End of an Era?

Easter Sunrise, Woodlawn Cemetery To react to change with pessimism is a very natural thing, even when change presents the possibility of a hope-filled future. You see that natural tendency reflected in the texts about Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples who appear at the tomb on the first Easter are alternately confused, shocked, and terrified. It seems that those who knew Jesus best, who had the most opportunity to prepare for the possibility now appearing before them, simply could not do other than view events pessimistically, at first unable to believe any other interpretation than that they had witnessed the end of an era. It is the humanness of the disciples that has convinced so many scholars that the gospels are quite unlike a fairy tale. The disciples’ imperfect reactions, their imperfect memories, their imperfect record of events, are just what scholars say you would expect from the unrefined memories of eyewitnesses to a milestone moment in history.[1] How natural it is when the disciples react to the change at Jesus’ tomb with confusion and tears, thinking that they are at the end of an era.

How can you blame people for reacting this way? We read the newspaper or watch the evening news, and we absorb stories that are difficult to fathom and move us to tears:

  • Russian troops poised to invade the Ukraine, and terrorist gatherings in Yemen;
  • Missing jetliners and overturned ferryboats;
  • A knife-wielding student slashing classmates;
  • A gun-toting senior citizen shooting down unarmed people in the parking lot of a Jewish community center;
  • A sniper taking aim at cars on the highways of Kansas City.

Over time, such stories have a cumulative effect; we are conditioned to believe that we’re at the end of an era.

Then there are events that lead to personal confusion and tears, in ways subtle and not so subtle.

As I look at the list of people for whom I regularly pray:

  • there’s the man whose company downsized him out of a job, who cleaned out his workspace, and for many months has wondered what “work” will look like in the future, and where “home” might be when the bills no longer can be paid;
  • there’s the woman who entered a marriage and raised children until the day when her husband announced he didn’t love her anymore, and that the life they had built together was coming to a rapid end;
  • there are many whose medical tests led to an office visit in which they received news that their health was in jeopardy, and their lives would be changing in dramatic ways.

All of these circumstances threaten the end of an era for those who face them.

On Good Friday, a funeral service for Ruby N. was held right here. Born in February of 1922, and confirmed in April of 1933, her entire spiritual life was shaped by association with this congregation. We remembered and celebrated her life, the casket containing her body was wheeled to the door, and eight men wearing dark suits carried it to the polished hearse for transport to the cemetery. At that moment, deep in the hearts of her husband, her daughters, and her grandchildren, certainly there was a profound question that we all ask at one time or another: Is death only the end of an era, or is there something more?

There are many good reasons to be in worship today: to celebrate spring, to smell the gorgeous flowers, to hear the beautiful music, to see smartly dressed worshipers, to reconnect with family and friends. Underneath all the other reasons for worshiping at Easter is a desire to hear again the message that in the deepest part of our being God has wired us to believe is true: when we come to challenging milestones on our journey, even the ones that involve a death of someone or something we cherish, through God in Christ the end of one era can lead to the beginning of a new one.

If you challenge me to prove it, then I’ll point to the witness of Christians who have been shaped by the living Christ. When Martin Luther King, Jr., experienced physical attacks and threats against his family, Someone calmed his fears, and allowed him to continue his ministry. When Mother Teresa rose day after day in the slums of Calcutta, facing the grim results of ignorance, poverty, and disease, Someone gave have her strength to keep serving. When, one day, Desmond Tutu looked out at the congregation in St. George’s Cathedral that was ringed by soldiers and riot police, who carried rifles with mounted bayonets, when it looked like the end of an era, Someone inspired him to announce to the soldiers that God cannot be mocked, that they had already lost, and since they had already lost, they were invited to join the winning side. We tend to think that great heroes of faith had some personal virtue or quality of character that allowed their witness, and which we never could duplicate. But, if you look deeply into their lives, these heroes say that it wasn’t their doing, but what the risen Christ did through them.

One year ago, Christian author and speaker Brian McLaren offered a prayer for preachers on Easter, a prayer about looking beyond the apparent successes and failures of our ministry together, and receiving the simple good news that is at the heart of it all. I share a portion of his prayer as my prayer for all who, this Easter, feel like they’re at the end of an era:

…. I pray they all will be surpassed by the simple joy of… Daring to proclaim and echo the good news: Risen indeed! Alleluia!

For death is not the last word. Violence is not the last word. Hate is not the last word. Money is not the last word. Intimidation is not the last word. Political power is not the last word. Condemnation is not the last word. Betrayal and failure are not the last word. No: each of them are left like rags in a tomb, And from that tomb, Arises Christ, Alive.

Help (them) feel it, And if they don’t feel it, help them (say) it anyway, allowing themselves To be the receivers as well as the bearers of the Easter News. Alleluia ![2]

 

[1] Gerard S. Sloyan, John, in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988, pp. 219-220.

[2] A prayer for pastors on Easter, from the blog of Brian D. McLaren. http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/a-prayer-for-pastors-on-easter.html

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~ by JohnH1962 on April 20, 2014.

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