Now What?Posted: April 5, 2015
SLIDE 3: TRADITION OF THE EMPTY TOMB
We cannot say for sure what happened on that very first Easter morning. The Gospels contain several different accounts no two of which absolutely agree with one another. Some scholars even believe the tradition of the empty tomb was a later story that tried to make sense of the early followers’ experience of the living Christ among them after the death of Jesus.
Indeed the very first written account of the Easter Story is contained in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 beginning with verse 3:
I Corinthians 15:3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
SLIDE 4: APPEARANCES
Please note, Paul makes no mention of an empty tomb, just “appearances” of Jesus to members of the community on the third day after his burial, as well as other subsequent “appearances” including Paul’s vision on the Road to Damascus. Paul’s vision of the Risen Christ was clearly not a resuscitated body depending upon an empty tomb.
SLIDE 5: VENERATION OF THE EMPTY TOMB DEAD END
Perhaps the most significant detail in Mark’s account of Easter morning was the message: “He is not here; he is going before you.” Thomas Merton, a great 20th century Christian mystic claimed that the veneration of the empty tomb is a spiritual dead end, because it focuses our faith on the place Christ can no longer be found. Jesus isn’t in the tomb. He goes on before us into the world beckoning us to follow him to all of the places of human need, where we can find him in the least of these. The empty tomb decorated with lilies and flowers is a comfortable place to stop and rest, but if we get stuck there, then we will miss our calling to become followers of Jesus who share the love of God with real people in real need.
SLIDE 6: ROAD TO EMMAUS
John Dominic Crossan claims that the most authentic Easter Story is the “Appearance of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus.” The followers of Jesus experienced his living presence after his death on the road in the breaking of the bread. He is always going before us. Jesus is always on the move, and we have to run to catch up. Crossan then comments, “the Road to Emmaus never happened; the Road to Emmaus always happens.”
SLIDE 7: REAL GOOD CHURCH
If we stop and huddle inside the walls of the church, we will miss the Living Christ, for he is beckoning to us to move out into the world to meet people where they are. As beautiful as this sanctuary is, it is only a gathering place to inspire us to go out into the world to bear witness to God’s love for others. Molly Baskette in her book Real Good Church, points out that as much as they have worked to make their church building, more inviting and welcoming, (something we are working on also) the real challenge is to extend the ministry of the congregation into the community.
SLIDE 8: OFFICE HOURS AT THE DIESEL CAFE
SLIDE 9: OFFICE HOURS & THE LABYRINTH
United Church is not located in the same kind of neighborhood as First Church Sommerville, and so we don’t have a neighborhood Café, but one of our hopes for our new labyrinth is to attract people from our community. We are also working to install an attractive place to sit with wifi, so in good weather we can hold office hours at the labyrinth extending our congregation’s presence into the community. Who knows maybe even in very good weather not too hot or too cold we can even have Sharing Table outside? What’s next? Who knows, how far can we go to catch up to Jesus?
SLIDE 10: CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER JESUS NO LONGER THERE
The true miracle of Easter is not long ago and far away. I have been to the Holy Land. I have visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The seven different churches who try to share the Church of the Holy Sepulcher have terrible turf wars sometimes coming to blows and even using clubs and weapons. Because the Christians do not trust one another, the key to the church is entrusted to a Muslim family, who open and close the facility. Jesus is no longer there.
SLIDE 11: RISEN CHRIST GOES ON BEFORE US
The Risen Christ goes on before us into our neighborhoods, our world, and Jesus summons us to run to catch up. Like Monday April 13th when United Church plays host to the Touch, Caring and Cancer Work Shop from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Licensed Massage Therapist Judy Castrichini will teach care teams how to massage cancer and other medically frail patients safely and gently. The Russel Hill Foundation connected with the Clearview Cancer Center is the sponsor for the class and is providing lunch and materials to the participants. Or maybe we can catch up with Jesus on Monday evenings at 5:30 p.m. at the United Church of Huntsville at the NAMI Connection Mental Health recovery and support group.
SLIDE 12: OTHER OPPORTUNITIES
What other opportunities beckon us forward to follow Jesus? Maybe a lunch for Habitat workers, or inviting children from the community to participate in Vacation Bible School, or bringing a friend to our Church Retreat at Camp Sumatanga, or providing utility assistance through the Huntsville Assistance Program, or food for hungry people through our donations to Foodline, or support for the elderly living alone through Meals on Wheels.
SLIDE 13: HERE IS WHERE I DRAGGED YOU KICKING AND SCREAMING
Now what is the likelihood we will actually get up and run to catch up with Jesus? Friends I am not a dreamer or a visionary. I think this cartoon probably captures the inertia that keeps most of us from reaching out beyond the walls of our homes, our families and our church to touch the real needs of other people. The problem is Jesus relies upon us to freely get up and get moving. Jesus won’t drag us kicking and screaming into the world to serve others. We must freely choose to serve others.
SLIDE 14: THE FUTURE IS IN OUR HANDS
Now what? It’s up to us. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in the world. Is Jesus truly alive in us moving in the world to touch the needs of others, or has he died, suffocated by our indifference and buried in the sepulcher of the church. If Christ lives, he lives because we care, because we are alive to his call to love others. The reality of Easter is in our hands, it’s in our hands.