Tag Archives: Matthew

Not Easter as we are used to anyways

*This sermon is a collaboration with my partner in life and ministry, the Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker. You can find her on twitter @ReedmanParker*

GOSPEL: Matthew 28:1-10

1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.(Read the whole passage)

While it was still dark.
While it was still night.
While she could not see.
While she thought death held sway.
While she grieved.
While she wept.
While it was still dark, resurrection began

While It Was Still Dark by Jan Richardson

I imagine Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, walking together to the tomb where Jesus had been placed just days earlier. These were not mere acquaintances of Jesus. These were not even his disciples. These were his friends, his family. 

And they were leaving their homes, leaving their loved ones. Leaving in spite of a lockdown to go to the tomb. To complete the burial rite. 

Many of us have walked that walk. To the resting places of our loved ones: public visitations at funeral homes or in the intimacy of someone’s home. It wasn’t that long ago that it was commonplace to hold a wake, a time to offer prayers, to gather in community to mourn our collective loss, and to offer support to one another in our grief. 

For those of us who have walked that walk know the precarious nature of grief. We know that a loved one has died. We know that life will never be the same. That our day-to-day existence, our relationships have all changed. There is an emptiness in the space between where our loved one was, and is no longer. In the liminal time when when we’ve become aware that death has happened, but before the wave of emotion hits us like a tsunami.

This is how I imagine Mary Magdalene and the other Mary leaving their physically isolated homes to go to the tomb where Jesus lay. 

We know that life has changed. We know that life will never be the same again. But we don’t know how… we don’t know the specifics. All we know is that there was then… and there is now… and somehow, someway, there will be a future we can’t yet see or imagine.

This is not how we usually do this.” 

A phrase that we have been repeating over and over again in the past days and weeks. A month into physical distancing measures and the Coronavirus has taken over our lives, even if we are not infected. 

And yet, we have been practicing for this moment as the church, practicing being disrupted by change, practicing muddling along with unfamiliar technology, unwanted changes, disruptions to our tried and true ways to going about our life as a community. 

But today acceptance of these changes has been forced and accelerated.

Because we are forced to stay home, forced to use the 21st century technology that we have been resisting, forced to re-imagine what it means to be community. 

And so there is also something familiar, or maybe original and authentic about this Easter morning. 

The family gatherings and traditions, the easter egg hunts, and roast hams, the colourful spring dresses and ties, the long weekend outdoors… they weren’t part of the first Easter. 

Hiding out in homes, behind locked doors and fearful of the outside world. That is original Easter. 

On the morning of that third day, the disciples were in hiding. After Good Friday, after the crucifixion of their teacher and friend at the hands of empire and religion, they went into lockdown. 

But it isn’t the disciples, the male disciples that we usually think of who at the heart of the easter story. 

It is the women. 

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. 

The disciples are hiding away, but the women go out into the early morning darkness. They go out because they must. Their friend has died and there is no one but them to tend to his body.

They are essential workers. 

The orderlies and respiratory therapists and radiologists who make their way to hospitals in the early morning darkness because they must. 

They are the childcare providers and animal rescue workers and tow truck drivers who are still on the job every day to keep just enough of the world functioning to fight pandemic. 

They are the researchers and epidemiologists and hockey equipment turned PPE manufacturers working round the clock to save lives, flatten curves and keep us safe. 

They are the grocery store mangers, and civic water filtration engineers and steel distributers making sure the systems that need to function keep functioning so as not to add any other crisis to our collective plates in this moment. 

They are the caretakers of ritual and dignity, the ones who make sure that Jesus doesn’t become just another number on a Roman crucifixion accounting ledger, but is still treated as a person, a human being, even in death. 

The women go because they must. 

And so unsure and afraid, they come to the tomb.

I imagine that if there was anything that they knew from Good Friday, if there was anything they could be sure of, it was the expectation of finding Jesus’ body, even if they didn’t quite know how they Ould gain access into the tomb.

These women, like us, didn’t know what the peak crisis moment would be, they didn’t know that you needed to be on the other side to understand. 

They didn’t know what we already know, they found that Good Friday had something new and unexpected to declare. 

Instead of the body of their dear and beloved friend, they find something, someone else entirely. 

A messenger.
A divine messenger.
“Do not be afraid,” the Angel says. 

How is fear not possible in this moment? When nothing is as it should be? When nothing and no one is the same.

“He has been raise from the dead,” The divine messenger declares.

How can this still be the same world that women live in?

“Go quickly and tell his disciples… you will see him.”

How can this be where Good Friday has taken them? Where the cross has taken them?

Where this empty tomb has taken them?

This divine messenger, this angel has changed their world, changed their understanding of everything that came before. 

But still the old world remains.

There is still empire and oppression.
There are still paranoid Kings and cruel imperial governors.
There are still soldiers in the streets and police at the ready.
There is still danger and persecution
There are still locked doors.
There are still incredulous disciples hardly willing to believe the word of a woman. 

Empty tombs, and Angels from heaven and shocking news of resurrection don’t make those things go away. 

Not then.
And not today.

On this Easter morning:
There are still news conferences with case numbers and death tolls.
There are still politicians playing games with our lives.
There are still deniers in the streets and anxious shoppers waiting in line.
There is still fear and anxiety and uncertainty.
There are still our locked doors, and lonely easter meals coupled with seemingly empty hearts.
There are still the empty feelings of our lives, the emotional and spiritual cost that physical distance demands.
There is still the thought of when things go back to normal… back to the before time.

Empty tombs, and Angels from heaven and shocking news of resurrection don’t make those things go away either. 

Sin and suffering and death don’t just go away. 

“Do not be afraid” the Angel said, even in the midst of all these things. 

And if empty tombs, and Angels streaming down from heaven were not enough, 

Jesus greets the women too. 

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus says. 

Because the things of this old world that remain, do not have the final say.
Because the empty tomb changes our world.
Because resurrection transforms all things.
Because new life found is where should only be death
Because the risen Christ has the final say.

Empires and oppression, news conferences and death tolls; cannot put down the Risen One.
Paranoid kings, cruel imperial governors, game playing politicians cannot control New Life
Soldiers and pandemic deniers in the streets cannot keep Jesus from us.
Danger and fear, persecution and anxiety are not more powerful than empty tombs.
Locked doors and lonely meals do not limit Christ’s access.
Unbelieving disciples and the emptiness within are not the story that Christ writes for us.

Today is still Easter, even if the women weren’t expecting it, even if we don’t feel like it.

Not Easter as we are used to anyways. 

Yet, today is the day of Resurrection, the day of New Life, the day of New Beginnings that we need. 

The Easter that the Risen Christ brings to us today. 


Two Sparrows for a Penny

Matthew 10:24-39
Jesus said to the twelve disciples…,

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

“For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household… (Read the whole passage) 
As we begin this long season of green in the church, we start with some bold words from Jesus as told to us by the Gospel of Matthew. You would think that we could start this season of Jesus’ parables, preaching, and ministry with something a little more tame. But that is not Matthew’s style.

The 4 gospels, and their four authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell the same story, but in very different ways. Just like 4 pastors might preach very different sermons on the same topic. If we were to imagine what kind of people the gospel writers were, John might remind us of an academic, a professor type passionately using lots of words to describe his topic of study. Luke would be the compassionate care-giver, always thinking of the less fortunate. Mark should remind us of a mystic, a wise spiritual advisor who never says more than he has to.

And then comes Matthew. Matthew is like the TV evangelist, the mega church preacher preaching to a stadium of people. Matthew is the type who has all the answers. Matthew can spitfire verse after verse of scripture without hardly taking a breath. Matthew knows what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad.

And so, as we hear Matthew collect some of the sayings of Jesus, he gives them to us in spitfire fashion, one after another. 

Together, they almost sound like a warning. Warnings about being in the right allegiance, about following Jesus in the right way, about being a disciple and the dangers of what will happen if we choose the wrong side:
“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!”
“rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
“whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
“For I have come to set a man against his father,”
“whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me”

Wow… harsh stuff.

The Gospel of Matthew has been the most popular gospel of Christian history. For nearly 1000 years, it was the only Gospel that christians used. And when we hear what Matthew offers us today, as harsh as Jesus sounds, Matthew’s popularity makes sense. Matthew offers us what we want to hear. Easy answers. Right and wrong answers. Matthew offers us a legalistic path to the truth. Do this, this and this, and you will be okay. Do that, that and that, and you will go to hell.

Matthew’s approach to Jesus’s words appeals to our fears. Matthew frightens us into feeling secure. Matthew warns us of the danger in the world, and then tells how we can avoid it. Just like a good salesmen or TV evangelist.

And we lap it up.

We love the binary, right/wrong, us/them answers. We love the categories of us and them. We like knowing what to be afraid of in the world, and how we can protect ourselves. We like it all because it is easy, it feels safe, we feel like we are in control.
And that need for control comes from a place deep within us. It is from Original Sin, the Old Adam, the Old Sinner that wants to be like God that drives to easy answers that Matthew and so many others try to give us. And it this original sin that what we are washed of in Baptism. 

In Baptism, God begins the hard work of stripping away our need for control, our desire to be like God. And it is hard for us too. It is hard to deal with questions. Answers are easy. It is hard work to live with the ambiguities, the grey in life. Binary, right/wrong is easy. But it is hard to be uncertain, to be vulnerable. It is easy to know who and what to be afraid of so we can stay safe.

We don’t want to deal with questions or uncertainty or ambiguity. We like it when someone gives us the answers we want to hear.

But that is not Jesus’s way.
Even while Matthew is trying to give us the harsh Jesus, the one who warns, one with easy answers and ways to protect oneself from all the dangers, Matthew cannot help but let Jesus break through with the Gospel. In the midst of swords, devils, fighting families, choosing sids, taking up our cross, denying Jesus… It almost passes us by.
Two sparrows for a penny. Jesus says, do not two sparrows cost a penny. Two things so invaluable and worthless that you can’t even sell one for a penny, you have to offer two. Even these do not live or die apart from God. God is interested in everything or everyone. God is not choosing sides, God is not about right/wrong binaries, God is not out there offering easy answers. Jesus is showing us a God who is found even with the worthless sparrows. Nothing is too small, too inconsequential for God. In a world that wants Jesus to tell us what we want to hear… this is not it.
And even St. Matthew, the author of the most famous and often used of the Gospels, cannot keep Jesus breaking through to us, breaking through our desire for easy  answers. Matthew cannot help but show us God. 
So often the answers we long to hear are not the ones that God gives to us. Even as Matthew strives to give us a Jesus who is out separating good from bad, right from wrong, and while we lap it up. No matter how much we want the easy, safe, secure, certain answers, Jesus is giving us something else.

Jesus is giving us questions, Jesus is giving us ambiguity, Jesus is telling us that God’s concern for the world is so much bigger than we can imagine. Two sparrows for a penny. Something that isn’t even worth the smallest coin imaginable… even this sparrow does not live or die apart from God. God is working in ways and in places that we would never think to look. It is not flashy or showy or easy. It isn’t a list of requirements or steps to follow. It is hard, yet life giving work.

And what God is up to begins in baptism, begins in the waters of new life. God uses baptismal waters to introduce new questions into our world, questions of mercy, forgiveness, and life. God shows us that God’s world is so much deeper and wider than we could ever imagine.

Matthew’s harsh words like sword, Beelzebub, denial, against, unworthy – they are designed to scare us, scare us into binary right-wrong thinking and easy answers. But today, Jesus is all about the sparrow. The thing that seems worthless, even this is important to God. God breaks through our desire for an easy to categorize world. God breaks through with questions and ambiguity, but God also breaks through in the baptismal waters with grace, mercy and new life.