04-22-18 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
April 15, 2017
Third Sunday of Easter
“Real and Alive?"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There was once a woman who inherited an old house. The neighbors told her that iwas haunted, but she didn’t believe them. When she inspected the house, she was delighted to see that it was completely furnished. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and she moved right in. On her first night in the house, she got into bed happily. She was just drifting off to sleep when she heard an odd sound, way off in the distance. It sounded like this: “Rap, rap, rap.” She tried to ignore the sound, but she couldn’t. Finally she decided to get out of bed and investigate. When she opened her bedroom door, the sound was louder: “Rap, rap, rap”. She walked down the hallway. The sound got louder: “Rap, rap, rap”. She headed downstairs. Now it was even louder! “Rap, rap, rap.” She went into the dining room. It was so loud! “Rap, rap, rap.” The sound seemed to be coming from a corner of the room. She walked in that direction. “Rap, rap, rap.” There was a chest of drawers in the corner. The sound was overwhelming now. “Rap, rap, rap.” She opened the top drawer. There was nothing there. “Rap, rap, rap.” She opened the second drawer. There was nothing there. “Rap, rap, rap.” She opened the third drawer. There was nothing there. “Rap, rap, rap.” She opened the bottom drawer - and saw ……… a roll of wrapping paper!
A photographer goes to a haunted castle determined to get a picture of a ghost on Halloween. The ghost he encounters turns out to be friendly and poses for a snapshot. The happy photographer later downloads his photos and finds that the photos are underexposed and completely blank. The moral to the story is that the spirit is willing, but the flash is weak.
I have wondered if there is anyone else who has wondered about, been confused about, tried hard to remember about the order of things that happened in Jesus resurrection. To assist you in this academic portion of today’s message, I turn your attention to the little handout that came with your bulletin this morning. The first row is how the passage begins, generally with the listing of the witnesses. The chart then goes on, putting the major events of the resurrection account in order, as to their writer. There are other details missing, but I intended this to be just an overview.
As we are still in the season of Easter, it seems like a fair exercise - to remember and realize that the earliest documents that we have, and with the latest technology, the earliest gospel, that of Mark, was written somewhere between the years 66 and 70 AD, or CE if you are in postmodern timing, which is 33-37 years after Jesus’ actually crucifixion. Matthew and Luke were written in the 80s or 90s and John was probably written in the year 110.
What did you do on April 22, 1985 or 1984 or even most any other specific day thirty years ago and beyond? Layer onto your awareness your political persuasion - if you were even old enough to have one, and the particular familial experiences you’ve had over the years and even your genetic ancestry. Perhaps it is a little clearer how our four gospels can be similar and different - all at the same time.
Going on from that resurrection day, the gospel of Luke tells us that two from the group of followers of Jesus were going to Emmaus when they encounter, but do not recognize, Jesus. They express their disappointed hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture - meaning the Old Testament. The two invite Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, but he vanished from their sight. They rush back to Jerusalem and report to the gathered believers what had happened and discover that Jesus had already appeared to Simon.
Luke 24:36-48 (NIV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Thank you, Dave. As is so often the case, there are things that stick out or catch our attention in scripture passages. On the 18th reading of that passage, since it is indeed the one that was going to be used last week, I noticed that Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” Sure wish he would open my mind about complicated stuff like figuring out taxes, car repair or other useful stuff.
One of the things that also caught my attention was the idea of ghosts, Jesus even lending credibility to the idea of ghosts in his comment that ghosts don’t have flesh and bones, but that he did. We don’t hear much about the topic, but ghosts and ghost-like entities were a part of surrounding cultures long before Abraham way back in the old testament. Several ancient Near East religions promoted the offering of gifts to dead ancestors to ease the deceased’s after life - which was not so unlike their earthly life. It may seem odd to hear Jesus make reference to ghosts, but in many ways, they were as much a part of life back then as they are today - at least in a general sense.
Two weeks ago, at the Ministerial Association Meeting, we talked about this passage, and several of us mentioned the topic of broiled fish. Broiled in our culture is close heat from the top, so maybe broiled in Jesus’ day was close heat from the bottom, without grease or oil. The fisherfolk among us wondered what type of fish it was, but wondering was as far as we got.
If Jesus were alive in our modern culture, one might envision him going to the fridge, standing in front of it and asking if there was anything to eat. I wondered if the writer of this passage brought in the idea of eating fish - not just to indicate Jesus’ “realness,” in that he was hungry, but if there was some idea of the way Jesus might have held his fish, or how he might have broken it. Many of us can think of a particular person and the very specific way they eat or drink something and how that behavior is a dead giveaway to the identification of that individual.
It’s also interesting that Jesus says, “Peace be with you” in this passage, and he said it twice in the passage from two weeks ago, from the gospel of John. We can surely appreciate that statement in light of a dead man, now resurrected, standing in front of disciples. But I wonder if there is more to that statement, especially in light of what Jesus said later in this morning’s passage and again in the previous passage.
Two weeks ago, in the the gospel of John and in the locked, upper room, where the disciples were hiding in fear, Jesus appeared to all the disciples, Thomas included, and said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This week, after spending a little time proving himself to the disciples, Jesus quotes the Old Testament, saying, “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
It wasn’t just the duplicity regarding the mention of forgiveness from John and Luke’s passages, but thoughts from Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA and Stephen Garnaas Holmes that made this God-cidence of terms and topics relevant to us modern day followers of Christ.
Mark Vitalis Hoffman pointed out that, "Luke clearly wishes to demonstrate a flesh-and-bones Jesus, not a mere spiritual presence or apparition. Still, Luke, like us, has never seen a physical Jesus, so that can’t be the key (to understanding the physicality of the resurrected Jesus). The point is, in modern parlance, that Jesus is really real and truly alive! So my brain wondered, how do we know - really know - that Jesus is alive and real? None of us have seen him either, and it’s been a long time since the first century. None of us get opportunities to touch Jesus’ hands or feet or put our finger in his side, no matter how gauche any of that can seem.”
It was Stephen Garnaas Holmes who asked another question, "What do you talk about when you come back, bodily risen but still wounded, from the grave?” His answer? Forgiveness. And the rest of his poem from a couple weeks back, is just plain beautiful.
The repentance we preach is not forced on others,
it's our repentance,
turning from retribution to forgiveness,
from self-protection to self-giving.
When we forgive, we offer resurrection.
Christ is risen in the body
of those who forgive in this world.
Forgiveness is where resurrection takes form,
where wound becomes blessing,
where lives become actually new,
where people become free,
lured by astonished fishers out of graves into light.
The new self is freed from the old life;
anger no longer has dominion.
Justice rises not from the cross of retribution,
but the empty grave of grace.
Members of the crucified and risen Body of Christ
are not afraid to be wounded in offering forgiveness.
No suffering can stop us:
we have already died and gone to heaven.
We are as fearless as angels.
We are witnesses of these things.
Let us pray. Holy and Marvelous God, thank you. Thank you for giving us all of this life to live. Help each of us to lay to rest in the tomb of your grace the hurt we may have caused and the hurt we may have borne. Forgive us, when we have failed to understand our mistakes or refused to humble ourselves in bringing about the justice that is needed for others. Help us to open our eyes to see Christ, risen and restored in you, in those around us, that they may inspire us to greater authenticity of practicing our faith. Let Christ rise to new life in us, wounded but whole, radiant, forgiving and alive with your love. Create us anew; by your grace, let there be light. This is the day you are making. Let us rejoice and be glad in it, and all your people say, Amen.
04-15-18 Church Cancelled: Weather
04/08/18 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
April 8, 2018
First Sunday after Easter
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Some 20 years ago, there was a woman named Betty Leslie-Melville, who wrote the book, Elephant Have Right of Way. The conservation-minded book made into a movie tells the story of the time before there was a valid concern for accuracy in foreign language film translations. Assuming that people in the U.S. wouldn’t understand, an Englishman who spoke Swahili was asked to write an urgent-sounding sentence in the language. He did so, and all went well until the movie was shown in Nairobi (where everyone spoke Swahili). The drama of the moment was reduced to high comedy when what the messenger actually said as he threw himself, exhausted, before the chief was, "I do not think I am getting paid enough money for this part."
The week after Easter, if a church isn’t celebrating Holy Humor Sunday, then it’s almost certain to focus on the passage we will hear in a few moments. It’s actually a great passage, taking off from last week’s scene of the empty tomb, with all the running to and fro, after the Sabbath, of course.
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The Purpose of John’s Gospel
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Thank you, Mary Ann. I’m sure there are many here, like myself, who have sometimes wonder about my brain. One of the reasons I say that is that there is that saying that goes, “We will always be friends until we are old, and then we’ll be new friends.” I know I’ve read the Bible - a lot, and not a much as I probably should - but there are still pieces of it that rise up - like a new friend. Actually, I know - and I hope you all know - that things pop out to us at different times in our lives, because we are at different places in our lives. Even so, I know some folks still wonder about my noggin.
The thing that was like “new” this week - for me - was the part where Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Aside from hoping halitosis was not an issue, I would have “remembered” that the Holy Spirit was breathed onto the all the disciples - and apostles and followers of Jesus - on the day of Pentecost. Apparently, a few trips through the Bible just isn’t enough to keep all the events easily in mind.
It is also interesting, that while Jesus showed up to all the disciples except Thomas, and all had their opportunity to touch Jesus and hug him and fist bump, and who knows, maybe even do a few chest bumps, and after he first says, “Peace be with you,” which is probable code for “don’t be afraid,” then giving them a commission to spread the gospel, Jesus gives them this rather straight-forward admonishment about forgiveness. Makes one wonder if Jesus had an ulterior motive in that sequencing, or if it was really all about John as the gospel writer, which is a topic for another day.
Today, however, is Thomas’ day. Maybe it’s a good thing that the Bible doesn’t give us too many indicators of “how” something was said or done, because it leaves room for a wider application. For far too long, Thomas was made out to be limited by his lack of faith. Maybe the real situation was about honesty and self-confidence. In fact, there is a quote from the great Atticus Finch, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, that fits Thomas perfectly. “Watch carefully, the magic that occurs when you give a person just enough comfort, to be themselves.”
Thomas, most erroneously known as Doubting Thomas, also known as Didymus, which means “Twin” in Greek, has no identifiable other half - of which we know. It’s understandable that Thomas gets the label of “Doubting,” because besides this morning’s encounter, Thomas was the one who asked Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” to which Jesus replied, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
It was also Thomas who confirmed Jesus’ idea to go to Lazarus’ family, even though he was dead (before he was raised), to mourn with their friends. Aside from those things, we don’t know how Thomas came to be a follower of Jesus, what he did for a living before he met Jesus, or anything else, other than these three incidents over the course of Jesus’ ministry.
There is an old story of one person who was disturbed to find a fisher person sitting lazily beside a boat. "Why aren't you out there fishing?" the first person asked.
"Because I've caught enough fish for today," said the fisher person. "Why don't you catch more fish than you need?' the first person asked. "What would I do with them?"
"You could earn more money," came the impatient reply, "and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you'd have a fleet of boats and be rich."
The fisherman asked, "Then what would I do?" "You could sit down and enjoy life," said the first person. "What do you think I'm doing now?" the fisher person replied as she looked placidly out to sea.
So here’s a new insight about Thomas that I’d not thought of before: he wasn’t alone in his doubt. David Lose, of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis pointed out that no one - even after all the predictions - no one says, "Welcome back." Or "We knew it." Or even "What took you so long?" No one anticipates Jesus’ return and when he shows up, everyone doubts. Everyone.
It’s the realism of this story that can hit home - not just of Thomas, but the realism also about how hard, at times, it can be to believe. Who among us, had we been in Thomas’ sandals, would have not been guarded with the idea of a dead man coming back to life - 2,000 years ago - or even today? Because isn’t that the inherent question behind the question? Who among us wouldn’t benefit from a little pressing of the flesh, Jesus’ flesh, specifically speaking?
It’s sometimes easy to think that people so far back in history were more naïve bumpkin than discerning realist. Mary Hinkle Shore of Brevard, N.C. put it so respectfully. “Thomas will not be shamed into believing, or shamed into at least keeping his unbelief to himself. Neither will Thomas ignore what he knows in order to believe something he does not know.” And the translation of that and all of Thomas’ holding-out for evidence gives our doubt room to be part of who we are.
As I thought about all this freedom to doubt - especially in regards to matters of spirituality - it struck me that it is so easy to look up the answer to any question these days, with compliments to Google, Bing, Ask or any other internet search engine you please. And yet, I still remember, clear as day, one of my seminary professors saying, “It’s okay to answer a question with, “I don’t know. Make sure you follow it up with, “but I’ll find out,” and do the follow through.”
For way too long, we have allowed doubt and uncertainty to loom in the background as big, bad monsters - in the area of faith, at least. It’s okay to allow them out into the Light of Christ, who gives us not just second chances to confirm God’s presence in our lives, but third and fourth and fifth opportunities to come to the place where Thomas was when he said, “My Lord and my God!”
Some of us have been there, to that place of certainty of faith, and for whatever reason, find ourselves no longer so certain. Some of us have never been to that place before, and may even have little if any hope of ever getting there. Some of us are in the middle of that place of “My Lord and my God!” welling up over and over and overflowing your heart, marred by a little shadow of fear that it could go away. The Good News Thomas shows us is that questioning is not refusal or doubt, but loyalty and faithfulness to the Presence of the Holy Spirit, not to the rumor of it, even if it seems as illogical as a dead man rising to life again.
Thomas reminds us that we don’t have to fall for the happily ever after Jesus, the ‘It was nothing, I'm fine Jesus.’ Notice, too, that there is no mention of Jesus saying anything like, “I’m going to wait until Thomas is away from the group, so I can teach him a lesson he won’t forget.” He wasn’t singled out for a testing, but was given the opportunity to reach out to Jesus, just as we’re all given opportunities to reach out, regardless of where we are in our lives.
In one of the poems that Steven Garnaas Holmes wrote for this first post-Easter week, he suggested that maybe we are Thomas’ twin, starting a poem with “Seeker, twin of Tomas, keep searching. Keep looking to see; keep stretching out your hand. With such a practical thought, let us reach out to the One who is Enough as we pray.
Holy and More-Than-Sufficient God, there are times when we find ourselves wanting more; more proof, more presence, more power. Those are the times when we fail to put our eggs into the basket of faith - that you are Enough, that Christ is Enough, that the Holy Spirit is Enough - and then some - for each and every one of us.
Sometimes we lose perspective, so help us refocus and see just how close you are. Thank you, for the doubts of life, that through them we know we are real and not just puppets on anyone’s string. Help our doubts turn into firm belief. Thank you, too, for the lessons those doubts teach us, as well as the faith amid our doubts that help us through those times we question not just our faith, but you, too. Help us to keep our doubts near at hand as we work to be your resurrection people in bringing the hope of Christ to those we encounter in need. As we thank you, God, for enough, that by trusting, we may have life in your name, all your people say, Amen.
04-01-18 Easter Sunday
First Congregational Church
April 1, 2018
Easter & Communion Sunday
“Jesus Says to You, ”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Reader 1: Early
Readers 1-4: Early
Reader 1: Early on the first day of the week
Reader 2: The women came to the tomb
Reader 3: To anoint his body.
Reader 4: For burial.
Readers 1-4: But an angel
Reader 2: Had rolled the stone away
Readers 1-4: Rolled the stone away?
Reader 2: Rolled the stone away!
Reader 3: And Jesus' body
Reader 4: Was not there.
Readers 1-4: The living Lord was not among the dead.
Reader 3: He was risen
Reader 4: Just as he had said.
Readers 1 & 2: Risen!
Readers 3 & 4: Risen!
Readers 1-4: Risen from the dead
Reader 1: So that
Reader 2: We might rise
Reader 4: From dead ways
Reader 3: From dead deeds
Reader 4: From deadly habits
Readers 1-4: And pass through the valley of death without fear.
Reader 1: The tomb is empty
Reader 2: And Jesus is alive!
Readers 1-4: And so are we!
Ole’s sixth cousin, twice removed, was coming out of church one day, and the preacher was standing at the door as always to shake hands. She grabbed the cousin by the hand and pulled him aside. The Pastor said to him, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!" Ole’s sixth cousin, twice removed, replied, "I'm already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor." The pastor questioned, "How come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?" He whispered back, "I'm in the secret service."
After all the torture, mockery, sorrow, betrayal, agony, and travesty of the events leading up to and including the Sabbath, Jesus was buried in a caved tomb that didn’t belong to him, and all of those events and aspects painted a picture of despair and hopelessness, especially to those closest and dearest to him. So many people had placed their hopes in Jesus: political hopes, societal hopes and hopes of overcoming corruption. And then he was gone.
The Empty Tomb
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Thank you, Michael and Sharon. Perhaps some of the real beauty of this passage is the wonder in it. There are questions like, what happened to the two angels sitting in the tomb? What kept the “other” disciple from going into the tomb, especially since he arrived there first? Was Jesus wearing such different clothing, was his countenance so different from before his crucifixion - that Mary didn’t immediately identify him, or was it her blinding grief? And just what were Simon - and the one whom Jesus loved - just what were they doing while the interaction between Jesus and Mary took place - whistling “Dixie?”
In the city of Hanover there is a graveyard that has been closed for a number of years—the Garden Churchyard. In that graveyard, closest to the church is a monument tottering from its foundation. It was built in the form of steps, and the massive stones were secured by heavy iron clasps, erected in the year 1782.
Beside the usual family inscriptions, at the base of the monument are engraved these words: “The sepulchre, purchased for all eternity, is not permitted to be opened.” Opposed to this determination of person, a beech seed, perhaps carried by the wind, found its way into a crevice of the foundation. In the course of years this little seed grew to be a strong, luxuriant tree, that mocking the proud inscription of the monument, raised the massive stones from their foundation, and rent the strong iron clasp apart. The now open grave reminds the visitor of the changeability of earthly scenes, and the fallacy of the human resolution to project plans to last for “all eternity.”
Just as I was closing the page of that “nice” illustration, at its bottom was a list of illustration topics for which one could use the story just relayed. The first category was most logical, that of resurrection. But the second was the word “Pride,” which seemed like an interesting pairing of words - resurrection and pride.
I’m guessing that when our passage was read, that there was something that struck you as, ‘oh yeah, I’d forgotten that part of the story,” or, there was a part that stood out like never before. Just so no one feels goofy about this very human phenomena, for me, it was the two angels sitting in the tomb.
Truth be told, it might have taken an extraordinary amount of time for me to remember that bit about the two angels, mainly because I think first of the single angel sitting on the rock that had closed the tomb in Matthew’s gospel. I’d also forgotten about the angel that “appeared to him and strengthened Jesus” while hanging on the cross - from Luke’s version. And speaking of angels, I had forgotten that there are 290 mentions of angels in the Bible. 290 between Genesis and Revelation.
Back to the empty tomb, was the part that you “missed” the part when Jesus said Mary’s name? Even if you remembered it, imagine Jesus standing there, at that empty tomb, and he says your name. Go ahead, say your name in your mind, with Jesus’ voice in your mind.
Some years ago, preaching guy, Tom Long told the story of Mary Ann Bird. Mary Ann had it rough growing up. Born with a cleft palate and a disfigured face, Mary Ann also had lopsided feet and so an ungainly way of walking. Naturally, she was the target of all the school-age cruelty the other children could muster. “Did ya cut your lip?” they’d sneer. “How come you walk like a duck?” Mary Ann lived in a dark world.
One year her teacher was Miss Leonard. Miss Leonard was short and round and a little doughty but she shined with kindness. Back in those days teachers were required to administer a kind of homespun hearing test. The teacher would call each student up to her desk, have the student cover first one ear and then the other, and the teacher would whisper something to see if the child could hear. Usually the teacher would say simple things like “The sky is blue” or “You have on new shoes today.” Mary Ann dreaded this test because she was also deaf in one ear and so this test would be yet another chance for her to be singled out for her deficiencies in life.
On the day of the test when it came time for her turn, Mary Ann waddled and shuffled forward. She covered up her bad ear first and then, as Miss Leonard leaned in close, Mary Ann heard words that would change her life. Because for Mary Ann’s hearing test, Miss Leonard whispered, “I wish you were my little girl, Mary Ann.” And through those words and in the midst of her personal darkness, Mary Ann heard the voice of Jesus, the voice of love, the voice of grace. And it changed her. Mary Ann grew up to become a teacher herself, and now she shines with kindness and grace for her students. And it started when Mary Ann heard Jesus call her name through the voice of a middle-aged teacher. Mary Ann.
We place a high value on names, so much so that full names are used at commencements and weddings and funerals and baptisms, even though names are not actually required for baptisms.
And not only does Jesus know your name, just as surely as he knew Mary Magdalene’s name, he speaks it to you all the time. It’s human tendency to forget that ours is a God who knows us intimately, by our personal name, in all our times - the good times and the not so good times, the valleys and the mountain tops and all the places between. Part of the reason we celebrate Easter is to remember God speaking to us, through Jesus, saying our name, the very God who created all that we have, the God who gave us the very Son of God and Son of Man and all that those two titles mean.
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate one of the two of our holy sacraments, let us do so with God whispering your name in your ear.
Another huge part of the reason for celebrating Easter is that not only is this the God we have now, but it is the God that we will have forever, way beyond the days of earth and time. We will live in the security, warmth and the sense of being “known” by the one who traded his life for ours. For the gift of Easter, including the gift of being known and loved more than we can comprehend, let us pray.
Easter God and Resurrection Redeemer, thank you for giving us the most precious of gifts - that of your son. Being God, you could probably have figured out a way to accomplish the gift of life without Jesus, but you chose to give him, that we can understand him - and you - your love and mercy and grace and salvation and redemption better than we could ever have done on our own. Forgive us, when we forget - in our humanness - to live in and through that love - when we treat each other as less than precious. Help each of us to hear our names spoken in all the ways that you use - from sounds to silence, music to noise, nature to people. Thank you, for love. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.