So Many Possibilities
The following sermon was preached by Justin Thornburgh, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, April 16, 2012.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
(Scene 1: Living in fear)
As Stephen Sondheim says in the opening lines of Sunday in the Park with George, "White. A blank page or canvas…so many possibilities." A sheet of paper. A blank word document. An envelope. They just sit there. Offering us the chance of great joy. Or debilitating us in anxious fear. So many possibilities.
White as a sheet. The events of the morning had drained the blood from her face and now she entered the room early on that Sunday. Her heart racing and words failing her all she could say between heaves of breath was, "Jesus." "Gone." "Stone." "Moved." At the tomb white lenin lay there, rolled up and put to the side. White. Not the blood stained linens that shrouded the body on Friday. So many possibilities.
You are there in that dark upper room. The only light coming from the candles on the table and the reflection of the full moon coming through the window. White with worry. You and the others sit around the table, lean against the walls, sit on stools in the corner. Some with the thoughts of Friday still reeling in their heads. The knowledge that his rabbouni went through that kind of torture caused Phillip to become ill.
White as a ghost he had been throwing up on and off for the three days. Drenched in a cold sweat, fear and guilt had engulfed him. Martha is working herself crazy in the kitchen, her face, caked in flour dust. Lazarus just leans against the wall in disbelief.
Remembering the bright white - light that filled his eyes as the stone was rolled away. Now - wondering, confused, and alone. The beloved one keeps trying to cheer everyone up. Saying that the white linens mean something good has happened, but he, too, has not remembered the Lord's words that he would rise again.
Peter's white hot temper gets out of hand. Still guilt ridden from denying Jesus, he is determined to find out what happened, pounding his fist on the table, spilling the wine. Yelling at those who get in his way. Needing air, stepping out into the night by the light moon, Thomas leaves to get more wine.
The page was blank for those in that room. The community of believers. The twelve who followed Jesus and knew his teachings were just as lost, scared, and confused as those who had just joined the movement. Hoping for a new Messiah. A saviour who would change the rules. Alter the status-quo. Get rid of Rome.
The world as the knew it had collapsed. The hope and promise they thought their teacher embodied had been washed away in the rains that sent the blood and tears flowing down the side of Golgotha. All the while, Mary is sitting in a corner. She witnesses them in their fear, why would they not believer her? Tears stream down her face. The smell of the brilliant white flowers of Almond tree still in every breath she takes. She saw him. He called her by name. Why would they not believer her? So many possibilities.
(Scene 2: The Envelope)
The possibilities. I think I can sort of understand what the disciples were going through that first Easter evening. I remember sitting in at my dad's bedside as we knew the end was coming. Waiting for that final breath. And when the the line on the monitor went flat, and the wrinkles of pain in his face released into a beatific smile, I remember the emptiness I felt. The ache in my body. I remember waiting.
The unknown. What was going to happen? What would our lives be like? When I am faced with the unknown, my imagination kicks into overdrive. When I don't hear from a search committee, even though we only met a week ago, I begin to wonder what I did wrong.
Did they loose my contact information? No, of course not. We just met a week ago, they need time. That letter from the bank. Did we overdraw our account? Nope they just want to sell us a credit card. When Aibhilín falls and bonks her head…don't get me started. I think many of us have those moments of panic. Those times of uncertainty. When we just feel out of control.
That white space of the computer monitor, knowing your constructive theology paper or your summative evaluation won't write itself. The cursor just sitting there, flashing. Taunting. Mocking you. The paperwork sitting in front you as you read what to expect in CPE. The forms to fill out for your Portico Heath Plan.
The envelopes that will come later today. The worry that we will have the rug pulled out from under us after graduation. The feeling of rage because a neighborhood mental health clinic will be closing at the end of the month and the mayor refuses to acknowledge the pleas from members of the community to keep it open.
The sorrow that causes us weep when another of God's children is murdered on the streets of this city. The utter disbelief when laws are passed that say a woman's worth to society is not as much as a man's, or that a woman could potentially be pregnant even if she has not had sex. Or your town destroyed by tornadoes. Sometimes things just suck. The fear and the anxiety trap us in the upper room. So many possibilities. There is so much going on around us that keeps us from seeing the joy in Mary's eyes as she sits in the corner. As she sits with tears streaming down her cheeks. So many possibilities.
(Scene 3: The Visit.)
Just as the emotions of the day are at their apex. Just as Matthew ducks, dodging a flying glass from Peter. There is a rustle. The temperature drops. There is a breeze that comes through the windows. Suddenly Mary leaps to her feet, gasping. Then a voice, "Peace be with you." You try to stand, but your knees give way. The breath leaves you. Your face becomes as white at the robe this ghost is wearing. "Peace be with you."
This ghost shows you his hands and his feet. He lifts his robe and shows you his side. Your pulse is beginning to raise. Your feel your breaths quickening. Then, tears. They start flooding your eyes. You notice you are not alone. The others are stunned. Silent. Even Peter. Who has fallen to his knees before this, your risen teacher. Your risen rabbi! Andrew starts laughing. Laughing so hard that others begin to join.
They joy in the room is contagious. Mary, Martha's sister jumps up on the table with a tambourine and starts singing echoing the words of Miram, "Sing to the Lord, for HaShem has triumphed gloriously. Death and hate God has thrown into the darkness."
Then Jesus smiles and breathes out and the room is filled with the sweet smell of incense. The smell that is is offered to God, and as you inhale you are filled with something new. A new breath. A breath that revives you. A breath that reminds you of the time when you emerged from the water after your brother held you under too long. The breath of life.
Then Jesus speaks again saying, "Take this Holy Sprit. Receive it into your being. Go. If you reveal me to people and they accept they will know the light, but if you reveal me to people and they do not accept, they will be in darkness." Then Jesus disappeared. You see Mary Magedelene. Sitting perfectly still. She has a white glow about her. She is the only one not talking about what has just happened.
Thomas returns to find the room in a completely different state than when he left. Looking at the jug of wine is his hand, he wondered where the hidden wine was that turned the mood in the room so. The white lies he was hearing were just unbelievable.
Jesus could not have been in the room. He could not have just left, he would have seen him walking down the road. He drops the wine jug on the table, and leaves again. The others take pause and consider Thomas' skepticism. A week later, they are gathered for another meal. Thomas is with them. Over the week the others' joy has faded. They did not really leave the room other than to get food and drink to bring back. They began to second guess what they saw. They kept sending Mary on errands to keep her away from them because she kept saying what they saw was real.
Just then, as they were breaking bread Jesus showed up again. "Peace be with you. Thomas, believe, come, touch my hands and feet. Put your hand in my side." As soon as he touched him, Thomas fell to the floor, "My LORD and my God." With that Mary sprung across the room and embraced Jesus, for in that moment He had ascended to the Father. "Dear friend, because you have seen, you have believed. Blessed are those who don't see and believe." For they all saw. And they all believed. So many possibilities.
(Scene 4: Jesus keeps showing up)
And again their joy faded. They went back to Galilee and returned to fishing instead of going out and sharing the light. But Jesus shows up and feeds them.
When they were gathered again in that upper room, and a great wind filled it sending them out proclaiming the word of the Lord in tongues the did not know. Jesus shows up.
Jesus shows up. When one of them would be suffering. When a meal was not to be had. The things they had in common they shared. Jesus shows up. When a pharisee was on the road to persecute followers of the way. Jesus shows up.
When an apostle of the Lord was exiled to Patmos. Jesus shows up. When the gospel came into the hands of an African man named Augustine who had just hit rock bottom. Jesus shows up.
When an Augustinian monk became so angered at a church that sought to sell the free gift of Grace that he nailed 95 theses to the church door. Jesus shows up.
When an English pastor named John Smyth came to understand one has the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to accept this free gift of grace and was baptized by choice. Jesus shows up.
When an radical baptist was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and paid the Narragassette Natives for their land, a land that would become the beacon of religious liberty. Jesus shows up.
When the People of God came to understand that a human begin is a child of God no matter their skin color. When the voices of Fredrick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and Nat Turner began to be heard. Jesus shows up.
When women realized that they had the power to cause change, and Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells-Barnett marched. Jesus shows up.
When a woman refused to move to the back of the the bus because her feet were tired. Jesus shows up.
When an African-American woman and her child joined our circle of prayer in the park as we sought forgiveness for our complacency and the sin of racism.Jesus shows up.
When a community gathers and barricades themselves into a clinic to proclaim healing for the sick. Jesus shows up.
When your house is demolished by twisting winds of destruction, and you are met with a community that will hold you up even in their own loss. Jesus shows up.
When we emerge from the waters of baptism, taking in that first sweet breath of new life. Jesus shows up.
When we break bread and drink wine together around the table of the Lord. Jesus shows up.
When we are in our highest of highs and our lowest of lows, Jesus has this habit of always showing up when we least expect it. Just when we need it. Showing us what ever we need to see to know it is him. Showing us his hands. Showing us his feet. When we finish that final foot note.
When we sit at the bedside of a suffering patient. When we are fed by our classmates when we don’t have the energy to do anything. When we open that envelope and learn that even if it is not where we hoped to go, we will be met by Martha with an apple pie. Jesus keeps showing up.
Jesus keeps showing up because Alleluia Christ is Risen! (Christ is Risen indeed, alleluia). So many possibilities.