It’s already past noon here. I really needed that Monday morning coffee!! It was a really different kind of Mother’s Day yesterday.
We couldn’t travel to see our son and family in California. And they couldn’t come here.
We couldn’t fly to see our daughter and family in Switzerland. And they couldn’t fly here.
We couldn’t even go into the Madison Valley Manor nursing home to give our friends there a hug.
BUT, we could go and see our dear Elaine Forsberg through the window! And the CNA came to the door and took my balloons and delivered them to three dear friends there: Elaine, Phyllis and Kitty. The latter two couldn’t come to the Sun Room to greet us at the window, but Elaine did. Yay!
It’s a sad sign of the times when this pandemic keeps us from the warm hugs that brighten our days. We will never take those hugs for granted again!
As a group of family and friends, we gathered outside the Sun Room window and sang “Happy Mother’s Day” to Elaine.
Elaine’s son and daughter-in-law, her daughter and son-in-law, and a few grandkids and friends braved the gray, cold, windy spring Montana day to cheer her. It cheered us, too.
“Whatever you bring into the lives of others comes back into your own.”
My mom always told me that. Did you hear that as a child, too?
That smile was worth a million bucks.
If I coulda done so, I woulda delivered a basket of tulips to each of the Manor residents… and I’d send a basket of flowers to each of you, too. Thank you, my blogging friends, for visiting JanBeek today. I hope you had a memorable, happy Mother’s Day.
Our daughter, DeAna (who lives in Switzerland), called on FaceTime yesterday. She and her “Mother-in-Love” Denise were having a glorious Mothers’ Day. My son-in-law, Andre’ and three grandsons made a fabulous dinner with a beautiful dessert for their mom/grandmama and even cleaned up all the dishes afterward!
DeDe and Andre’ are going through some tough times right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away their jobs. They are weighing some difficult decisions about their future. I keep them in my daily prayers. Thank God for the Internet so we can stay connected.
Ty and Monika called us on one of those social media apps (FaceTime or WhatsApp …) and we had a wonderful chat. Their lives are kinda topsy-turvy right now, too. I hope you were able to talk yesterday with all the people who matter most to you, too.
It must be especially difficult for people like Phyllis’ daughters, Lisa, Avis, and Julie. Phyllis is one of my dear friends at the Manor Nursing Home. Her daughters are scattered states away from their mom – – – and unable to visit her right now. My heart goes out them.
There was a beautiful blog written about that very subject yesterday:
“… forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward…”
I need you to see a photo of my youngest granddaughter when she was a little baby. Read on and I’ll tell you why I want you to see this on a post that’s all about where you’re headed. Here’s Faith Austynn Beekman:
Faith was adopted at birth by our son, Ty, and his wife Monika. The story of her adoption is a good one for another day. But for now, let me fast-forward:
Faith has grown to be a woman of great faith. This photo of her between her two grandmothers was taken two years before she graduated from High School. I tried to find my photo of her at her graduation, but this was as close as I came to it.
Ah, tenacity… it paid off… I found it! Here Faith is with us on the day of her graduation. Look at how much taller she is! Or did I just shrink?
Why do you think it was so important to see Faith on her graduation day – on this post titled, “Where ya Headed?” Well, a scripture with ta similar message as Philippians 3:13 – was printed on the top of her commencement hat! Hebrews 12:1 …
Fast forward again. Here is Faith with her fiance’, Kyle McSparron, on the day of their engagement:
And here they are at the rehearsal dance the day before their wedding:
Faith’s life so far is a fairy tale of love and success and faithful direction. Obedience to God and to her parents’ teachings, adherence to Biblical Principles, and the tenacity to “run with endurance the race God has set before [her]” are criterion that characterize her young life.
Living the Race
Faith and Kyle joined her parents (our son) Ty and Monika with their dog, Nakota at our home for Thanksgiving last year. Kyle has an electrical business that is suffering the downturn caused by this COVID-19 pandemic. He needs our prayers as he works to keep the company afloat.
Faith is working for the state of Nevada as a “Disaster Preparedness Advisor” (that may not be the exact title, but you get the idea. Her job is particularly vital right now… and much can be done on-line. Moving forward, we can see the two of them are living Hebrews 12:1 as fully as possible.
Bob & I are in our pj’s in that photo because it was very early on the morning they were leaving to head back to California.
“Don’t look back. You’re not headed that way!”
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”
I don’t know to whom I should attribute that quote, but it sounds like somebody like Billy Graham would have said it… or Mother Theresa.” And I know it is so true. God is in charge of where I’m headed. If today’s world and our circumstances are any indication, then we know the path to where we’re going is a rocky one. The only way to navigate it is through faith and prayer.
See that moose on my bed? When Faith was about 6 or 7, she and her family came to visit us. We spent a day in Yellowstone National Park. It’s ony an hour’s drive from our home. At the end of the visit, she and her three siblings were given the opportunity to go into the gift shop and buy themselves something to help them remember the trip. Faith bought this moose – and then gave it to me! She has such a loving heart!
Each morning when I make my bed, I place “Faithful,” this little moose in front of the pillows, and I say a prayer for Faith and Kyle. I thank God for Faithful, my reminder of my granddaughter Faith – and I thank Him for her and her faith, for her beautiful marriage to Kyle, and I ask God to watch over them.
May God watch over you today, too, my friends. And may He guide you as you “Run with endurance the race He set before you.” Look to a bright future… It’s coming! Face Forward – That’s where you’re headed.
Sermon and prayers by Rev. Steve Hundley Song selections by Fran McNeill
Preparation for Worship:
Bless us, O God, with a reverent sense of Your presence, that we may be at peace and may worship You with all our minds and spirits; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Call to Worship:Psalm 116: 12-13
What can we give back to God for the blessings He has poured out on us?
We will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
Blow upon us, O Lord, the fresh wind of Your Spirit. Refresh our souls, which are weary from continuous social distancing. Help us to forget for a little while the difficulties of daily existence, and breathe from Your presence new hope, new purpose, and new direction for our lives. Embolden us to pray and seek Your face, that everything else may find its proper place in these unprecedented times. Amen.
Prayer of Confession:
Gracious Lord, teach us always to respect and love all the lives You create. Forgive our lack of concern and love for those who are silently suffering around the world in the face of this ongoing pandemic. Forgive us when we are negligent and uncaring for those who are most vulnerable; for those who are elderly; for those forgotten in nursing homes; for those who have little or no access to medical care; for those essential workers on the front lines; and, for those who have and continue to suffer from a careless society. Teach us to open our hearts and our lives up in ways that will be beneficial to all. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 32: 3-5
Hear these words of hope from the Psalmist: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the guilt of my sin.
A Children’s Message for Adults, too!
(a true story)
In early spring in the Blue Ridge mountains where I grew up, we would plant a garden full of corn and vegetables, as well as a strawberry patch. There were also apple and pear trees, not to mention the wild grapes, blackberries, huckleberries, and raspberries that grew in the woods.
Every summer my mother would pull out the old pressure cooker and spend days canning quart jars of every kind of vegetables and berries and put them away in the cellar. Then when winter came and the ground was cold, icy, and barren and nothing seemed to be alive, mom would go down into the cellar, come up with some canned vegetable or savory berry preserve, and it would be May and June once more at our family table, and how blessed we were!
During this difficult time while we are all forced to stay home for fear of getting or spreading the dangerous coronavirus, I can’t help but think about how many of us spent hours in front of the television, on our computers and phones playing video games, or watching meaningless YouTube videos. It occurred to me that there is hardly anything there to nourish the soul or help us through this pandemic. There’s not a calorie there at all that can strengthen us when life is hard and barren.
That is why it is so important that we turn to the stories of our faith: the stories of the Old Testament, the stories of Jesus—His life and ministry, as well as the other letters and books of the Bible. By dipping down into the deep reservoir of God’s Word for all life and faith, we can find nourishment for the facing of these days.
Message: At Home with the Risen Lord
Two travelers on the road, making the seven-mile hike from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Why Emmaus? Well, it would appear that they live there. Emmaus is home. Still, the excitement and energy usually associated with home—the place where we belong—the place where we grew up, is not evident on these traveler’s faces, nor can it be heard in their voices. The joy we normally associate with a homecoming is nowhere to be found. Instead, their hopelessly slow pace exposes their disappointment and disillusionment. The reality is, their demeanor has more to do with where they are coming from than where they are heading.
These two travelers are leaving the holy city of Jerusalem. They are leaving because there is nothing left for them there. They are leaving because everything they had hoped for and dreamed of, is gone. They are leaving because the One in whom they had placed their faith is dead. They are leaving because their hope has been nailed to a cross. Their Savior is dead. The movement is over.
Unable to ignore the tired and empty look on their faces or the despair in their voices, a stranger inquires: “What is your conversation about?” Now, having to explain the cause of one’s pain only serves to intensify it. So, stopping dead in their tracks, Luke says: “They just stood there looking sad.” Suddenly, the one named Cleopas breaks the silence: “Who are you, Rip Van Winkle?” (He didn’t really say that, but that is what he meant.) “Are you the only one who does not know what has happened?” You can almost hear the mixture of amazement and irritation ringing in his voice. And, who can blame him? They had wagered everything on this Jesus, and lost!
Have you ever lost? I mean, really lost? It is an empty feeling, like a political incumbent, who though their candidacy was certain, waits to the last hour to concede defeat. Arriving at his campaign headquarters, surrounded by a remnant of faithful supporters and the media, of course, steps to the podium and says: “I really thought we were going to win. We gave it our best shot, and we lost. But the people have spoken, and they have chosen Barabbas. I would like to thank all of you who came out. But, before we go, could you take down the posters and the streamers? We want to leave the place just as if we were never here.”
“We lost,” Cleopas says to the stranger. “Jesus was turned over to the authorities, condemned to death, and nailed to a cross, and there he died along with our greatest hopes and dreams.” Lost in his own despair and forgetting himself for a moment, Cleopas goes on to say, “Oh yes, some women surprised us babbling on about finding his tomb empty, and angels appearing and reporting him to be alive. But, we discounted it as nothing but an idle tale—some kind of cruel joke. You see, he died!”
Just ask those who were there. They will tell you: “We saw it all with our own eyes. He’s dead alright.” Ask his own mother: “Yes, I was there. My son died there on that cross.” Ask the soldiers: “Oh he’s dead alright, we made certain of that with one good thrust of a spear.” Even his closest disciples will tell you: “We didn’t get too close for obvious reasons, but yes, he is dead. And Joseph of Arimathea confirmed it. You see, he helped to take down the body and wrap it in a shroud to be laid in his own tomb.” Yes, Jesus is dead, and with him all the hopes and dreams of a new Israel.
Then, the stranger, the risen Lord unbeknownst to them, speaks. He speaks as if He sees something wonderful that they cannot see. He speaks as if the hopeless and meaningless events of the past three days make perfect sense. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” Luke says, “He interprets to them in all the scriptures, the things concerning Himself!” For Cleopas and his traveling companion, it must have been something like finding the missing pieces of an incomplete puzzle.
I don’t know about you, but as I read this scripture, I couldn’t help but wonder why the Risen Jesus didn’t just say: “WHY THE LONG FACES? CHEER UP! IT IS ME, IN THE FLESH! “I WAS DEAD, BUT NOW I AM ALIVE AGAIN!” (I know; I know…I had a New Testament professor who once said that I tended to ask questions that no one else would even think to ask. I wonder if he meant it as a compliment? I meant to ask him if I ever saw him again.) Besides, maybe Jesus was afraid what their response would be if he came right out and said: “Look, it is me, Jesus, alive and well.”
I remember years ago, helping to lay the foundation for a medical clinic in the mountains of Haiti. As we were digging the footings for the building, I asked if there were any poisonous snakes in Haiti. I was told that there were no snakes at all on the island, so there was nothing to worry about. However, one morning about 6:00 a.m., while walking up the hill towards our work site, low and behold, in the middle of the path was a small brown snake. Calling out to two Haitian women carrying their goods to the market, I motioned for them to come and see what I had found. I thought clearing up a national misconception was the honorable thing to do. But, one look at that snake caused the two women to fling their goods into the air and tear off screaming and running down the side of the mountain! Perhaps, Jesus thought that He, too, would have received a similar response if He had come right out and announced His true identity. Hmm?
Instead, the risen Christ turns the two travelers’ attention back to the scriptures. He unfolds for them what God is doing in the world. He shows them how every reference in the Torah and the prophets describes what God has done or said which throws light on the events of the past three fateful days.
This is the reason we look to the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The scriptures remind us of God’s unfolding work in our world. Scripture sets our lives and these unprecedented times in their proper perspective. Sitting here in our own homes, not knowing what the next weeks might bring, scripture reminds us that our lives, too, are in a direct, long line of witnesses from Moses to David, to Jesus and Paul, to Augustine, to Martin Luther and John Calvin, to John Knox and John Wesley, to Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr, etc. Scripture reminds us that we are not alone in this world. Through scripture we can know that the God who presides over all history is our God, and that God is faithful no matter what is happening in our lives at any given moment.
I remember reading of a famous dancer who was a victim of a terrible accident. She lay in traction for months. When asked how she was able to survive during that time, she said: “Every day, I would dance the 23rd Psalm in my head.” And, it was through Scripture that the Apostle Paul discovered faith through grace alone. It was through Scripture that Augustine found meaning and purpose for living. It was through Scripture that John Wesley found his heart strangely warmed.And, it is through Scripture that our hearts are tendered and our eyes are opened to the power and presence of our risen Lord in these unprecedented times.
Sure, I know that some of what we find in Scripture is often violent, narrow, primitive, incomprehensible, disordered, and even weird. But, so are we. And the Bible is also about us. It is God’s dealing with the likes of us throughout history. Someone said:
If you look “at” a window, you see fly-specks, dust, the crack where Jr.’s frisbee hit it. If You look “through” a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a “holy bore” and those who see it as the “Word of God” which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past, into the depths of ourselves.”
So, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Luke tells us, Jesus opened for them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself, preparing them to see Him in all His resurrected glory.
“Stay with us,” the travelers said to the stranger, “and when the Risen Lord was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized them.”
Some years ago when my grandfather died, my uncle did most of the planning for his funeral. Still, I was surprised how hard he seemed to take his father’s death. Even so, he wrote a moving eulogy for his father, and asked the most elegant preacher in the Roanoke Valley to read it. Looking over at my uncle during the service, I could see the despair in his eyes. He did brighten up as his eulogy was read, but slumped down in the pew during the Scripture reading and funeral sermon, seemingly unaware of the promises of Scripture and words of hope and life that the preacher also shared that day. The Scriptures read were familiar passages of eternal hope and resurrection; words I used often at funeral services I conducted…words I believed. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take those words of hope and the resurrection to claim victory over the pain of my grandfather’s passing from this life to the next.
After my grandfather’s service, my aunt, with tears in her eyes, said that my uncle had refused to join the family for the meal she had prepared. He said that he would not party on the day of his father’s death. However, it was at that family meal following the service together with family and friends, that those funeral scripture passages began to claim their victory over death. It was at that meal that someone said the preacher: “I cannot help but think of those Scriptures you read. They were so fitting and true.” You see, it was at that family meal, where hope, peace, smiles, tears, and laughter shouted God’s victory over death. It was at that meal that our eyes were opened and we recognized the promises and presence of our risen Lord. After all, the scriptures readings had prepared us.
I am reminded of two children coloring their worksheets and talking about this story of “The Road to Emmaus” in their Sunday School Class. One asked: “How do you know when you are blind?”“You don’t,” said the other, “You only know afterwards, when you can see again.”
O God, whom we see in every sunrise and sunset, teach us to see You as well in the haggard faces of the medical worker and every essential worker on the front lines of this ongoing fight against this unseen, but deadly virus. Help us who are called by Your name to have Your vision of the future of our world, as a place where the lion lies down with the lamb, where the person with two coats shares with the person who has none, and where everyone takes care of the suffering, the sick, and the aged.
Release us from our bondage to self-interest, worrying about what we shall eat or what we shall wear or how we look to others who are watching us. Guide us into the freedom of Your Spirit, where we shall be at peace and confident and supportive of others.
Teach us to number our days as gifts, so that we may never treat them as obstacles to be overcome or burdens to be endured until our lives are back to normal. And, though we are apart, enable us to be a community of Christ, whose body we are. Give to us a special capacity for grace to reach out to those who are ill in body and spirit, and let the very sense of Your presence become their balm in these difficult days.
Give wisdom to the leaders of our world, that they may better cope with the confusion and complexity of this perilous time. Bring us all into a greater sensitivity to the needs of those who are suffering the most, whether from the virus or from the economic hardship it has caused. We pray too, for the family and friends of Neil Kent. We will miss his gentle spirit and contagious smile, but help us to hold near to our hearts the memory of his faith, perseverance, peaceful spirit by which he faces both life and death. We pray for Jerry and Sue Woodruff’s son-in-law, Ed. Lord, bring healing to his body and wisdom for the doctors and medical professionals treating him, that he may experience a complete recovery. Lord, use the surgeons and medical staff as your instruments of healing for little Ezra, and young Michael in these coming days.
Now let Your Holy Spirit overpower us as we worship, blotting out sin that would blind us to Your glory and raising us to the newness of life that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom in whose name we pray saying…Our Father, who art in heaven…
May the love of God surround you, The wisdom of God guide you, And the power of the Holy Spirit encourage you As you joyfully proclaim: “The whole world is in God’s hands.” Amen.
There are plenty of people out there who want to show their love to others. They want to give to make a difference. You are probably one of them.
Besides giving to those we love around us, there are “causes” we care about. We want to give love to those, too. Especially while staying at home during this COVID-19 pandemic, I have felt the need to reach out more than ever.
But, how do you know the cause is “legitimate,” and if you donate to a cause, then the money is going to its intended purpose – and not to line some executive’s pockets – or make an advertising company wealthy?
Intermountain is a nationally recognized nonprofit providing Hope & Healing for children, youth, and families.
On their website, this is INTERMOUNTAIN’s mission statement,
“When families need help with the complex emotional challenges children and teens sometimes face, Intermountain offers innovative treatment developed from years of experience. Our caring professionals rely on our relationship-based approach and client-centered treatment solutions to meet the individual needs of each child and family and help them heal. Our goal is to help every child and family we serve thrive and grow.”
Because I believe Intermountain is committed to meeting its goal – and I have visited its campus in Helena, Montana, and seen first-hand the enormous good they do, I am signed up for an automatic deduct from my retirement stipend each month to send a donation to Intermountain. It’s a small contribution, not enough for me to even miss it, but it is consistent. It adds up to real help when it happens month-after-month, year-after-year. I am committed to doing my small part.
If everyone who heard about Intermountain donated a small amount every month, just think of how much more they could do to help needy children and their families!
I have the assurance that my donation has arrived and is being put to good use because every single month I receive a thank you letter from Beth, the Sr. Development Officer there who is in charge of Special Events (and obviously also in charge of written acknowledgements). Here is a copy of the letter we received in January from Intermountain:
Where’s Your Heart’s Passion?
As an educator for 36 years, I have a passion for children – their health and well-being, their safety and their enlightenment.
I know there are children out there who are facing complex emotional challenges. I am not equipped to help each of them (but I wish I could). Their problems are beyond my resources of time, money, and skills.
Some face separation anxiety with parents who were abusive, or parents who are in prison, or parents who are deceased, or… well, you name it!
I can’t help them all, but I can do a little to support this place in Montana that DOES have the facility, the love, the skills and materials to make a difference.
God has blessed you to BE A BLESSING. If giving to Intermountain is not in your future, then look for a place in or near your community – a place that is legitimate – a place that pools its resources, love, and skills to make a difference in the lives of others in need. There are so many … so many less fortunate than we are … Reach Out to bless others in whatever way you are able!
It’s never too late to capture the 2020 vision…
Make it a year of 20/20 clarity of purpose! Think about your passions, think about your blessings, and with gratitude, consider your giving.
Tell me some way you are giving in love to share your blessings with others in need. I’d love to have you write your ideas in the comments section – and inspire others to give in love, too.
Thanks to Pastor Steve Hundley and our music minister, Fran McNiell, for the prayers, stories, and sermon, and the music for today’s worship service.
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
April 19, 2020
Risen Christ, the brightness of God’s glory and exact image of God’s Person, who death could not conquer nor tomb imprison, as You have shared our frailty in human flesh, help us to share Your immortality in the Spirit. Let no shadow of the grave terrify us and no fear of darkness turn our hearts from You. Reveal Yourself to us this day and all our days, as the First and the Last, the living One, our immortal Savior and Lord. Amen.
Prayer of Confession:
We confess, O God, that we have not lived the past weeks in the faith of Easter. We have been like the disciples, who saw life in terms of the suffering of the cross more than in the joy of resurrection. Forgive our hopelessness in the face of our world’s response to the COVID 19 pandemic, these past few weeks, and help us to trust more fully that You are the Lord of our future. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
As God raised Jesus from the dead, so God will lift us all from the graves of broken dreams. God makes us whole again and send us forth to witness to His name.
A Children’s Message for Adults, too!
Steve’s message for the children today tells of a boy carrying two buckets… not just one, and not on a sandy beach like this one… read on and see how his buckets and path differed from this!
(a true story)
When I was a boy, my mother would often send me down the road to Clyde’s cabin to help him with his laundry. Clyde lived in a log cabin he had built in the early nineteen-hundreds. His cabin had no running water, only a well out back. There was a creek out front less than a quarter mile from his front door.
Clyde had an old roller washing machine, a tub and an old scrub board. It was my job to carry water from the creek to the cabin in two old milk pails. I would fill the pails in the creek and make my way back to the cabin, pouring what water that didn’t spill or leak out of the buckets into the large tub. Filling each bucket to the rim each trip, I would arrive with less than half a bucket of water. At that rate, it would take me practically all day to supply enough water for Clyde’s washing and rinsing.
Complaining about the amount of water that I was spilling over the top of the buckets, not to mention the water lost from holes in his dilapidated buckets, Clyde instructed me to place a small block of wood in the buckets. He explained that the blocks of wood floating in the buckets would help water from splashing out the tops. Though it helped a little, I continued to leak water from the holes the buckets.
On one trip from the creek to the cabin with water leaking down my legs and into my shoes, I had had about enough. “Clyde,” I moaned, “When are you going to throw away these sorry buckets and buy new ones? These dented old rust buckets are full of holes.” Clyde just smiled his toothless grin and said, “Why boy, those are my special buckets. I could never get rid of them.” “But these sorry things are full of holes,” I whined. “And, it takes me twice the effort and double the trips back and forth from the creek, to fill your tubs.”
“Boy, take a look along that path leading down to the creek,” Clyde said. “Do you see all those beautiful wildflowers, lining the path?Every time you made the hard trip from the creek to the cabin, spilling water along the way, you were unknowingly watering God’s beautiful flowers for us to enjoy.”
Jesus’ followers found the path towards Easter to be really difficult. Peter denied knowing Jesus, not once, but three times, though he vowed never to do so. After that, he was so upset that he no longer considered himself worthy of being a disciple. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to watch her son suffer and die on the cross. Mary Magdalene was not only upset by Jesus’ death, but was horrified to think that someone had stolen His body when she found the stone rolled away.
I am sure that God could have found an easier path for them to follow than the way of the cross. But, without the pain of the cross, there can be no Easter joy. Without God coming into the world in the person of Jesus Christ and paying the price for our failures on the cross, we would not see, know, or enjoy the beauty of His love for us.
Prayer for Illumination:
God of life, whose Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and draws us to Christ, send Your Spirit now to give us deeper insight, encouragement, faith and hope, through the proclamation of the Easter gospel. Amen.
An Easter Message: “Through Locked Doors”
For centuries Christians celebrated Jesus’ resurrection the week following Easter with parties and picnics. The week culminated with “Bright Sunday” or “Holy Humor Sunday”, a day of joy and laughter. Churchgoers and pastors would play jokes on each other, tell silly jokes, and would sing and dance. The custom was rooted in the notion of early Christian theologians like St. Augustine, St. Gregory of Nysa, and St. John Chrysostom that God had played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Early theologians called it “the Easter Laugh”. Later, it became known as “the Gospel as Divine Comedy.”
However, the thought of the resurrection as God’s practical joke on the devil and death is not something we tend to think about the Sunday following Easter. Over the years, the tradition of “Bright Sunday” or “Holy Humor Sunday” has been lost. That tradition has been replaced with what we have come to know as “Low Sunday.” Compared to the highest feast day in the church year – Easter Sunday- the Sunday following is considered the lowest. Why is that?
I don’t know. Maybe the excitement of Easter Sunday fades so quickly because the church, over the years, has lost its hope in the power of the resurrection. Maybe. Or, perhaps it is because the stories of Easter and the resurrection have become so familiar to us that we have lost sight of the irony of life overcoming death, especially given the high death toll we are experiencing during this recent pandemic. Well, maybe.
You have to admit that someone rising from the grave is a rather fantastic idea in our modern world. For instance, when my son was in middle school, he came home one day after school to discover that our Brittany Spaniel was running around in the backyard with our neighbors’ pet rabbit in its mouth. Chasing the dog, my son finally caught it and wrenched the rabbit from its jaws. He quickly discovered, not only was the rabbit covered with mud and dog slobber, it was also dead as a door nail.
Panicking, he scooped the rabbit up and ran into the house. In the bathroom, he carefully washed the rabbit off, carefully brushed it out, and dried it with his mother’s hairdryer. Stealthily, he crept back into the neighbors’ yard and quickly placed the dead rabbit back into its rabbit pen. Arranging it just right, it was impossible to tell that the rabbit was dead. Sneaking back to the house, my son retired to his room, promising himself not to tell anyone what had really happened.
Arriving home from my office, I was standing in the kitchen when I heard the blood curdling scream coming from my neighbor’s backyard. Running out the house, I ran to the fence to see our neighbor’s wife staring with horror into the rabbit pin. “What on earth has happened?” I called. “THE RABBIT, IT DIED!” she screamed. “It died?” I said inquiringly. Turning to run back into her house, she screamed: “YES, IT DIED THREE DAYS AGO! WE BURIED IT, BUT NOW IT IS BACK! (Now this story may not be true, but you have to admit, be it rabbit or human, rising up from the grave is a fantastic notion in this day and time!)
Can you and I even fathom the shock of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them, passing through locked doors? Sure, they had trudged behind Jesus through the entire Judean countryside. Jesus’ purpose and teachings were hard to understand, even though He spoke of being the Christ—the Messiah—the Holy One of God, who is of the Father.
But, all that must have seemed like a dream (or more like a nightmare) when Jesus was crucified, ending all hope. The death of Jesus had slammed the door on their greatest hopes and dreams. It was over. It had been good while it lasted, but now the door was locked and nothing could bring Him back to life again, or so they thought. They had buried Him three days before, AND NOW, HE WAS BACK!
Of course, the reaction to God’s practical joke on death was varied among Jesus’ followers. While the “beloved disciple” may have believed without evidence except for an empty tomb, Mary Magdalene only believed because the Risen Christ called her by name. The remaining disciples, excluding Thomas, believed only because their Risen Christ appears to them, granting peace to them, and showing them His hands and His side. Yet, for Thomas, neither the word of his fellow disciples, nor the sight of the Risen Lord would be sufficient. For Thomas said, “Unless I place my fingers into the nail holes, and stick my hand in His side, I will not believe.”
It would seem that true FAITH is not the same experience for everyone, not then, not now. Neither is FAITH generated with the same kind and degree of evidence for each individual. For some, FAITH is born and grows as quietly as a child sleeping on grandmother’s lap. For others, FAITH is a lifetime of wrestling with the angel. And, some cannot remember a time in their life when they didn’t believe, while others cannot remember anything else with their lives having been shattered and reshaped by their decision of FAITH.
No matter how FAITH came, or comes, to you and me, it would do us well to remember the words of Jesus who said: (and I paraphrase), “REMEMBER THIS, UNLESS YOU ACCEPT GOD’S KINGDOM IN THE SIMPLICITY OF A CHILD, YOU’LL NEVER GET IT.” And like a child, what better way to celebrate God’s joke on death than with joy, laughter, singing, and dancing? Yet, what a shame it is, when the voice of doubters or the voice of those of us for whom FAITH has become the norm, even commonplace, drown out the true irony and wonder of the resurrection.
When I think of the true joy and wonder of faith, I cannot help but remember a boy named Lonnie, years ago, in my 3rd grade classroom. Lonnie’s parents had died in an automobile accident, so his grandparents were raising him. I remember how we used to tease Lonnie mercilessly, because he would believe anything. We’d say, “The school burned down, so we don’t have to go to school Monday.” “Oh, boy!” he’d say. You see, he’d believe it!
“They are giving away free ice cream down at Mr. Kern’s grocery store.” “FREE ICE CREAM?” he’d squeal and off he’d go running. “Lonnie, did you know that that Elvis is coming to our school?” “HE IS REALLY? WHOOPEE!” Yep, that boy would believe anything!
One day, Lonnie showed up at our little country church and came to our Sunday School class. Our teacher, old Miss King, told Lonnie that: “God loves you and cares for You. And God will come to you in Jesus Christ who has risen from the dead.” And do you know, THAT KID BELIEVED IT! HE ACTUALLY BELIEVED IT!
Do you believe it? Do we really believe it? And, if we do, then where is our laughter? Where is the singing and dancing? Where is our uncontrollable joy? Hmmm.
Lord of the cross and the Empty Tomb, we worship You. Though the pandemic rages on, You give us reason to hope. We thank You that we are not alone even as the news of more Corona Virus cases and deaths dominate the headlines. Though we are well-acquainted with death, dying and grief, we praise You that death has been vanquished and its spell broken. And though our lives are still embroiled in sin, failure and inadequacy, thank You, O God, for giving our lives meaning, purpose and direction.
We confess that the more days we stay at home, the more likely it is that we may forget Your power and fall into despair. Yet, today we remember and hope comes back. Though the darkness of the night brought doubt and disarray, in the light of this new day we bow our heads in worship. Like Thomas, we desire to see the nail prints and touch the wound in Your side, but Your presence is enough, and we cry out, saying: “My Lord, and my God!”
Walk among us, Lord, and touch our troubled lives. Give hope to the hopeless, strength to the faltering, love to the lonely, compassion and courage to those on the front line of this pandemic. We pray for health, hope, and help for those who have lost their incomes and/or health insurance in the midst of this ongoing lock down. Let the radiance of Your resurrected presence shine upon them and us as it shone upon Your first disciples and make new persons of us all, as it did of them.
Transform us from frightened, hesitant, uncommitted followers into people of fire and steel who know what we believe and who will follow You no matter what the future holds. Live in and through us. Walk among us and teach us to walk with You. For You alone have the words of eternal life, and You alone can call us into discipleship. Lord of the cross and empty tomb, we praise You! Bring healing and hope to our hurting world, for Your name’s sake, saying together, as One Church, One Body …”Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts (trespasses), as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us). And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”
Go into the world: dance, laugh, sing, and create.
Go into the world: risk, explore, discover, and love.
Go into the world: believe, hope, struggle, and remember.