When Someone Loves You: John 20:1-18 Mary’s encounter at the tomb
I invite you to do a little imagining with me. I invite you to close your eyes, and take a few deep breathes… and let your body relax into the chair you are sitting on… I invite you to picture in your mind’s eye someone who loves you deeply… They may be living in this world, or the next… a person whom you would trust with your life…, who knows your strengths and weaknesses, your secret fears and hopes…
With tenderness and strength this person now calls to you; speaking your name… In silence, just reflect on what it is like to hear your name spoken by someone who deeply loves you. Does it evoke an emotion? A memory? A physical sensation? – Gently draw your attention back to this moment, this Easter worship…
A few years ago, a friend told me that shortly after her husband’s death, as she drifted into sleep, she sensed his presence, heard his voice reassuring her of his love for her and that he was just fine. It was a very comforting experience. She told someone else about her experience and the response was, ‘It must be the devil playing with your mind.’ Good grief! What kind of response was that from someone who apparently knew the Easter story and surely had faith in some sort of resurrection?
I said, ‘Of course it was your husband. How wonderful; what a reassuring gift.’ I share all of this in the context of the gospel, and Mary’s experience of transformation when she hears her name spoken by the One who loves her.
I am grateful for the wisdom in this saying, attributed to a child: “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
It is my Easter prayer for each of you, that you will hear, feel, somehow experience the presence of God’s outpouring love – calling your name, affirming you, accompanying you, restoring your faith and giving your strength for life’s journey.
I invite you to join in singing a song that I wrote as I reflected on Mary’s encounter with the living spirit of Jesus – Heaven’s Laughter.
Letting Go of the First Half of Life
John 18:15-27 Peter denies Jesus 3 times, John 21: 1-17 Jesus questions Peter 3 times
I have a lot of respect for the wisdom of Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest, writer and retreat leader. He talks about the work of the first and second halves of our life. For the first half of our live, we work at building an identity, developing our ego, defining our parameters; our tribe. For the second half, we learn to let it go, give up our false sense of superiority and fall into God’s grace.
He writes, “Jesus always honored and often idealized good, holy non-Jews, like the Samaritan man (Luke 10:29-37), the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). But even his disciples struggled to accept that the outsider could or should be accepted. If you’re stuck in the first half of life, with your explanation about why you or your group are the best, you will hold on strongly because it’s all you have, and any change feels like dying.
Often the only thing that can break down your natural egocentricity is discovering that the qualities you hate in others are actually within you. You’re not so moral after all. He suggests that sometimes we don’t do bad things, simply because of the fear of being caught. He continues, “Fear is not enlightenment. Fear is not the new transformed state of the risen Christ that we’ve been promised. Fear keeps you inside of a false order and will not allow any reordering.
Unless you somehow “weep” over your own phoniness, hypocrisy, fear, and woundedness, you probably won’t let go of the first half of life. If you don’t allow this needed disappointment to well up within you, if you surround yourself with your orthodoxies and your certitudes and your belief that you’re the best, frankly, you will stay in the first half of life forever. Many religious people never allow themselves to fall, while many “sinners” fall and rise again. Our greatest sin is not falling or failing, but refusing to rise and trust ourselves—and God—again. Make sure you are always in need of mercy and you will never stop growing.”
Well, that seems like important spiritual advice for every generation of Earth’s people – surely as much now as in the events surrounding the Easter moment. My heart is drawn to this pre and post-Easter story of Peter’s relationship to Jesus. In these stories of Peter’s denial and Jesus loving challenge to him sometime later, we see him moving from the first half to the second half of life.
It is a story in which I’m sure we can each find ourselves. I knew for some time that I wanted to put these two stories together for Easter, and then I read the United Church Moderator, Jordan Cantwell’s reflection in the current UC Observer magazine.
Jordan recounts a situation in ministry, where during the fellowship hour after worship, she witnessed a couple uniformed police officers approach and forcibly remove a man who had come in for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. Apparently someone felt `uncomfortable’ with him there and had called the police. Priding herself as one who seeks justice, and speaks up for the poor, Jordan nonetheless found herself unable to move, and silent as she watched the officers remove the man. Then she felt deeply ashamed. Why hadn’t she stopped them? She identified with Peter, who swore to stand by Jesus, even if it meant his own death… only to hear himself, a few short hours later, swearing that he never knew who Jesus was.
I think we can all identify with Peter at some time in our life. We are disappointed in ourselves for failing to live up to our highest ideals. As Jordan says, “Maybe it’s just much harder to act on our convictions that to hold them.”
But then there is this second story. Jesus has died, but there are hints and rumours of sightings and experiences. It’s still not enough for Peter. His spirit is broken, so he goes back to what he knows. He goes back to fishing. Maybe he just wasn’t cut out to be a disciple.
Then Jesus shows up – on the beach, breakfast on the go, and calls them back to shore. There is this intimate, beautiful and disturbing conversation. “Peter, do you love me?”
“Yes Lord, you know I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”
Three times the question is asked. Three times the commissioning is given. Peter’s spirit begins to heal. His old dreams have died. But Jesus’ love for him and trust in him, have not died.
Jordan writes: “This story reminds us that even our worst and most embarrassing failures do not place us outside God’s redeeming grace. Christ still wants and need us, flaws and all, as allies and partners in the work of healing and transformation. It took me a while to forgive myself for not standing up for that man. But once I did, I came to see how that experience has shaped me. I am less afraid now to intervene when I sense something is wrong because I know how awful if feels when I don’t. I hope I’m also less judgmental toward others who hesitate to get involved. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t care.
My failure to be what I thought I was helped me become who I want to be. I am so grateful that God uses even our worst failures and the sources of our shame to transform us and make us whole.”
Indeed, these are encouraging words. Thanks be to God.
I invite you to join me in singing: When Old Dreams Die.
(These songs will be included in the book I am writing – `Cup of Wine & a Piece of Bread’.)