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Archive for April, 2014

A Different Kind of Heartburn

“They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’  That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and the round the eleven and their companions gathered together.”  Luke 24:32-33 (NRSV)

Two people walked home to Emmaus which is a short distance from Jerusalem.  They talked about what had happened to Jesus who had been put to death on a cross.  They talked about their disappointment because they thought he was the one who was going to save Israel and restore the nation to its own people.  When a stranger appeared on the road, they all walked together, talking about these events, even though Jesus acted as if he didn’t know about it.

When Jesus spoke, they had the same burning in their hearts as they had before he died, but it didn’t dawn on them that it was really Jesus; after all, he had died on the cross and been buried.  Logically, they never expected him to be alive.  As they approached their house, he acted as if he was going to continue on, so they encouraged him to come into the house and have a meal with them – typical hospitality in those days.

Somehow Jesus took the bread to bless it, and it was at that moment that they realized who it was, and he was gone.  They had a glimpse of the risen Christ, and they dropped everything as they hurried back to Jerusalem to share their amazing and wonderful news with the disciples.  Their hearts burned within them.  A good kind of “heartburn!”

As I’ve pondered my mother’s death since the end of February, I have wondered why my grieving wasn’t more intense.  In fact, I mentioned it to my husband and then later to my grief counselor.  It seemed as if I should be crying more or something, but what I felt most was joy for her, even in the midst of my own loss.  This Easter season has been poignant for me as I deal with Mom’s physical absence and my relief that she is no longer tied to her physical body.  I don’t wish her back in the state she was in with Alzheimer’s Disease, and yet, there is a large empty space in my heart because I miss her.

I told my dad that I was homesick for the first time in forty-one years since I left the Midwest and moved to the East Coast.  He paused and said quietly, “It’s because of Mom.”  I knew that, and yet at the same time, I believe she had a joyous homecoming in Heaven.  I can’t be sad for her gain, even though I’m sad for my loss.

This past Sunday, the choir at one of the churches I serve sang an Easter song about the power of the cross and how it sets us free.  I struggled through it because I truly am happy that Mom has been set free, but it also reminded me of my own loss.  My heart is warmed and overflows with gratitude at the hope we have in the resurrected Christ and the promise of life with him forever.  My prayer is that others will come to that place of faith where their hearts burn within them as they recognize the risen Christ with them.  Amen.

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What’s so “good” about Good Friday?

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’  Having said this, he breathed his last.”  Luke 23:46 (NRSV)

Good Friday was a day I dreaded when I was growing up.  I was raised in the American Lutheran tradition (now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church).  In the Midwest, we didn’t have a February or April vacation like we do here on the East Coast of the United States.  What we did have as a spring break was a long week-end around Easter.  On Maundy Thursday, we were dismissed from school early, and we had Good Friday and Easter Monday off. 

Good Friday meant spending three hours in church for the afternoon during the church’s tradition of 1-3 pm when Jesus hung on the cross.  I remember one of the songs we sang was made up of what I thought had to be a hundred verses, and we heard scripture, then sang one of the verses.  Good Friday was far from good for me as a young child, but then, I was basing it on the amount of time I had to sit during what I considered a boring and useless worship service.

I really didn’t get the significance of Good Friday until I was much older.  Oh, I knew that it was the day Jesus had died on the cross, but on Easter we celebrated his resurrection when he was alive again, so it was no big deal, really – right?  What was so “good” about Good Friday?

As a pastor I have had a number of people ask me that question, and I encourage them to think about what happened on that day and why we remember it.  It isn’t so much that it was a good thing that Jesus was tried and crucified, or that he was betrayed by one of his disciples and abandoned by the rest.  That’s something that’s really not so great.  Yet, most of us can probably understand the feeling of betrayal and abandonment in our lives.  Jesus obviously did, too.

What was the “good” thing was that Jesus’ death on the cross meant that we were reconciled to God, that his death opened the door for us to receive forgiveness of sins.  Sin is nasty stuff.  The world is a sinful place.  We all are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness.  In the gospels we read that, at Jesus’ death, the curtain was torn in two – symbolic of God’s presence being opened to the world, including Gentiles (and that includes most of us).  The Jewish thought was that God lived in the temple, and that the Holy of Holies was where God could be found.  Only priests were allowed to enter and only at certain times and after following certain purification rituals.  The priests were the intercessors for the people of Israel.

Jesus death on the cross ripped apart the idea that God was inaccessible to ordinary human beings.  Jesus was God in the flesh – touchable, accessible, even huggable.  He made God real to us.  When we look at Jesus, we see God which makes it a little more tangible for us.  When Jesus died, God symbolically burst forth into ALL the world, for ALL people.  God could not be contained in the Holy of Holies, not in human form, not in our own little boxes into which we try to put God, not into anything restrictive.  God is everywhere, and always available. 

What was “good” about Good Friday?  God in Christ broke the bonds of sin for humanity, and on Easter, we are set free even from death.  That’s Good News! 

The Start of Something Big

“When [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’  The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’ ”  (Matthew 21:10-11 NRSV)

Crowd hysteria – you know what I mean.  It’s when someone famous or maybe even infamous arrives in our area, and tons of people go to catch a glimpse or wave, maybe even with the hope of getting an autograph.  For most of us, it’s probably not a huge deal, but we get caught up in the excitement and want to be part of the “goings on.”

During our life time, it’s probably a very LOW possibility that we will meet someone famous.  I remember being at Disney World in Florida and eating at one of the star restaurants there (because it came with our package) when there was a flurry of activity as a group of people entered the dining area and were seated.  I looked at the man thinking I recognized him, and then realized when I saw the woman with him that it was indeed former President Jimmy Carter with his wife and family.  No one bothered them, and of course, the Secret Service made sure they were able to eat in peace.

I like to bring up the fact that I went to college with Mary Hart who used to host Entertainment Tonight, and she even said “hi” to me once when we passed each other on campus!  But that was pretty much the extent of our encounter.  So, what is it about celebrities that make us all a-twitter?  Is it because we really see that they DO exist or that we watch them on the news or other television shows and they become familiar to us?  Maybe it’s a little envy that we, too, would like to be rich and famous (I don’t REALLY care about being rich or famous, but I would like to have a tenth of the money so I could help others!).

Since Jesus didn’t have the news media, television, and tended not to sign autographs, what was it that led people that day in Jerusalem to throw down their cloaks and palm branches for him to ride into the city as if he was a king?  Were they drawn along in the crowd.  That’s perhaps the most logical explanation since verse 10 shows them asking, “Who is this?”  They didn’t know.  What I didn’t realize in all the years I have preached on this passage (where have I been?) was that on the other side of the city was another parade taking place.

Pilate and his soldiers apparently had a parade and show of power, carrying their swords, decked out in full armor, riding their magnificent steads, and making a statement that Rome was in charge, and the Jewish holiday of Passover was only taking place at the “good will” of the Emperor.  Their show of power and might was to remind the people that they really didn’t have a lot to say about what was happening in their lives or their city or their world.  Rome was in charge.

Jesus’ entrance was not showy, but humble.  He rode a simple donkey, wore no armor, and smiled sadly at the crowds.  He knew that this was only the beginning of something much bigger than Rome’s show, than Passover, than anything that would take place in the week to follow.  This was the last week of his life, and he began it by sort of “thumbing his nose” at the Romans.  The ultimate message was that Rome would never prevail, and that God would.  In the end, God had and still has, the final say.  Good will always overrule evil and oppression even though it might not seem that way.

The biggest thing of all is that God overcame death so that we might have life.  That’s the start of something big that we remember every year at this time.  During Holy Week, I hope we all can journey with Jesus and see what he endured for our sake and how God overcame sin and death.  It makes our Easter celebration even more joyous to have taken the journey through the temple clearing, to the Upper Room, in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the trial of Jesus, and kneeling at the foot of the cross.  May this week be holy in many ways as we journey toward Easter and the celebration of the resurrection.  Amen.

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