Easter ‘What We’ve Been Praying For!” 4-16-17

For the last several weeks I invited people to the sunrise service, trying to entice people to get up an ungodly Godly hour to hear the best sermon of the year – preached by the birds, and the seeds. And it was beautiful.

Often it feels on Easter as though the only adequate sermon is awestruck silence or birdsong. St. Francis of Assisi is sometimes reported to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Listen for these words of scripture if you dare. If you really hear them, they may knock you too into awestruck silence.

Matthew 28: 1-10  After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move. The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed. “Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.” The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb. They ran to tell the disciples. Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks. “Good morning!” he said. They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him. Jesus said, “You’re holding on to me for dear life! Don’t be frightened like that. Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, and that I’ll meet them there.”

April 16, 2017

What We’ve Been Praying For! 

“Do not be afraid. There is nothing to fear here.” the angel tells the women at the tomb, as an earthquake shakes the ground and shafts of lightning blaze around him, and he rolls the stone away and sits on it. “Don’t be afraid.” “Sure, no problem.” I imagine the women saying. “We’ll just press this ‘fear off’ button on our shoulders and everything will be alright.” That’s not really how it works, is it? We can tell ourselves in the middle of a storm or an earthquake or an amazing event that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but the fear is there just the same.

Many years ago, I found myself counseling a young man who was a veteran of the Vietnam war. He said to me, “You can’t handle what I have to deal with. You can’t hear what I have to show you.” I was a little nervous when he said that, but I was young and arrogant and I said, “Try me. It can’t hurt to try.” He proceeded to yell and scream and throw things, tearing apart the room we were in. It only took me a few minutes for me to give in and tell him he was right, that I didn’t have the resource right then to handle his fear and anger, but I tried to let him know that he would be able to get a chance to deal with those feelings – to keep holding out hope for a place to let them go.

I was even younger when I first remember hearing my mother cry. Actually I heard her scream and run to her room and throw herself on her bed sobbing. Her beloved older brother had a heart attack and died and she was beside herself with grief and not a little bit of fear as she dealt with earthquake in her world.

Nancy Pantano had been looking forward to going out to California in a couple weeks to be with her three grandsons, staying with them while her daughter and son-in-law some time on their own in preparation for the birth of their fourth child. On Friday afternoon, during our Good Friday service, Nancy got the word that Nina was losing her baby, that she had to have an emergency procedure. Heartbreak and fear.

Heartbreak and fear sometimes seem to be the order of the day! We live in a Good Friday world a lot of the time. It’s hard to hear that angel’s voice that says, “There’s nothing to fear here” when lightning is crashing all around us and the earth is shaking under our feet. (“do not be afraid?” get out of here, angel.)

 

All through Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, we have been praying, praying and thinking about what we’re praying for – both why we’re praying and how we’re praying. How do our prayers sustain us through those scariest places in our lives? How do we pray when life is just going on along as usual, and we’re not really in deep need? It’s been a powerful time of prayer for me. It’s given me a sense of how trivial my prayers often have been.

Even when I stand here and pray for the various concerns of the church, it can sometimes feel almost like it’s trivializing the heartbreak and the pain, the fear and the anger that people are going through, as we remember them for a moment, as we tell them they are “in our thoughts and prayers,” as we take 2 minutes out of our week to call God’s attention to somebody and their situation that God has already obviously been paying close attention to!

Each week during Lent, we have been aiming for deeper, more meaningful prayer.  We have prayed this season for being tested in a way that would deepen our faith. We have prayed for trust for a whole and lasting life. We have prayed for living water that sustains and undergirds all of life. We have prayed for new life in the face of the death of loved ones or even our own death. We have prayed for vision in the places where we are blind. We prayed for a sense of the sacred, for making life sacred even in the midst of loss and difficulty.

These deeper kinds of prayers require a contemplative mind. It is contemplative prayer that allows us to hear the angel say “Do not be afraid” and understand that that sometimes means, “Do not be afraid of your fear.” Do not be afraid of your grief. Do not be afraid of your heartbreak.

The contemplative mind is cultivated through a kind of prayer that allows for contradiction and paradox, through a kind of prayer that sits in the silence and listens to the bird, a kind of prayer that hears the message of resurrection and doesn’t automatically try to figure out how that is logically possible. We sit with the promise. We sit with the hope. We sit with the reassurance in the presence of the losses, challenges and earthquakes of our lives.

The reassurance comes in the words again of the angel. “you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said.” Each Sunday during Lent, we have placed ourselves into scripture – playing the part of Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the sisters of Lazarus, the crowd. Today, we place ourselves into the drama once again, acknowledging the earthquakes in our own lives as we listen to the angel, who tells us, “Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘Christ is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.”

From that place of contemplative prayer that allows us to handle even the trauma of war, even the death of a brother, even the loss of a baby, we answer, “Christ is risen indeed!” Do not be afraid of your fear. Christ is risen. Do not be afraid of your grief. Christ is risen. More healing is possible in this Good Friday world than we ever imagined. Christ is risen. Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed.

Responsive hymn: 3088 Easter Alleluia!

St. Luke United Methodist Church
568 Montgomery Ave (at Pennswood Ave.)
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
610-525-2396