Three weeks after Easter, Jesus continues to surprise us. Only this time it’s not outside a tomb or locked inside a house, but along a seven-mile stretch between Jerusalem and Emmaus.
Two men, each filled with anxiety and discontent, return home, broken and defeated. Having heard the news from Mary Magdalene that morning, it’s safe to assume their conversation focused on trying to make sense of it all. Whatever is weighing on their hearts is heavier than any cargo they might be bringing back home from their Passover pilgrimage.
Along this boulevard of broken dreams, Jesus meets them ... incognito. It wasn’t like he was wearing a wig, or some kind of disguise but for whatever reason they could not recognize a guy they’d spent all this time with.
How is that possible? Had the salt of their tears blurred their vision? Maybe they were afraid to make eye-contact ... knowing they were probably wanted in conjunction with Jesus’ disappearance. How did they not recognize his voice or his disposition? This story echos that of Lois Lane who, for whatever ridiculous reason, never recognize Clark Kent was Superman. Why? Could it be because Superman didn’t wear glasses.
It is here, in their brokenness and confusion, Jesus comes ... butting into their conversation... wanting to know what they’re discussing. It’s as if he wants to hear them testify. And testify they do. Cleopas tells Jesus all about Jesus. “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” The One who was to lift up the lowly, save the righteous, and fill the hungry with good things. They even told him what they had learned from the women in their group, making themselves accomplices in his mysterious disappearance.
Jesus listens, and perhaps to comfort them he begins to interpret the scripture to reveal himself to them but from a different perspective. Still they could not see the forest through the trees. Now this is not to say they were blind. Their eyes might have been closed but their hearts were wide open.
They not only testified to the gospel with fearless passion but they lived their faith proudly and publicly - inviting this stranger into their community. They may not have recognized their Rabbi, but that’s not to say they didn’t see Christ in their midst. They did, in a stranger who was worthy of their story, their home, and their food.
It wasn’t until they sat at the table, and “Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it” that their eyes were opened. Really opened. And for one brief moment they saw with perfect clarity what discipleship was all about. Then just as quick as he first appeared, the stranger vanished from their sight. Leaving their hearts burning with this divine revelation.
What does this story say to us, today? How might we see Christ in the face of a stranger? How might the Christ in us help others see to see their place in God’s heart?
An ancient mystic once wrote, “The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.” [Rohr] When we are able to see Christ in others, we are given “glimpses into the universe as God sees it.” [Mabry] Such insight and awakening happens first in the heart. Jesus opens the eyes of his disciples by opening their hearts to those around them the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and dying.
Jesus wants to open your heart too. Not just so he can come in us, but so he can come out and live, fully alive. As his empty tomb revealed, Christ is not meant to be contained but to be shared. It’s in our testimony, our hospitality, and the way we care for and love others that God awakens us and transforms us from the inside out.
As Richard Rohr puts it, “When you are properly aligned with the love of God, you can’t help but to see Christ in ways that are not always obvious.” This is exactly why it’s so important for us to practice mindfulness, to be continually present wherever you are knowing that’s exactly where Christ is. This pandemic, this moment, this space is the most important place to be right now. Because this is where God comes to meet you and be with you.
We are always walking on a road to Emmaus. Sometimes we’re carrying heavy hearts, or suffering from a great loss, or experiencing a crisis of faith. That’s okay. In fact, that’s perfect. Because it’s here, on this familiar path, that God comes to meet you – seeking you out by connecting with the Christ in you – to change your perspective, so you can see through God’s heart and catch a glimpse of divine life in the ordinary.
I had a profound spiritual awakening about 25 years ago. I had just pulled money out of an ATM when I connected eyes with a man who had obviously fallen on tough times. His matted hair was as wild as his beard. But his eyes gentle and kind. His clothes were soiled and frayed, but his voice was strong when he greeted me. Though I responded in kind, secretly I didn’t want to engage. I just wanted to get in my car and get on with whatever it was i was going to do.
As I turned my eyes to avoid him, I felt his gaze upon my heart. And heard him ask, “Do you have anything to eat?” The way he phrased it sounded as if I were the one who needed to be fed. Sadly, I shrugged him off, believing in that moment he was just another beggar looking for a handout. His question didn’t make sense until I was driving away. He saw something in me that I couldn’t. As his gaze lingered on my heart, I realized who this man was.
I quickly pulled into KFC and grabbed a meal for the two of us. When I got back to the place where we met, he was gone. I drove around the block, down the alley, and through the neighborhood but couldn’t find him. He had vanished. This man was no vagrant or stranger. “He was the hungry one I did not feed, the thirsty one whose thirst I did not quench. He was Christ...incognito.”
In her book Bread of Angels, Barbara Brown Taylor calls Jesus “an elusive stranger.” Sometimes we can spot him before he gets away, but most of the time we don’t realize it’s him until he’s gone. Taylor said, Jesus “prefers traveling incognito.” And for good reason. “If we were always sure who he was and where he could be found, then we would stop looking for him in every face, in every place.” I believe through Christ, God transforms the way we see and love one another by often making us blind to the obvious.
Faith is never easy. It’s not supposed to be. Instead it’s a lifelong journey of seeing with open eyes eyes that changes the way we see God, others and ourselves.
Faith is a lifelong journey of seeing with an open heart that welcomes Christ within us, and the Christ around us, ...
Faith is a lifelong journey of seeing with open hands that reach out to Christ in every moment and down every road we go. Faith is a lifelong journey that begins at the empty tomb and walks with us until we are home where we belong...in the heart of God.
Let us pray:
Lord Christ we have wandered this life with blinders on for too long. We have not always done what you have asked us to do to love God, love others and serve both. By your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and change our perspective so we can participate with mindful hearts and see the world the way God does, so all that we do brings glory to thy name. Amen.
Bartlett, David L, and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) pp. 418-423.
Mabry, John. Growing into God: A Beginners Guide to Christian Mysticism (Wheaton, Il: Quest Books, 2012) pp. 13-14.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ: How a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for, and believe. (New York: Convergent, 2019) pp.178; 203.
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Bread of Angels. (New York: Crowley, 1997) pp. 53-56.
Facts begin in the head. Faith begins in the heart where God's love is forever engraved.
In a letter written to the young churches in Asia Minor, Peter addresses suffering and faith with these words of comfort and assurance that we find in 1 Peter 1:3-9. When the author wrote this letter, Christianity was still in its infancy, and constantly under attack. Peter tells them to hold fast to their faith in Christ, because that’s what will vindicate them in the end.
The biblical definition of faith is found in only one very small sentence in the book of Hebrews, that states, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). In other words, faith is a firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible proof. “It’s a mystery of the heart that the mind wants to solve.” Only it can’t.
Easter season is a time we celebrate the biggest mystery of faith, the resurrection of Christ. This is hard for the human mind to comprehend. I mean let’s be real, nothing in life is more certain then death. The resurrection contradicts every instinct and scientific fact we know about life. I have friends who argue, “If it can’t be explained, it shouldn’t be believed.” But facts are not faith.
Facts begin in the head. Faith begins in the heart, where God’s love is forever engraved. When Jesus talks about faith, “he means first of all to trust unreservedly that you are loved by God.” Believing this allows us to abandon every false way of obtaining love and keep our faith focused where it belongs. On the faithfulness of God.
We see this in the story of Job. While we like to talk about how Job kept his faith in God despite the suffering he was enduring, the real story is about God’s faith in him. Job was only able to endure because he knew it’s impossible for God unfaithful. Peter’s letter encourages us to keep our faith in the one who remains faithful to us.
How then are we to keep this faith? By remembering this acronym: Fearless Action Inherits Trust and Hope.
First and foremost, faith requires us to be FEARLESS. I’m not talking about being dangerous or reckless, but confident and courageous – living out your faith in such a way that people can’t help but see Christ alive in you. Again, it’s not our faith per se, but God’s.
Think about it like this, we are made in God’s image, which means we’re connected somehow to the Divine source. What God has, we have. All of God is available for you and me. God’s love is your love. God’s patience is your patience. God’s forgiveness and mercy and grace are all connected to you too. That connection is Christ. We can face life’s challenges fearlessly because our faith is plugged into God. Through Christ
This isn’t to say we won’t be afraid at times, we will. After seeing the tomb empty, the disciples were so afraid that they lock themselves in a house “out of fear for the Jews.” They saw what their own people were capable of and were scared for their lives. Who could blame them? Fear is a natural instinct designed to save us from harm or getting hurt.
I see faith in the same way. As Paul always declared, “By faith we are saved” (Ephesians 2:8) Thus, we need to live it fearlessly – sharing God’s love with one another with boldness and confidence. After all, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
Faith is ACTION – a way of practicing heaven now by putting God’s love into motion. This is exactly what Jesus did everyday – loving the unlovable, touching the untouchable, forgiving the unforgivable. He blessed the weary, fed the hungry, healed sick and dying, and of course sacrificed all that he had so others might see God’s glory in their midst. And believe. He was the living proof of God’s faithfulness. Eventually the disciples will overcome their fear and faithfully live as Jesus did. God had faith in them. And God has faith in us.
By living into our Christlike selves, we not only give evidence to who God is but also to who God made us to be. As the Apostle John wrote in his epistle, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them (1 John 4:16) and "everyone who loves is born of God" (1 John 4:7).
Peter calls this a new birth where we INHERIT God’s name.
A couple of years ago, I inherited a small amount of money from a friend after she passed away. It wasn’t a lot, but it did help to keep us going for a month or so. Inheriting money is great… while it last.
But Peter speaks of a different kind of inheritance one that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” To think that God’s faith in us is so great that God is willing to ante up all the treasures of Heaven to save us; including Christ himself, through whom we were adopted and named sons and daughters. For whatever reason, God has faith in us and has invested all of heaven to give us an everlasting, never fading, one size fits all love.
Like Jesus, Job, and all the saints before us we can TRUST God knowing God is forever faithful. The Greek word for “Faith” is pistis, which literally means “trust.” When Jesus tells someone he has healed, “Your faith has saved you,” he is saying that they have found new life because they have surrendered in complete trust to the love of God revealed in him [Nouwen]. Such trust not only saves us, but it allows us to live fearlessly into the true greatness of our inheritance.
Fearless Action Inherits Trust. This begs the question, where are we really putting our trust? In government or corporations? In religious doctrines, or ads that pop-up on Instagram? How ironic is it that “In God We Trust” is written on our money yet we put more faith in Wall Street.
Jesus showed us how to trust in the unconditional love of God by surrendering to it with his whole heart. Like Job, Jesus trusted the faithfulness of God even as he suffered rejection, betrayal, torture, and death. As we are all suffering in this pandemic, I invite you to ask yourself...what are you clinging to? And what are you hoping for?
Peter tells us in Christ we have HOPE. We know that no matter what the world throws at us, God does not give up on us. Christ is that proof we seek.
We spent a lot of time talking about hope during Lent. I described it as more than optimistic thinking, but a way to grow your faith and bring you closer to the very heartbeat of God’s love for you. That’s why Peter doesn’t just call it hope. But living hope. It’s living because Christ is alive.
Standing at the empty tomb, Peter didn’t understand this at first. His faith was shattered, and his hope squashed. It wasn’t until Jesus showed up where the disciples were hiding out that his faith and hope found new life.
I know most of us haven’t had the privilege to see our resurrected Lord in the flesh. Peter speaks to this, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). This is similar to what Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
Despite their lack of faith and the loss of hope, God never gave up on them. Through Christ, God opened the eyes and hearts of the disciples in the most unbelievable way. The same is true for us. God is not done with us yet. Even in our suffering, when life seems bleak and dark, God shines the light of Christ for all to see. God’s faith is in us too so we can shine like Christ and bear witness to God’s glory to those around us who are struggling.
By living out our faith, the fullness God’s love can be seen, felt, touched, and heard. It allows others to trust God and feel hopeful in times of hopelessness. More importantly, when we recognize and accept the Christ in us, we are able to truly see Christ alive in others.
In closing I want to share something Mother Teresa used to say about her faith. Throughout her lifelong work in the slums of India, she would look at a person and say, “This is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him.”
Talk about fearless action inheriting trust and hope. If you ask me, this is why God doesn’t give up on us. I believe we all have the same faith as St. Theresa of Calcutta. That is, we all have the faith of God etched on our heart.
Let us pray:
Glory to you Lord Christ, glory that shines through the darkness...exposing our fears and worries in your blinding love. To you we give ourselves over to your care. We lay our burdens on your shoulder, and find peace in your heart.
As you kiss our wounds and heal our brokenness, we pray also for all who are suffering the physical and economic hardships from this global pandemic, Lord have mercy.
For those on the front line, leading the way under the strain of frustrated protestors, Lord have mercy.
For those who are alone, the widowed and the orphan, Lord have mercy.
For those who are out of work, and those who are overworked, for those who have no home, no food, no faith and no hope, Lord have mercy.
Fill us now with your Holy Spirit. And send us out into the world with hearts shining brightly to the glory of your name. Amen.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. Trust Unreservedly That You Are Loved, excerpt from You Are The Beloved: Daily Meditations For Spiritual Living (accessed on April 13, 2020).
USA Today. Is the Coronavirus an Act of God? Faith Leaders Tough Questions Among a Pandemic, April 2, 2020 (accessed on April 18, 2020). https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/04/02/coronavirus-god-christain-jewish-muslim-leaders-saying-deadly-plague/5101639002/
April 12, 2020 Easter Sunday
Isaiah 25:6-9; John 20:1-18
There was once a man who, through a new marriage, became the father to a young boy. Their relationship was neither alien nor affectionate. The only thing they had in common was their undying love for the woman who stood with them.
This man was gentle, kind and thoughtful. And the boy wanted to trust him but didn’t know how. The weeks passed and the months did too. The man wished to do something special for the boy. But what? The man observed the boy, and learned his heart. One day the answer came to him. On the night before Easter he placed a rabbit in a cage with a bow on top. And then set the gift under the table next to the seat where the boy ate breakfast.
When morning came, the man and wife woke the boy. And the boy jumped out of bed in search of an Easter treat. The boy rummaged about, looking in closets and under beds. He pulled back curtains and lifted cushions off the couch. He opened drawers and cupboards and explored every square inch of their humble home. The boy did not give up. Neither did the man.
Together they shared the joy, the thrill of anticipation as the boy looked high and low for his Easter surprise. All smiled as the boy’s face came alive in a way that had yet to be seen by the man. For the first time since the marriage, the two felt connected. In sync…their eyes moved, towards the bow that appeared from under the table where the boy sat. Then together, in tandem, their countenance fell.
The man looked at the wife. The wife looked at the man. And the boy looked under the table. For what was there the night before was now no longer. The cage was empty. The bunny was gone. The boy looked up. The man looked around. And the wife looked at the cage.
There was no sign of foul play. No tampered lock, no secret escape hatch. But yet, no bunny at all. Not in the kitchen. Not in the drawers or cupboards. Not behind the couch or curtains. There were no little bunny clues leading back to the messiness of the boy’s room. It was as if there had been no bunny at all. It felt like a cruel joke had been played on all of them.
The man tried to reason with the boy, but the boy refused to hear. The man tried to rationalize the mystery, but the boy doubted the man. Heartbroken they returned to that place where they had first begun, neither alien nor affectionate.
The next day turned to the next. The man sat in his chair, and the boy sat at his place at the table. The house was quiet as neither spoke. Still, something stirred in them both. More than seething or anger, their was the desire to be connected. It was in that moment, their hearts began to mysteriously beat - quietly, in sync.
Each at the same time felt a familiar presence the room, one that poked at the pain that was put upon their hearts. Unexpectedly and in one accord, the two lifted their heads and looked towards the patio door. Their curiosity connected as they watched the bunny hop across the patio into the light of the sun.
The man jumped from his chair and boy from his as they raced out the open door. Two heads, like two hearts - one of the boy and one of the man - came together. Together, in unison, they collided. Together, fell to the ground in laughter. The boy looked at the man. The man looked at the boy. Their smiles became one. From that moment onward, the cage remained empty to remind them of how full their hearts had become.
This is a story about a bunny, an Easter bunny if you will, that mysteriously goes missing, on Easter morning. As a result of the cage being empty, the man and the boy are given a new opportunity to pursuit what they desired – joy, together, as a family. Easter is a time when we gather together, as a family of believers, to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of God’s beloved Son.
John’s Easter story begins not with a rabbit, but with a woman. It’s early in the morning and Mary Magdalene is on her way to visit Jesus’ tomb. John doesn’t say what she’s doing there, all alone in the dark, but we know from the other gospels Mary is going to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
But why so early? Did Mary have trouble sleeping? We all know how hard it is to sleep when your heart is broken, or when your mind is racing, trying to make sense of all that’s happened. Maybe she came before dawn because she knew what would happen if someone saw her there. Like a thief in the night she went to the graveyard, only to discover someone else beat her there. The stone to his tomb had been moved. And Jesus’ body was missing!
To the 21st century Christian, this is our Good News. The Easter present we long for. We’re not afraid of an empty tomb because we know God has raised Jesus from the dead. To us it’s like an empty rabbit cage, we know it’s not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of something greater.
We can celebrate today because we’ve had two thousand years to make sense of it all. But for Mary, it was just one more disappointment added to her weary heart. No wonder she runs away, to go be with someone who can relate to what she’s feeling. That person is Peter, who perhaps out of guilt or excitement, raced to the tomb with the other disciple. When they get there, they too are stupefied. Like Mary, they have no idea what to make of the emptiness that they were seeing and feeling.
According to John, they saw but didn’t understand what God was doing. They had no idea this is what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. Who could blame them? The cross has robbed them of their joy. And now, the empty tomb has robbed them of what little hope they had left. When I put myself in their shoes, all I can think about is how empty I would feel without Christ in my life. Something would be missing for sure.
It’s safe to say Jesus, in more ways than one, has saved me from myself. He has taken on my burdens. And tended to my deepest wounds. He fills my darkest moments with his divine light. He continues to calm the storms around me and in me and gives me peace. How blessed are we to know that this empty tomb is just another way God is revealing to us who Jesus really is. Just as it was in a dirty stable, God comes to us in places we least expect.
Even though they have spent years traveling with Jesus, witnessing the Kingdom of Heaven firsthand the disciples can’t see that God’s finger prints are all over this place. That God is the mastermind behind it all. The one who robbed the tomb of death. In the coming days, Jesus will reveal himself to them and make sense of everything. But for now, Peter and the other disciples run and hide. They’re smart enough to know that you don’t want to be at the scene of a crime when the cops show up.
Yet Mary stayed behind. She wasn’t afraid, nor did she give up hope. Instead she poured out her heart out to God. When Jesus heard her weeping, he moved to comfort her. That is so much like Jesus isn’t it? Always there, putting the needs and wellbeing of others first. Still, it’s not until Mary heard him speak her name that she really got what’s going on. In one gesture of kindness Mary was able to see Jesus in a new light. And to comprehend what God was up to.
Easter is the dawning of a new day, where we wake up to a new reality. God is revealing God’s self once again to the world. A proclamation of God’s love for you and me. Jesus is the visible presence of God’s love and the empty tomb is the proof of how far God will go to love us...and to save us. Not from our sins per se, but from ourselves. Jesus is calling you by name so that you might recognize God’s love for you in him.
Moreover, Jesus comes to you, to show you how to be that love in the world.
Just as Jesus told Mary to go and tell others, He is calling on us to do the same. To go and proclaim God’s love in such a way that others will see and understand. And be comforted and cared for. Some call this salvation. Others call it healing. I call it Easter.
Because this tomb is empty, we live. And can proclaim the good news with a joy filled heart - without fear or worry. Because this tomb is empty, we can walk through the darkest nights, we can walk through the shadow of death, knowing Christ is illuminating our way.
Because this tomb is empty, our hearts can overflow with God’s love, and we can share that love knowing there is plenty to go around.
Because the tomb is empty all who mourn will be comforted; the merciful will receive mercy; and the hungry will be fed. Our pain and suffering, like the tears and anguish they bring, will be no more. Death has lost its sting! Christ has risen...and it is Christ who will raise us up.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is all about. Healing and restoration. Living in the fullness of God’s love. This is salvation. This is Easter. The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. Because he lives, so too can we.
Like the bunny, Christ cannot be contained to a cage. Instead he lives inside us, through us, and all around us. Once we see how God reveals himself to the world in him, then we can understand why God sent Christ in the first place. As it is written, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that those who believe will have life...everlasting.”
Easter is about living forever in Christ. Today is a day to turn our hearts and our whole being towards Christ the visible presence of God’s love and righteousness. It is Christ who calls out to us. And gives us the assurance that there is no boundary to God’s love for us…not even death. Easter is the day we are called to abandon our dark tombs. And run after the One who loves us unconditionally.
As you move from this day into a new week, I hope you will remember this. It’s not just an empty tomb that we celebrate, but the everlasting life that flows from it.
If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to open the cage of your heart and run free with Christ now and forever, Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord Christ, as we look at your empty tomb, we confess that we have not always been our best - often putting ourselves and our needs above others. We have hoarded our resources, been unkind to our neighbors and co-workers, we’ve allowed injustices to harm your children, and we have turned our back on those who cry out for help.
We have not loved as you have taught us to love. And we are truly sorry. By your tender mercy heal us from our brokenness. And redeem us from all our wrongdoings. Give us your Holy Spirit to guide us in your ways - so that we may always walk to the glory of your name bringing honor and meaning to your glorious resurrection. Amen.
Jesus and his followers come to Jerusalem for Passover a celebration which Shane Claigborne calls “an anti-imperial Jewish festival.” If you do not know, Passover commemorates God’s victory over the oppressive yoke Egypt placed on Israel. Even the waving palm branches was symbolic of God’s victory over the foreign occupation which sparked the Maccabean revolt some 150 years before Jesus was born.
By the time of this weird little parade, around the year 30 AD, Judea and its capital Jerusalem had been under Roman occupation for 90 years. God’s people weren’t happy by this. And Rome knew it. Yes, Caesar was the most powerful man in the world, but even he knew he couldn’t rule Jerusalem without incorporating the help of the Jews. He gives positions of power to wealthy Jewish families because Rome trusted wealth. And the wealthy trusted power. (Boy, how little we have changed.)
Rome made sure the rich were not just the secular rulers but also the chief priests, elders, and scribes who ran the Temple. This powerful new ruling class grew their coffers by exploiting the poor. And the religious people found loopholes to allow it.
If you’re familiar with Jesus’ ministry, you know that he had a generous heart for the poor and exploited. He goes after the religious elites for allowing it to happen. In fact, this particular parade will end with Jesus riding to the temple where he will chase out the money changers and loan sharks.
Despite the imbalance of power, both the rich and poor hated living under Roman rule. They longed for a King David-like figure, a messiah who could defeat Caesar and all his minions. In rides Jesus. A young prophet from the wrong side of the tracks who has garnered a great following.
All eyes are on him. Including those of Pontus Pilate and King Herod. They knew Passover was a volatile time, one that was often marked with riots and uprisings. But Rome had ways of making sure things didn’t get out of hand. Like the crosses that lined the hillsides, imperial military parades were used as a reminder of what will happen if you do not obey Caesar.
It’s believed that when Jesus entered the city, he did so on the heal of Pilate who had just marched through the streets with his cavalry, chariots, and foot soldiers in tow. Pilate rode on a warhorse, a symbol of peace through power. In contrast, Jesus came on a small donkey, a symbol of humility and humbleness. Pilate had a well-armed military. Jesus had a few fishermen armed with a heart full of love.
It’s been said that Jesus was mocking Pilate’s military parade. Certainly, Jesus must have known how dangerous that would have been. When the crowds shouted, “Hosanna,” an Aramaic word that means “Save us,” even Jesus would have known this was a subversive act. It was believed throughout the empire that salvation came from Caesar. To think any differently would get you nailed to a cross.
To those shouting, it was worth the risk. They knew Caesar or his minions wouldn’t come to their rescue. They believed God would. So they that is where they put their faith. For a day or two they were hopeful Jesus was the one God sent to save them. But by then end of the week, as they watched him being nailed to a cross, even his closest friends had lost all hope.
How lucky are we to know better? We know God hears our cries and saves us...not because Jesus died, but because he lives. Hope and resurrection. This is what it is all about.
In the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption,” a young prisoner named Andy is learning to survive in this new world. When the system tries to break him, Andy tells his friend Red, “There’s something inside us that they cannot touch.” When Red asks what that is, Andy whispers, “Hope.”
More than positive thinking or wishful optimism, hope is what keeps us going. We see it in prisons, hospitals, and on the battlefields of life. Hope is what we cling to when all else seems to have abandon us. Hope is what gives those battling CV-19 a fighting chance. During my own battle with cancer, I had hope that God wanted me to do something more meaningful with my life than to die.
We need hope. Without it, a vulnerable student can get discouraged and drop out of school. And a fragile addict easily returns to old habits. Without hope, loving parents give up on a child, married couples throw in the towel or worse, they stay in an abusive relationship. Without hope, the virus wins.
May we never forget that if the Roman cross couldn’t beat God, neither can a virus. This is not to say we don’t need to be smart and stay sequestered inside. We do if we want to stop the spread of CV-19. But we need not be afraid. We have hope. We always have because we have Christ. And because of Christ, we have Resurrection.
Resurrection is God’s promised grace coming full circle.
It wasn’t an after-thought. Or a loophole slipped in because God made a mistake. Resurrection was built into creation long before we were. We see it throughout life. A wave crashes and dies only to return to the water from which it was formed. A sunflower can only grow once its seed dies, and its shell destroyed.
Although we stop breathing, the molecules and energy that make up who we are continues to live. Because of resurrection, we live – changed and transformed by God’s undying love for us. God is a God of life. Life that comes through death and resurrection of Christ who rode into Jerusalem and turned the world upside down.
At the end of “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy sends a letter to Red that says, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” This is a reminder of what Jesus’s death revealed to the world – the universal truth of God’s salvation. Life. And life everlasting.
Resurrection is God’s promise to us that no virus, war, or empirical fear can stop us from living into our Christ-like selves. Noting good ever dies. And so let us live, by bearing the fruit of God’s love with each other.
We know how to do this, because Christ showed us the way to our redemption and salvation. We must never lose sight of him but stay close to him, and learn from him how to live and love in the fullness of life.
When your cross seems too hard to bear, when the pressures of life are crushing you, and the world around looks dark and grim, there is the light of hope that radiates through Christ, who strengthens you and empowers you to get through whatever life hits you with. Even death. It is my hope that you will lean on Christ today, to open your heart and welcome him into every aspect of your life.
In Christ we know the solemnness of any cross we face is bookended with the triumphant arrival of Easter. An empty tomb is proof of God’s heart and intensions for creation. Viruses come and go like kings and their empires. But in Christ, God’s love for us remains.
It’s already been engrained and etched in every living thing throughout creation. Including you and me. As St Paul taught us, God’s love has been implanted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that already dwells within us – just as it did in Jesus the Christ, the anointed King who rode into our lives with only the full power of God’s love in his arsenal.
To him we lift up our voices and shout our glorious “Hosanna!”
Even though we cannot line the streets right now, we can let our hearts sing this joyous refrain. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
Claigborne, Shane and Chris Haw. Jesus For President. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) p. 122.
Gau, Terry Menefee. Shaken to the Core, April 9, 2017 (accessed on April 2, 2020) http://www.rageforexplaining.com/shaken-to-the-core
McAllister, Stuart. Cynicism and Hope. Slice of Infinity. Atlanta, July 7, 2017 (accessed on April 2, 2020).
Ramerman, Dale. Palm Sunday. April 13, 2014. (accessed on April 2, 2020). http://www.christchurchanacortes.org/info-for-members/sermons-2/rev-diane-ramerman-2/palm-sunday3.pdf
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. (New York: Convergent, 2019) pp. 169-187.
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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