Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Doors Were Shut

Dora the Upstairs Cat is often on the wrong side of the door.  Doesn't matter which door.  Doesn't matter which side.  It’s the wrong side.  And she complains mightily about it.  Sometimes by sitting and yelling at the people who just don’t seem to get it.  Sometimes by banging on the door, persistently, loudly, unflinchingly, she just keeps banging.  Could be that I’m in the shower and inadvertently left her inside the bathroom with me and she wants out.  Or that I am in the shower and inadvertently left her outside the bathroom and she wants in.  Could be that it’s the middle of the night and she wants somewhere where she isn't but there is a door in the way.  She can sit and bang on the door until it either opens on its own, or someone gets up and lets her out.  Or in.  Or maybe she changes her mind and says “since you’re up...”

One of the interesting features of the house we are leaving is that the bedroom closets have automatic lights.  You open the door and the light comes on.  Dora can bang long enough to open these doors and a shaft of light comes stabbing into the darkness of the bedroom and someone has to get up. Usually me because someone manages to sleep through lights being turned on in the middle of the night.  Someone.  

Anyway, my point is cats hate doors.  They always seem to be in their way.  They don’t seem to take the hint that a closed door means no access.  Stay out.  Be content with where you are.  A closed door means no admittance.  Unless you are a cat.  Or Jesus.  

Jesus seems to have an almost feline dislike of doors.  He won’t let them keep him in when he wants out.  Nor will they keep him out when he wants in.

John 20:19-31  When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."  20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."  24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."  26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."  27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."  28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"  29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."  30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

You know what?  There is simply way too much stuff in these verses to adequately deal with it all in this space.  Way, way too much.  In church we are looking at Thomas, and we just might come back to him here in a moment, but for the most part, I’ll skip over the usual.  There is also the whole Pentecost theme that appears here in John’s Gospel.  “He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Very different from Luke’s version that appears in Acts, with tongues of fire and mighty winds.  A quieter, gentler Pentecost perhaps.  But we’ll leave that one too.

Then there is that pesky “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Yeah like that hasn't caused centuries of abuse of power from the hierarchy of the church, or caused self-righteous Christians to think it is their job to be judgmental and to point out specks while conveniently overlooking logs.  But hey, he said we have the power to determine what sins are the bad ones and which ones don’t really matter all that much.  Right?  Well, no.  But we’ll have to return to this one at another time.  Sorry.

And then there are those curious verses at the end there that seem to open the door to all kinds of stuff.  Like maybe is it possible that Jesus kinda sorta wanted us to think for ourselves sometime? That we've got to take his life and teaching and apply it to stuff he never took the time to tell us about?  Or John and the others didn't take the time to write down what he said about hedge funds and immigration?  You think, maybe?  Well, someday we’ll come back and cover that.

But right now what occupies my thinking are those doors.  On Easter evening they were locked. Locked for fear, John says.  But locked up tight.  The disciples were locked in, behind doors, piles of furniture too perhaps.  Blinds drawn on the windows and nobody moved much in case someone below heard the footsteps on the floors.  They were huddled, hunkered down.  Behind the doors.  And who was there?  Well, Thomas wasn't, we learn that later.  So, what’s that leave now ten?  Maybe ten. But maybe more.  See, in the Gospel of John, the word disciples is a slippery term.  It’s not just the twelve, usually. John rarely just talks about the twelve.  He’s interested in a bigger crowd.  The twelve, now ten, plus the women who were there.  And maybe others.  At one point Jesus sent out seventy.  Maybe there were seventy, or sixty-eight, in that room, crowded in, avoiding eye contact. Which would be hard if there were seventy.  Maybe less, maybe ten, maybe a few more.  

And if the women were there, did they try again?  “Look,” Mary of Magdela says, “It was Him.  He’s alive!”  Yeah, sure Mary.  Maybe your demons have come back?  Just sayin.  And didn't you think it was the gardener?  You have no idea who it was, do you?  It was early, you were up all night, none of us slept.  You must have been dreaming. “No, it was Him.  He said my name.  When he said my name I knew it was Him.”  She crossed her arms and turned to Peter and John who were trying really hard to be interested in the pattern of the rushes thrown on the floor.  “You were there.  You came running in like your shorts were on fire and dashed into the tomb.  What did you see?”  The silence hung in the air behind the locked doors.  Nothing.  They saw nothing.  Not what they expected to see. Not what they hoped to see.  They saw nothing.  Now they sit, comforted by nothing, afraid of everything, hoping locked doors would save them.

They didn't.  Jesus came.  That’s what John says.  The doors were locked and Jesus came.  How did he come?  Dunno.  John doesn't say, he just came.  “Peace be with you.”  He had to say it twice because the first time they didn't hear it for fear of ... Him.  He sighed (must have) and showed his hands and his side.  Then, John says, then they rejoiced.  How long did he stand out there banging on the doors hoping someone would let him in?  Jesus who had earlier that morning burst through a stone door, now appeared through a locked door and said “Pace be with you.”  

Then Thomas shows up.  How much later?  We don’t know.  Later.  They tell him, those almost seventy or maybe ten disciples tell him, “we saw the Lord.”  Yeah, sure, says Thomas.  Ah, Thomas, why did you doubt?  Because the doors were still locked.  “We saw the Lord!  He showed us his wounds be which we were healed.  He offered us peace.  He gave us power, he sent us out to forgive!”  Yeah?  The doors are still locked.  A week later, the doors are still locked.  The truth is none of them believed.  They saw but they didn't believe.  Not enough to open a door anyway.  Not enough to venture out. 

But a week later the doors were shut, but Jesus came anyway.  With a sigh, undoubtedly, but He came.  He came to show them what they needed to see.  Just like he shows all of us what we need to see.  Remember?  That’s the Easter proclamation.  He is going before you, going back home, going to familiar territory, going where you belong, where you live and work, and there you will see him. That’s the promise.  That’s what they were offered, what we are offered.  We will see him.  

But wait.  What about that “blessed are those who haven’t seen and yet believe”?  What about that? Well, I think he threw that in because he heard the locks turning on our own doors.  And he wanted to pry them open.  Maybe coming through locked doors was strenuous, maybe it was painful.  Or maybe he wanted to spare us the false security of locked doors and just be open enough to see Him in our midst, showing us his wounds, the brokenness of this world, the suffering of Christ on the backs and sides and hands of our brothers and sisters.  But also to see the grace and the forgiveness that is poured out even on us just when we’re sure we won’t get it, just when we are afraid we can’t have it and we turn to push the doors closed against a world too cruel to live in, too empty of Him. Or so we think.  But he’s there.  

He doesn't like your locked doors.  Like a cat on the wrong side we try to shut Him out.  But he’s persistent, he keeps banging, he keeps coming through.  And in our darkness he appears, with a shaft of light that’s almost blinding.  And he says Peace be with you.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Who's Who in Easter

I was so excited the first time I received notification that I was going to be included in Who’s Who.  I mean, what an honor, right.  Who’s Who, for heavens sake.  It meant recognition and notoriety and ... well, good stuff.  I read the fine print and was getting ready to write the check for a copy of the book, and a check for the framed notice and a check for ... it was the third charge that tipped me off.  I’m slow, but not that slow.  It wasn't an honor, it was a scam.  A moneymaking enterprise that played off everyone’s inner desire to be someone, to be recognized.  You got listed in this book that no one would see unless they had shelled out the cash to get one of their own.  Your achievements were the ones you listed in the form provided.  It was a way of tooting your own horn and paying someone for the privilege of doing so. 

We all want to be remembered.  To accomplish some great feat, or create some great work of art, we want to perform a rescue, or invent a cure.  We want our lives to have meaning, and that is only when we accomplish something.  Only?  Well, intellectually we know better.  But our guts tell us that we are defined by what we do.  Who we are is what we do.  Right?

No.  Not right.  At least not according to Easter.  At least as Mark portrays it.  Take a look.

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.  2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?"  4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.  5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.  6 But 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.  7 But 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."  8 So 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. 

Most scholars agree that this is the original ending of the Gospel of Mark.  Verses nine through twenty were added later, on at least two different times.  Probably because the church was uncomfortable with the original ending.  “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  Kind of a damp squib of an ending.  A what?  Is that an idiom used over here.  I get confused.  A damp squib.  It means a dud, a firework that didn't go off.  A sputter instead of an explosion.  

You’d think resurrection calls for fireworks at the end, wouldn't you.  A big, wide-screen, special effects kind of moment.  Filmed in “Vista-Vision!”  In “Technicolor!”  In Hi Def, three D!  But no, we get “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

And who are the they in this case?  Well, the women, who went to do something.  At least they tried to do something, to care for the dead body.  To anoint him, Mark says, forgetting that he was already anointed back in chapter fourteen, by an unnamed woman with an alabaster jar.  Maybe it was Mary.  Mary Magdalene, or Mary who was Martha’s sister or some other Mary, the mother of James, perhaps, Jesus mom maybe.  There were just too many Marys.  Mark couldn't keep them straight, no wonder we get confused.  And Salome?  Wasn't that Herod’s daughter who danced a dance that won her a prophet’s head?  Surely not.  Another Salome.  Thought to be the mother of James and John, Zebedee’s wife.  Mother of James?  Isn't that Mary?  Or is it a different James?  Arghh.  We need a cast list.  We don’t know who’s who in this story.  We know what they did.  Or didn't do.  Or tried to do.  Don’t we?
They intended to anoint the body, to prepare it for burial.  The practice was actually to aid in the decay process.  The spices were to help with the smell, but also to accelerate the decomposition.  Bodies would like in the tomb for a year and then the family would go and collect the bones and put them in a box, called an ossuary, that would be stored in a different section of the tomb.  So, when Joseph loaned his family’s tomb to the family of Jesus, it was only supposed to be temporary.  But little did he know.

They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  It was what they didn't do that Mark was interested in.  They didn't anoint the body because there wasn't a body to anoint.  So they were given a different task by the young man in the tomb.  A young man who seems eerily familiar.  A young man in a garden tomb reminds us of a young man in a garden of violence and betrayal.  And yet that young man ran off without clothes and this young man was dressed in white.  That young man was scared to death, this young man was filled the confidence of life eternal.  He’s not here, look see that empty spot?  He has been raised.  He wasn't interested in tombs, but in what came out of one.  Or rather who came out of one.  Who’s who?  We aren't introduced to this young man, because it isn't his story.  He’s a pointer, a reference to another.  He’s not here.

But go and tell his disciples.  A new mission was given.  They came with one task and they didn't do it.  They couldn't.  It was no longer necessary.  The things of death are no longer necessary.  The attitude of death, the victory of death was no longer.  So, a new mission was needed.  Go and tell his disciples, and Peter.  

And Peter?  They had to blink at that.  The last we saw Peter he was collapsed, sobbing in the courtyard of the high priest’s house.  The last we heard from Peter he was spouting curses and swearing oaths that he didn't have clue who this Jesus person was.  The last we knew of Peter he was condemned by a rooster crowing in the dawn of a terrible day.  The worst day of Peter’s life.  And he knew he had failed.  Failed to keep his word, that he had so vehemently declared mere hours before that damnable rooster.  “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!”  And die he did.  Inside, in his soul, in his sense of self.  Who’s who Peter?  Who’s you?  Nobody, that’s who.

But now, “go and tell his disciples, and Peter.”  What did Peter do to deserve this?  What did he do? Nothing.  What did the women do?  The said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.  Nothing.  What did any of them do to make this Easter moment happen?  Nothing.  What do any of us do to deserve Easter?  Nothing.  What do we do to receive Easter?  Nothing.  Who’s Who in the Easter story?  Not them.  Not us.  Only Him.

And Mark doesn't even have Jesus appear in this original ending.  Jesus doesn't pop up from behind a rolled away stone and shout surprise.  He doesn't encounter anyone wander in the garden.  It is just a presence.  No, a Presence.  He’s not here.  He will meet you though.  He will meet you where you live.  He’s already there, ahead of you.  Get moving.  Get going, or Easter will go on without you.  

That’s what we do on Easter.  We run to catch up.  We run to find the one who has gone before us.  The one who was raised for us.  What did we do to make Easter happen?  Nothing.  What did we do to deserve such a gift, such a moment?  Nothing.  What can we do to stop it or to make it better?  Nothing.  Easter is.  Easter was and is and always will be.  And we did nothing.  

That’s Mark’s way of telling the story.  It isn't our story.  It isn't our doing.  It is God.  God is the actor.  God is the doer.  We barely appear.  And those who represent us doing do so well in their doing either.  It isn't a human story, it’s a divine one.  It isn't our story.  And yet.  And yet.

Who’s who in Easter?  Why we are.  We are someone because of Easter.  We are who we are not by our doing but by the grace of God.  We are made new, not because we earned it, but because God gives it.  We have hope, not because we are strong enough to work it, or respond to it, or claim it.  We have hope because God gives it.  And because the resurrected Jesus leads us home.  You will see him, he told you that, remember?  You will see him.  And in seeing him you will know who’s who.