God Is Full Of Surprises.
Be faithful. Be present. And always be ready for God to reveal the truth, the light, and the way.
READINGS: Isaiah 53 and The Gospel of John 20:1-23
Years ago, when Kathleen and I were newly engaged we went out to the Cuban restaurant Versailles, to celebrate my birthday. When we returned home, I noticed there was someone in apartment.
For most people this might be cause for alarm. But this was the Formosa Ponderosa, a small community of like-minded people who lived and shared life together. Coming home to find someone in your kitchen borrowing food or grabbing a beer wasn’t that uncommon. Thus it wasn’t much of a surprise to discover that Kathleen and all my neighbors were throwing a surprise party for me.
I remember looking around the room and taking note of who was there and who wasn’t. I was quick to notice my dear friend Matt was absent. This was strange because he and I had plans to make smoothies that night because it was Lent, and I had given up drinking. Kathleen was also surprised to discover that Matt had not shown up because the two of them had spent the last week or so planning out the whole party.
The real surprise came when Matt eventually showed up with a bag of groceries, completely forgetting about the plans he helped set in motion. He actually was shocked, and was even worried he didn’t have enough fruit and yogurt to make smoothies for everyone.
Much like Matt, the disciples seemed a bit taken back when they stood in the empty tomb where just a couple of days earlier, their dear friend’s body had been laid to rest. They too had been part of the plan, but somehow they forgot.
If you know the story, then you’ll recall the disciples have spent the last three years walking, talking, and sharing life with this guy Jesus. By being in his presence, they learned how to use words of love and forgiveness, how to live and behave in a way that was faithful to God and one another. And even though Jesus told them point blank, “Here’s what’s going to happen,” they still stood dumbfounded at the tomb “believing but not understanding.”
We might be tempted to shrug these guys off as incompetent boobs or put ourselves above them. But an honest look would reveal that we’re no different. We don’t always understand the truth, even when it’s staring us right in the face. Here’s a question to ponder: Do we have to understand in order to believe? The Bible tells us that God wants our faithfulness. That takes believing in God first. Only then can we see God’s faithfulness, which leads us to our understanding and comprehending the amazing grace upon which it holds.
There are four different accounts of the resurrection. And between them only a few things remain constant. The first and most important is on a dark, cold morning, God threw the greatest surprise party of all; turning the logic of the world upside down. Another important and perhaps surprising thing, is that there is one person who is present in each of the accounts: Mary Magdalene.
I find it fascinating that God entrusted this less than holy, deeply wounded woman with such an important message as the resurrection. It would have been scandalous since women in the first century were not considered valid witnesses in court. Given her background, and her gender, who would believe? But God is full of surprises.
But God uses the most unlikely of people to do the most incredible things. God accepts us for who we are and uses us where we are to bring the world back to him. How or why, is hard to understand.
Again, Peter and John saw the empty tomb, and did not understand how this was possible, but they believed. They did not realize that Christ had broken through death and is alive; present with us today! Instead they did what seemed logical by societies standards. They ran away in fear; skipping out before they got accused of something they didn’t do.
Mary, on the other hand, stayed behind. Vulnerable and yet unafraid, she lived out her great faith in that moment… whether or not she understood, we do not know. What we learn from her actions is how important it is to live in the present moment, where God is right here in our midst. Mary sits in her pain and weeps; releasing her sorrows and fears to God, knowing and believing Jesus is who he claimed to be: The Messiah, our Emmanuel, God with us.
I will confess I wish I could always be like Mary…faithful, trusting, being present in God’s love. Most of time I am more like Peter and John…running, hiding, scared of what God is calling me to do. I’ll admit the idea of starting New Church terrifies me. I have no idea what to do, or what it’s going to look like, or why God is calling us together.
I feel like child out shopping with my parents, and all I want to run and hide under the suit rack. But just as I am ready to bolt, there’s a security guard standing in my way, ushering me back. I am scared…yet I am trying…trying to live out my faith, here and now.
It’s not always easy to see or understand God’s wonderful surprises when we’re struggling to keep our heads above water. It’s hard to feel love and grace, or relief from all your stress and burdens when the world is crashing down on you. It’s hard to see a rainbow in the sky when you’re looking down at a flat tire wondering how you’re going to afford to get it fixed. Then again, it’s hard to see good news on a blood-stained cross or an empty grave. But that is exactly where God is…fully present and fully alive! Even in the most unlikely of places.
God is full of surprises, and we have to be ready to see and understand them in the moment…wherever we are. Easter is our reminder that Jesus is alive… and with us now. Because Christ lives, we too will live. Because Christ is present, we too are called to be present and ready to receive God’s blessings and grace.
Jesus began his ministry by saying, “Come and See.” Now he calls us by name to “Go and Be.” Be faithful. Be present. And always be ready for God to reveal the truth, the light, and the way.
We may not know what God is calling us to do exactly, but we know what we need to be…not just “the Church” but “Christ’s church.” We hope that you will remain a part of this new beginning, and be present with us every Sunday, ready to embrace whatever surprises God has in store, and ready to receive the joy of God delivered in the most unexpected ways.
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has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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