Sunday, April 22, 2012

Meet Me in Galilee

Meet Me in Galilee
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 22, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Mark 16:1-8 

Our second Gospel reading comes from the end of Mark. If you look in your pew Bibles there is probably a break in the text at the close of this reading. Many scholars believe that this is the original ending for the text. Let us pray for God’s illuminating presence.

Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life. 

Mark 16: 1-8
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Have you ever looked at the significant differences between the Gospels? They all have distinctive features, they contain unique emphasis, and they portray many different events. Do you have a favorite? Are you drawn to one of the gospels more than the others? Many like Luke for the classic parables and the developed narrative of Jesus’ eventful journey to Jerusalem. Some prefer Matthew for its social teaching and the Sermon on the Mount. I had always liked the Gospel of John, for in John, Jesus speaks about himself, explaining quite poetically to us about the significance of his life, with classic passages like “I am the Good Shepherd,” or “I am the Way, the truth and the Life,” or “For God So loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son.” Rarely though is Mark chosen as a favorite, but at this point in my journey as a student, teacher, minister, disciple, and human being, I find myself strangely drawn to Mark more and more.
It is strange that the Gospel of Mark would appeal to someone whose first career choice was that of an English teacher because it certainly lacks the polish of the others. It goes from event to event quickly. It never slows down to develop its characters or to effectively describe its  events. It never slows down enough for the reader to catch his/her breath and take in the scene. Instead it races to its climax and leaves the reader wondering what exactly just happened.
The characters are also troublesome. The followers of Jesus are always making mistakes, constantly confused, and are repeatedly fearful. Even Jesus’ portrayal is much more human in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus spits, he rebukes, he tells people to keep secret his miracles and healings, and all the time he is speaking of the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” which must have sounded to his audience much like Chicken Little’s refrain that the sky is falling. It is strikingly different than in the other Gospels. But what is most striking and upsetting about Mark is the ending, which is the scripture lesson that I read this morning and which gives shape to this morning’s message.
The Easter scene that we all celebrated a couple weeks ago happens in Mark much like it does in the other Gospels. The Mary’s go to the tomb to anoint the body, worrying on the way about how they will roll away the stone, but they get there, the stone is moved and the body is gone. A young man in white robes is there and tells them, “ Do not be amazed, You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen.” Then he tells them to go get the disciples, mentioning Peter by name, and tell them to meet Jesus in Galilee, where he will go before you.” All very simple, we are all familiar with the story, but then Mark throws in the twist. “And they went out and fled from the tomb; for they were trembling and frightened, and they said nothing to no one for they were afraid.” Nothing to No one!
As I said before this is thought by most scholars to be the original ending to the Gospel of Mark. There was added a longer ending, which redeems the disciples to some extent. I can imagine that it was added because obviously this isn’t the end of the story, the Mary’s had to have said something to someone, or else how would we know what happened. It is not the end of the story, but it is the end of Mark’s Gospel. With No doubting Thomas story, no Road to Emmaus, no Feed my sheep, and no great Commissioning.
So to sum up, Mark’s Gospel is not aesthetically written, the characters are not developed, and at least other than Jesus, the characters are all pretty underwhelming, if not outright pathetic, and the ending is cut short, leaving the story very much in limbo and us the reader left wanting.
All of these issues about the Gospel of Mark are true, but at second look perhaps the seeming sloppiness of the writing may just be intentional. Perhaps it is not poor writing at all, but a subtle and artistic method of showing a truth that the other more polished Gospels often miss. It tells the truth that the story of Jesus life, teaching, death, and resurrection is all at once frightening, earthy, human, messy, confusing, life changing, earth shattering, world shaking, and both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. It is this aspect of the Gospel of Mark that continually draws me in and challenges my heart, mind, and soul, and also that makes this Gospel so important for our lives today.
So the Gospel of Mark moves very quickly. There is a sense throughout that time is short and constant action is crucial. Everything that happens seems to happen immediately. The word immediately is used repeatedly

  Mark 1:42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

·  Mark 2:8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts

·  Mark 5:29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

·  Mark 5:42 Immediately the girl stood up and walked around  

·  Mark 6:27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head.  

·  Mark 6:45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat   

·  Mark 6:51 Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."  

·  Mark 9:20 When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion.  

·  Mark 9:24 Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

·  Mark 10:52 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

·  Mark 14:72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.

             Does this reflect poor writing or does it reveal some greater truth? Life moves quickly. And I don’t mean “time flies when you’re having fun” or the speed of hustle and bustle, of job requirements, 3 minute pop songs, fitting in as many news stories as possible between commercials. We are all very familiar with the intense speed of our technologically driven existence, but a few years ago I got a reminder that life in the natural world can be every bit as fast.
Dad and I went out fishing, or what you’d probably call boating, we didn’t have much luck in the fish department, but we got out to the York River and there was no wind and the water was as calm as glass. So we ventured up river toward West Point to check out an area of the river that we hadn’t seen before. When we got as far as we were going to go, we cast our lines, immediately the wind picked up out of nowhere and what was once glass, turned into rough waters and white caps. The skies were still clear, but our situation changed significantly and quickly. Immediately what was a leisurely fishing trip turned into an intense battle against wind, waves, water and freezing temperature. For those who have been in the midst of a hurricane or tornado, or a earth quake, life does change quickly.
But could you imagine how much faster life would change if you were in the company of Jesus? We as Christians have studied the Gospels for almost two thousand years. So we are completely familiar with most of the stories. Our familiarity tends to lessen the impact of them. We somehow without wonder, digest easily that Jesus walked on the water, and calmed the storm, and healed countless people, and fed multitudes, and so many other mind blowing miracles. The speed of Mark allows us to get a glimpse of the intensity of what life is like with Jesus running loose in the world.
What about the disciples though, who seem to us like a bunch of bumbling stooges, fearful, slow, always a step behind, and utterly confused. Their confusion is a reminder to us of the awesome nature of Jesus’ ministry. Of course we can judge them as foolish, but we have the luxury of time and slowness and rereading the passages that used to blow our minds, while they are dealing with all of it real time. We say to ourselves, “if I were them I would have acted much differently. To have been able to see those miracles first hand would remove all doubt from my heart.” Perhaps, but in the real time speed of our lives, how open are we to experiencing the totality of the Risen Christ? After two thousand years, aren’t we just as confused and incapable of “getting it” as the disciples are? Many times we like to simplify and package the Gospel Message, completely missing its awesome impact, showing ourselves to be just as foolish as the disciples, who speak up every time they think they get it, but are repeatedly proven hopelessly wrong and utterly incorrect. How very like the disciples we truly are. I think that is why there is very limited character development of the disciples in the Gospel. Our lives fill in those details because Mark’s Gospel invites us into the narrative as the disciples.
Now having dealt with the speed of the Gospel and the lack of character development., let’s take a crack at the ending of the Gospel, so seemingly anticlimactic and underwhelming, after the greatest saving miracle in the history of the world. Jesus crucified and risen, and the final and concluding response is that “they told nothing to no one.”
By the way as an aside in Greek the double negative Ogdeni ogden (no thing, no thing, they said) is for emphasis, in case there are any other High School English teachers here this morning, thinking that a double negative is really a defacto positive. No such luck here, nothing to nobody, means they didn’t utter a word, they were completely silent, mute, read my lips (nothing to nobody).
It’s really perfect as an ending. For me it’s this ending that makes Mark my favorite Gospel. Think about what it allows. Remember the pains that Mark has gone to, creating for us the three year whirlwind of life as discipleship, inviting us to live it for ourselves as a disciple. It’s so crucial because now as the reader of the Gospel, we are given a choice. Jesus is risen!, and he has gone ahead of us to Galilee. We can either meet Him there, or we can say nothing to no one.
Let me say it again, we can meet him there, in Galilee to continue as disciples, or we can say nothing to no one, ruled instead by our fear and confusion. The Gospel leaves it open doesn’t it?
There are obviously people who say nothing to nobody. It after all is a quite legitimate reaction for sure. Resurrection is a difficult thing to wrap your mind around. Can it happen? Did it happen? What if it did happen? What does all this mean? I’m afraid! I’m not worthy! I’m confused! How can I meet Jesus there? Who am I to do so? What will he have me do? Hmmm maybe I better not, so you say nothing to nobody and you go back to your life unchanged and uninspired and unaffected.
But what if you do decide to meet the Risen Christ in Galilee? What happens then? Luke shows the disciples encounter with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus? John shows the encounter with Doubting Thomas and tells Peter to feed his sheep? Matthew shows how Jesus empowers the disciples with the Great Commissioning, but Mark leaves it open. I love that he leaves it open, for it opens up the possibilities for us. It is our choice whether we meet him or not, and there is no telling what we will find when we take the leap and meet him in Galilee. For our encounter won’t be like Thomas’s and it won’t be like Peter’s, instead it will be every bit our own, completely unique to us and different each time.
But Mark doesn’t leave us completely hanging. He gives us more than is at first apparent. I believe that it is not mere coincidence that Mark ends his Gospel with the invitation from Christ to meet him in Galilee, and that he opens his Gospel with Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He invites us to go back to the beginning with Jesus and relive the journey of discipleship again; to go through the three year whirlwind with him again; to encounter the life of Jesus again and again and again. That is the beauty of Mark’s Gospel: Mark’s invitation to us to relive the encounter of Jesus, repeatedly just as if Jesus had been truly raised and is truly risen, and let loose on the world for all of us to truly experience. Three years.
A couple of weeks ago on the show, How I Met Your Mother they did a cool thing. The show revolves around a father explaining to his kids in 202-something how he met their mother sometime around now, and for the last 5 years or so, the show has been on and he hasn't met her yet, but since it is all told as a story, it is full of flashbacks, and the point of view looking back allows the story to jump around to different points of time. A couple of weeks ago the show revealed a pact that the main guy, Ted,  and his friends made to watch the Star Wars Trilogy every three years. It started when they were college seniors in the year 2000, while they watched they made predictions based on their hopes and dreams of where they would be three years later. Then the show flashed forward to 2003, and we as the audience got to see how some of their predictions came true, and how some didn't. Then the pattern continued 2006, 2009, 2012, where the main character was still single, having not yet met the "mother," but then predictions were made again with the same hopes for 2015. . . They showed him with a baby introducing the baby to Star Wars. It was really a cool show. . .
Do we ever know where we will be three years from now? I don't think the disciples did, either at the beginning of their encounter with Jesus, or three years later in the wake of the empty tomb. The call is made simply to meet Jesus in Galilee to begin a whirlwind journey, and then to follow. I first preached this very sermon three years ago. The members of the now dissolved PNC have heard it before because I had a recording of it. At that time my life was filled with questions, and it still is today. I was about to graduate seminary, then what? I was about to get married. Then what? I was forced to make a bunch of decisions. . . and God’s faithful direction on those decisions have all brought me to this place, but would this be what I thought it would be like those three years ago. Two jobs, almost two kids, I never would have thought it possible, but it is. Where will I be three years from now? Where will you be three years from now? Where will this church be three years from now? It is fun to think about, and it is possible to plan, but if we decide to meet Christ in Galilee, as called, all of those plans will go straight out the window, and then real and true life can and will begin.
Let us pray!
Wondrous God, your invitation is clear, give us the strength to accept it in our lives, day by day and with each passing moment, for if we are pointed in your direction, we know that you will guide our steps through the whirlwind that is life in Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, Redeemer, and Friend, we humbly pray. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Christ Is Risen

Christ Is Risen
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 15, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Jonah 2:1-6
Colossians 2:20-3:4

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence. 

3 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. 

Let us close our eyes and return in our thoughts back to last week, a short trip back to last Sunday, Easter Sunday. How beautiful is Easter Sunday? The church is a little more full, everyone is dressed just a little nicer. The lilies filled the sanctuary with beauty and pollen. Connie sang then too. We sang Because He Lives. We had extra people here, and extra kids. The energy of the Easter Egg Hunt. Easter is just that special. Now open your eyes, for this Sunday too is Easter. . . as is every Sunday. . . if only. . .
A couple of years ago, before I started seminary, I was riding in a car with a friend of mine. We passed a small church on the side of the road, that had a sign out front. We had passed the church many times together and always looked forward to reading the weekly slogan that the church had on its sign. They never were a disappointment. This time though it was not the typical trite cutesy pun-filled word play, but instead simply stated Christ is Risen. My friend was quick to point out the grammatical error on the sign. He said shouldn’t the sign say Christ has risen, Christ was raised, or Christ rose. Looking back on it, I realized I missed my big chance to minister to the ignorance so called “un-churched.” At that moment I could have explained simply the difference between has and is, but up to that point I had never thought about or even noticed the distinction, the error, or the reason. Being “churched” didn’t challenge me to think about such distinctions.  Perhaps, I had been dulled to the point where I didn’t have to think about why things were, anymore, but simply accepted them as they were because they were. I simply replied to my friend in the immortal words of the church, “It’s always written like that.”
Many people probably agree with my friend that Christ has risen would be a more accurate statement. There was a moment in time where morning came on the third day, the stone was moved and Christ was raised from the dead. Let trumpets proclaim the event, the victory over death and sin. God so loved the world that he sent his son to die, to rise, and conquer death for all. The event marks our salvation from death, cleansing us from our sin and iniquity, for all who have been given faith. Is that not what Christians believe to be the case? In this victory our freedom is achieved. Freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from our past, freedom from the law, freedom from circumcision, freedom from sacrifices, freedom from temples, freedom from priestly duties, freedom from dietary laws, and freedom from past distinctions between people.
Today’s reading from Colossians 3 is contextually preceded by words that proclaim this freedom. The second chapter of Colossians is filled with references to the things that Christ has set us free from. But where does that leave us in the world? What is the first thing that we do when we are given freedom? We prefer our old chains.
The Colossians that Paul was writing to began looking to things other than Christ to bring them closer to God. They looked to angels, they looked to practices, they looked to rituals, they looked to traditions, they looked to worldly wisdom, and they looked back to the old laws. Because they affirmed and proclaimed through their actions that Christ only has risen.
We do the same today. We are afraid of the freedom from the law that Christ has made for us, so we fill our churches with strict traditions, which are the new laws. We return to distinctions between people based on faith, gender, race, and whether people are churched or unchurched. We become afraid of where this freedom will lead. We are free! Now what? We look ahead at the void of our new freedom and are deathly afraid of falling into the pit, again: the very same pit that we were freed from.  We again are paralyzed by our fear. And then we cling to what we have always done, our chains, the familiar, what we know. As we stand still the walls form around us leaving us again in a pit. We do not cling to Christ because for us Christ only has risen. These are the fruits of faith in a Christ that only has risen, a return to slavery. A Christ that has risen falls short of true salvation.
The Gospel, however, proclaims a Christ that is Risen. This is the Christ that Paul is proclaiming in our reading for today. “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is.” Christ is risen means that Christ doesn’t rise and leave us, instead Christ is risen means that Christ rose and is, an ongoing state where Christ is with us. Christ rose to save us, to set us free, but not to leave us alone, instead to be present in our lives.
The risen Christ is and works in our lives, the risen Christ is and works in the lives of others, the risen Christ is and works in the world. Christ is with us until the end of the age. Therefore as written in the Gospel of Mark, “do not fear only believe.” When standing on the edge of the pit looking out into the void of freedom, we are not standing there on the edge alone. The Christ that is Risen is there with us. When challenged by the ever changing world, that many times seems like it is spiraling out of control, we can believe that Christ is Risen and is working in that world. When worrying about how others are acting, we can believe that Christ is Risen and can work in their lives as Christ is working in our own.
Allowing the risen Christ to work in our lives, means that the freedom of our lives is filled with love.  The love that Christ has for us, we then can freely give to others. Instead of holding on, trying to control our lives, and control others, we can let go, letting the master, the risen Christ, work through us. The song, written by David Downes, entitled “Send Me a Song” includes the line “Love must never hold, never hold tight but let go.” To be a part of Christ’s redeeming love we must let go of the things we used in the past to control the madness and fear that our lives can bring, and allow Christ to be sufficient, to let Christ be enough, to let Christ be all in all.
True freedom then has occurred. So here we are again. True freedom achieved, now what? Does this mean we can do anything we please? That there is no law, no absolute truth, lawless anarchy? Remember that the risen Christ is working within us, is that lawless anarchy? Does this mean we can be inactive, sit and pray and watch as the world burns around us? Remember that the risen Christ is working within us, did Christ in his life sit back and let the world burn? I’m sure we have all heard the phrase/slogan “What Would Jesus Do?” I even think I saw it on that church sign all those years ago. Too many times we ask ourselves this question, when the question should be “What Will, What can, What is Jesus Doing in Me?” This therefore is not a call to inaction, but instead a call to allow the risen Christ to work within our lives. Presbyterianism is based on the idea the Christ is the head of the church. Think about what that means. Officers in the church, from the bottom to the top, at the church level all the way to the General Assembly are not representatives of the will of their churches, they are not representatives of their own will; they are instead called to discern the will of Christ in all things, in all decisions. What an amazingly awesome idea that is, but do we live up to it?
At the beginning of this sermon I had us look back at Easter, taking a look at our service, remembering the celebration, the flowers, the hymns. My question today is, were we proclaiming Christ has Risen or Christ is Risen? Do we believe in our hearts that Christ has Risen or that Christ is Risen? As we look around us a week later, are our lives, our church, our world a testimony to the Christ who has risen or to the Christ that is risen? Are we challenging our members and the world through our words and actions to see the distinction /between the Christ who has risen and that Christ who is risen?
May we all strive to see Christ, to trust Christ, to know Christ, not just Easter Sunday, the day Christ was Risen, but now, today, and everyday, where we believe that Christ is Risen. May we when questions arise, when we are challenged as a church with decisions to be made, when we must choose the direction to head, when we struggle with disagreement, seek the counsel of the risen Christ instead of our own preconceived ideas. May we cling to Christ who is above, and not the lesser things to which we have clung to for comfort because they are familiar, or because they have always been done? If we are clinging to the risen Christ we cannot go astray, for Christ is Risen, Christ is sufficient, Christ is all in all. Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Says Who?

Says Who?
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 8, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 24: 1-12

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

The Resurrection of Jesus

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. 

               So we made it! It is Easter Sunday! The tomb is empty,  the light of the world could not be trapped inside the tomb of death; nails were not enough to drive out life permanently; even the mighty hand of the Roman Empire's power is not enough to stifle the almighty will of God. But now what? What does this mean to our lives, and our world?
Christ's resurrection seems to challenge much about what our world sells as truth. You know that might makes right, that Earthly power is what matters, that physical force is the only effective means of change, that fear is the order of the day, that hope is offered by human hands, through politics, through leaders, kings, and emperors, that human beings have no real worth except what those powerful figures can squeeze from them, that human life is limited, that hate is stronger than love. . . to all of this the empty tomb seems to scream, says who? Why should it be that way? That is not the way the world was created to be. Instead sin has created that world.
In what Ron read this morning we don't see created the Roman ethos. Instead we see a world made by God, and made to be good by God, declared Good by God. And we see human beings made in the image of God. Male and female created he them, and God put forth the first of his commandments, saying, "Be Fruitful and Multiply." This commandment seems very different from the imperial decree of the emperor of Rome: Not the life giving, "Be Fruitful and Multiply" but the oppressive and control based, "Be dominant and occupy." Human beings weren't ever made to be that way, not to control and dominate life, but to create and give life. Isn't that a picture of the image of God. Jesus on the cross shows that this idea of creation is more meaningful and lasting. Go forth and build up life, rather than be a servant of sin. The empty tomb shows the futility of the human need to dominate and control it only leads to death. The world that says I need to secure myself and hold on to my life, which is the way to save it. The Cross yells, Says who?
But we look around us, and do we see those changes? Do we see that the world is any different, or do we see the same old same old. Our world, to the empty tomb also says, says who, because it doubts the truth of it. But so too did the first witnesses. Look at this morning's Gospel reading from Luke? The first thing that struck me was all of the pronouns. There were a lot of theys and thems, rather than names.
 they came to the tomb,
taking the spices that they had prepared.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
when they went in,
they did not find the body.
they were perplexed,
two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground,
the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has risen.
he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
Then they remembered his words
they told all this to the eleven
It is not until after all of this that the names are given. 10 "Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles." It seems to me that it is important that the tomb's witnesses are always them/they, and not us/we. We have to depend on another's witness when dealing with the empty tomb. And that is important to distinguish, as I will get to later.
But then the what  is most striking from Luke's account is the overwhelming lack of faith. The women were going to anoint the body with spices, and they are perplexed to find the body gone, surely wouldn't  you be too? But the doubt doesn't stop there, the two men, or as is probably a better description "Angels" remind the women, that this is not out of the ordinary, that in fact if they could remember correctly, this is all a part of Jesus' plan as described, "He said this would happen, why look for the body here." The cycle of doubt doesn't end there either, when the women went to tell the eleven, they considered it an "Idle Tale" according to verse 11, and they did not believe them. Then Peter, himself, goes to the tomb to see for himself, and even he is "amazed." Yes, amazed, perplexed, confused, bewildered, these are the words that surround the empty tomb because the ramifications are overwhelming and beyond what we truly can comprehend.
Why do you believe it? Why do you think that the stone rolled away and the body was gone? That Christ was resurrected? Why do you believe it? Have you seen it? How can  you believe that which you haven't seen  yourself? Is it because your parents believed? Is it because simply that you were born in the United States, or in some other part of Christendom? Why do you believe that Christ rose from the dead?
Let's look at the witness first here of the disciples and those women closest to Jesus. They walked with Jesus, witnessed miracles, water into wine, walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead. They saw the healings: the blind, the leprous, the demon possessed, the bleeding. They heard his teachings, the sermons, the parables, the I am statements, the prophesies about being resurrected. They saw all of this first hand and they were confused, perplexed, and amazed. Why would our faith be different from theirs? Why should we be more enlightened than them? What is different for us? The answer of just what the difference for us is the same thing that made the difference for them.
The miracle of Easter is so much more than just the empty tomb. If it was just the empty tomb then we would all just be perplexed, confused, and amazed for all of eternity. It is too much for us to take in and it will always be. It is the rest of the Easter story that brings us from confusion to faith, and that is the fact that we get to experience the Risen Christ in our very lives. They get to witness to the empty tomb, but we get to witness to the Risen Christ. And that is what makes the difference for the disciples, too. . . In the next few verses in Luke's gospel, the disciples are on the fateful road to Emmaus,
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles  from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them. 

Jesus himself came near and went with them. They get to experience the Risen Christ for themselves. That is the real miracle of Easter, not just that Jesus has risen, and that the tomb is empty, but Jesus is Risen and we get to experience the Risen Christ in this our world. It is these experiences of the Risen Christ that make faith possible for the disciples, and I believe the same is true for us today.
If encountering the Risen Christ is what makes the difference, two questions come to mind: 1. Have you had an encounter with the Risen Christ, and 2. What is the difference that it is making in your life? Let's look at these two. . .
Have you had an encounter with the Risen Christ? It seems to me if you truly believe then you must have. . . since even the eyewitnesses of, and those who walked with Jesus needed such an encounter to believe. I have, and I have been struggling all week to try to figure out a way to share them, but they all seem so trite, as if pointing to one example is not enough. I mean I could say that I encounter the Risen Christ through my relationships with people, or by seeing a sunrise, or by going through a time of struggle, or in having communion. . . and all of those are true, but there is so much more. None of those things can encapsulate the encounter and that is what makes it so hard to describe. It is a lot easier to talk about our personal encounters with Christ in conversations with each other, than it is to speak definitively, from the pulpit, so this may seem like I'm passing the buck a bit, but I challenge us all to talk to each other over the course of the next few weeks, during this Easter season, and beyond really, as to what those experiences are. Sharing in that way though difficult may help us get a grasp. I think that is one of the great purposes of the church.
But it's the second question that is crucial "What difference does the encounter with the Risen Christ make in your life?" What does walking with the Risen Christ do for us? Does it make a difference? It must. It truly must because it makes all of the teachings of Jesus true. It means that God loves us, that God provides, that God redeems and forgives, that God sustains life, that the way we do things matters, that our lives are held in the palm of the hand of such a God, that we have no need to fear, no need to worry, no need to hate, or control, no need to hoard, no need to hesitate, no need to falter, no need to look at ourselves with disgust, no need to look at others with disgust, that God heals, that God understands, that God is with us, that God is seeking to have relationship with us, that God can encounter us where ever we are and make our lives worth living.
Does knowing this make a difference? So many in our world do not see the difference. God loves us, Says who? God is with us, Says who? The Tomb was rolled away and the Risen Christ is Running free in the world, says who? I pray that our lives can begin to answer their question. . . it does make a difference, and our lives, the way we live, the way we love, the way we are can be a witness to the Risen Christ in a world that is very much in need of an encounter. When the world asks, says who, may our lives scream out, says the Risen Christ!

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 24:1-12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday Service

Maundy Thursday Service
Gordonsville Presbyterian Church
April 5, 2012

Call to Worship:    

Leader:      Jesus said: I give you a new commandment that you love one another.
People:      Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another

Opening Prayer

We gather together tonight to witness to the amazing love that is the sacrifice of the cross. We remember the love that is nailed to the cross, and sealed in the tomb, realizing that the nails could not hold and the tomb could not trap the power and love of God, the God who created us, sets us free, and shows us the amazing possibilities of love. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.

 *Hymn #92                  “Beneath the Cross of Jesus"               ST. CHRISTOPHER

Unison Prayer of Confession:
Eternal God, whose covenant is never broken, we confess that we fail to fulfill your will. Though you have bound yourself to us, we will not bind ourselves to you. In Jesus Christ you serve us freely, but we refuse your love and withhold ourselves from others. We do not love you fully or love one another as you command. In your mercy, forgive and cleanse us. Lead us once again to your table and unite us to Christ, who is the bread of life and the vine from which we grow in grace.

Canticle (Sung):
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Assurance of Pardon
The mercy of the Lord
is from everlasting to everlasting
I declare to you in the name of Jesus Christ
you are forgiven.

May the God of mercy
who forgives you all your sins
strengthen you in all goodness,
and by the power of the Holy Spirit
keep you in eternal life.

Prayer for Illumination:
Eternal God,
whose word silences the shouts of the mighty:
Quiet within us every voice but your own.
Speak to us through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ
that by the power of your Holy Spirit
we may receive grace to show Christ's love
in lives given to your service.

Old Testament Reading:       Exodus 12: 1-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

New Testament Reading:     1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Reflection on Remembrance

            We get the idea of needing something to help us to remember in the earliest stories of the Bible. God sends us rainbows, and signs, and rituals, but somehow we always seem to forget. Even surrounded as we were in the Garden of Eden by the wonders of the freshness of God's creation, and we forgot. In that case one lie clouded our minds. And the greatness and wonders of God's creating love is swept away by the doubt that our forgetful minds made manifest.

Tonight's Old Testament Lesson tells us of another means of remembering. The Israelites newly set free are going to be prone to forget. God knows this because God knows His children so well. The Israelites in their new freedom forget a lot. When they run into struggle they forget that God has led them thus far. They forget how hard their bondage was and seem to have nostalgia from their chains. They forget so quickly out of the moment that the struggles is where they are closest to God. And this is what the Passover meal is about: remembering the amazing works that God has done to set them free as a people.

And it is a part of this sacred and holy tradition that Jesus institutes His Holy Supper. In the tradition of God's work with the Jews in the Old Witness, the Old Covenant, the Old Testament, the New Witness, the New Covenant, the New Testament is marked with this Holy meal. A holy sacrament set aside purely so that we do not forget because we do forget and we will forget again. Let this holy meal be for us a reminder that God loves us, God created us, God leads us out of bondage, God became one of us, in an amazing act of love, and died for us, because we were unable to understand the vastness and potential of God. May this Remembrance help us to experience the love of God, and help us to become more close, seeking, moving closer and closer, to the understanding, and full open armed relationship that God desires to have with us.

It is for this Holy purpose that we perform this Holy sacrament. Amen. May it be so. . .

Hymn                                                  "In Remembrance"

The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

And so we come to the table,
This is not my table, nor is it the table of Gordonsville Presbyterian Church
but is the table of our Lord Jesus Christ
And all who are baptized in the faith are welcome to participate in its full communion
Come not because you must but because you may
Come not because you are worthy but because you are not
The blessing of this holy sacrament be upon us each and all this night.

Let us pray together the great Prayer of Thanksgiving found in your bulletin

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is truly right and our greatest joy. . .
to give you thanks and praise,
O Lord our God, creator and ruler of the universe.
You bring forth bread from the earth,
and create the fruit of the vine.
You made us in your image
and freed us from the bonds of slavery.
You claimed us as your people,
and made covenant to be our God.
You fed us manna in the wilderness,
and brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey.
When we forgot you, and our faith was weak,
You spoke through prophets,
calling us to turn again to your ways.

Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with the celestial choirs
and with all the faithful of every time and place,
who forever sing to the glory of your name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest.

You are holy, O God of majesty,
and blessed is Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
whom you sent to deliver us
from the bondage of death and slavery to sin.
In humility he descends from your heights,
to kneel in obedience to love's commands.
He who is boundless takes on the bondage of our sin.
He who is free takes our place in death's prison.

In the deserts of our wanderings, he sustains us,
giving us his body as manna for our weariness.
The cup of suffering which he drank
has become for us the cup of salvation.
In his death, he ransomed us from death's dominion;
in his resurrection, he opened the way to eternal life.

Remembering all your mighty and merciful acts,
we take this bread and this wine
from the gifts you have given us,
and celebrate with joy
the redemption won for us in Jesus Christ.
Accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy offering of ourselves,
that our lives may proclaim the One crucified and risen.

Great is the mystery of faith

Christ has died.
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.

Gracious God,
pour out your Holy Spirit upon us
and upon these your gifts of bread and wine,
that the bread we break and the cup we bless
may be the communion of the body and the blood of Christ.
By your Spirit unite us with the living Christ
and with all who are baptized in his name,
that we may be one in ministry in every place.
As this bread is Christ's body for us,
Send us out to be the body of Christ in the world.

Lead us, O God, by the power of your Spirit
to live as love commands.
Bound to Christ,
Set free for joyful obedience and glad service.
As Jesus gave his life for ours,
help us to live our lives for others
with humility and persistent courage.
Give us strength to serve you faithfully
until the promised day of resurrection,
when, with the redeemed of all the ages,
we will feast with you at your table in glory.

Through Christ,
all glory and honor are yours, almighty Father,
With the Holy spirit in the holy church,
now and forever.


Hear the words of the institution
of the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ:

The Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, too bread,
and after giving thanks to God,
He broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying:
Take, eat.
This is my body, broken for you
Do this in remembrance of me.

In the same manner he took the cup, saying:
This cup is the new covenant, sealed in my blood,
Shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
Do this in remembrance of me.

Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the saving death of the Risen Lord,
until He comes.

With thanksgiving
Let us offer God our grateful praise.
These are the gifts of God
for the people of God.

Prayer after Communion

Jesus, Lamb of God.
have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearer of our sins,
have mercy on us.
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
grant us peace.

God of grace,
your Son Jesus Christ
left us this holy meal of bread and wine
in which we share his body and blood.
May we who have celebrated this sign of his great love
show in our lives the fruits of his redemption;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and forever.

Light and Darkness

In this great vigil of remembrance we light the candles of hope remembering the time that God spent with us as Immanuel.

We light again the candle of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, remembering the child of Promise who was born so lowly in a manger.

We light a candle remembering the his baptism in the Jordan River

We light a candle remembering his amazing stand against temptation while fasting in desert.

We light a candle remembering his holy teachings on the Mount and on the Plain where he told us of the possibilities and responsibilities of love

We light a candle remembering how he healed the sick, offering hope and presence to the faithful, who came to him.

We light a candle remembering how he asked the children to come to him,  remembering also that to welcome a child in his name is the way to be truly great.

We light a candle remembering the miracles he performed, like feeding the multitudes and walking on water, showing us that our thoughts of limitation are invalid.

And finally we light a candle for the triumphant entry he made into Jerusalem, which seemed to be the high water mark of his work and the beginning of the end. . . as he upset more than just the tables in the Temple.

And now we say a prayer in the light of his teachings as he taught us to pray saying. . .

Our Father
Who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On Earth as it is in Heaven,
Five us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts
As we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom
And the power and glory forever.

And then we betrayed you Jesus, and we need to remember.

And then we denied you Jesus, and we need to remember

And then we tried you Jesus, and we need to remember

And then we demanded that you be crucified, Jesus, and we need to remember

And then we beat and whipped you Jesus, and we need to remember

And then we mocked you with a cross of thorns Jesus, and we need to remember

And then we nailed you to a tree, and we need to remember

And you said, I thirst, and all we gave you was vinegar, and we need to remember.

And you said, Father forgive them for they know not what they do, and we need to remember

And you said, My God, my god why have you forsaken me, and we need to remember

And you said, Into thy hands I commend my spirit, and we need to remember

And you said, it is accomplished, and we desperately need to remember.

Special Music (acapella)                                 "Were You There?"                               

Closing Prayer
God, the amazing thing is this, that you love us, and Christ's sacrifice proves that you do. What wondrous  love is this. that you can love us so much, that you gave your only begotten son, so that we shall not perish but have eternal life in the bosom of your grace and steadfast love. Amen.

Hymn #80                               "Jesus Walked that Lonesome Valley"

And in three days he rose again from the dead, and is risen, proving that the words of that last hymn are incorrect. We do not have to walk that lonesome valley by ourselves, but that Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is walking it with us. Go in Peace to walk that lonesome valley with Jesus, and with each other, brothers and sisters in Christ. May it be so, Amen.