Sermon 4-4-21 Easter

The Rev. Jen Van Zandt

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The womenwere terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the mensaid to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

“Hard to Believe”

While it’s truly wonderful to see a number of you here this morning, it’s also truly hard to believe this is our second Easter that we’re still not able to worship and sing all together.  It’s also hard to believe it’s April and Lent is over.  For some reason, Lent flew by this year.  I want to especially thank the Worship Committee, the Devotional writers, our tech teams, the musicians, and Sara and Sandy—all of whom worked so hard so that Lent and Holy week could be as meaningful as possible.  

It’s also hard to believe that the worst may be behind us, with the number of people that have been vaccinated. With all that we have been through, at least for me, it’s kind of hard to trust that.  I think we are all still processing what has transpired over the last year and what it has meant in our lives and the lives truly, of all of humanity.  Like Luke’s account of how the women and Peter felt at the empty tomb, we too have been perplexed and terrified and amazed, wondering at times “Where is God in this?” 

Actually, that is exactly what the women, and eventually Peter, were asking, “What just happened?  Where’s Jesus?” The women, (who were far more faithful than the eleven disciples, who did nothing) were carrying out yet another act of love by coming to prepare His body with spices.  And they were met with three unbelievable events:  The stone was rolled away; Jesus’ body was gone; and there were two men in dazzling white clothes.  For them it truly was hard to believe. The text literally says that they were “perplexed”.  The Greek word used here, and only here, in all of the New Testament, means confused and at a loss of words.  “Terrified and bowing their faces” is in several places in the Old Testament and the New, and it means they are so overwhelmed with God’s presence because God has made a specific revelation just to them.   Again, a specific revelation is when you experience God solely by yourself, for yourself from God.  A general revelation is when everybody experiences the same thing at the same time, like seeing a rainbow. 

So, notice in the text, they do not run and share their fears, their consternation with the disciples, as if they can’t “handle the truth”.  It’s because they were reminded of the truth.  The truth of Christ’s words.  And they get some help and some reminders from the angels.  The angels say to the women, “Remember how Jesus told you while you were all still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be handed over to be crucified and on the third day arise again?  And then the women remembered His words.  They remembered His words. 

The women are more perplexed. It’s hard to believe that they had total trust and belief.  So, they were actually running to the disciples not to get consolation; but to give confirmation that this thing really happened.  “It’s really true and you better get on board.”  But the eleven, not only in this pronouncement are in disbelief– they are in such disbelief that they dismiss this news.  They insult the women, calling their news “idle tales or chatter”.  You might like to know that in non-Biblical Greek leros, literally is a delirium caused by a high fever.  In this context, it means a sarcastic commentary; that the story is unreliable and unimportant. 

At least Peter makes an effort to see for himself.  I mean don’t forget Peter was Jesus’ most beloved disciple.  He was also differentiated from the other disciples.  He wanted to be top dog. He was also a stumbling block.  And, he was the only disciple to actively deny Jesus when he felt his own life was in danger.  So, Peter goes and sees the linen clothes for himself and he goes home amazed. 

Joel Green, who is one of my favorite commentators and he is a fantastic scholar out of Fuller Seminary says, “To be amazed is actually a common response to the extraordinary.  But it is neither equivalent to believing nor does it point to a deeper understanding of faith.  Unlike the women Peter returns home with no new message to share”. 

My hope is that you leave here today with a new message to share.  To be amazed is one thing.  To be changed is something completely other.     

So friends, Easter is way beyond pastels and the hope that winter, and some of our suffering, is behind us.  The Resurrection is really an invitation to not only believe truly that Christ died for our sins and rose again.  It’s an invitation to remember Jesus’ words that He is the Son of Man and He died on our behalf.  To remember Jesus’ words in the act of the breaking of the bread and that He would be with us always, to the end of the age.  But maybe remembering these things is still not enough for you.  Maybe these events and their meaning are still too hard to believe, especially because our suffering is still too hard to believe.   The good news is that this is not the end.  In all four Gospels, Jesus appears to his disciples after his Resurrection.  Remember the 11 disciples who didn’t want to go look at the tomb–who were too busy sitting around having coffee, reading the newspaper and having their bagels?  Jesus even comes to help them, and us, believe.

So, over the next month or so, if someone asks you to go on a hike to a mountain, like Jesus’ appearance in Matthew; if someone as you to gather together for communion and prayers and breaking of bread, like Jesus does in Luke; or to sit around a table and share your stories, like when Jesus appears in Mark; or invites you to go fishing or breakfast on the beach, Like Jesus does in John, GO.  Because I understand as mortals it is hard to believe that Jesus keeps his promises beyond a shadow of a doubt.  But you don’t have to trust me, just look it up.  It’s in black in white (holding up the Bible).  He will meet us where we are no matter where we are only if we open our eyes and trust Him.  May it be so.  Amen.

Sermon 4-1-21 Maundy Thursday

The Rev. Jen Van Zandt

John 13:1-13

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you[c] are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.

Since we’re still not together, I hope the photo montage and the reading from John is a new way to reconnect with this story; the rich and intimate act of foot washing.  It’s a beautiful, physical act that illustrates the very center of our theme of “Love One Another as I Have Loved You” through our Lenten journey this year.  For John’s Jesus, it is the foot washing combined with the Lord’s Supper that shows us not only the deep love that Jesus has for His disciples and us, but it models for us how to carry out His commandment of Love One Another.

Scholar Charles Cousar says of this scene that Jesus has “given example which the disciples, and therefore we, are to emulate.  And what a radical example it is!”  He goes on to say that “this act is more than just simply kind deeds to the neighbor.  It’s more than cherry pie in a crisis. It’s more than dollars donated to a worthy cause”. So, my final Lenten question in the sermon tonight is: “how do we get from doing acts of kindness to actually having a share with Jesus?”

Peter is the example of so many of us who may not want to physically experience foot washing.  And, even more so, feel that emotional and spiritual depth and really want to receive Christ’s cleansing act.  As we explored last night on the Wisdom Wednesday Zoom call (which was so rich), there are so many ways that we look at this act and the Lord’s Supper and actually in Holy Week in total.  For many people, actually all of us, we are frequently moving in and out of the depths of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. All sorts of things impact that, far too many to name; but you and I, we know what they are, for us.

Peter models for us his own fear of intimacy and vulnerability, especially with his Lord and master.  Peter is also one of the most prominent of the disciples, as well as, one of the most proud.  But he’s literally resisting Jesus’ love.  He doesn’t even realize he’s doing it… and neither do we.  I mean we know… ‘it’s better to give than receive’, right? Yeah, it’s also a lot safer.  Yet Jesus keeps at it and reframes this act of love for Peter and for us. 

On the surface, it’s a disciple not wanting the Lord and teacher to do the unthinkable and become the servant. Peter often said throughout the gospels, “Lord forbid it!”  That’s the first level of Jesus’ act.  But the larger hidden portion of what happens is when Jesus explains his act of foot washing.  He says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Share, not as in “shared ministry”, “shared experience”, “sharing a pizza or the driving”. No, this is much deeper, because the Greek word is meros which actually means to “have a part, to be a part of me”.  Jesus desperately wants us to be a part of Him–not a transactional relationship, but a deep and intimate relationship.

Jesus is trying to explain to Peter that he is not the only one who is dealing with vulnerability.  Jesus has gathered His best friends–the people He has spent every waking and sleeping hour with, for the better part of three years–and He’s gathered them together, even though he knew one would betray Him.  He carried out a deeply tender act to show His love for His disciples, but also His need to be connected and bonded and to share this night with them and with us.  Jesus knows where He’s going.  He knows what He’s about to do.  And what He does. Instead of running away or staying in silence by Himself, He spends a time with his closest friends on His very last night. 

It’s a little bit different than a friend of mine, Robert, who a number of years ago hit 65, and he decided that he would throw his own repast. He had a picture of himself on a huge easel.  He had a huge party in an Italian restaurant. He made everyone wear black and then he made us all get up and tell him how great he was before he had passed.  ‘Pretty sure Jesus wasn’t going that direction.

But don’t forget, Jesus was not only fully divine–He was fully human.  He was scared.  He was vulnerable.  He knew what was ahead.  He needed his friends, not only to be hanging with him, but to share that experience with Him as best as they (and we) possibly can.  He knew as the Son of Man that He had to carry out His Father’s will, but He was also wanting to show and transfer that deep love in a way that the disciples (and we) could understand which, of course, they didn’t until He was crucified.  “Having a share” means having a part in His ministry, in His legacy, like companions to the sick and the dying.

So, as we approach the table tonight, recognizing that Jesus changed forever the meaning of bread and wine, may we not only take the bread and wine and have a share in His body and blood, but have a share in him, because He gives His life to save ours.  Amen.