Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

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The Risen Christ Says Yes

John 20:1-18 (The Message)

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.”

Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”

“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.

Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”

She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!”

Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.


Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God our Father, from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit who unites us in faith. Amen.

A common principle in mysticism and spiritual teaching across religions is that you cannot truly see or understand anything if you begin with a no.

We see only what we choose to see, consciously or subconsciously. We can’t say yes to everything; after all; there is simply too much stuff in the world for us to absorb and comprehend it all. Saying no is our brain’s way to avoid overstimulation. Think of it like a camera lens. When there is too much light on the subject that you are shooting with a camera, the lens aperture must restrict. So too, our brains restrict the input of our senses to allow only that which we already think we know, expect, and understand.

Any posture of humility must begin with an awareness that things exist even if we don’t see, know, expect, or understand them. If we are closed off to new possibilities, insights, or realities, we are no different than the baby boy who is confident his father is really gone when his face disappears behind his hands during a game of peek-a-boo.

“We see what we are ready to see, expect to see, and even desire to see. If we start with no, we usually get some form of no in return. If we start with yes, we are much more likely to get a yes back. Once we have learned how to say a fundamental yes, later no’s can be very helpful and are surely necessary. However, beginning with yes is the foundation of mature nonviolence and compassionate action. The Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything.”*

In the resurrection account from the gospel of John, we see Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple all respond to Christ’s resurrection from a position of no. Mary sees the empty tomb and the only logical reason she can imagine is that Jesus’ body was moved by someone else. Despite Jesus’ repeated announcements that he would die and rise after three days, Mary’s brain could not even begin to entertain the idea that what Jesus had said was even a possibility. Likely she and the disciples hadn’t heard him say this at all – their spiritual aperture was too restricted to let that in.

Peter and the beloved disciple ran to the tomb to witness its emptiness and John says the beloved disciple “went in, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). Believed what? That Jesus was raised from the dead? No, because the scripture continues, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20:9). The beloved disciple’s belief is not in the good news of the resurrection; rather, he believes that Mary wasn’t lying…Jesus’ body is in fact, gone. That is the extent of the bewildering scenario that he can process because he “did not understand.”

The great good news is that the Christ’s yes is able to break through their nos. No amount of denial or unbelief from the disciples would be able to negate the truth of Christ’s resurrection. Christ didn’t postpone his resurrection until people believed. Christ was and will forever be resurrected, regardless of whether our response to this good news is yes or no.

Despite starting with a no, something in the deepest depths of Mary’s mind wouldn’t let her walk away from the mystery of the empty tomb. Her spiritual aperture was opened just wide enough to allow one word from the gardener into her heart. “Mary,” he said. And with that one word her no became a yes.

It wasn’t just any word…it was her name. Not a judgy, dismissive, or frustrated use of her name; rather it was her name wrapped in the vocal inflection of loving invitation. Anytime someone who loves you utters your name, it is an invitation to deeper and more intimate relationship.

Have you ever lovingly uttered the name of someone whose posture is no instead of yes? It’s terribly difficult, but when it’s wrapped in the language of loving invitation, it is absolutely disarming.

On my best days as a parent this is how I respond when my kids’ behavior requires intervention. If they’re acting up, I have much more success in reaching them with a loving, calm, and inviting uttering of their names. When their emotions and volume increase, I find it best to respond with calm and quiet; invitation, never exclusion.

Of course, not all of my days are my best days as a parent. Sometimes I respond to their no with a louder and more demonstrative no of my own. However, I can’t remember a time when I responded that way and thought to myself, “Well done. That took a lot of courage to stand up to a 7 year old like that…you sure put him in his place. I’m sure he has newfound love and appreciation for you after that.”

Invitation over exclusion. Holding open over closing. Yes over no. Life over death. All of this can be communicated to someone simply in the way you say their name.

Perhaps on this Easter Sunday that is awash in the promise of new life, you are being invited to say someone’s name in a new, more open and inviting way.

Perhaps on this Easter Sunday that is awash in the promise of new life, you are being invited to hear God calling to you in a new, more open and inviting way – a way that can turn your no into a yes.

Your yes will open your aperture will be opened to allow the fullness of God’s glory to make its way into your heart and mind. Once we have learned how to say yes to the God of unconditional love we will start to see it everywhere.

Remember, the Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything.

And so we respond with the Hebrew word for yes: Amen.

* Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, “Beginning with Yes.” August 12, 2016

Bread is Christ

There were two obvious ways to go with my message this evening: feet or bread. Truth be told I have recently become quite enamored with one of these things. You can take a sigh of relief…I’m talking about bread. That’s the thing I’ve fallen for and the thing I have come to understand as a profound insight into the divine.

I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that my recent adventures in bread-baking have been profoundly spiritual experiences. Off and on over the past year and a half I have been trying to make sourdough bread at home. Our kitchen counter is home to a glass mason jar with bubbling white substance that is nothing more than flour and water. Well, flour and water with enough bacteria and yeast from the air to introduce the process of fermentation. Every day I add a little flour and a little water, while pouring off the equivalent amount of sourdough starter. Whenever I’m ready, I mix in some of that starter with a large amount of flour, water and salt. Over the course of two days I mix, wait, knead, wait, knead, and wait some more until it’s ready to bake. Yesterday this came out of my oven:

 
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There is nothing quite like the overwhelming sensation of pulling a fresh-baked loaf of bread out of the oven. The heat, the smell, the anticipation, the culmination of all that work and waiting – the hardest part of the process is the three hours of waiting for the bread to adequately cool once it has been baked. 

I don’t need to assign spiritual metaphors to the bread-baking process in order to make it holy. A beautiful loaf of bread doesn’t have to stand for anything other than what it is in order to be sacred. Baking and eating bread is a spiritual experience in and of itself. And maybe that’s why Jesus identifies so intimately with it. Throughout scripture Jesus says things like “I am the bread of life” and holding a loaf of bread he says, “This is my body.” He didn’t say “In a way I am kind of like bread” nor did Jesus say “This bread symbolizes my body.” He meant it quite literally. Which only makes sense when we understand that Jesus as the second person of the Trinity – the Cosmic Christ – is the expression of God that, since the beginning of creation, has been sustaining and energizing all forms of life. 

Did you know that a loaf of whole-grain bread baked from fermented dough has all the nutrients a human body needs to survive? Truth is, if someone gave you an unlimited supply of flour and water and you consumed them on their own, you wouldn’t last very long. However, if you mixed the flour and water, allowed them to ferment, and then baked and ate that bread – that is enough sustenance to last you indefinitely.

When Jesus says “I am the bread of life” and holding a loaf of bread he says, “This is my body,” he is identifying his divine nature that gives us what we need in order to survive and thrive, all of which is found is something as unassuming as wheat seed and water and air.

This is all quite literal; and I could stop now and be satisfied that I have communicated the truth of God’s grace and God’s presence for us in the gift of bread. However, I recently rewatched an episode of the Netflix show Cooked by Michael Pollan and was reminded of the many ways in which bread is an outstanding metaphor for the spiritual life.

[here’s where we watched the video: Cooked season 1, episode 3, final 5 minutes]

Not to take away from the literal truth that Christ is present to us in the physical substance of bread, but I just have to pull some of these metaphors out.

In the video clip, Michael said the wheat seed has everything needed to sustain physical life and our task is how to access the nutrients. Likewise, everything needed to sustain spiritual life is available to us; we do, however, have to figure out how to unpack and access it. Prayer, worship, community, the arts, reading scripture…each of these disciplines comes to us like a tightly-packed seed. Our task is to engage with these disciplines in a way that allows them to expand, change, and create something new in us. Praying, worshipping, reading scripture just to check them off the to-do list (or engaging in them because you feel like you’re supposed to) is like eating a whole wheat kernel…it will be unpleasant and will not yield any benefits because it will just pass right through you without being digested. 

Michael also mentioned that bread-baking is accessible; that anyone can do it, mostly by feel rather than rote recipe. And some times are better than others. So it is with the spiritual life of discipleship. All people have the same opportunity to connect with, and be informed by, the divine. Sometimes our efforts seem to yield little fruit. Other times we are gifted with something truly incredible, sweet-smelling, and nourishing; and the benefits extend into our larger communities.

Also, he said that he found confidence and satisfaction as a result of his bread-baking. As your pastor I pray for nothing less for each one of you. May your walk with Christ lead you to newfound confidence and genuine satisfaction at the gifts God has given you.

I recently came across, and found hope in, the expression, “Spiritual formation is the slowest of all human movements.”* Sometimes we look at our faith and life as a disciple of Christ and wonder if we really have anything to show for it. If the fruits of the Spirit are peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, how much more of that stuff do we have than we did yesterday? Has all our worship, prayer, service, faith, brought us any closer to a life that looks like Christ’s? The sourdough bread process reminds us that we cannot rush our spiritual development. Instead, our spiritual lives require attention, care, intention, and time.

May you come to know and experience God through the physical universe, with all its complexities and wonders. And in the same way, may you come to know and experience God through your internal universe, with all its complexities and wonders. And may you be transformed into something far more than you could ever expect, hope, or manage on your own.

Amen.

* https://renovare.org/blog/some-things-take-time

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.