Saturday, April 25, 2009

So Now What (Luke 24:36-48)

Now we get to the hard part.

Jesus has been crucified, and everybody thought that would be the hard part. What will we do with him gone? Will we just go back to life the way we’d been living it? Back to our homes and our jobs and all of that stuff we gave up to follow him?

Will we go back to worrying more about following all of the million and one regulations that the religious professionals want to lay on us? Will we go back to judging whether or not a person is right with God based on their health or their wealth or how well they pray in public? What will we do now that he’s gone?

Of course, he came back, praise be to God, and even though he seems to be talking about going away somehow, he’s here now. He isn’t dead, he’s alive!

So what do we do now?

Is he going to wander around the countryside and preach some more? Seems kind of anticlimactic now, doesn’t it? You can bet he won’t be getting any more static from the Pharisees and Sadducees now. And people will probably listen to every word he says – after all, he was dead and now he’s not, which is a pretty good icebreaker.

You know, if he really is going away, what does that mean? I could see sneaking away back to the old life if the guy I’d been following around turned up dead. Just slip back into village life and go about things peaceably like nothing ever happened, and maybe I’d skate by without a Pharisee visit of my own.

But now? I don’t know about where you come from, but if I show up back at home after having followed around a guy who rose from the dead, there’s going to be some talk. The whole ease anonymously back into the old life thing is off the table.

Plus…well, I don’t know if that’s what he’d want me to do anyway. It seems like there ought to be some meaning to this. If I really have been in the presence of the Son of God, I ought to do something with that, shouldn’t I?

And that, I believe, is where one of the major impacts of the resurrection ought to happen but it gets overlooked by us all sometimes. It’s such an amazing event, such an overpowering idea, that we lose focus of what’s supposed to happen afterwards.

Yes, the resurrection does show us that we can trust God to death itself and beyond, and that God has power over any and all things that might separate us from him.

But once that’s over with, then what? What do we do with that knowledge? What do we do with the confirmation that our faith in God and his son is not misplaced? It seems to me that the key is in the last verse of the passage: “You are witnesses of these things.”

Jesus doesn’t say, “You’ve seen these things.” Or, “And you happen to have been around when all this happened and it might have caught your eye.” He tells the gathered disciples that they are witnesses to what has happened and what he has done. Witnesses do more than just see things. They also tell what they’ve seen. Witnesses in a trial are called to testify about what they have seen or what they know to be true. Their knowledge doesn’t stay with them, but is transmitted to others.

The disciples have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, which proves to them that he is the son of God. What he has said about himself is true, and come to think about it, the other stuff he said is probably true as well. That stuff about the beginning of God’s reign here on earth? About helping each other? About repenting of our sin and following God’s path? It sounded OK when he said it and he was just Jesus, Joe and Mary’s boy, but when we realize it was said by the son of God? That sort of understanding lays an obligation on a fellow, don’t you know.

Which is where that hard part comes in. We know Jesus is raised. We know that means God’s new world has begun, even if it will await completion until the end of the age and Jesus’ return. And so we know what we are to do. If we’re going to live in that new world and take part in that new, healed and whole relationship God offers, we ought to be about letting people know what’s going on.

Will we just sit back and take our ease drinking from the well of living water? Or will we offer a cup of that water to another, showing them the way to the Way that brought salvation to us all?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I Love a Parade! (Mark 11:1-11)

A parade or processional in the ancient world was a big deal. Nobody had invented television or basketball yet, so it was hard to waste time talking about your NCAA tournament bracket. That meant you had to work when you were at work, and we all know how boring that is.

So when things loosened up to check out the big spectacle happening over on Main Street, everybody showed up.

Usually, these processionals followed big victories in battle. Processionals followed big defeats, too, but those tended to be held at night and featured everyone grabbing what they could carry and heading for the hills.

Leading the parade and sometimes even clearing the way for it were trumpeters and soldiers. The trumpeters’ fanfare announced the coming parade, and it was followed by the rhythmic stamp of soldiers marching in neat rows. Most of them were probably in their best armor and had spent a lot of time polishing it under the loving care and guidance of their sergeants. Their weapons, too, were clean and shining, showing none of the nicks and stains they picked up in battle.

The officers might follow, mounted on fine horses that were specially harnessed and decorated for the occasion. They too wore their most splendid armor and trappings, giving a picture of strength and authority.

Royal officials might be a part of the display as well. The king might want to do them a special honor and feature them in his processional. All of them would have put on their best clothes and picked their best horses or chariots for the occasion. They too were projecting an image. In their case, they wanted to show not only the power of the king but also the dignity and competence of his government.

Generals and high officers of the army would be present as well. Like the civilian officials, they might be on horseback or in chariots. You might not even be able to look directly at their armor in the sunlight, and their harnesses and trappings might cost more than any of their soldiers might make in a year.

Scattered throughout the processional would be young people who had the job of dancing and scattering flowers and petals along the parade route. Chosen for their good looks and skill, their work also brought a pleasing scent to the whole affair. They would have been in front of the trumpeters and then groups of them at strategic places in the parade. And by “strategic places,” I mean, “behind the horses.”

Now we see the king’s family approach. If his children are young, they will be riding in chariots, but his older sons might be on horseback and wearing military-styled uniforms themselves. The older daughters will have on the finest clothes made of the best fabric, perhaps made just for this occasion. They too demonstrate the king’s power. Safety and security for the realm will last beyond his death.

The king’s wife outdoes them all in the finery of her clothing and appearance. What she wears today will be duplicated on the dressmaker’s forms of all the realm’s high ladies tomorrow morning.

Then we might see the king himself, or the person the king has designated for the honor of this processional. That person might be a visiting dignitary or a great general.

If the parade marks a specific victory, then the losers might be marched along as well. They might be in chains to show their complete defeat and humiliation. Or they might be well-dressed and shown the honor owed to a worthy foe, just to demonstrate how important the victory was.

And Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. No flower petals, just people’s robes. No trumpeters, just people shouting “Hosanna!” and waving palm leaves. No soldiers or defeated foes, just a mob of common folk and worse led by a bunch of fishermen. No great and powerful war-horse, just a borrowed donkey.

I can see a couple of different reactions to this scene. On the one hand, people would make fun of those silly Galilean hillbillies and their make-believe royal processional. On the other, people might be intrigued by a man whose kingship and status stem from some other source than soldiers and officials and all of the trappings of power. They might be curious as to what kind of a person he was and what he had come here to do, and they might want to learn what the source of his authority might be.

Was this guy a nut, or was he a Savior?

Don’t decide just yet. Wait and see what happens next week.