Have you ever finished watching a movie feeling unsatisfied – even upset – by an unexpected or cliffhanger ending? Today’s scripture, the original conclusion of the Gospel of Mark, can certainly leave one feeling underwhelmed or even frustrated.
We want more because other Gospels tell us that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples, that he issued the Great Commission and ascended to heaven. In other words, we want our Easter Sunday story to have a happy and unambiguous ending – the triumph of good over evil and life over death, with side orders of Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies.
But that’s not what happened on that morning long ago. Instead, as this scripture relates, grief gave way to distress and then shock at the angel’s startling revelation, followed by amazement and fear. The women were too frightened to believe Christ had risen and was on his way to Galilee, the embodiment of the Good News.
So how are we supposed to respond to Mark 16:1-8? I believe we are called to put ourselves into the story and imagine how we would respond to the angel’s message – immediately and with belief or only after we gathered more evidence.
When I was a young newspaper reporter, I often ran out of the newsroom, notepad in hand, when the police scanner sputtered to life and 911 dispatchers directed emergency personnel to respond to reports of fires, car crashes, robberies or shootings. I wanted to see the action first hand and interview witnesses. Sometimes that led to good stories, filled with vivid details, but sometimes the reports were false alarms. As I got older, and more experienced, I usually waited to verify the initial reports by telephone before heading out for the story.
As Christians, we often face a similar dilemma: we don’t always know how and when to respond to circumstances that test our faith – whether to forge ahead or weigh the evidence and act only when we feel ready. Fortunately, faithful believers can help write the story as long as we keep open hearts and minds: Jesus eventually will meet us, whether on the road to Galilee or after we arrive there.
Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! Through his life, his teachings, his suffering and his sacrifice, Jesus ushered in an “Upside Down and Inside Out” kingdom and world. May the risen Christ renew your faith, bring you hope and joy through all your days and give you courage to spread the Good News. Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
THANK YOU AND FAREWELL:
Thank you for reading Goshen College’s online devotionals for the 2015 Lenten season. This year, 16 GC students and 19 employees contributed reflections, stories and prayers and our theme was “Upside Down and Inside Out.” We hope you will join us online for our Advent Devotions, which will begin in late November. Peace and blessings!
Many questions surface for me as I reflect on this passage. Why did the first disciple not enter the tomb? What did he fear?
Why was Mary Magdalene not surprised by the presence of angels?
Why did Mary stay at the tomb after the disciples had left?
However, despite these curiosities, one question remains most pertinent for me: Why could Mary Magdalene not recognize her beloved’s voice?
Jesus’s voice. The very man whom she was weeping about.
Mary seemed so consumed by her own fears and worries that she had forgotten the timbre of the voice of her most cherished person. Someone’s voice that she thought she knew very well. A voice she could never forget. Yet how quickly we forget.
How have you forgotten God’s voice? In what ways are you no longer able to hear your creator?
Through apathy, laziness, arrogance, stagnancy or the illusion of good deeds, we have all experienced seasons of drought in our ability or even willingness to listen for God’s voice in our lives.
Like with Mary, God not only whispers the spirit into our lives, but when our ears have become so deeply clogged God passionately shouts out our names. “Mary!”
“Taylor! Hear my voice, I am ALWAYS with you. Never forget this”
I invite you to reflect upon these thoughts, in hopes that not only your ears, but also all of your senses will be re-tuned and awakened to a state of desire and awareness of God’s voice.
The voice that speaks through people, the sun, the winds, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, the spirit, silence and screams. The voice that warms, challenges, produces, transforms, forgives, affirms and loves.
May we listen, hear, and echo God’s voice!
Today the Christian church remembers the agony of Christ’s death on a cross. The one who came to Earth, took on flesh, and brought an ethic of justice and love to the world suffered to the point of death at the hands of those intent on maintaining the status quo and on preventing Christ’s way from spreading. The cross, crown and spear snuffed out the Light of the world, and left those who remained in a despairing, hopeless state. The one who was our leader, who drew us together and provided us with hope, is gone. What does one do when the image of their hope falls to the powers of evil?
I think Acts 10:34-43 gives us one answer: we name, we remember and we do this together. We name where we have found hope before; we name the pain we feel; we name the loss that we experienced; and we name the struggles we continue to face. We remember the one who we lost; we remember the stories of our faith; we remember the acts of faith that Christ did; and we remember the hope we found in the model of Christ. By naming and remembering, we affirm where we have found hope before, and we delve into a space where we might again find hope. For those of us ascribing to the Christian faith, the statement of faith that we find in Acts 10 provides a strong history of hope that can sustain us through moments of greatest loss.
In the field of science, we must justify theories, hypotheses and claims with supporting evidence which underlines some understood truth. As a science major, I often extend this kind of philosophy to other areas of my life. It is much easier for me to believe something is true if there is evidence to support my claim. While I recognize that my faith cannot ever be entirely justified or “proved” by physical evidence, having some basis in this makes my faith more understandable and real; it balances the intangible with the tangible.
In his letters to the church in Corinth, Paul made a point to remind the people of the evidence for Jesus’ death and resurrection, mentioning the events that took place and the witnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus. This would have been an important component of the early church’s doctrine, and necessary to ground the beliefs of these new Christians in something real and experienced. Now, many centuries after Christ walked the earth, we still need to be reminded of these truth claims.
Paul’s account is what helps us as Christians today paint the picture of the resurrection in our minds. We see Jesus interacting with each of the witnesses; we are able to imagine what it would have been like to meet the resurrected Jesus, the amazement and excitement of this encounter. As we prepare for our celebration of Easter in a few short days, let us all dwell in the invitation to participate, witness and proclaim Jesus’ resurrection and the power this has in each of our lives.
As we arrive at Easter this coming week, we anticipate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are encouraged with the words from the psalmist, “The Lord’s love endures forever.” This particularly encourages me, at this time of year with the stress of school work, commitments and other elements of daily life, which seem to pile up and consume time. Even during busy schedules, I have found taking time to spend in the Word and other ways of connecting with God has encouraged and reminded me of the psalmist’s words, “The Lord’s love endures forever.” I am amazed at the simple yet powerful message behind these words.
When my schedule is out of control,
“The Lord’s love endures forever.”
When I spill soup on my laptop,
“The Lord’s love endures forever.”
When I am overwhelmed with school work,
“The Lord’s love endures forever.”
When I found out I need to take two online classes to graduate,
“The Lord’s love endures forever.”
When I found out I am teaching the entire class period and not just 30 minutes,
“The Lord’s love endures forever.”
Psalm 118 according to Alisa
his steadfast love endures for ever!
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
the righteous shall enter through it.
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
It is easy to fall into God’s comfortable arms of grace, and carry on with our busy lives.
It is easy to lay our heads on our pillows, and make a quick and mediocre prayer to fulfill our “Christian duty.”
It is easy to ignore God’s omnipresence that is constantly trying to catch our attention, so we may seek Him.
It is easy to focus and submerge into our work, relationships and ourselves, and only think of God on Sundays.
It is extremely easy to think that our relationships with God are fine, and what we do is enough to maintain a status as a “follower of Christ.”
But when hardships in life force us to see a new reality, all of a sudden our world is shaken and held upside down.
It is hard to find comfort and peace amidst our busy lives.
It is hard when we lay our heads on our pillows, only to spend sleepless nights of agony and confusion.
It is hard to ignore thoughts that constantly tell us that we are hopeless.
It is extremely hard to find the strength to extinguish the burning sorrow in our souls.
Frankly, it is easier to view life as purposeless, senseless and worthless.
Yet, when we are facing anguish and affliction, God has promised to wipe away our tears from our faces, remove our disgrace and provide a refuge and salvation. So stand up, hope and believe that God is near.
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Maybe we shouldn’t have told my 3-year-old son life’s biggest secret already, but we did: “We are all going to die someday.” Now he regularly talks about death and people dying. And he is so matter of fact about it; there is no fear or anxiety. He asks if he and other people he knows are going to die soon, but I try to reassure him that though we don’t know when we are going to die, most people die when they are old. He doesn’t need reassuring though; I do.
This all can produce a bit of awkwardness when my son tells complete strangers that they are going to die. As his mother, I feel the need to quickly apologize on his behalf. But why am I apologizing for an honest and innocent child who is naming truths from which the rest of us hide, ignore, turn away?
This week, we must face death head on: Jesus’ death. Friday is indeed coming. It reminds us that we too will die one day. It invites us to sit with the question: “How do I want to die?” Can we ask that question, like a child, without fear?
But we also don’t have to stop there. Because, “on the third day…” This week’s Scriptures remind us that death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:6-9). With God, everything is upside down and inside out. The great mystery of death is that it always brings new life. And ultimately, the question it brings us back to is: “How do I want to live?”
I’m looking forward to Easter this year, to telling my son how Jesus died, but then how God raised him from the dead. It will blow his mind, because it still has my head spinning in awe and wonder.
It’s two days before the Passover and Jesus is at the house of Simon the Leper when a woman enters and anoints his head with costly oil. Some scold the woman, for the oil could have been sold for a significant sum of money and that money could have been used to help the poor. But Jesus defends her and notes that whenever and wherever the Good News is shared, her act of kindness will be told in remembrance of her. Indeed, if we attend church at Easter time, we have heard that story countless times. But how many of us think about that story as the catalyst for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus?
There’s an economy to Mark’s story-telling that we need to pay attention to. In Mark 14:1, the Chief priests are looking for a way to arrest and kill Jesus. In 14:3 we have the anointing of Jesus at Simon’s house and the ensuing conflict over the appropriateness of it, and immediately following verse 14:10 reads “ Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the Chief Priests in order to betray him to them.”
Something about that encounter at Simon’s house was so offensive to Judas that he turned on his master, teacher and Lord. Jesus’ defense of the woman’s wasteful largesse, somehow revealed Jesus as someone so different than who Judas thought he was or wanted him to be, that he became willing to hand Jesus over to the people who wanted to kill him.
History has not been kind to Judas. We Christians seem to have a vested interest in casting Judas as the personification of evil, or alternately, the pre-ordained fall guy who has to betray Jesus to fulfill the prophecies. Implicit in those caricatures of Judas is the notion that WE never would have done such a thing. But in the Mark account, Judas seems less like the personification of evil and more like a man blinded by his own righteousness. If there’s a shred of truth in that statement, it should hit very close to home for many of us. It should disturb us. After all, we are good Christians and many of us have worked hard over long periods of time to hone our ethical sensibilities, built our reputations as upright followers of Jesus, and avoided even the appearance of evil. The idea that our desire for righteousness might somehow keep us from following, serving, loving and worshiping Christ, to the point of becoming an enemy of Christ—that should both scare and convict us. It should make us think.
God, we are your imperfect followers. Help us to grow ever more into your likeness, to love as you loved us, to follow you even when it is costly. Help us to see and discern when our desire for righteousness leads us to do things that are more Judas-like than Christ-like. In the Spirit of our risen Lord. Amen.
In the church, we often turn to our hymns to think about who God is and how we should live. That’s exactly what Paul does in the second chapter of Philippians – he quotes a preexisting Aramaic hymn in his letter.
This passage is a beautiful connection between a discourse on the nature of Christ and how we should act as followers of Christ. In this epistle, Paul is writing to the church at Philippi. One of the issues he addresses in this letter is a petty and self-serving conflict within the church. Instead of simply telling the church that they need to shape up, Paul points to Jesus as the model of how they should live and relate to others.
Even though Jesus is “in the form of God,” he does not use that as an excuse to exploit his power, and acts with humility and self-sacrificing love. This is manifest in the incarnation – Jesus is willing to live with us despite our failings and mortality – and Jesus’ death on the cross. Because of Jesus’ humility, he is exalted by God. Jesus demonstrates an upside-down kingdom – one in which “the last will be first, and the first will be last (Matthew 20:16). In this kingdom, humility – not coercion – results in exultation and rejoicing in heaven. Jesus inverts our expectations by confronting the powers of sin and death not with more violence but by submitting even to death.
Paul suggests that since even Jesus – the Son of God – emptied himself so radically, we should also live with one another in love and humility, not acting selfishly, even “having the same love” as Jesus and considering others’ needs and interests before our own. As followers of Jesus, we must be transformed according to the nature of Christ.
The Psalmist bemoans the lowliness and reproachful nature of mankind. “My strength fails and my bones waste away; I am repulsive and an object of scorn and dread for others; I am forgotten, a broken vessel; my life is spent with grief; I hear the slander and whispering of many, as they scheme to take away my life.” Wow, this sounds like the ultimate in glass half-empty pessimism! How awful are these words, and how can there be any hope, with these kinds of thoughts?
I’m reminded of reading with my granddaughter about Lowly Worm. Life can be and IS the pits at times for the poor little guy, and of course for us. We all experience depths of struggle, pain, ill health, untimely death of loved ones, etc., at different points in life. It is our reality – and even unfairly more for some of us than others – where, oh where is God in our anguish?
But of course God indeed is always there, a lifter and supporter of Lowly Worm. The underdog’s hero! How can we not overcome, and how can we not believe? God is the creator, the author and shaper of our very lives. Hosanna in the highest, yes, dancing cherubs and dancing/prancing Lowly Worm with the jaunty hat and smile! Our LORD is in our worm-mobile with us! ZOOM!!!