Dawning Awareness [OR Knocked on Wood Recently?] Mark 16:1-8

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 4, 2021 – Easter!

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Mark 16:1-8  When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus’ body]. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

[sermon begins]

You know that moment when things start to come together? A piece of evidence here, an observant comment there, now aligning with a random story you heard but can’t remember where, all connect to gradually take shape – dawning awareness moving into the full light of day. The pandemic started out that way. A news story there, a parishioner’s comment here, wondering about the latest rumor, and then BAM! – the governor locked down the state. There are millions of stories around the world and then each of us have our own million stories to tell. Mine include a small one about a Christmas cactus – a glorious, 20-year-old cascading beast that showed up at my door as a small sprout in the fundraising hands of a marching band kid.

The cactus moved into my church office a few years ago and had never done better. Native to the rain forest floor, he gets the long, dark nights in the office that are needed for the big winter bloom (yes, he’s a “he,” just roll with me on this). I lugged him home at the start of the pandemic. Lately it’s dawned on me that he needs to move back to the office. His blooms were lovely this winter but sparse. Funny thing. I’m hesitant to bring him back. It feels like I might jinx the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel – which of course is absolutely ridiculous. At the same time, it feels pretty human. I’d guess that at least a few us recently “knocked on wood” after saying something good in order to prevent back luck. Many of us don’t really outgrow the magical thinking of our childhoods. We just learn how to hide it better. The truth is that we don’t control nearly as much as we’d like to think, or as much as we wish we could. That’s the essence of the Easter story.

Easter morning reveals a stone rolled back and an empty tomb. But before that happened, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome had followed Jesus on his ministry. They looked on from a distance and saw Jesus die on the cross.[1] They’d also watched as his body was placed in the tomb hewn out of rock.[2] Reality after reality had hit them head on. The women were under no illusions about the recent trauma. They were, however, having a difficult time getting their heads around what was happening tomb-side. We can imagine them packing up spices, feeling numb and exhausted, and walking to the tomb. Probably not speaking much except to wonder how they were going to get into the tomb to anoint Jesus. That’s a heavy stone sealing it. The first one to get there stops, the second one stops, and then the third. Blinking to clear their eyes. Then staring so their minds catch up to what they’re seeing. And then looking at each other to confirm the visual gradually taking shape in front of them in the light of dawn. The tomb is empty.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome make their way into the tomb. Armed with spices and a plan to care for Jesus’ body they instead were met by a young man, very much upright and talking, and very much not Jesus. He fast tracked the women into a new reality. They go from gentle dawning awareness of seeing the stone rolled back to terror and amazement as the young man dressed in white announces, “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised.” New life has been unleashed and they have no idea what it means or what to do. Instead of telling Peter, as they’d been instructed by the young man, “…they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” It’s hard to blame them for being afraid. That’s a lot to take in after the cruelty and trauma of Jesus’ trial, torture, and execution. The women didn’t yet know whether Jesus being raised was good news or not. Eventually, they must have figured it out because here we are, picking up the story where it leaves off, invited to do what the young man in white told the women to do – “Go and Tell.”

“Go and tell.” Here on Easter morning our story parallels the women’s story. We started out talking about dawning awareness, Christmas cacti, and the women’s story at the tomb. Uneventful, Eastery business so far. But the telling part? WE just fast tracked into a new reality that calls for saying something out loud. Yikes! Anyone feel angst about saying something out loud? Want to get away from the empty tomb with the women as far as your credit card will carry you? Let’s take it down a notch then. The women regrouped at some point and so can we. We can say what we know. That’s it.

Ernest Hemingway used to tell writers who were blocked to “write one true sentence; write the truest sentence that you know.”[3] Similarly, as we interact with scripture and our own experience, we find the words or the situation that is the truest one that we know. For me, it was a few words in an obscure verse in a tiny book towards the end of the Bible. “God is love.”[4] I hung onto those words like I was drowning. Because at that time, I kinda was. You may have chosen peace over pain and finally forgiven yourself as God’s forgiveness took hold of you.[5] It may be that your self-pity has worn you out, and Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself unleashed you into the world to do some good.[6] Or it could be that the last year has exhausted you so thoroughly that you’re at Easter worship hoping for something but you’re not sure what that could even be.

Tell what you know. That’s the starting point. In the weeks, months, and years after Jesus’ birth, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection, Jesus’ followers told the story bit by bit, sharing it with each other and other people, and finally writing it down. Theirs was a process of faith in the same way ours is a process of faith. Shaky with doubt or trusting and celebratory, we seek to understand the promises of the cross and resurrection in our daily lives with a dawning awareness – a piece of evidence here, an observant comment there, now aligning with a random story you heard but can’t remember where, finally an experience in your life that ties the pieces together to gradually take shape.

Like the women at the tomb, suffering and fear make it difficult to see the new life that God promises. New life often reveals itself way after the fact as we look back on our experiences. Trusting by faith in God’s power to bring new life after trauma, over our own power to try and control, can be terrifying. BUT it can also be amazing. Easter invites us into dawning awareness along with the women at the empty tomb. New life isn’t something we can jinx by talking about it or moving our plants around. We also can’t wish new life were here when it’s not here yet. We’re just not that powerful. But watch what God can do.

 

 

p.s. It’s definitely time for the Christmas Cactus to return to the office.

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[1] Mark 15:40-41

[2] Mark 15:47

[3] Ernest Hemingway. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/30849-all-you-have-to-do-is-write-one-true-sentence

[4] 1 John 4:16b

[5] Ephesians 4:32

[6] Mark 12:33

My Dog Sunny and the Apostle Peter Have Something in Common [OR Jesus’ Commands Us to Love One Another – How’s That Going?] John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church for Maundy Thursday on April, 1, 2021

John 13:1-17, 31b-35  Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

[sermon begins]

 

My dog Sunny doesn’t like baths. I’ve seen videos of dogs who loves baths loaded with bubbles, laying on their backs with shower caps on just to be silly. Sunny? Not so much. I have to coax her with treats into the tub and remind her that I love her while she presses her head into my shoulder. This makes washing her face a real challenge. You’d think we’d have this down after almost seven years, but it seems it’s as good as it gets. This story about Sunny is a tricky because, yes, I’m comparing Sunny to Peter in the Bible story. He doesn’t want a bath either. His issues may be different than her issues, in fact they really are different, but the bottom line is the same. He won’t get in the water. Well, he won’t put his feet in the water. You’d think he’d have this down after several years of ministry with Jesus. Jesus tells them what to do and they do it, right? Peter seems to mess up the process over and over again. It’s handy that Peter does this a lot because it makes it easier to see ourselves in the story. If the Bible were full of perfect people being with a perfect Jesus it would be much harder to connect.

Many of us are like Sunny and Peter. We find it hard to trust and would rather come up with our own ideas. That’s pretty much what the Holy Week and Easter stories are – we find it hard to trust and would rather come up with our own ideas. Thank God for Jesus. Jesus reminds Peter and us that our own ideas may not be best for us or each other. The Bible story says that Jesus knew that he came from God and was going to God. Right after that, Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around his waist and starts washing dirty, stinky disciple feet. He gets to Peter. Peter argues with him. He looks up to Jesus. Jesus is his leader. He doesn’t want Jesus washing his feet. Jesus basically tells Peter that this is the way it works. This is the way Jesus works. Jesus is a servant. A servant from God who washes feet and tells us to love each other like he loves us, a love in service to each other.

Before anybody runs out and starts washing other people’s feet, think bigger. We are named ‘child of God’ as we’re bathed in the water of baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Children of God, washed by God. Like Jesus in our Bible story today, we can say that we now come from God and one day we will go to God.[1] That’s handled. And by the power of the Holy Spirit through our baptism we are given gifts that help us serve in the way that Jesus asks us to serve.

During Communion Instruction class, I asked each parent to say something that they liked about their child. The answers included “love of music, zest for life, loves dogs, kind, snuggly, determined, and loves to read.” Being limited to one answer is tough. I’m sure the lists of what you parents like about these kids would be a mile long. But the point is this, the list of qualities, things about you that make you you, these can also be called gifts from God. Gifts that you can use to serve and love the world. It’s pretty simple even though we complicate it with ambition, goals, and what everyone else seems to be doing. Those are distractions. Gifts you’re given to serve are the very ones you’re given to lead. Jesus led his disciples and leads us with wisdom, determination, kindness, intensity, vulnerability, love, grace, and more – a real mishmash of gifts. We’re not Jesus but we’re similarly mishmashed.

It’s been a mishmash kind of year though, so we fit right in. It’s been a year of figuring a lot of things out including how to serve each other. Our old standbys of service like hugs, spending time with people who need a boost of emotional support, serving meals, and holding a hand have been changed. Everyone who works or goes to school outside their home has experienced dramatic changes in how we serve through our different roles. We had to get creative in our ways to work, learn, serve, and stay in touch. Reimagining so much of our lives has been an adjustment in using our mishmash of gifts.

Jesus doesn’t leave us there though, with our confusing jumble of gifts. Jesus gives us each other as the church to figure out those gifts and he gives us the food we need for the journey. That’s what Holy Communion is about at its most basic level. It’s food for the journey of faith. First, it’s food for the journey purely as a gift from God – a blessing and promise of forgiveness and faith from God to us. It’s also food for the journey to do what God asks us to do. To be strengthened and freed to love and serve each other as Jesus loves and serves us.

Jesus’ meal of bread and wine that we share in communion draws us deeply into an even wider community too. The other Bible story that we heard together was long ago. It’s called the Passover story. It’s a story about how God freed God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Our Jewish cousins in the faith celebrate Passover to this day. Jesus was a Jew and connected the lifeline of Passover to the lifeline that we celebrate as Holy Communion when he was with his friends at a Passover celebration. Jesus expanded the promise that God made to the Jews to be a promise for all people. His new covenant connects us with God’s ancient promises as we move into the future. Jesus’ set a table for one and for all people, as Jesus table set for you.

Things happen quickly during communion. There are words, and prayers, and often singing. It can be easy to miss what’s happening in the special celebration that Jesus gave us. The words from our other Bible reading are the main words to hear. Listen to that Bible reading again:

…Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. [1 Corinthians 11:23b-25]

These words are the promise. Jesus promises that what he did – every word he spoke against harm, greed, and hatred while speaking for love of God, enemy, and neighbor, for grace and forgiveness, for faith and generosity, for hope and healing; every word that made him that much more vulnerable to death on a cross – is a promise strong enough to claim us by faith.

Today we celebrate Jesus’s table, where there is a place for everyone and there is a place for you.

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[1] John 13:3

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1 Corinthians 11:23-26   For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Exodus 12:1-4,  11-14   The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. [5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. ] 11This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.