Walking in the Light of Easter

A sermon for the Second Sunday of the Easter Season

I John 1:1-2:2John 20:19-31

old workshopOne of the things I loved to do as a kid was to help my grandpap do chores around the little farmette he and my nana had out there in rural western Pennsylvania. I loved driving the tractor to mow the yard or to haul seed to the garden, watering the hot beds, and picking corn in the summer. Those are some of my best memories.

But there was one place on the farm that I always dreaded going to and that was the basement of the barn. Every once in awhile, Pap would send me there to grab some tool or implement that was needed for the work and every time I tried to think of some way to get out of going in there. For one thing, the basement of the barn was a dark, creaky, and terrifying place. It had no windows, so it was dark all the time. Spider webs were everywhere; just about everything hanging from the ceiling was rusty and had some kind of wicked blade on it. It was the kind of place that a serial killer from a horror movie would hang out.

But the worst moment of going into the barn basement was turning on the old light switch on the wall. The moment you flipped that switch and the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling bathed the place in light you instantly heard scurrying sounds all around you. The mice, rats, squirrels, bats snakes, and spiders who occupied the place most of the time suddenly scrambled to find a dark corner. As far as I knew, Bigfoot was hiding in there as well, and I was sure that one day when I went in there I wasn’t going to come out alive. It scared the bejeezus out of me every time, and I would grab whatever it was that Pap needed as fast as I could, turn out the light, and slam the door shut on my way out. Of course, I knew that I would need to eventually put the thing I took back in there—hopefully before the things in the shadows came out again.

I think about that every time I read this passage from I John. The lectionary, which we’re following during the season of Eastertide, puts this reading right after the Sunday in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It’s as if the resurrection of Jesus has flipped on a light switch for the world that exposes the things that normally live in darkness all the time.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you,” says John about the risen Christ, “that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (v. 5). Wherever God shows up, a switch is thrown that bathes the world in light and pushes evil to the shadows.

Scholars are not certain whether or not the writer of I John is the same as the writer of the Gospel of John, but the similarities are striking. Both use the theme of darkness and light to describe what God has done in the world in sending Jesus. In chapter one of the Gospel of John, we read the great theological affirmation of Jesus as “the Word become flesh” and in verse 3 we read that what came into being in Jesus was “life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (v. 4-5). For both the writer of the Gospel and the Epistle, the coming of Christ has been an illuminating moment—the door opened, the light switch flipped on the darkness and sinfulness of the world.

dark cornerWhen we look out at the darkness, however, we tend to be most concerned about what external forces lurk in the shadows that can harm us—those things that sometimes don’t scurry away but that are really out to get us. Every day the news warn us of some other danger that’s bound to get us, whether it’s terrorism or crime, or even what might be in the food you eat that can kill you. We tend to want to throw more light on those things so that we can avoid them if at all possible.

But while there is plenty of danger lurking in the darkness in a sinful world where evil is still at work, what John really seems to want to warn us about is the darkness that lurks within each of us—the darkness that can only be exposed when Christ is present and switches on the light of his love and grace. In fact, John tells us that until the darkness in us is really exposed, then we cannot really see beyond the darkness that grips a world in rebellion against God. The light has to shine on us, in other words, before it can illumine our way in the world.

So, what is it in us that needs to be exposed, pushed to the shadows, or better yet, eliminated altogether? Our Scriptures today shed some light on the subject (pun intended). In fact, I would argue that there are two primary dark places in our lives that need to be brought to light if we’re going to be people who “walk in the light as Christ is in the light.” When we identify and expose the truth about these areas of our lives, it’s then that God can begin live in the light without fearing the shadows.

DOUBTThe first of these areas that needs to be exposed is our doubt. It’s in vogue these days to hold up doubt as a badge of honor—that doubt somehow proves that you’re a more thinking Christian than those who focus on absolute truth. We live in a culture where seeing things in black and white is considered to be backward, old fashioned, and out of style. The lines between what is true and what is not, what is right and what is not, seem to get fuzzier every day. This is, after all, a culture in which a song titled “Blurred Lines” makes the charts and “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a popular movie. It seems that many in our culture, and indeed many in the church, have taken Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” and have turned it into a theology.

But the writers of the New Testament don’t think this way at all and, indeed, they warn us against it. In John’s Gospel, as in I John, the specter of doubt is what keeps people from seeing the truth that’s right in front of them.

thomas and jesusTake Thomas, for example. When the post-resurrection story opens, we find the other disciples (minus Thomas) cowering in a house “for fear of the Jews” (v. 19). If Thomas is the one who often gets branded as the doubter, we must remember that the other disciples were equally guilty of doubt after they heard Mary Magdalene’s announcement, “I have seen the Lord!” (v. 18). It’s not until the risen Jesus actually shows up that they believe and understand. Thomas isn’t any different than his colleagues, it’s just that he’s behind in assessing the situation.

John tells us that there was a whole week between when the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus and when Thomas finally met him. I imagine them telling him for a whole week that they had seen the Lord but Thomas insisting on empirical evidence for himself rather than relying on the testimony of witnesses. “Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the marks of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas’ first inclination is skepticism and suspicion.

But then he encounters the risen Christ who invites him to put his fingers in the nail prints and in his side. It’s interesting, however, that the text doesn’t tell us that Thomas does so. The evidence he was looking for was trumped by the very presence and peace of Jesus himself. The light came on and exposed his lack of faith, lack of trust, and lack of hope. Resurrection was no longer a concept to be debated but a reality that is based in experience. In response to the presence of Jesus, Thomas can only confess, “My Lord and my God!” To which Jesus replies, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Darkness brings doubt. Isolation breeds it. I would have been a lot more bold to enter the barn basement if I had had someone with me to bolster my courage. Thomas wasn’t with the disciples when they saw Jesus. He was by himself, and when we’re by ourselves it’s then that doubt has a way of clouding our vision. We need the testimony of others who have seen the risen Lord at work in their lives, the Lord who has touched their wounded hearts and made them whole.

This is one of the reasons why we can never be true Christians on our own. We need each other and this is why Jesus forms the church around himself. It’s in this community that we can shed light on our doubts and test them against the evidence of others who have encountered the grace and love of the risen Christ. Too many churches have become breeding grounds for religious skeptics rather than communities of faith centered on the resurrected Lord. Yes, we can bring our doubts here, but not so that we can wallow in them. We gather to seek the truth together, knowing that the truth is not a concept to be verified but a person to be followed and a life to be experienced.

“We declare to you what was from the beginning,” says the writer of I John, “what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed and we have seen it and testify to it and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” John declares not a concept, but his eyewitness account—a truth that he has experienced himself.

Do you doubt? Are there dark places where your mind wanders because you are not sure that Christ is alive, active, and at work in the world and in your life? Then, my friends, the best place for you is in this body of believers. And if you have encountered the risen Christ, don’t keep your testimony a secret. Your faith may be the answer to someone else’s doubt! Christianity is a group project that requires us all to share and to shed abroad the light by which we live in Christ!

SINWhich brings us to the other area in which the light of Christ and his resurrection needs to shine, and that is on the dark corners of our sin. As I said earlier, the writer of I John sees the coming of Christ as the equivalent of God flipping a light switch on the world and on our hearts. There are things in each of our lives that we would much rather keep hidden, sins that scurry into the dark corners when we are exposed to the light of truth. We will do much to hide them, even pretending that they don’t exist. We put on a smiling face at church, we put on the mask of everything being ok with us. But with God there is no place for our sin to hide—we are either in the light or in the darkness; no shades of gray. “If we say that we have fellowship with [God] while we are walking in darkness,” says John, “we lie and do not do what is true.” Like doubt, sin is isolating; it keeps us from being in true fellowship with others and from true fellowship with God.

In fact, isolation is the breeding ground of sin. Look at the list of the Ten Commandments or the so-called Seven Deadly Sins and one of the things you notice is that nearly all of those sins are done best in the shadows and by ourselves—things that we would not rather have come to light. They are things that we will go to great lengths to hide from others. The more bound by sin we are, the more isolated and dark our lives become.

HALT.Hungry.Angry.Lonely.TiredA friend of mine calls this the HALT principle: that we are most likely to sin when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired—all things that turn us inward. When we are in any of these places, we are most vulnerable to slipping into the dark.

On the other hand, “if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” We cannot continue to pretend that we have no sin, otherwise John says “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” We need to step into the light, and the way we do that is through confession.

Confessing our sins is the equivalent of turning the light on them, exposing them to God and to the fellowship of believers. God already knows that we have sinned. As John says earlier, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” We cannot hide our sin from God. But when we expose our sins by confessing them to God and to trusted Christian friends it is then that God can begin to deal with those sins in us through his grace and through the ministry of others. When we pull our sins out of the dark corners of our lives and expose them to the light, they become less powerful and less frightening. It’s not easy, nor is it painless, but the hard truth is that confession is the only way that we can ever begin to change. And when we confess our sins, God is waiting to deal with them. “If we confess our sins,” says John, “ he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

walkinginthelightslideThis is why we do the prayer of confession in worship each week. It’s a time for both corporate and private confession before we come to the table where we receive the signs of grace and love offered to us in Christ. But confession once a week is not enough. Jesus taught us to make it a regular part of our prayer life—“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” If you really want to begin to see how this works, pray that prayer every day but get specific. What are the inward thoughts, desires, and motives in the darkness of our life that need to be brought to light?

And not only should we confess them to God, we need to confess them to someone we trust and who will help us overcome the darkness. Again, we cannot be truly Christian in isolation.  Having spiritual friendships, being in a small group, meeting with an accountability partner—these are all places were we can safely put our sins on the table and experience the grace of forgiveness as well as support for change. The early Methodist movement was built on such practices—kind of an AA for sinners—it’s a key practice in making disciples of Jesus Christ who walk in the light as he is in the light.

After all, we do not have a Savior who condemns us, but who wants to make us people of light. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin,” writes John. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” God does not view our confession with disdain, but through the eyes of the one who spilled his own blood on our behalf and who rose again victorious over sin and death. Fear only works when we stay in the dark. In the light, everything is put in its proper place!

That old barn is gone now, and Bigfoot never did emerge from the shadows. The fear that I had constructed and associated with the place is gone. I have dealt with scarier dark places since those days, however. But thanks be to God that he keeps turning on the light, offering me his forgiveness, his love, and his grace.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

“If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Let us walk in the light of our risen Lord! Amen.

Mary Magdalene – The First Evangelist

John 20:1-18

mary 1In this series, we’ve been looking at six people who were part of the Passion of Jesus and their response to him. We began with Pontius Pilate, whose primary focus was on looking out for his own interests, even if it meant that Jesus would face an unjust execution. We looked at Barabbas, whose revolutionary zealotry was aimed at the quick fix in getting rid of the Romans, rather than hearing Jesus’ call to peace, non-violence, and loving one’s enemies. We discussed Joseph of Arimathea, who kept his admiration for Jesus a secret until after he was crucified. We took on the curious story of Pilate’s wife and her dream—a dream about Jesus that troubled her and threatened her way of life. And last week, we followed Simon of Cyrene, the reluctant cross-bearer who followed Jesus up the hill of Golgotha.

What these five characters have in common is there relative distance from Jesus. Even though they are key characters in the story, each remains somewhat detached as they appear and disappear from the narrative in as little as one verse. In some sense, they represent the kind of Christ followers that many people wind up becoming—self-serving, zealous for the wrong things, secretive, troubled, and reluctant. We have compared and contrasted their engagement with Jesus, learned what we know of their stories, and drawn some conclusions about the kind of followers whom Jesus is actually looking for.

But today, we save the best for last. In fact, I would argue that of all the would-be followers of Jesus in the Gospel narrative, it is this one who stands out in terms of faithfulness, dedication, and persistence. Unlike the powerful Pontius Pilate, the revolutionary Barabbas, or the elite Jewish leader Joseph of Arimathea, this character has no power. Unlike Pilate’s wife she is not overly privileged, nor does she play her role reluctantly at first, like Simon the Cyrene. And yet, she is present at nearly every point of the Passion of Jesus. She is no doubt with the small crowd who waved palms as Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives into the city. She stood on the fringes of the crowd as Jesus taught in the temple; she may have been in the Garden of Gethsemane watching from the shadows as Jesus prayed. She was certainly there at the foot of the cross when Jesus died, unlike most of his male disciples. And she was there when Jesus was buried, even coming back a couple of days later to check on the body.

She is Mary Magdalene—whom we might consider to be one of the first true disciples of Jesus.

We don’t know a lot about her, historically speaking. We know that “Magdalene” probably refers to the fact that she was from Magdala, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Luke 8:1-3 tells us two facts about her: that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her, and that she was apparently wealthy enough to be one of the women who provided for Jesus and the disciples out of their resources. Demonic possession was, of course, a powerful thing from which to be delivered and it seems like Mary’s first encounter with Jesus was so liberating that it changed her life and made her into a follower.

mary-magdalene-stoned-jesusTradition, however, has tried to glom together several portraits of women in the Gospels into one picture of Mary. Some have seen her as the woman caught in adultery, suggesting a past as a prostitute (John 8:1-11). Others have identified her as the sinful woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ head (John 12:3) or as the other sinful woman who threw herself at Jesus’ feet and wiped her tears with her hair (Luke 7:38). Connecting those women to Mary seems to be more guilt by association than the actual intent of the text, as if getting rid of seven demons wasn’t enough of a past to overcome!

Of course, we’ve also seen in recent years how popular fiction has tried to suggest that Mary Magdalene was actually Jesus’ wife. The wildly popular book The DaVinci Code laid out the theory that the clean shavenl feminine-looking disciple next to Jesus in DaVinci’s “Last Supper” was actually Mary Magdalene, which somehow means that Jesus and Mary were secretly married and had a love child who was the real “Holy Grail” that the Knights Templar guarded and Monty Python’s King Arthur kept looking for while banging coconuts together. More recently, another one of these late 2nd-4th century Gnostic texts was discovered in which Harvard scholars revealed that shocking news that Jesus was reported to have said, “My wife….” Of course, that particular document is now suspected of being a forgery, which proves that just because some scholar publishes a finding, it doesn’t mean it’s true. Dan Brown would have done well to take note of that fact before penning a wild and fanciful theory in the guise of a novel (which, actually, was a fun read—but also why it is housed on the shelf in the fiction section).

If Jesus was really married, the Gospels would most likely have told us so, and as the great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon puts it, “Let us be satisfied to pause where the Holy Spirit lays aside his pen.” There is no historical indication, at any rate, that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married, but there is certainly an indication that she loved Jesus as her Lord and Rabbi. Indeed, it seems like she is the only person following Jesus at this point in the Gospels that isn’t looking out for herself in some way. She is fully devoted to the one who saved her.

Which leads us to the story where Mary is featured—the story of the empty tomb. In the Synoptic Gospels it is Mary along with several other women who come back to the tomb early on Sunday morning to complete the work of anointing the body of Jesus for burial. In John’s Gospel, however, it is Mary who comes alone. When she arrives, she sees the stone rolled away from the entrance and the body of Jesus gone. Suspecting grave robbery, a practice so common in the Roman world that the emperor Tiberias had to issue an edict condemning it, she ran to find Peter and “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (which probably refers to John himself) to tell them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” The ‘we’ may support the claims of the Synoptics that other women were present, but at any rate John will focus on Mary. Peter and John run to the tomb and find it empty but, curiously, the grave clothes are still there, with the head piece neatly rolled up as if someone had taken the time to do it. This wasn’t the work of grave robbers, clearly, who would have gotten in and out as quickly as possible. Remember the story of Lazarus, who comes out of the tomb still wearing the cloth. Something new had happened.

Mary is the first to tell the other disciples about the absence of the body of Jesus, but like the other disciples she is still confused by what it means. Surely she had heard Jesus talk about his death and resurrection, but she could not fathom it. And yet, when Peter and John “returned to their homes” to keep hiding from the authorities, it was Mary who stayed behind, just like she had stayed at the foot of the cross. She would not leave Jesus, even when the others did.

And because Mary stayed, she was the one to whom the good news was first revealed. Here is one of the great pieces of evidence for the truth and authenticity of the resurrection accounts—that the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus was a woman. Women, of course, were not considered to be reliable witnesses in a court of law, thus if you were going to make up a story about the empty tomb and the risen Christ, the last person you would want to publicize as testifying to that fact would be a woman, and particularly a woman who had previously been possessed by demons! And yet, all the Gospels tell us, unapologetically, incredibly, that the women are the first witnesses and, in turn, the first evangelists of the good news of Christ being risen from the dead.

But there’s even more to the story than that. In fact, I think John wants us to see Mary Magdalene as the first person in history to see a glimpse of the new creation made possible by Jesus’ resurrection. Remember that John begins his Gospel by referring to the beginning of creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (1:1). Jesus is the Word of God made flesh that dwelt among us (v. 18), which demonstrates that God entered the world in person for a specific purpose—to redeem his people and his creation. And here, at the end of the Gospel, in the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, we see the mission of God and the incarnate Word revealed—the new creation begun.

It’s no coincidence that John reminds us that it is “the first day of the week.” Just like he is harkening us back to the beginning of Genesis at the beginning of his Gospel, here John tells us that, just like God started creating on the “first day,” the resurrection of Jesus is a new “first day” for the new creation made possible by his death and his rising from the dead. When we read the text through that lens, we see that the images John is using in the story of Mary at the tomb are actually echoes back to the Genesis story.

The story takes place in a garden, just like the human story in Genesis 2 begins in a garden. The tomb in the garden is empty—the death that entered the garden in Genesis through human sin is now, curiously, not in play. The one who died is no longer buried in the ground but free from it. Then John adds this curious little detail: two angels are sitting on either side of the burial slab—one at the head, one at the feet. John’s Jewish readers would have made a connection to this detail that we often miss.

ark of the covenantIn Exodus, we read about the Ark of the Covenant, which was a gold box roughly 45 inches in length, topped with two cherubim, two angels, on either side of the lid. Inside the box were the tablets of the covenant given to Moses. The Ark represented the presence of God, and as God told Moses and the people, “There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Covenant, I will meet with you there” (Exodus 25:22). There, between two images of angels, God would meet with, dwell with, his people wherever the ark was. By the time of Jesus, the ark had been missing for some 500 years, taken away during the invasion of the Babylonians and it hasn’t been seen since (though it may be in a warehouse in Washington, DC, I’ve heard). But here in John’s Gospel we see this very same image—but this time there is nothing between the angels. Why? because the very same God who was present with the Ark is now the very same God, incarnated in Jesus Christ who was risen from the dead. No ark is needed anymore, because the living Christ is dwelling with his people in person and forever!

jesus and maryBut then, John takes us back again to Genesis, where it all began—with a man and a woman standing alone in a garden. “Why are you weeping?” the man asks her. “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” In the Genesis story, it was God who was searching for lost humanity in the garden, here it is a human searching for her Lord. It’s no coincidence, either, that Mary believes that the man talking to her is the gardener. We assume she is mistaken, of course, but the truth is that he is the original gardener, the one who “was in the beginning with God.” But then he calls her by name: “Mary!” And she recognizes him. She gets to witness the beginning of the new creation, the reversal of the brokenness of the old one, the death that kept the creation in bondage now defeated. The new Adam, as Paul calls Jesus, and the new Eve stand at the beginning of something very new.

But the union of this Adam and this Eve isn’t designed to make children out of a sexual relationship, a la The DaVinci Code. It will birth children, however—but they are children of God. Go back again earlier in John’s Gospel—1:12 – “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” And how are those children of God born? How did we become part of the family of God? Well, you could argue that it all began when Mary Magdalene gave birth to the true Holy Grail, which is the good news of her Lord’s resurrection from the dead. She gave birth to new children of God by going and telling the story to the first hearers. Every Christian, every child of God, finds his or her spiritual ancestry in the first public words she spoke after seeing the resurrected Jesus: “I have seen the Lord!”

Mary got to see it—the risen Christ, the new creation, the birth of the gospel—and, according to John, she got to see it primarily because she was the only one who stayed with Jesus all the way through—from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the cross to the resurrection. She got to see it all because she was faithful, never wavering from her devotion to the Lord. She was the first evangelist, the most faithful disciple, the one who, along with the other women, gave the first sermon in the history of the church. “I have seen the Lord!”

This is real discipleship—staying with Jesus through everything. Some wash their hands of Jesus out of self-interest. Some would rather fight for their rights than do the things that make for peace. Some will stay in the shadows and admire Jesus from a distance. Some will be troubled by him because he haunts their dreams of wealth and success. Others will follow, but only reluctantly and when compelled to do so. 

mary magdalene 3But blessed are disciples like Mary, who stay with Jesus until they see the good news of the Gospel, the promise of the new creation, come in its fullness. Blessed are disciples, like Mary, who remember the sin and the demons from which they have been delivered by the healing and forgiving word of Jesus Christ. Blessed are disciples like Mary, who seek the Lord with passion. Blessed are disciples like Mary who give birth to children of God by going from the garden to the world and witnessing to the truth: “I have seen the Lord!” Blessed are disciples like Mary, who will announce the good news to anyone who will listen!

Recently I was listening to someone who was criticizing our Methodist denomination for ordaining women. “Women shouldn’t speak in church,” he said, taking a single verse from Ephesians out of context. “Well, thank God they did,” I said.” Remember that the first Christian sermon was given by a woman to men who had been in hiding out at home. Without her, we probably wouldn’t have a church in the first place.”

She was the first evangelist, a true disciple. She was with Jesus on Palm Sunday, with him on Good Friday, and was the first to see him on Easter. It is appropriate that we begin Holy Week by seeing it through the eyes of the one who saw it all.

May we follow her example and tell people how we have seen the Lord present and at work in our own lives as people of the new creation!

Source: 

Wells, Samuel. Power and Passion: Six Characters in Search of Resurrection. Zondervan: 2006.

Simon of Cyrene: The Cross-Bearing Life

The cross-bearing life of the Christian isn’t a theory about which we have opinions, it is a way of life in which we learn by experience.

Mark 15:21-24


fender-benderLiving as we do on the I-25 corridor between Denver and Colorado Springs, rarely does a week go by when we are not stuck in some kind of traffic slowdown for an inexplicable reason. Traffic slows nearly to a halt and then, almost as quickly as it stopped, it breaks loose again so that the interstate resumes its resemblance to a NASCAR race.

One of the main reasons for these instant slowdowns is rubbernecking. A fender bender on the side of the road, someone getting pulled over, will cause people to slow down and take a look. Occasionally it’s more serious—a real accident with police, fire, and ambulance on scene. We naturally slow down to look, wanting to know what happened but also being glad that it didn’t happen to us.

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The Wife of Pilate: Dreaming of Jesus

Matthew 27:15-26

keep-calm-it-was-all-a-bad-dreamSo, here we are, all rested and ready to worship this morning. Hopefully you had a good night’s sleep and pleasant dreams, but that also raises a question: Do you remember what you dreamed last night? Or how about any dreams you may have had in the past?

Scientists tell us that all of us dream during REM sleep, but very few of us remember those dreams. The ones we do remember are often the scary or anxious ones and scientists tell us that the reason is that when we’re anxious or depressed our dreams take on a more vivid quality that make them memorable. I still remember a dream I had when I was about 8 or so when killer elves were trying to climb up on my bed and I was beating them back with my Bill Mazeroski autographed baseball bat. For a kid who was afraid of the dark, that kept me awake for weeks and still makes me shudder.

Sometimes those dreams are recurring ones that grab us when we’re most anxious about something—like the dreams I’ve had over the last several months where it’s Sunday morning but I forgot to prepare a sermon and show up at church late underdressed and frantic. That’s a scary dream, let me tell you, especially when it happens just before the alarm goes off on Sunday morning!

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Joseph of Arimathea – The Secret Disciple

Mark 15:42-47

ossuaries

First century tomb with ossuaries on the Mount of Olives, near the Church of Dominus Flevit in Jerusalem.

When we say the creeds, one of the key lines of Christian doctrine that we always recite is our belief that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified dead and buried.” It’s interesting to me that we have holy days to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection, but we don’t often say much about his burial—it’s just an assumed fact. And yet, in our New Testament lesson from I Corinthians 15, Paul mentions it again as part of the “first importance” of the Gospel record: that Christ “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised according to the Scriptures.”

All four Gospels record the burial of Jesus in some detail, and many argue that they do so because the details of the tomb and the disposition of the body of Jesus are critical pieces of evidence that support the claims of the resurrection two days later—that Jesus was really dead and was buried in the usual way—the body washed and wrapped in a cloth and then laid out in a tomb that was either a natural or man-made cave. The body would then be anointed with spices to help keep down the smell and hasten decomposition. A year later, the family would return to the tomb and collect the bones, placing them in a stone box called an ossuary, that would then be put in a niche in the back of the tomb. All of this is stated and implied in the burial stories.

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