The Living Christ

Passage: Luke 24:1-12
Date: April 21, 2019
Preacher: Rev. Beth Neel
Guest Preacher:

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Let us pray.
O Christ, our familiar stranger, you meet us on our way, and will not let us go.
As we listen to your incredible tale this morning,
Give us your deepest blessing, so that, washed in hope and grace,
We may lose our fear, and be a church that lives by your love,
Ready to share that love with the world. Amen.

Things were not as they seemed that morning so long ago. For one thing, nothing was where it was supposed to be. The stone was not blocking the entrance to the cave that served as Jesus’ tomb. Jesus was not where he was supposed to be either, lying there, wrapped in a shroud, dead as the cold stone that had held him.

The grief those women brought with them was real enough. Just a few days earlier, they endured the trauma of watching Jesus die and witnessed the agony of their friend and teacher as he suffered the weight of the world, hanging there on a cross. In the numbness of their grief, they resorted to what they knew, to the rote practice of bringing spices to the tomb that they might perform the ritual of anointing his body. As if it mattered; they thought Jesus was dead, and no amount of spices, no outpouring of love, would undo that death.

But things were not as they seemed. The tomb was wide open, and it was empty, except for two angels who showed up with words that the women should have expected but didn’t.“ Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember what he told you?”

As it turned out, there was a love big enough to undo that death, the love and power of God who would not let death have the last word, not this time, not any time. God would not let the powers of injustice prevail, the false accusations, the unwarranted murder. Things were not as they seemed. Jesus was not dead. He lived.

Things aren’t always what they seem. You might look at the pastors up here, in our robes and stoles and Easter best, and assume that we know this stuff. You might think after a couple of decades of Easter Sundays, we’ve got it all figured out. So I was surprised when a new thought occurred to me this year, because it seems rather obvious, but somehow in my life as a Christian, I had never realized this particular thing:  Jesus lives. Present tense.

“No duh,” my teenage self would have said.

Jesus lives, but he might not appear as we would think he would. He probably would not resemble the well known portrait by Warner Sallman of a white Jesus with silky, light brown hair and velvet brown eyes. Then again, the risen Jesus might not look like a Jewish peasant from year 33 either.

There are some who think Jesus takes the guise of a guardian angel. A friend of mine has spent the last several weeks at his wife’s bedside in the Intensive Care Unit at a local hospital. During this time, he has shared a deep wisdom that one of the nurses in the ICU has offered him. Her insights into healing and hope, care for self and others, and faith in the midst of despair have been extraordinary, and she has been the bearer of truth. Jesus brings truth to the world – sometimes it sounds like good news, and sometimes it sounds like bad news, and sometimes it sounds like a challenge – but his voice has been heard through the voice of this nurse. Christ lives in her.

There are some who think Jesus takes the guise of a friend, the person who shows up when least expected and most needed, or the person who has known and loved us over decades, or the person who reminds us when we have wandered far from our true selves. Christ lives in that kind of friend.

There are some who think Jesus takes the guise of a stranger. Author Kathleen Norris reminds us of a Russian Orthodox story. An older monk says to a younger monk, “I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?’” (Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography)

It might be a great sleuthing game to figure out who Jesus is today or where he is. Perhaps, like breadcrumbs along a path in the woods, Jesus leaves us clues. There’s a clue left for us on those occasions when humility collaborates with power. There’s a clue for us where kindness overrules prejudice and fear. There’s a clue for us when someone confronts what is wrong even at the cost of losing face. If we put those clues together, we might find ourselves on the path to where Jesus is.

So on this day, this fine Easter Sunday, this 21st day of April in the year of our Lord 2019, where might we find Jesus?

This morning we will not find Jesus amid the lilies and eggs of Easter. He has gone to Sri Lanka, in the guise of a medic perhaps, tending to the wounded and bereaved amid the rubble of churches and hotels, praying for the dead and for those who killed them.

In the ashes and puddles and charred timbers of Notre Dame, Jesus is there, doing the work that he does of cleaning up the messes of tragedy, comforting those who mourn, all the while keeping an eye on those who do not receive the billionaires’ dollars, those who have hungered day in and day out in the shadow of the great cathedral. Jesus is there, amid all of it.

Jesus is with the bereaved congregations of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, St. Mary Baptist Church, and Greater Union Baptist Church in St. Landry Parish in Louisiana. He will be with them as they rebuild, thanks to the generosity of many. He is with them, not contained to those buildings. It is as Pastor Toussaint said, “the church is not that building. The church is the people. If we stay together as a congregation, the church is alive and well. We can rebuild the building as long as we stay together.” Jesus is in the congregation.

This afternoon, Jesus will be at St. Francis Dining Hall over on Southeast 11th, sitting with those who have no home and sharing a meal with them. Perhaps his fellow diners will recognize him in the breaking of that bread.

Jesus is sleeping in a makeshift tent in Mozambique or Zimbabwe or Malawi, comforting those who are sick and grieved, whose homes and lives were destroyed by Cyclone Idai.

Jesus sits at the head of a sumptuous banquet table in the mansion of the billionaire who has more than what she needs but senses that she lacks one thing.

Jesus is out on a hike in the gorge, taking time for solitude, rest, and renewal, giving thanks to his Creator for the beauty of the natural world.

And this morning, I tell you that Jesus is in you, too. I don’t know what drew you to Westminster this morning. Maybe you come here almost every Sunday or every Easter. Or maybe some still, small voice in your soul whispered to you to get up, skip brunch, and go to church.

I believe that each of us carries a bit of Jesus in us, that somehow when he rose, he shared himself with us and so we are part of the ongoing work of resurrection. I think that has to do with call – where is Christ within us calling us to go? What is Christ within us calling us to do? Who is Christ within us calling us to be?

It might seem that he calls us to come to church, but things are not always what they seem to be. Maybe the risen Christ is calling you to the work of hope, to advocate for those whose lives are in ashes and puddles, to offer your voice to those who cannot find theirs right now.

Maybe the Jesus in you is calling you to go outside, to put down your phone and your tablet and all the angst of social media and network news, to sit in the beauty of God’s creation and just be for a while.

Maybe the Christ in me recognizes the Christ in you and together we go out and bring light to places that have been obscured by injustice and secrecy and lies.

There are some who look around the city and the world and believe everything is going to hell in a handbasket. But things are not always as they seem. They are better. Christ is alive, walking the earth again, standing in line at the refugee camp, sitting with children separated from their parents, praying with people of three faiths in Jerusalem, waiting in a jail cell with those unjustly accused, at tables of families who don’t get along but gather at the Easter dinner anyway, singing the Hallelujah chorus at the end of the service.

Christ is risen. And lives right here, right now.

Poet Lois Cheney puts it this way:

Every morning just before dawn
For thousands of years
Little grim people—
Preachers and bankers and
Storekeepers and students—
Sneak up to the grave and roll back the stone
To seal it up tight.
And every morning God roars,
“Oh no you don’t!”
And he flings back the stone.

And out walks Jesus all over again;
Out stalks the grinning, striding Jesus.
Tight-lipped little people hover all day
Around the tomb
And cover it with incense
And bow before it
And walk before it
And sigh before it
And pray to it
And sing to it
And weep to it
And lean on it.
And no one notices
Or at least they pretend not to notice,
The living, breathing, walking, talking Jesus
Out on the edge calling
“Hey! Hey you!”