What end-times?

Prophecies of the end-times are of course alarming. That is their point. They raise an alarm that threatens the un-redeemed. Those with the light welcome the alarm that the bridegroom comes at midnight. Paul in I Thessalonians welcomes the idea that the whole Church is “lifted up” in the air to welcome Christ. In Revelation the un-numbered saints in white rejoice in the presence of the Divine. Revelation 11:15 “kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord.” The prophecies of the end-times which precede all these gloriously redemptive events are meant to raise an alarm. However, having done that they fade away. The reason? Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end. The End is nothing other and nothing less than the Beginning which has come to claim what is His. The End is the Beginning returning to Itself. There is never an Omega that does not already contain, that is not already, the Alpha. Consequently, the end-times do not ever precede an End. The prophecies of the end-times are always and only the announcement of the New Times. If one sees only “end” and not “times” one fails to see in the prophecies of the end-times the Kairos (the redeemed Time of the baptized) that has dawned, that is always dawning, and that will always dawn for the redeemed. The period between All Saints and Christ the King is not an interlude of darkness. It is an active, recurring rebuke of that darkness. In the loudest, strongest of voices the Church announces, “We renounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways!” while at the same time saying, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”

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St. Mark 3: 19-35
Jesus has just finished a preaching and healing tour. Then he called his disciples and selected those upon whom the proclamation of the gospel will depend. To be called and selected by Jesus, as we are called and selected in our baptism is to be made holy. In that moment of holiness, we reject the devil and all his works and all his ways.
The holiness of the disciples refreshes the holiness of the earth. That upon which Moses stood was holy ground. Exodus 3:5. The disciples are to shake the dust off their feet if a town does not receive them. Where holiness is not received, judgment prevails. In the apocalyptic view of Jesus, the new age has arrived and the old has passed away. The disciples are the first in the new age. They were selected by Jesus; they were called by Jesus. He who initiates the new age also initiates his disciples. This is something new upon the earth. Into their hands is given the care of the earth. The disciples as salt of the earth purify, preserve, protect the earth. It is to them that the dominion of the new earth is safeguarded.
If the disciples, followers of Jesus, lose what is essential to them, they will be useless also, and the earth will not be safeguarded by them. But just what is essential to discipleship? And why is it important not to lose it? The disciples are the original “initiates” of the kingdom of heaven. They are, in essence, what constitute the kingdom of heaven. Where the disciples are, that is where the kingdom of heaven is to be found. To be a disciple is to be an invitation. Discipleship is the gateway into the kingdom of heaven. They demonstrate unconditional commitment to Jesus and his proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. Their faith may fail them at times; their courage may fail them at times; they may be over-enthusiastic or underwhelming at times; they will complain among themselves and they will seek special privileges at times; but they never stop following Jesus. The essence of discipleship is following Jesus. Discipleship is not a choice; it is a gift. One does not follow Jesus because one has chosen to do so; one follows Jesus because the divine has foreknown, foreordained, and called one to this life. Romans 8:28-30. Jesus knew ahead of time those into whose hands he would consign the earth. Both the calling and the consignment are divine gifts.
This is what Christian discipleship is: one follows him upon whom one’s eyes are fastened; one follows him to whom one’s ears are attuned; one follows him to whom one’s heart is surrendered; one follows him in whom one’s soul is anchored; one follows him by whom one’s spirit is quickened, one follows him upon whom one’s mind is stayed. To follow Jesus is to set one’s sight upon the cross. To follow Jesus is to be the suffering of the oppressed. To follow Jesus is to be the poverty of the poor. To follow Jesus is to be the sin of the condemned. To follow Jesus is to be the illness of the sick. To follow Jesus is to be the despair of the hopeless. To follow Jesus is to be the death of the dying. To follow Jesus is also to be the hope of the hopeful and to be the joy of the redeemed. The Apostle Paul gives a spirited defense of this in II Cor. 4:7-12; and 6:3-10. This is what Jesus means when he called the disciples the salt of the earth. This is his gift to us and them. If they lose this divine gift, they place the earth in danger. This is certainly impossible to accomplish, if following Jesus were only a human activity rather than a divine gift.
This is what Jesus was doing just before the stories we read in the Gospel for today.
Then he went home. So begins a story that draws us into its center and invites us, perhaps even forces us, to look at ourselves through the lenses of judgment, of the possibilities of the satanic that lurks around us, shaping the daily events that demand of us constant vigilance, so that we are not absorbed into the darkness just beyond us. Jesus comes home after a tour of preaching, teaching and healing. His accusers are never far away, and now, they have come down from Jerusalem and are in this home. It is not known whose home it is. So far in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been in three homes: the home of Peter, the home of an unknown person, the home of Levi, and now he is in the home of another unknown person. His own family has arrived there, looking for him, so it is likely not the home of his family. They never even entered this home, but remained outside, calling to him.
His accusers, the religious people of the Temple where he sometimes worshiped, have come there, after hearing his preaching and seeing his healing miracles. They have come to accuse him of being in league with the devil. Without evidence, they say that he is possessed by Satan, the ruler of demons, and by the power of Satan he is casting out demons. Little do they understand that what they are saying is that the ruler of demons, Satan, has the miraculous power similar to that of God, to heal. The religious people, his accusers, are putting Satan into the place of God. In the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Satan had asked Jesus to bow down to him and worship him in return for all the kingdoms of the world. Satan wanted to put himself into the place of God. And now the religious people from Jerusalem are with Jesus, doing something that Jesus had refused to do. They are completely unaware that they are going against the commandment that says, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” This is idolatry, the total rejection of the One True God, and turning to worship and serve what is not divine. Their minds and souls are already possessed by Satan.
But his accusers say that Jesus is possessed. Remember, in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, Satan means Accuser. Satan is one who accuses. And that is precisely what the religious people of Jerusalem are doing. They have become the accusers, they have been absorbed into the satanic world and they did not even know it.
What does it mean to be absorbed into the satanic world? It means first and foremost, that one has abandoned the divine in favor of the demonic. To live in the world of the satanic is to live in the constant absence of the divine. It means to walk in darkness and shadows, believing that they are walking in light, because Satan too shines brightly for them. His name is Lucifer, the bearer of Light. To live in the world of the satanic is to live in false light where you cannot distinguish between truth and lies. It is to live with falsehood, to live with lies, to live with deception. To live in the satanic world is to live fraudulently. Do not be deceived. The satanic world is every bit as real as the world where we live daily. Satan and his accusers have come into the home where Jesus is trying to eat with his disciples. The satanic can enter at will any place, sacred or profane. Did not Satan take Jesus from the wilderness right up to the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem. Let us not be deceived. The satanic world is all around us. It has been this way forever, even in the sacred space of the Garden that God created, the satanic power was present.
When I speak of the satanic world, what I want to make clear is that anything whatever that draws you away from your spiritual life is satanic. Anything that tries to diminish your faith is satanic. Anything that rips from you the hope you have in God and in Christ is satanic. Anything that entices you away from your cherished dreams and aspirations is satanic. In your baptism you promised to “renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.” The satanic world cannot abide that renunciation, so it constantly seeks to take over your world. This is what evil is.
In the Large Catechism, Luther understands the devil as the Evil One “who obstructs everything that we pray for.” In all these instances, evil can be interpreted differently. Therefore, we must strive the harder to uncover just what is contained in evil. Evil can be an act that is committed; evil can be a thing that destroys and desecrates; evil can be a particular time when the world seems hopeless; evil can be a condition from which we have to be delivered such as oppression and slavery. Evil is not from the beginning when God created all things good; evil makes its appearance on the earth in the Garden of Eden with the emergence of humans upon the earth. The essence of evil is rejection of the divine. Evil wants to assume the place of the divine, evil seeks to dislodge God permanently. Evil does not seek equality with the divine; instead, evil wants to replace the divine. Evil is not eternal; evil is not immortal; evil is not everlasting; evil does not last forever; evil yearns to remain, but it cannot. Evil recurs; that is its true nature. Evil exists by recurring. Evil is the exact opposite of blessed. Consequently, regarding human beings, evil is a disposition of the soul, of the whole person, whereby the person does not simply stand opposed to the divine but lives in the complete absence of the divine. Evil is self-contained. Evil does not venture out of itself. Evil cannot go beyond itself because it cannot transcend itself. Evil expands from within itself by drawing what is on its periphery into its center. Evil absorbs whatever exists within its nearness by projecting an alternate condition that is flexible and porous and insubstantial.
And when it comes to the theme of evil, Jesus has an answer for them and for us. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” “If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” Jesus is saying that Satan is seeking to divide us from within. He wants to turn us against ourselves. He wants us to reject ourselves. He wants us to deny who we are as people of faith and hope and goodwill. Satan wants us to be oblivious to the truth that has guided our lives. He wants us to relinquish the values that have shaped our souls. Satan wants to divide us, so that we cannot stand, but will meet our end.
But Satan will not do this to himself. This is what Jesus tells his accusers. Satan will not survive if he rejects all that he stands for and become other that he is. Satan will not divide himself. He knows the danger of division.
To divide yourself is to become fractured, the whole is violently shattered. To divide yourself is to be ruptured, the integrated being that you are is split open with parts of yourself going off in different directions. To divide yourself is to be broken, again a violent disruption of who you are. To divide yourself is to make yourself other than you are, to become someone you don’t know, don’t recognize. But it is also to divide your world, to shut you off from all those who are dear to you, with whom you have loving and abiding relationships. When you are divided your world is divided, and this is the way that leads to your end.
When you are divided you are weakened to the point of death. That is why Jesus says, if Satan casts himself out his end has come. But Satan will not stand against himself. He will not bring about his own end. To put it in terms you all understand, Satan has the power, and he uses it, constantly to pardon himself. That is how he remains strong.
To illustrate his point Jesus says, “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” Jesus is going much further than saying that his accusers are trying to put Satan in God’s place. Now he is saying that they have already done so. The fact is the house of the religious people is the Temple of Jerusalem. It is where God presides. It is where God is worshiped. It is the most sacred place on earth for the Jews. And now Jesus is telling them that this Temple has been taken over by Satan. In another place Jesus says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of thieves.” The satanic world has descended upon the Temple of Jerusalem. The people of the Temple now are under the influence of Satan. Satan has entered the Temple, tied them up, and now plunders their soul. This is a complete and irreversible condemnation by Jesus of the religious people who have come to accuse him. He tells them that their end has come. But there is an even more serious condemnation against them.
They say that Jesus is possessed by the ruler of the demons. They are saying that the spirit of Jesus has been defiled, that the spirit of Jesus is evil. This is blasphemy. The spirit of Jesus is nothing other than the Holy Spirit. To say that the spirit of Jesus is evil is something that can come only from the lips of Satan and his followers. Jesus is piling up evidence against his accusers. First, they have put Satan in the place of God. Second, Satan has installed himself in the Temple of Jerusalem and now possesses their soul. And now, in the third place, under the influence of Satan, they have rejected the Holy Spirit. There is a pattern emerging here. In the Gospel of Mark, there is no complete story about the Temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness after he has fasted forty days. All Mark says is that Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted. He does not say how he was tempted, or why he was tempted. But in the gospel for today, Mark presents his own understanding of the temptation, with one major difference. Rather than being tempted in the wilderness by Satan, Jesus is now being tempted in his home by religious people. Mark’s gospel reveals to us that temptation reaches us and abides with us in our own homes. No one is safe, no one is excluded, not even Jesus.
In order to show that temptation reaches into our homes Mark brings the family of Jesus to bear testimony. His mother and brothers have come to this house looking for him because they believe that he is out of his mind. His own family believes that Jesus is possessed. They have come to take him home. Remember, his family was not among his followers. They did not believe in his preaching or in his miracles. It was not until the time of his trial that his brother James started believing in him. And we know from the gospels that Mary his mother followed him all the way to his crucifixion. Of his other three brothers and his sisters we are told nothing. In Matthew 28:10, after his resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalen, “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” He was always concerned for his family, and they were concerned about him. So when they thought that he was out of his mind, they came to take him home. When he was told that his mother and brothers were calling him, he responded. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus makes it clear that family is more than flesh and blood. Family is that core of humanity that stands upon the word of God, to promote it, to defend it, to proclaim it. Family is whoever hears the voice of God calling and responds to it. It is clear that Jesus was comparing family to the religious people who came from Jerusalem to accuse him. He is saying that those on the inside are not necessarily your friends. He is saying that those on the outside are not necessarily your enemies.
Satan has entered the places of dwelling to bring division among the faithful, to bring division among family, to bring division within each individual. Satan has been doing that ever since the creation, in the Garden of Eden. Satan is still dividing us. And Jesus is still defending us. We will not surrender to division.

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ST. MARK 2: 23- 3: 6
On the Sabbath: The disciples of Jesus picking and eating grain out in the field. This was clearly now Lawful.
Jesus gives example of David and his companions: they were hungry. Entered into the Temple of Jerusalem, in the most sacred part, and ate the bread reserved for priests. This was clearly not Lawful.
When people are hungry and without food, just what Law are they supposed to follow? David and his companions broke the Law. The ate the bread of the Presence, consecrated bread, reserved only for the priests. They dared to break the Law. They dared to eat the food of the privileged. Their sin was not really in eating bread. Their offense is greater than this. Their sin was that they dared to act like the privileged. They did what only the elites could do.
They inverted the rules: the Sabbath was made for us, and not we for the Sabbath. We can change the rules when people are hungry and starving without access to food. We have the power to create new rules. Did God not give Adam dominion over everything? We are not only children of Adam. Today, we are Adam and we have to take responsibility for whatever challenges we face. We have power, we have duties. We have obligations to correct what is wrong. We have to demolish what is unjust. We have to face evil and call it by its name. Today, the name of evil is hunger. Today the name of evil is: lack of medical care; The name of evil is: an educational system that fails to educate. A prison system that condemns the young and old to death. An unemployment situation that tears the heart out of families. The name of evil is a child without a book, a parent without a job, a home without the basic necessities. The name of evil is hatred and jealousy; it is violence and murder; it is injustice. And injustice does not just happen in courts; injustice happens on the job, in coffee shops, driving along the highway. Injustice happens even when you just look different from someone else. Injustice is what you see when a life is broken open and all that is human is poured out and desecrated in broad daylight.
We have to face this and call it by its name. That is what the Sabbath Life is. The Sabbath life is not surrender. The Sabbath Life is sacrifice. There is no value in surrendering your humanity. It will only be demeaned by the evil forces around you. Rather, each one is called upon to Sacrifice all that you are into order to create a new world for all. The Psalmist says, “The sacrifice to God is a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not destroy.” We know what a broken heart is. We know what a broken spirit is. It is what we experience each and every day. A broken heart and a broken spirit is who we are, and this is what sacrifice is. The sacrifice of David and his companions was greater than the sacrifice of the priests. In it was the affirmation that God cares for you more than God cares for rules.
Jesus says “the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” How often have we just thrown away this verse! We hear it, and immediately it passes from our minds, for after all, “The son of Man” is Jesus. Today, we are tossing out old and tired ideas that have imprisoned our minds. The son of man is not Jesus. It is each one of us, born of Adam, born of our parents, born into this world that often does not see us, does not hear us, does not heed us, does not acknowledge that we are here, that we have been here for a long time, and that we are not going to move. Never, not now, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. We are here to stay. We are the son of man, the son of woman, the son of this earth and sea and skies. We belong, we belong here as much as the air we breathe and the water we drink. And because we are the son of man we have to power to change and to make changes. The son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath. We have the ability and the responsibility to look at the rules that have bound us and to break them into bits and pieces. We have the obligation to stop being bound by systems of injustice that care not a bit for us.
The gospel story shifts from the street and moves into the synagogue. There was a sick man there, one whose hand was withered. He was incapacitated. As we say, physically challenged. What would Jesus do? It was the Sabbath day. And this man according to the law should not even have been in the synagogue, for his incapacity made him unclean. An incapacitated man broke a great religious Law, and no one was challenging him. Instead, they were looking to see if Jesus was going to break the law.
The man’s hand was withered, whatever that means. We human beings are the only creatures on this earth that have hands. Real, true, authentic biological and physical hands. There is a reason for that. Without hands we are powerless. To have a hand is to have power. To have a hand is to have authority. To have a hand is to have ability. By hands we have accomplishments. By hands we have success. By hands we have progress. By hands we have freedom. By hands we have liberation. By hands we have equality. By hands we have dignity. What Jesus saw was a man that had lost all of that. The religious people did not see that. The religious people could not see that. They saw a Law being broken. They saw rules and regulations. The could not see people. What happens when religious people do not see this man? They cannot see because they are blinded by a Law that they followed blindly. We too are religious people, I use the word even though I do not like it. And we cannot follow our religion blindly for then we shall not be able to live the Sabbath Life. We must be focused constantly on what is within sight. We must see the sick, and their sickness must demand of us action that will bring relief. We must see the lame, and their lameness must demand of us action that will empower them. We must see the blind, and their blindness must demand of us the opening of our own eyes to lead them. We must see the hungry, and their huger must empower us to build a word in which there shall not be hungry people. We must see the homeless, and their homelessness must solicit from us the desire and the action to build a society that can house each resident.
The distressed, the grieving, the hopeless, the helpless. These are all people to whom we cannot close out eyes. The Sabbath Life demands much of us, but never so much as when we must risk all to hold onto what makes us essentially what we really are, God’s redemptive force on this earth. We are God’s Holy Spirit in the world, not some kind of invisible entity roaming the world touching lives here and there, the actual presence of God in the world.
The religious people were not looking for this. They were looking not to heal, but to accuse, not to help but to destroy. After all, they were the better class. They were the privileged. They were the elites. For them, to reach across some internally defined boundary to help another was to contaminate their soul. What shall it profit us to gain the whole world and then lose our soul? This was not their point of view.
Jesus of course healed the man who is the center of the story. Jesus invites him. “Come forward!” And from there on the story turns on something crucial for the Sabbath Life. Jesus asks, in light of all the holy laws, what is the right thing to do: To do good, or to do harm? To save a life or to kill? The religious people did not think this way. And then there was the great Silence! Living the Sabbath Life means that we cannot remain silent in the presence of evil. What the religious people felt towards this sick man was something evil, deep down in the roots of evil, that this man was less human than they were. They could not touch him for fear of contamination. He was infected. They could not see him as a human being with a complete soul, a complete spirit, a man totally complete like you and me with one exception, that he was physically challenged. The kept silent. That silence is also an infection. Not to speak when evil threatens is to speak more loudly through silence. Silence, a complete failure to activate the power of the word of God is the total denial of God and all that God stands for. Silence, the refusal to launch from within your soul the power of the word of God is an infection that eats away at ever last part of your soul. They kept silent. But there is another kind of silence that is redemptive. The story of the Good Samaritan is which all of us love. The Samaritan did not hesitate when he saw a Jewish person lying wounded at the side of the road. Samaritans and Jews had nothing to do with one another. He could have kept on his way, but he did not. He did not speak a single word in that moment. He saved a life. What is lawful, to save a life or to kill? That is the question.
When faced with the silence of the religious people Jesus became angry. The text says that he grieved because of the hardness of their hearts. I don’t know how often Jesus became angry at religious people, but I assume that he was frequently angry with them. But Jesus was not the kind of person to waste something as good and valuable as anger. He knew how to use it, or perhaps, anger knew precisely how to use Jesus. It moved him to grief, it lifted him out of the moment and in doing so transformed the moment into a turning point of human history. Anger can do that, if we don’t waste it on silly stuff. In the heart of transformative anger we find the purest kind of love that seeks nothing for itself. It makes the person into an instrument of God’s power to heal and to restore. This is what happened with Jesus in that moment. But his anger was also filled not only with love, but also with grief. We all know about grief. None of us has escaped it, even now, today, as we share our pastor’s grief. We grieve with pastor as one body in Christ taken up in grief. And grief has no time limit. When death comes to our home, it does not come to visit, it comes to stay. You all know that. You all live with that. Forget about the psychologists who talk about stages of grief. There are no stages of grief. You just can’t break it up into bits and pieces and say, this is one piece and that’s another. Grief descends upon us as a whole, complete and total, in one instant. Grief is not a feeling that we can have today and not have tomorrow. Grief descends upon us and takes up residence within and around us. It will leave us only when it is convinced we can make it on our own. Grief descends upon us for our own protection. It will hold onto us until our spirit has matured and our soul has recovered its strength. This runs all through the life of Jesus. He was called a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. For us, this is the Sabbath Life. He taught us this.
Jesus was grieved over their hardness of heart. He was grieved over their lack of compassion. Hardness of heart is lack of compassion, pure and simple. The Sabbath Life is compassion active in the service of God for the good of another human being. The Sabbath Life is compassionate life. Compassion means that you must feel for another just as you feel for yourself. When we are told to love our neighbor as we love ourself, that is the definition of compassion. That is what the Good Samaritan showed.
Anger, sustained by grief, acted out through compassion is what Jesus demonstrated. He said, “Stretch out your hand.” A very simple command, but full of undiscovered meaning. To stretch out your hand is to reach beyond yourself. Sickness, all sickness, turns us inward, where we are unable to emerge from deep within ourselves. Jesus says stretch out your hand, Jesus says reach beyond yourself. Healing, redemption, is always beyond ourselves, and we must reach out for it.
How do we stretch out our hands? In many different ways.
The man was healed. And what was the result? The religious people went out and sought ways to destroy Jesus. What did he ask? Is it lawful to do good or harm, to save or to kill? He gave his answer, and they gave theirs.

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A Very Brief Reflection

St. Matthew 19:30 “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
St. Matthew 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
St. Mark 10:31 “But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
St. Luke 13:30 “Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega” says the Lord God.
Revelation 22:13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

I write this in response to a text message that I received asking about this difficult saying. The statement of Jesus is certainly not a reversal of order in human relationships and events, resulting in unfairness and injustice. I find meaning in this verse in the context of St. Paul’s argument in Romans 3:27-28. He defends his belief on the principle of faith. “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”

Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

The principle of justification by faith is central to Lutheran Doctrine and Practice.

That the first will be last, and the last first must be established on the principle of faith.

The first and greatest shall not receive more grace than the last and the least.

The last and the least shall not receive less grace than the first and the greatest.

The pastoral example is Jesus himself. He announces himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. Those who have taken up their cross and followed him must see themselves as both first and last, just as He is. In him, first and last are integrated into One. He announces himself as “the beginning and the end.” In the resurrection of Jesus, the end is the beginning returning to itself. The first does not contradict the last, nor does the last negate the first. First and last are not moments in time. The first has always existed before time, as the last will always exist beyond time. The first and the last transcend time, and in doing so, exist where “here and now” does not hold sway. The first and the last share a sameness with Jesus in whose resurrection eternity prevails.

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Note to Readers

I have posted three studies that are not new. They were posted much earlier, but I think they are still relevant. One deals with the Passion of Christ. Two deal with the Easter story, in St. Matthew and in St. John. Please forgive me for re-posting old stuff.

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EASTER – 2017 – JOHN 20: 1-18

Easter – John 20:1-18

The Evangelist John has a Christology that makes the resurrection superfluous. The Gospel is singularly concerned with one question: who is Jesus? Every “sign” from the Incarnation to the crucifixion is designed to answer this question.  From begin to end, it is a manifesto of Christology. Christology is Christos and logos, which is teaching about Christ. However, the Evangelist offers little in the way of teaching about Christ. In this Gospel, Christology undergoes a transformation. The Evangelist uses the framework of the Gnostic redeemer myth to present Christ. But since most of that myth would have obscured the message, he rejected most of it and kept one idea: revelation. In this Gospel, Jesus is the one who reveals. Christology is revelation not instruction. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. The Evangelist is even more specific than this. Jesus Christ is the self-revelation of God. In a very stirring scene, when some were withdrawing from Jesus, he asked, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter responded for all of them. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” 6:67-69. That phrase is the entire content of this Gospel. “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” 20:31.

The disciples can have come to know that only through revelation. From the beginning of this Gospel, Jesus did not come into the world via virgin birth. He arrived already as the transcendent Incarnate One, walked among the people as the Transcendent, and ascended as such. Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” 11:25-26. Mary them confesses that he is the Son of God. In the Gospel, the resurrection is hardly associated with post-crucifixion signs. Long before he goes to the cross, Jesus is present already as “the resurrection and the life.” These two words mean the same thing, and I will return to this theme in my conclusion.

The mission of the Incarnate One is accomplished on the cross. The cross gathers together the life of the Redeemer, his incarnation, ascension, exaltation, parousia and resurrection in the “It is finished” of 19:30. An examination of the narrative of the empty tomb will give us some insight into this, but first, I must consider Mary Magdalene.

Except for a mention in Luke 8:2, Mary Magdalene appears only at the end of the life of Jesus. She is present at the crucifixion and at the empty tomb. It is difficult to estimate her role and its importance from such sparse evidence. Perhaps an examination of the Gospel of John will provide some insight leading to useful conclusions.

The morning after the crucifixion Mary Magdalene arrived very early at the tomb. She saw that the stone had been rolled away, and she ran and got Peter and the beloved disciple. Why did Mary come to the tomb? She did not come to anoint Jesus, this much is clear. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had already taken care of that. 19:38-40. The text gives no indication as to her purpose so no conclusion can be drawn without further analysis.

She said to Peter and the beloved disciple. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” How does she know this? If she looked into the tomb, the text is silent on this. “They have taken the Lord.” At this early stage, how does Mary know that Jesus is “Lord?” This is not possible unless she has been given a special revelation as The Gospel of Mary Magdalene teaches. For the Gospel of John, the crucifixion is both the glorification and exaltation of Jesus. This is where Jesus is revealed as Lord for the entire world to see. But Mary cannot know this beforehand. It has not been revealed to her. Perhaps one hears the voice of the church here.

There are two traditions interwoven in this text. The first is a Magdalene tradition which might have been something like this: Mary arrives at the tomb. The stone is rolled away already. She looks in in and sees two angels who question her. She does not seem surprised by this encounter. She turns and sees someone standing behind her. He asks her the same question the angels did. She thinks he is the gardener. Jesus calls her by name, “Mary” and she recognizes him immediately. According to John Jesus is the shepherd who calls his sheep by name, and they know his voice and come to him, chapter 10. Mary calls him “Rabboni,” which means teacher. Jesus says “do not hold me for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them I am ascending to my Father and your father, to my God and your God.” Mary went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and told them the story. I will address this matter later.

The other tradition is the Petrine one with the beloved disciple, which emphasizes the role of Peter. He has to be the one who takes precedence. The anonymity of the beloved disciple is a literary technique that preserves the pre-eminence of Peter. Who is the beloved disciple? In 19:26-27, Jesus commends his mother into the care of the beloved disciple, “Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.” Is this not literally suggestive? “And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” Mary has other sons besides Jesus: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas, along with sisters (according to Mt. 14:55-56); James, Joses, Judas and Simon, along with sisters (acc. to Mark 6:3). Since James is mentioned first in both accounts, I assume he is the eldest son after Jesus. In John 7:5, it is stated that even his brothers did not believe in him. Who outside his family would know this? In 20:8, the beloved disciple went into the tomb, “and he saw and believed.” Perhaps it was James who stood with his mother watching his brother being crucified, who came to believe in him. The mother and brothers of Jesus stand with him at the Wedding at Cana, the place of his first sign. Why would they not be here at the cross, the place of his last sign? In both scenes, Jesus addresses his mother in a similar manner. Why would Jesus place his mother under the care of a disciple when he has four brothers and at least two sisters? Is he not bound to honor his mother in this way? I believe that Jesus commends the care of his mother to his younger brother, James. I suggest that the beloved disciple is none other than James, the brother next in line, who then takes his mother to his own home. I should mention that the name James does not appear in any of the Johannine literature.

The sprint to the tomb between Peter and the beloved disciple becomes understandable if the beloved disciple is James, as later tradition shows the competition and conflict of these two men in leadership.  In the present tradition Peter takes precedence. According to cultural norms, Mary could not serve as a witness to the empty tomb. Only men can serve as witnesses, and two men are required for truth. Peter and the beloved disciple serve this purpose: they can testify that the tomb was really empty. After this, Peter and the beloved disciples went back to their homes.

What the empty tomb proclaims is only this: the tomb is empty. The empty tomb is not a proclamation of the resurrection. No one knows what a “resurrection” is. The Evangelist does not speak of Jesus rising from the dead except at 2:22, 20:9 and 21:4, and all of these are later editorial additions. The resurrection has not been revealed to the world. It is not of primary interest to the Evangelist. For him the crucifixion is the point of the life of Christ. This means ultimately that Incarnation and Crucifixion, the Arrival and Departure, are one and the same. As I stated in another context, the Departure can never leave behind the Arrival. The Omega can never leave behind the Alpha. The one who has come from God (1:2) and the Father (1:14) must also return thither. The “beginning” from which Jesus came is a “source” rather than a point in time. So also must be the parousia. It is not a point in time for the “return” of the Redeemer. The parousia is the gathering place of the one whose abiding presence has transcended his coming and going.

After the disciples returned to their homes, Mary Magdalene is left alone again. Now she looks into the tomb and sees two angels in white. Why did the disciples not see the angels earlier? Perhaps it was given to them only to bear witness to the empty tomb. How does Mary know that the two figures are angels? She seems completely unmoved by this vision. She shows no sign of surprise, fear or awe. She had arrived here already overtaken by her grief. “Woman, why are you weeping?” they asked her. Well, maybe the angels have never lost a friend, so they don’t know about grief. I want to reader to know that these are not my kind of angels. If I am weeping because of my inconsolable grief I want my angels to sit down and weep with me, not ask really stupid questions. This is very bad pastoral care. But we must forgive them because they are messengers not healers. Mary told them why she was weeping, turned her back on them causing them to disappear from the narrative. She then sees Jesus but does not recognize him. He repeats the question that the angels had asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Instead, she repeats her answer. Jesus calls her by name, “Mary.” She recognizes him and responds, “Rabboni.”

The Teacher is how she knows the Redeemer. The past is the only means that Mary has of understanding Jesus. But the glorified, exalted Jesus is no longer a figure of the past. He and Mary no longer share the same history. This is indicated in the fact that Jesus repeats the question of the angels. The Evangelist aligns Jesus with the angels. They belong to the same transcendent realm. However, this is not a theophany. Mary sees and hears them because she has been called for this purpose. In the Synoptic gospels, Elizabeth and Mary his mother were similarly selected. This explains also why Peter and the beloved disciple did not receive this vision. Their opportunity will come later in the day when Jesus will appear to the gathered disciples.

Jesus says to Mary, “Do not touch me.” The sentence may be translated in a number of ways, and this is as good as any. Would it not have been unseemly for her to touch him just a few days earlier, given that they are not related? Yet, this time it is different. “I have not yet ascended to the Father.” This is the revelation of the Redeemer to Mary. Nothing more is necessary except “go and tell.” In his appearance to Mary Magdalene, the Incarnate appears as the Discarnate. He came to his own as the Incarnate. He departs from his own as the Discarnate. Later in the day he will pass through a closed door, as he will again eight days later. Yet, to whom he wants, he reveals who he is. Mary now knows who he is. Later in the day the disciples in the room will know who he is.

The presence of the two angels now makes sense. They bear testimony to the truth of Mary’s vision of Jesus.  Mary could not relate this on her own because she has no legitimacy to bear witness. The two disciples bear witness to the empty tomb. The two angels bear witness to the appearance of Jesus. Again, this is not about the resurrection. The appearance of Jesus to Mary is exactly that: an appearance. That is why Mary can say later in telling her story, “I have seen the Lord.” Appearance and resurrection have completely different meanings.

I can now answer why Mary came to the tomb that day. It has been given to her to bear testimony to the appearance of the Lord. When Mary arrived at the tomb she believed in Jesus, but she could not have had faith in Christ. She cannot know the Lord until he has revealed himself to her. Only now can she say, “I have seen the Lord.”

Jesus tells Mary “go and tell my brothers” (adelphoi, 20:7). She is entrusted with this message to his family because on the day, before from his cross, Jesus had seen Mary with many others, among them his mother, his aunt and the beloved disciple, whom I have identified as his brother, James. She has some kind of relationship with his family and they would receive her as his messenger. Mary instead tells the story to the disciples (mathetai, 20:8). I think this difference is important for John. His custom is to say “brothers and disciples” when speaking of a group. This is evident in 2:12, and in 7:3, 5, and 10. I believe that Mary misunderstood the concern that Jesus was expressing for his siblings and took his words to mean his disciples. I believe Jesus would have wanted his grieving siblings to know that they will see him again, and to let them know where he was going. “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” His siblings, with the exception perhaps of James, did not believe in him. He sends Mary to assure them that his Father is their Father and his God is their God. The fact that 20:19 – 21:25 deals with his disciples and not with his family speaks in favor of two distinct audiences: his family and his disciples.

 What is the Easter message according to John?

He who appears from the tomb as Lord is the message for Easter. Jesus has already revealed this to his disciples, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Earlier he had said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” 5:24. The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and live. “The hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice, and will come out – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” 5:25-29. The Easter message has been from the moment of his Incarnation: the Redeemer is eternal life. The focus is not on sin and atonement, sacrifice and forgiveness. These have little meaning for this Evangelist.

In 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” In 3:36, whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. In 8:51, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word shall never see death.”  The Easter message is that the one who appears from the tomb is life. “I am the bread of life. 6:35. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. 6:54. “I am the light of the world,” whoever walks with me shall have the light of life. 8:12. “I am the door…I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” 10:9. “I am the good shepherd.” 10:11. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. “I am the resurrection and the life.” 11:25. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” 14:6. “I am the true vine.” 15:1. Those who belong to the vine will bear much more and their joy will be complete.

As long as women and men come seeking the empty tomb they will come to their own emptiness. In that emptiness hope begins. When they have arrived at the empty tomb the silence will touch them. In that silence faith awakens. As they look into the empty tomb they will see angels and know that this is a new time. Now they will know that only when the Word becomes flesh is the primordial silence shattered; and only when the flesh surrenders up the Word is the silence silenced forever. They will hear a new sound upon the earth, the voices of angels blended with the voice of the transcendent one, saying “I am the resurrection and the life.”

What is this thing called life? No one knows what life is until it is not, and when it is not it is death. Perhaps only the dead can tell us what life is and that is why Jesus is the resurrection even before he dies.

The Lord God created me from a clump of clay and breathed into my nostrils the breath of life. But I am not merely oxygenated clay. Somewhere on this earth, where the Lord removed my clay, a hole awaits, a wound upon the earth. It is my empty tomb. It awaits me. I know what I call life is not something I possess like a pencil or a garment. I live between my birth and my death. I am temporary. I am time’s guest upon the earth. I know life preceded my birth and it will outlive my death. It is eternal. This is what Jesus offers me. The dead will hear his voice and live. Those who believe will have eternal life.

The self-revelation of Christ is resurrection and life. “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” 20:31.

“I am the resurrection and the life.” That must mean on this Easter day:

In the empty tomb death surrenders its mortality and life awakens.

The grave is silent only when we no longer speak the words of our beloved that shaped our life. Easter’s bold announcement is: Shout!

The grave is deaf only when we no longer hear the lullaby of love with which our beloved launched us from cradle to life. Easter’s bold announcement is: Listen!

The grave is blind only when we no longer see the hope for a redeeming future our beloved left us. Easter’s bold announcement is: Behold!

“I am the resurrection and the life.” That must mean on this Easter day:

As long as there are angels in the tomb it is not empty. The grace of Christ is equally full in life as in death. This is Easter’s bold announcement.

As long as there are angels in the tomb it is not fearful. The perfect love of Christ casts out all fear. This is Easter’s bold announcement.

As long as there are angels in the tomb it is not hopeless. Christ who is lifted up will draw us all to himself. This is Easter’s bold announcement.


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EASTER – 2017 – MATTHEW 28

Easter – Matthew 28:1-10

The Easter stories in the gospels differ in significant details that can be traced to apologetic and theological interests of the individual Evangelists. At the earliest stage of the tradition there were at least two separate kinds of stories. There were stories of the empty tomb; and there were stories of the appearances of the risen Lord. Over time the tradition brought these stories together so that there now exist stories that include both of these themes such as Matthew 28.

Matthew’s narrative begins with Mary Magdalen and “the other” Mary, probably “Mary the mother of James and Joseph,” of 27:56. He does not say why they are on their way to the tomb, only that they waited until the Sabbath was over. Matthew probably wants to show that these women were witnesses to the scenes he is creating. The following verses, 28:2-7, describe what is likely a Christophany. There is the great earthquake, the angel coming down from heaven, the description of the appearance of the angel as lightening and his clothing white as snow, and the consequent fear of the guards at the tomb. Matthew is preparing his audience, who are already apparently acquainted with theophanies, for the appearance of the risen Lord. Such an appearance would be a Christophany, something that was already present in the consciousness of the early church shortly after the death of Jesus, as is clear from I Cor. 15: 3-5. Matthew creates this theophany to show that the events associated with the death of Jesus are guided by the hand of God.

The event that Matthew describes is terrifying. The Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb shook with fear, “and became like dead men.” On the other hand, the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid.” The Roman guards have become like dead men because this message is not for the unbelieving. In this sense, the unbelieving are like dead people. This message is for the women, that is, when Matthew says “women” here he intends to say that he is speaking to the church, the community of faith that can hear this message and accept it as a part of their discipleship. From Matthew 28:11-15 it is clear that the unbelieving world will not accept the presence or the message of the angel. It is not simple the women who are listening to the angel, it is the church itself through the ages that continues to hear the message and to respond to it with renewed proclamation in its preaching, teaching and healing. The church remains, and must remain in the proximity of the tomb as it must in the proximity of the cross. For the cross and the tomb constitute one single event, an event best described as Grace. The church must face the tragedy of the cross and the hopelessness of an empty tomb for that is where its reflection on God’s story of redemption properly begins.

The angel says, “Do not be afraid.” Often in his life among the disciples Jesus comforted them in this way. When the women hear this they are hearing his voice again. They recognize in the voice of the angel the same comfort that they must have felt in the presence of Jesus. Fear is the disposition of the whole person to something which is unknown. It is something that overtakes us when our soul and spirit feel that they stand before an abyss, a void that can consume them completely. When the angel says, “Do not be afraid,” he is speaking for Jesus, and the words are meant to show that Jesus himself stands before the abyss, the void, to shield the church from being consumed by the world. When pastors face their congregations and read the gospel message, “Do not be afraid,” they are doing exactly the same thing as the angel. This is something that we must never forget. Pastors are sent to the people exactly as the angel was sent. The pastor’s message is exactly the same. Just as the angel descended from the realm of the divine, so the congregation must understand that the pastor’s words have their origin in the realm of the divine. And when this word becomes a concrete Word to the hopeless who is in complete despair, this is then the authentic Word of God. Only to the extent that the pastor’s word addresses me in my concrete existential alienation does that word deserve to be called the Word of God. Like the angel, the pastor today stands before a people struggling to retain its hopes. It is Jesus who as the empty tomb becomes the abyss, the void into which the church must always venture for only by passing through the empty tomb does the church emerge into the light of the new world that is described in the word “resurrection.” It is only by living in the always fresh wound of Jesus’ hand and feet and side can the church discover the meaning of new life.

“I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” The angelic messenger possesses knowledge that existed before his descent from heaven. 28:2. He knows before he has arrived at the tomb that the women had come to seek Jesus who was crucified. Matthew uses this method repeatedly to demonstrate that all the events regarding Jesus are in the hands of God. The church today continues to look for Jesus who was crucified. This is its ministry and its mission: to go out into the world and to seek the crucified Jesus in the face of children without food, parents without jobs, the homeless without means, the helpless without power, the sick without care and the healthy without conscience. Matthew is sending the church a message through the angel and through the hearing of the women that the church cannot cease from looking for Jesus who was crucified. The church continues to look for the crucified Jesus wherever there is injustice, where hope is threatened and optimism stifled, where hate is a way of life that leads to death always. The unbelieving world cannot hear the voice of the angel. It cannot know that it is on a course that leads to death. It cannot know this until the church emerges from the other side of the empty tomb and preaches the message that life has come out of the grave, and that the grace of God waits to embrace those who have ears to hear. To look for Christ crucified is nothing other than to proclaim the good news of salvation.

“He is not here; for he has been raised as he said.” There are complicated thoughts tied up in this verse. Jesus is not here. Jesus has warned about speculation as to his presence. Mark 13:30; 24:32. The women went to a place of death, the tomb. They and the church through the ages discover that Jesus does not remain in the tomb. The tomb is empty, and that means first of all that “as he said” he has been raised from the dead. “As he said,” and Mark records: 8:31; 9:30; 10:33-34; 14:28. “As he said” is identical to “in accordance with the scriptures.” However, the empty tomb is not some kind of proof for the resurrection of Jesus. Matthew’s story is not about resurrection. There is no eye-witness to the resurrection of Jesus. What is important for us is the “as he said,” the Word that Jesus proclaimed in his life, and the life he now shares in his death. The tomb is a witness to death; it is not a witness to life. The “as he said” continues to be the foundation for the witness of the church. The women at the tomb, and the church through them, must abide always in the “as he said.’ Only faith can appropriate what is contained in “as he said.” The faith of the individual, the faith of the church is always faith in the proclamation of Jesus and faith in the proclamation about Jesus. Faith must always accept “he is not here.” On the cross Jesus transcended the world. The manner of his presence in the church can be described only in the words “he is not here.” The “where” of his presence cannot be perceived, only believed. I cannot conceive of a more complete definition of faith than “he is not here.”

“Come, see the place where he lay.” The women have heard the word of the angel. Now they must see. Hearing and seeing are modes of existence that keep us in relationship with everything around us. The invitation to come and see is an invitation to participate fully in what is before them. The angel who took their fear away now gives them hearing and sight. Matthew’s message to the church is come and hear and see. It is an invitation to the church and to the world, and in time it will be the content of the missionary enterprise. The angel himself will make this clear to the women. The message is not only “come and see.” The message is also “go and tell.” This means that the story of the empty tomb is not a story about the resurrection. It is a story whose apologetic content is the mission of the church. This would mean that the story that Matthew tells comes very late in the life of the church, long after it has settled in different communities, and for this reason the story could not have been located “on the third day” after the resurrection. The Passion of Christ is the starting point of the ministry of the church as church.

The angel then tells the women, “go quickly and tell his disciples ‘he has been raised from the dead and he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’” The angel was sent to tell the women. The women are sent to tell the disciples. Sending is an essential part of ministry; it is the means by which the gospel is taken where human needs exist. The women are to tell the disciples that “he has been raised from the dead.” The language makes clear that it is God who raises Jesus from the dead. The resurrection as divine miracle is for of a matter of telling hearing. No one is an eye-witness to the resurrection. The church continues the activity of telling and hearing of the resurrection. This is the way in which each one individually and the church as the community of faith access the resurrection. It is something which first of all is “told” and then it is “heard,” and then it is believed. It is only faith that grasps Jesus as the Crucified and Risen Lord as is clear from Romans 10:14-17. The church now as then knows that the divine encounters us only in the proclamation of the Word, and that Word is made concrete in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That Word is today proclaimed in the Church, and by this fact the Church is itself the Word of God for the world. There is no distinction. The Word of God and Church form an indivisible unity, so we can say “We believe one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, the communion of saints.”

The women left the tomb with fear and great joy. So far in this proclamation by the angel, the women’s lives have been touched by hearing and seeing. Now they are touched by feeling: by fear which binds and by joy which frees. That is to say, the proclamation of the angel has touched their lives completely. This is the way the proclamation of the church works: it touches and changes lives. While on their way, they are met by Jesus. Throughout his ministry Jesus was presented as interrupting the journey of people and transforming their lives. The women must have seen this for themselves many times. Now it happens to them. Jesus greets them, they recognize him, and fall at his feet and worship him. Perhaps Matthew has been influenced by the liturgical practice of his own church in creating this scene. The church at worship today still reflects this scene. When the pastor says, “The Lord be with you,” he or she is making the Crucified and Risen Christ present here and now. Let us not rush past this, for this is the most important Word that the pastor proclaims. By invoking the Presence of the Living One, we stand before the Altar, the Throne of Judgment, which is none other than the Throne of Grace. Everything that happens after this, happens in the Presence of Christ and by the grace of Christ. We cannot fail to see the power of this Word, for Christ himself empowers us in this way to bring him out of hiding into the full light of worship and witness. And when the congregation responds, “And also with you,” the congregation is empowering the pastor by proclaiming that Christ is present in what the pastor says and does at worship.

Jesus comforts the women again. “Do not be afraid.” Is there any doubt now that the word of the angel is none other than the Word of the Crucified and Risen Lord? It is the same word that we can sense and feel at worship, a sublime upsurge of the spirit that brings quietness to the troubled soul. Again, when the pastor reads this lesson and says, “Do not be afraid,” we have to hear the voice of the Crucified and Risen Lord in the voice of the pastor. We still abide in the context of the Word, “He is not here.” The voice of the pastor is the voice of Christ, making Christ present in word and witness, in bread in wine, in song and celebration. Jesus repeats the message of the angel to “go and tell.” But he does not say “my disciples.” He says, “my brothers.” Jesus of Nazareth had disciples. The Crucified and Risen Lord has brothers. Matthew is proclaiming that those in the church are not followers but family. In the presence of Christ something new happens. The world is being created anew. The old relationships are transformed. That is why we never leave the church after worship as the same person who entered there earlier. We leave as those who have been transformed by the Word that we have heard, by the bread that we have eaten, by the wine that we have drunk. We have been transformed by the lives that we have touched and those whose lives have touched ours. We leave cleansed, forgiven, reborn, and raised from the dead and still living at the center of a wound still fresh.

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluya!


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