus had fled underground.  The temple is Jerusalem was destroyed, and people were losing all hope.  John though, writing in exile on the isle of Patmos, was offering not only hope but triumph in his message.  We are children of God, he says, and while we do not know what is going to happen when Jesus is revealed fully to us, we do know that when he is revealed—that is, when he comes again—we will be like him and will see him in all his glory.  Amazingly, at a time when religious institutions were crumbling, old ways were dying out, and people seemed so lost and confused, John’s letters—including Revelation, which remember was a letter—offer a sense of hope and triumph for those who placed their faith in Jesus, in the one who defeated death and made a mockery of the political and religious entities of the world.  Hope and triumph were essential.

'Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."'
--Luke 24: 36b-48

An artist's depiction of the resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples and eating fish.

And then we get this great Resurrection story from the Gospel of Luke.  It takes place right after Jesus has appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaeus, and it is the last teaching he gives them in this gospel before his ascension into heaven.  He shows up in the middle of the room as the disciples are are engaged in a conversation about all that has just happened.  They all think he’s a ghost, and for good reason, but Jesus shows him his wounds and then, best of all, he asks for something to eat.  Because, obviously, ghosts don’t eat.  Duh!  Then he reminds them that all of this was meant to happen and that they will be his witnesses throughout the world.  But what goes unspoken in this story, but what would’ve been clear to the folks who first heard it, is the message that Jesus is alive and that the Resurrection was real.  He wasn't some ghost or a figment of the women's imaginations.  His resurrected body was as real as yours or mine, which meant for those early followers that the material world, which many felt was evil, was actually good, and that the promise that they would also achieve a real, physical resurrection was, in fact, true.  To believe in a real resurrection for the whole material world, which God had redeemed in Jesus, was a central part of their faith.

So from our readings today we see what the so-called ancient church thought and the ways that the Resurrection affected their daily lives.  Acts shows us the humility and personal surrender of those early followers; John's first letter shows how hopeful they were of both the triumph Jesus had accomplish and the triumph that was to come; and Luke shows that they understood Jesus' resurrection to be a physical one, and that they would share in it with him.

Did you notice that none of these readings focused on doctrine or disciple?  Instead, what we can gleam from these readings is that the early followers of Jesus were about values, not rules or guidelines.  Over the centuries Christians of all sorts have attempted to give the faith rigid structures, but that's not at all what we see from those early followers.  We see folks concerned with humility, hope, and the certainty of a real resurrection.  We see folks concerned with relationship much more so than religion.  In short, we see values that reflect who the church is at her very best, which makes me wonder:  what would happen if we took those values and applied them to our daily lives?  What if humility, hope, and the real resurrection were at our core, rather than frustrating issues around doctrine or discipline?  What might Christianity look like today if we stopped acting so much like a rigid religion and started acting more like a values-based relationship?

These are just some of the lessons that the early followers of Jesus still have to teach us and why so often the answer to how we are to live our lives moving forward can be found in the values of our forebears.  The seeds of the future lie buried in the past, someone once said.  I  pray that today—and throughout the rest of Eastertide—you are able, as you take in these Scriptures and study them on your own, to get a glimpse of what truly was important to those early followers of Jesus.  And maybe the values that they cultivated will renew your own as you seek to grow deeper and deeper in your relationship with the risen Christ and each other.  That's what the ancient church was all about, and that's why it still matters to us today.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Paschal Mystery

Good Friday

Pain.  Humiliation.  Grief beyond imagination.  Death.  This is the cross.  There have been hundreds and hundreds of methods of capital punishment throughout human history, but few have been as cruel as the cross.  It was a fate reserved for the worst of offenders:  violent  seditionists, those who plotted to overthrow the government.  These were stripped, beaten, and hung high in the air for all the passers-by to see:  Look!  This is what happens when you take on Rome.  And after about six hours, when death finally set in, they were dumped in a dung heap called Gehenna outside the city walls.  No funeral.  No family burial plot.  Just shame.  That was the legacy of the cross.

Or rather it was the legacy until this day, this day that we are foolish enough to call Good.  Such hopeful nonsense!  But as the Lord of Life hangs from the tree, with two seditionists on either side of him, as he breathes his last and says, “It is finished!”  God wins.  The nonviolent resistance of this homeless street preacher has defeated the most powerful empire on the planet.  Through his tears, his sweat, his blood, his cries of anguish the world sees what true power looks like. 

I often wonder what it would have been like to have been in that crowd on that day.  No, this was not the same crowd that chanted ‘Hosanna!’ as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday morning.  This crowd was smaller, made up of folks that needed permission in order to enter the governor’s quarters, so they may very well have been hand-picked by those religious authorities.  They shared a common enemy:  Rome, and they shared a common vision:  Rome’s eradication and restoration of the Kingdom of Israel.  In Jesus many of them had hoped that they at last found the one who would start the revolution that would lead to these two desired results, but what they saw instead was a man who fought with his words, not his fists, who called out the destructive behaviors not only of the government, but his own religious authorities who were conspiring with that government.  His revolution was one that began with the realization that the kingdom of God was here—a present reality that trumped any other kingdom on earth.  The solution was not to violently overthrow the enemy, but it was to repent—to change one’s mind and attitudes and return to understanding that there is only one true kingdom in this world, and that is God's.  For this reason, the crowd wanted Barabbas. 

Barabbas as depicted in The Passion of the Christ.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, his name was Jesus Barabbas.  Depending on your account he was a seditionist, or a bandit, or a murderer.  Why would the crowd want to release this man and have Jesus crucified?  Perhaps it was because Barabbas embodied the kind of revolution that they all wanted.  He used force and strength, whereas Jesus appeared passive and weak.   In some ways, Barabbas looked more like the Messiah that the crowd wanted than Jesus did.  Here lies a great truth and a harsh question for us even now:  who do we really want—Jesus or Barabbas? 

This day, standing at the foot of the cross, we are faced with every kind of darkness and evil that the world can offer.  Each time that we approach this tree we are reminded of the cruelty of our own losses—jobs that end, relationships that come crashing down, loved ones who die much too soon—as well as the losses we experience as a human family—children gunned down, religious extremists violently oppressing others, basic human rights denied over and over again, even in the so-called land of the free.  We come to the cross and we say “Why, Lord?”  We look for meaning, and when we don’t find it we lash out.  Anger fills us.  We shut each other out, we shut God out, and we cry out for Barabbas to be released.  That’s the answer, we say.  Let that righteous anger wash over us, and let us tear down everyone and everything that inflicts such pain!

But then we look up, and we see him.  We see Jesus bloody and broken, reminding us that while God is not the cause of our pain, God is the healer of our pain.  God can and does bring meaning and hope in the wake of our pain.  Not a political power, not a religious authority, and not even ourselves.  Only God and God alone.  Violence won't do it, nor will righteous anger.  The God who reigns in glory, hanging from a tree, can do it.  Pilate asked ‘What is truth?’ to which Jesus gave no response.  And yet, as we gaze on the cross and behold him in all his glory we know, THIS is Truth, and we who claim Jesus as Lord are invited to participate in this truth:  to lose our life for the sake of the Good News of God’s love and mercy, to follow the path of nonviolent resistance, and to understand that true power looks like giving of ourselves on behalf of others.   The world is a cruel place, and no day reminds us of that better than Good Friday, but while the passers-by mock and shame him, the Lord of Life reigns from this tree, inviting us to come and embrace it ourselves. 

So as you approach the cross of Christ, the very throne of God, what burdens, what shame, will you bring?  Perhaps you will bring deep sadness and heartache.  Perhaps you will bring righteous anger.  Perhaps, even, you will bring joy and thanks.  Bring it all.  Embrace this most glorious tree, for it is here that Christ reigns in humility with arms stretched out in pain, and in love.  This day may we bring all that we are to this cross, emptying ourselves until the only thing left is God, and then may we take up our own cross, and follow. 

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you; because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

The Great Vigil

Ever since I found her on the side of the road in southwestern Virginia in 2007, my dogyour chaplainCasey, has taught me many lessons.  But lately she has taken up an interesting habit, and I think theres more to it than meets the eye.  Routinely Casey will stand in the doorways of our home.  Sometimes she straddles it, other times she sits in one room while her tail wags in another.  Nearly every time I return home there's Casey standing at the top of the small staircase that separates the lower and upper levels of our house.  She's standing in a liminal space.  I thought it was just a thing she liked doing at home, but no, earlier this week while we were frantically making bulletins and working on getting things ready for Easter, I looked up and saw her standing in the door between the chapel and hallway.  The liminal dog, as we have taken to calling her.  Shes trying to teach us something, something about the wonder and mystery and beauty of an in-between space, a thin space, a liminal space. 

Casey holds court in one of her favorite liminal spaces in our house.

For that is where we sit right now, in a liminal space, in the space between:  between Easter and Holy Week, between light and darkness, between life and death.  This is the place where Jesus resides, for this night is his Passover.  We hear again that familiar story of the first Passover, when God brought the children of Israel from their bondage of Egypt, and they passed over from slavery into freedom.  In the same way, Jesus is about to pass over from the darkness of death into the light of life.  The word liminal comes from the Latin limin, which means threshold, and right now Jesus sits at the threshold.  We sit with him at the threshold of everything.  Like a mother in the moments before a birth, or the sun in the seconds prior to its rising, we find ourselves with Jesus ready for what is to come.  But for the moment, we sit in this space. 

We may wish that we could just jump to Sunday morning.  To the eggs, the seer sucker suits, the big hats, and the lunch at the K and W Cafeteriamy Easter tradition for two years now.  Why come to church on a Saturday night, especially when theres basketball to watch?  Why sit in the dark with these candles that are dripping wax and losing their flames by the second?  Because right here, brothers and sisters, this is what it is all about.  This is the Christian experience all wrapped up in one liturgy; beginning in darkness, moving through sacred waters into light, singing the praises of our God, who is always standing in those liminal spaces.  Tonight its our turn. 

This night calls us to remember our own liminal spaces, those moments in our lives where we are in-between.  Sitting in the doctors office waiting for the prognosis.  Holding a dear loved ones hand as she simultaneously clings to life on this side of the Kingdom while preparing for life on the other side.  Standing at the door of the next job interview, hoping this will be the one, unsure of what is coming next.  These liminal moments are not ones that we would choose to embrace.  They are terrifying, in fact.  Yet this is the lesson that I think Casey is trying to teach me.  She stands and sits in those in-between places with a calmness, a serenity of sorts.  In her example I am reminded that God does the same thing, albeit on a much-larger scale.  For there is no place that is beyond the reach of God, there is no place where Gods light cant shine, no fearful territory that God cannot stand.  God is ever-present in those liminal spaces, never confounded to once place or one time, but always moving, always being liminal.  Perhaps tonight, as we anxiously await Easters dawn, we might embrace this in-between space where we dwell.  Sit with it for a second.  Feel the darkness around you, knowing that in mere moments light will break through.  We are there, in the tomb with Jesus.  We are not just remembering Jesus Passover from death to life, no, we are experiencing it ourselves.  And in so doing, are able to remember, any time we find ourselves in those liminal, frightening places, that it is the very place where Jesus dwells.  Leave it to my liminal dog to teach me that lesson.

Brothers and sisters, this is the night around which our whole faith pivots.  This is the night when Christ breaks the bonds of death and hell, when sin is washed away, when we are reconciled to God.  In these final moments, let the mystery and beauty of this night fill you with that Easter hope:  that God always brings meaningful light from senseless darkness.  We are sitting at the threshold, for in mere moments, that hope will once again be realized.

The Feast of the Resurrection

 Welcome one and all to this very special April Fools Day!

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that God doesn’t have a sense of humor.  Today proves that!  As churches throughout the world proclaim that glorious affirmation that the Lord is risen indeed, there’s a part of us that can’t help but whisper, “April fools!”  Because if we think about it from any sort of rational standpoint, the entire exercise of this day is laughbale.  That God would take an instrument of shameful death and turn into an instrument of life?  That a poor, nomadic carpenter turned rabbi, with a congregation consisting of protsitutes, drunks, sleezy accountants, and the mentally ill, preaching a message of nonviolent resistance, could take on a world superpower?  And what’s more, that that carpenter could actually defeat that superpower by, get this, being executed by it?!  Yeah, it’s all rather hilarious when you think about it.  It is the greatest April Fools joke anyone has ever concocted! 

I can’t help but think of the image of laughing Jesus in its many variations.  There was a church I served in South Carolina before going to seminary, which had a laughing Jesus in the back of the nave, so every time we would process down we could look up and there he was hanging from the balcony.  But then folks complained (because it's the church, so of course they did!).  It’s distracting, they said.  This is church, and it is serious business; after all, we sing our serious hymns, and our ministers hold their hands in a serious manner.  Excessive laughing, crying, or any emotional expression will not be tolerated!  We Episcopalians are, of course, the frozen chosen.   Thus my rector, an interim who didn’t want to rock the boat too much, caved in and took laughing Jesus down.  Why so serious?!

Laughing Jesus

What we don’t realize, though, is that so much of what we treat with such an intense seriousness, is actually a joke.  That’s right, it’s a joke.  Our procession in and out each Sunday morning, mocks the practice of imperial processions and military parades..  On Maundy Thursday we washed each other’s feet, the dirtiest job for a household servant in Jesus’ day, which reminds us that God’s kingdom looks like people serving each other, not trying to one-up each other, a mockery of the way this world actually works.  The Bible itself, our library of sacred texts revered by Christians the world over, is actually filled with a bunch of humorous moments--and I'm not just talking about that time God spoke through a donkey (that's in Numbers, chapter 22).  This is especially true for the gospels of Jesus, and none more so than Mark, the first Gospel. 

Now Mark is not the earliest writing of what we call the New Testament--that honor goes to Paul and his letters--but Mark does give us the first full-length account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. And boy, is it a hoot!  You've got Jesus, over and over again,  lamenting the fact that his followers just don't get it:  "Y'all do realize that by following me you're gonna be killed, right?  You sure about this?"  "Oh, yeah, Jesus, totally.  By the way, can my brother and me have seats next to you in the Kingdom?" Noobs!  Or how about after Jesus feeds 5,000 people, and a few days later the same situation comes up with a crowd of 4,000, and his disciples still wonder "Where are we gonna get enough bread?"  Seriously, were you not paying attention?!  Gimme the bread and fish! 

Maybe the funniest part of Mark's Gospel, though, is the fact that over and over again, Jesus performs these miracles, and then tells the people not to say anything, and yet each time they do it anyway.  See, in Mark's Gospel Jesus is not concerned with gaining any sort of fame for himself.  He's not about getting people to worship and adore him, he just wants folks to see that the Kingdom of God has come near.  Go and show yourself to the people, he says, just don't tell them that I did it.  Do they listen?  Nope!  Mark even tells us that the more fiercely Jesus ordered them not to say anything, the more loudly they proclaimed it (that's Mark 7: 36).  We did a dramatic reading of Mark on Tuesday of Holy Week, going through the whole thing in one sitting, and as one participant said afterwards, "I didn't realize just how funny it is!"  Have you seen that image of Facepalm Jesus, a statue of Jesus with his head in his hand?  Yeah, that.  The Gospel is full of that. 

Facepalm Jesus

Then we come to today, to the Resurrection, the most serious event, maybe in all of human history, for without it we have no such thing as Christianity.  The stone is rolled away, the women meet the Man in White, and he tells them the good news, "He is raised!  He's not here.  Go and tell Peter, tell the other disciples, he's gone to Galilee, as he told you."  And what comes next?  "They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."  All this time Jesus had told them to keep quiet about him, and they finally listened!  At the worst possible time they finally listened, and just like that, the original story of Mark's Gospel ends.  Do ya get it?!  It's hilarious!  Then again, maybe you just had to be there. 

Now sure, later Gospels will portray the disciples in more favorable lights, and gradually their post-Resurrection accounts will get bigger and bigger--Mark only has eight lines to describe Easter, but by the time John writes a few decades later his Gospel has 56.  Today though, all we have is an empty tomb and a group of bumbling fools who were never really able to listen to their teacher.  Yet somehow, here we are, 2000 years later on the other side of the world, remembering the story and trying to find new meaning in it for ourselves in our own time.  And that's the final punchline of this grand cosmic joke that God played. 

I write for a blog called Modern Metanoia, and one of my co-bloggers, writing about today's story of the Resurrection, compares it to a Choose Your Own Adventure book:   "Will the women eventually go and tell the rest of the disciples about what they have seen and heard? Will the disciples listen and go to Galilee? Will they see Jesus there? Will you? If you want to know the end of the story, you have to live it yourself."

It's up to us now to continue the story and pick up where our foolish forebears left off.  We, like them, are called to go to Galilee, go to the places where Jesus dwells, the places where logic says we should not go.  We are called to go spend some time in the part of town we've never been in, where folks may not look like us, speak our language, or make the same amount of money, and go meet Jesus there.  We are called to go and share a meal--as Jesus so often did--with someone who is of a different religion, different political affiliation, different gender identity or sexual orientation as us, and meet Jesus there.  We are called to go and share the Good News, the hilarious news, that God raised Jesus from the dead, and in so doing, freed us all.  It's a story so outrageous  only a bunch of fools would believe it.