Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sermon – “By this we know…” (1 John 3:16-24)


Have you ever noticed that the one point in the gospel story where you might have thought it was easiest for the disciples to believe is where they showed the greatest doubt? There Jesus was, standing right in front of them, and yet they had to struggle to believe. When Jesus entered the upper room that first Easter evening, he had to ask them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38) When they met him in Galilee (presumably some time later), Matthew tells us that even though they worshiped him, there were still some who doubted (Matthew 28:17).
It seems to me, based on passages like this and on my own experience, that doubt is almost invariably the companion of faith. Who among us has not experienced doubt at least occasionally or perhaps on a daily or even hourly basis? I came across a quote about doubt this past week from the Buddha, which runs thus: “There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt… It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.” On a contrary note, the astronomer Galileo claimed that doubt is “the father of discovery”. And twentieth-century psychologist Rollo May once wrote, “The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it's not without doubt but in spite of doubt.” What are we to think, what are we to say, then, about doubt?
In this morning’s Epistle reading we find John writing to people who were struggling with doubts. In their case these seeds of doubt had been sown in their minds by false teachers in the church. One of those teachers was a man named Cerinthus, who lived in Asia Minor around the same time as John. Claiming to be promoting the true faith, Cerinthus taught that Jesus was just an ordinary human being, different from others only in greater wisdom and righteousness, that the Christ descended upon him at his baptism and departed from him before his crucifixion, and that it was only Jesus the man who suffered, died and rose again. All of this teaching was couched in Jewish piety and gilded with the sophistication of Greek philosophy. So, particularly for those who were new to the Christian faith or were not able to recognize heresy, these teachings could be hugely attractive. The result was that there were many people whose faith had been kind of knocked off balance, who weren’t sure what they ought to believe—and it was to such people that John addressed his letter.
In many ways we live in a similar time today. (Perhaps it has always been the case.) You have only to walk through the religious section of Barnes and Noble to see a proliferation of books proclaiming the health, wealth and prosperity “gospel”, questioning the reliability of the Bible, denying the resurrection of Jesus, or promoting the Gospel of Thomas and other alternative early “Christianities”. In the midst of this confusing mélange of ideas, John boldly claims that there are things that we can know.
Before we go any further, though, we need to recognize that when John uses the word “know”, he is not speaking in the sense of knowing as we might a mathematical formula. It is not like saying the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. We could put statements like that in the category of head knowledge. No, what John is writing about is heart knowledge—and more often than not, when the Bible uses the word “know”, it is referring to that kind of knowledge: personal knowledge, relational knowledge, experience. This is what the Bible means when it tells us that Adam knew his wife Eve; or when in John’s gospel we read that Jesus knew what was in a person; or when Jesus prays on behalf of his followers that “they may know you, the one true God…” It is in this relational sense that three times in this morning’s epistle passage John declares, “By this we know… By this we know… By this we know…”

God’s Love (16-18)

The first thing that John writes to assure his readers about is God’s love. There are many today who would question that love. This past week much of the world observed the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, when 1.5 million people were subjected to wholesale government-initiated slaughter. That atrocity became the model for Hitler’s annihilation of more than 6 million people in the Holocaust. Since then there have been the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia and the massacres in Rwanda, which claimed more than a million more lives—not to mention the unspeakable horrors to which our own Karen people have been subjected in Burma. This past week many of us have been horrified by the images on our computer and TV screens of thirty Ethiopian Christians being led to a brutal death by beheading. In the midst of all of this there are many who legitimately ask, “How can you believe in a God of love?”
For the people to whom John was writing events such as these were not something that they read about in history books or saw on a TV screen. They were immediate realities. The Pax Romana under which they lived had always meted out its own rough form of justice. But now, under the emperor Domitian, who insisted on being honored as “Lord and God”, Christians became the focus of an insatiable cruelty. Many were beaten, imprisoned, tortured and put to death. Even John himself would become a victim. As an old man he was spared the sentence of death and instead exiled from his home in Ephesus to the island of Patmos off the Turkish coast. In the midst of this, with relatives and friends and fellow believers being dragged off to torture and execution, it would have been natural for some to find their faith in God’s love being shaken if not altogether shattered.
In the midst of this, John points us to the cross of Jesus. He writes, “By this we know [God’s] love, that he laid down his life for us.” In these few words John tells us that God’s love is far more than a theoretical concept. It is real. It is tangible. It comes to us not merely as a theological principle but as an actual event. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” said Jesus to his disciples at the last supper (John 15:13). And this is exactly what God has done through the cross. This is the measure of his love. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1b).

God’s Forgiveness (19-23)

A second concern that hung heavy on the hearts of some was the question of God’s forgiveness. Forty years of pastoral experience have left me convinced that one of the core issues of life that all of us face is forgiveness—not only learning to forgive others for the wrongs they have done to us, but also receiving forgiveness for the wrongs we have done to them.
One of God’s little jokes on us was to give us the power to remember the past and leave us no power to undo it. We have all sometimes been willing to trade almost anything for a magic sponge to wipe just a few moments off the tables of time. But whatever the mind can make of the future, it cannot silence a syllable of the past. There is no delete key for reality… If we could only choose to forget the cruelest moments, we could, as time goes on, free ourselves from their pain. But the wrong sticks like a nettle in our memory.
So wrote ethicist Lewis Smedes in the introduction to his book The Art of Forgiving. Forgiving others can be a challenge, especially when a relationship has been betrayed or a wrong has been committed that cannot be undone. Yet we encounter an even greater challenge very often when comes to forgiving ourselves—forgiving ourselves for our less-than-loving attitudes towards other people, for the thoughtless words that sliced into another person’s heart, and for the thousand secret sins about which nobody knows but only ourselves. We are tortured by our own consciences.
If that is the case with you, then John has good news. “By this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” Did you hear those words? God is greater than our hearts. Even when we cannot forgive ourselves, God can. Even when we think forgiveness is impossible, God still forgives us. Even though God knows everything there is to know about us, he forgives us nevertheless. Once again we go back to the cross and to Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34) and know that they were spoken not only for those who crucified him, but for us as well. As John wrote in the opening chapter of his letter, and as we will hear once again before we kneel in penitence in a few moments’ time, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

God’s Presence (24)

We can know God’s love. We can know God’s forgiveness. Thirdly, John says, we can know God’s presence. “By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” I think there is a tendency, particularly in our generation, to think of the presence of the Holy Spirit as a kind of emotional rush. In a few weeks’ time we will be celebrating Pentecost. We will remember the mighty rushing wind, those flames of fire that alighted on the disciples, and the miraculous ability to communicate in languages that had never been on their lips before—and we will think that is how the Holy Spirit works. But that is only one picture that the New Testament gives us of the Holy Spirit. How about the one who silently works within us the conviction that Jesus is Lord? How about the one who brings about that wonderful harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?
For John in this morning’s passage the test of the Holy Spirit’s presence is obedience. “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us…” The test of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is not, “Have I had this or that particular experience?” but, “Am I living in obedience to Jesus Christ?”
If my own experience is anything to judge by, obedience is not something that is easily measured. I suppose we can look at standards like the Ten Commandments or Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit. There are also various Rules of Life that we can choose to follow and they can be very helpful. Yet as much as we try to measure ourselves, those measures will always be subjective. Depending on our disposition, some of us will be easier and some of us harder on ourselves. I believe in the end that if we are really to get the true measure of ourselves, it will be as we live in community—as we hold ourselves accountable to our brothers and sisters and to Christ in them.
This morning, as we take the bread into our hands and the cup to our lips, may they be tangible reminders of what we have read in this passage. Through them may we know God’s love, mediated to us on the cross. May we know God’s forgiveness and cleansing through Jesus’ blood. And may we know God’s presence, enabling us in company with our brothers and sisters to live in obedience to him.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sermon – “Thomas” (John 20:19-31)


 Our Gospel reading this morning has to be one of the most dramatic and arresting in all of Scripture. It all has to do with a man who occupies very little prominence in the gospel story up to this point: Thomas. The first we meet with Thomas is in the lists of Jesus’ apostles in each of the first three gospels. The lists divide into three groups of four, and Thomas is in the second group, suggesting, in the words of one scholar, “neither eminence nor obscurity”.[1]
We do not meet with Thomas again until towards the end of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus had been informed that his friend Lazarus was grievously ill. The disciples tried to dissuade him from going to him for fear that Jesus’ life might be in danger. Thomas, however, challenged them, saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). The next time Thomas comes into the picture is in the upper room. Jesus had been saying puzzling things about going away to somewhere that they could not come and yet that he was preparing a place for them. It was Thomas who protested, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus famously replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:5-6).
Fast-forward now a few more days. The disciples were again in the upper room—all of them, that is, except for Thomas. The doors were locked, just in case the religious authorities decided to come down on them now that they had managed to dispose of Jesus. A mixture of fear and puzzlement filled the room because of the recurring reports that Jesus, who had been executed only days before, had been seen alive. Whether it was the weak flickering of the oil lamps or whatever, we do not know. But for some reason they were not aware of the other person in the room until they heard the familiar words, “Peace be with you.” Their fear turned to joy as he showed them his hands and side and they realized it was Jesus. When they told Thomas what had happened, he could not bring himself to believe them. We all know his words: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” It was a week later, when Jesus appeared to the disciples once again and this time Thomas was among them, that his adamant refusal to believe melted away. “My Lord and my God!” was all that he could manage to sputter out—one of the greatest and most famous professions of faith in all of history.

Introducing Thomas

The story of Thomas does not end there, however. Twice more we meet with him in the New Testament: the first time on the shores of Lake Galilee as Jesus appears to his disciples there (John 21:3), and finally in the upper room once again with the other disciples following Jesus’ ascension as they all awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit in power (Acts 1:13).
Yet, while the New Testament has nothing more to say about Thomas, early Christian tradition does. And while we cannot guarantee its accuracy, the odds are pretty good that much of it is at least close to the truth. So here is how the story goes. According to the early fourth-century Christian historian Eusebius, the apostles divided up the world, with Thomas and Bartholomew being assigned to Parthia (roughly modern-day Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) and India. Arriving in the north of India, Thomas, who was said to have been a carpenter by trade, ended up in the service of a king named Gundaphor, who is known from contemporary records and coins to have reigned from about 20 AD at least until the year 46. Thomas offered to build him a palace that would last forever. The king gave him money, which Thomas promptly passed along to the poor in its entirety. When the king insisted on seeing some progress, Thomas explained that what the king was building was a mansion in heaven. Thomas was immediately sent to prison but miraculously escaped, and King Gundaphor was converted to Christianity.
Thomas’s missionary journey then led him more than a thousand miles southwards along the west coast of India, where he arrived in the ancient city of Muziris in the year 52. Muziris had enjoyed a longstanding trade relationship with the Roman Empire, in addition to a Jewish settlement that had been established there for six centuries, and it was probably both that drew Thomas there. Clearly Muziris was ripe for the gospel. During his short stay Thomas is credited to have founded seven churches, and through his ministry both the king’s wife and his son came to profess the Christian faith. For this Thomas was sentenced to execution. Under the king’s orders he was led to a hill outside the city by four soldiers, who pierced him to death with their spears. Nearly fifteen centuries later, when Portuguese missionaries first traveled to India, they discovered that there were already well-established Christian communities, which traced their origins back to St Thomas’s evangelistic exploits. Right down to the present day the Mar Thoma Church of India, or Nasrani as its members are called, continue, as Thomas did, to worship Jesus as their Lord and their God.

Independence

But at this point we need to go back to the upper room, where the disciples had gathered after Jesus’ crucifixion. We have already recalled the scene, as suddenly, without their being aware of it, Jesus was in their midst. And there was no mistaking that it was he. It was his voice greeting them, “Peace be with you.” Then, to make sure there was no doubt about it, he showed them his hands, where the nails had been driven through, and his side, where the spear had been lunged.
When Thomas returned to the group it was clear that something had changed. Instead of the fear that had pervaded the room, there was a mystified joy. No sooner had he come through the door than all the others were trying to speak to him at once. “Jesus is alive!” “The stories the women told us were true.” “We’ve seen him with our own eyes—the nail holes through his hands, the spear wound in his side.” I can only imagine that Thomas did not know what to think. His whole world was spinning around him. Then it all stopped as Thomas took hold of his senses and resolutely declared, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Those famous words have earned him the name “doubting Thomas” ever since. Yet I think we do him an injustice if we simply write Thomas off as a cynic or hard of heart. In fact, I think that quite the opposite was true, that Thomas was speaking with passion. He had become so devoted to Jesus, so invested in him, that he was not willing to set himself up for another disappointment simply based on what someone else had told him. Like Peter who had declared, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68), or the two disciples along the road to Emmaus who had professed, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21), Thomas too had put all his hopes in Jesus. And he was not willing to settle for a faith that was simply based on what someone else said. It had to be his own. With Paul he would want to shout, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10).
We’ve all heard it said that God has not grandchildren, and Thomas did not want to be God’s grandchild. He wanted a faith that was his own. This morning we are baptizing two darling little girls, who cannot yet speak a word for themselves. On their behalf their parents and sponsors will affirm their Christian faith. Much as they depend on their parents to be fed and taught and cleaned, so they will depend on their parents for faith. But we pray that it will not stop there. Baptism is just a first step—and we look to the day when these children will be able to say with conviction, and not just because their parents told them, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…; I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…; I believe in the Holy Spirit…”
Years ago I had a parishioner who told me how as a child with his siblings he had been taken to church every week by his father. They never missed a Sunday. Then he went off to university and (unlike most of his peers) he continued to be in church—simply because that was where you were on Sunday mornings. At some point, however, and it was probably a gradual process because he could not pinpoint the moment, he said that what had once been a discipline became for him a faith. That is our prayer for these children: that they may move from a second-hand to a first-hand relationship with Jesus. And that was the desire that lay deep within Thomas’s heart: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Interdependence

In the mercy of God, that was exactly what happened. A week later Jesus returned to the upper room and this time Thomas was there. There was no question of his readiness to believe. There was no need to feel the nail marks in Jesus’ hands or thrust his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side. All Thomas was able to do was to stammer, “My Lord and my God!” But Jesus’ words in response are instructive. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
I do not believe that what Jesus said to Thomas was intended as a rebuke. Rather, I believe it contains a principle. That is that, while our faith in Christ must always be a personal faith, it is not an independent faith. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our faith will always depend on the faith of others. Jesus does not call us to be hermits. He calls us into community. I remember another very wise parishioner describing how in youth we move from dependence to independence. But, he said, the mark of true maturity is not independence but interdependence. So it is that as Christians we do not live in isolation. As members of the body of Christ we are nourished and fed, we are challenged and encouraged to use our God-given gifts, we are instructed and sometimes rebuked—and all so that we may live to our utmost for Christ, to trust him and to serve him as our Lord and our God.
This morning we will welcome these children into the body of Christ, receive them into the household of God. Part and parcel with that, we have made a pledge that by our prayers and witness we will help them to grow into the full stature of Christ. I pray that we will take that promise seriously not only with respect to them, but also in our relationships with one another. May we take it as a part of our mission to help our brothers and sisters to grow and to flourish in their relationship with Jesus—and may we recognize and receive with gratitude the role that our brothers and sisters play in ours—as together we proclaim him “my Lord and my God”.




[1]     Robin E. Nixon, “Thomas, Apostle”, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sermon – “In Accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)


As I look at Jesus in the gospels, I find myself again and again being captivated and challenged the remarkable conversations that he had with all kinds of people. Think of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, for example, and her fascination over Jesus’ offer of living water. Or how about Jesus’ words with the wealthy young man who came to him earnestly seeking the way to eternal life? Then there was the nighttime exchange with Nicodemus, who only grew more and more confused as Jesus told him of his need to be born from above.
There are at least a couple of conversations, however, that the gospels do not let us in on—conversations that I would very much like to have heard. One of them is the one that took place as the sun was setting on that first Easter Day. It is in Luke’s gospel that we read of the two disciples who were sadly trudging their way home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles. As they walked, a stranger came up and began to walk with them. He asked them what was engaging them in such deep and agitated discussion. When they informed him that it was about Jesus, who had been put to death just days before and about whom there were now rumors that he had been seen alive, he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” “Then,” Luke continues, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25-27).
Every time I read that passage (and it is one of my favorites in all the Bible) I find myself asking with puzzlement and not a little frustration, “What were those truths that the prophets declared?” “What were ‘the things about himself’ in the Scriptures that Jesus interpreted to them?”

The Cross

The same question crops up when we read this morning’s passage from 1 Corinthians. What we have read this morning are the two earliest written accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Mark likely composed his gospel around the year 65 AD. But 1 Corinthians comes to us from a decade or more before that, around 55 AD—so within less than a generation of the actual events that the gospels portray. There we read the apostle Paul writing, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”
Most of you will recognize Paul’s words from what we recite Sunday by Sunday in the Nicene Creed: “He suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.” It is highly probable, that just as we recite the creed (many of us from memory), so Paul too was reciting a formula that was already well known to his fellow believers in Corinth. Aside from the events themselves, what is significant about that statement is the repeated phrase “according to the Scriptures”—that both Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave were all laid out centuries before in the pages of the Old Testament.
We can certainly see that in the case of Jesus’ death. The sublime poetry of Isaiah 53 bears eloquent witness to it. Let me read it to you from a contemporary Jewish translation:
He was despised, shunned by men,
A man of suffering, familiar with disease.
As one who hid his face from us,
He was despised, we held him of no account.
Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing,
Our suffering that he endured.
We accounted him plagued,
Smitten and afflicted by God;
But he was wounded because of our sins,
Crushed because of our iniquities.
He bore the chastisement that made us whole,
And by his bruises we are healed.[1]
Or think also of the plaintive cry of Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? …
All who see me mock me, they curl their lips, they shake their heads.
‘Let him commit himself to the Lord; let Him rescue him,
let Him save him, if he is pleased with Him.” …
My life ebbs away: all my bones are disjointed;
my heart is like wax, melting within me;
my vigor dries up like a shard; my tongue cleaves to my palate;
You commit me to the dust of death…
I take the count of all my bones while they look on and gloat.
They divide my clothes among themselves, casting lots for my garments…
We do not have time to examine the whole sacrificial system of ancient Israel or the numerous other passages in the Psalms and the Prophets that portend the cross. No, we have no difficulty in affirming with Paul and the creed that “Christ died … in accordance with the Scriptures”.

The Grave

No, the challenge comes with the second half of the statement, that “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”. Where do we find this in the Old Testament? In actual fact, if you look at the Old Testament, its perspective on death is bleak at best. By and large for the writers and singers of the Old Testament death is the end of the road. That message comes through loud and clear in verses such as these:
The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence. (Psalm 115:17)
In death there is no remembrance of you; in the grave who can give you praise? (Psalm 6:5)
Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness? (Psalm 88:10-12)
A living dog is better than a dead lion. The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in the grave, to which you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:4,5,10)
You can see from passages like these (and there are plenty more) that by and large the Old Testament’s perspective on death was grim indeed. The best you might hope for after you died was to be fondly remembered by your descendants and perhaps in some sense live on in them. This was the position held by the Sadducees in Jesus’ day. More than once they are described as “those who say there is no resurrection”. And they held that position not because they were agnostics or trying to be radical, but because they believed that were being true to the witness of the Scriptures.

The Resurrection

How then, if this was the case, could Paul and the Corinthians confidently profess that Jesus “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”? What did Jesus share as he walked along the road to Emmaus with those two disciples? To find the answer we need to take our Old Testaments once again; and if we read them carefully we will begin to see amidst the gloom and the darkness some tiny pinpricks of light.
Beneath the sadness of the Psalms surrounding death for example, there is a quiet but unflagging confidence that what we see from this side of the grave is not the whole picture, that there is more.
My heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to the realm of the dead, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:9-11)
I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:23-26)
Those few tiny hints, that almost imperceptible adumbration, that we find in the Psalms, begins to become a rising chorus as we move into the prophets. From Isaiah we read,
The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food… And he will destroy … the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. (Isaiah 25:6-8a)
Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead. (Isaiah 26:19)
Then there are these words from Daniel:
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:2-3)
And perhaps clearest of all from Hosea we read,
Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth. (Hosea 6:1-3)
But to my own thinking, some of the most amazing words were spoken by Job. In the midst of his unutterable suffering we find that beneath all his self-pity there is an unshakeable conviction, which he expresses in those profound and moving words,
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (Job 19:25-27)
Although those words came from deep within his heart and he could hear them coming from his mouth, Job still found them almost impossible to believe—too good to be true. “My heart faints within me!” he cried. It seems to me that that was the same reaction of the two disciples in Emmaus. They stared back and forth at each other across the dinner table and said to each other in amazement, “Did not our hearts burn within us while … he opened the Scriptures to us?” It was the reaction of the women who first came to the sepulcher that morning. They ran from the tomb, seized by terror and amazement. The men refused to believe them, accusing them of spreading idle tales. And then there was Thomas, who would not believe until he had put his fingers into where the nails had pierced Jesus’ hands.
Yet what they would discover was that suddenly with Jesus’ resurrection all those tiny points of light sprinkled through the Scriptures had come together to form a single blazing sunrise lighting up the whole sky with its brilliance. In a few moments’ time we will have an opportunity to affirm once again our own faith that Jesus has risen. May it not be for us just a matter of words. Rather, may it be with that same sense of amazement, of overwhelming, as those who first heard the news.
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, this God has prepared for those who love him.” “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:9; 15:57).
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


[1]     Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures, The Jewish Publication Society, 1985