Aricept

Mark 16:1-8

For the past month, I’ve been working via a temp agency at a non-profit in Falls Church. We were at a staff meeting recently when the boss asked me why I hadn’t finished some work he had assigned to me.

“I don’t have all the information,” I said. “If I had the information, I could do the job.”

The boss looked at me and said, in some exasperation – for he did not have the information either, “Well, why don’t you just give me eternal life while you’re at it!”

Immediately, I shot back at him: “I can do that! I’m a priest! It’s a done deal! You already have eternal life! Now can I have my information?!”

My boss’ reaction to this was … well, it was a bit startled. In the month I worked there, he kept forgetting that I’m a priest, and that proclaiming the Gospel is a more important to me than anything else. He kind of laughed off my remark, and meeting went on from there, but I couldn’t help feeling that his remark is emblemic of the challenge that we face as disciples of Jesus these days.

For us, the Resurrection – the triumph of God’s life over mortal death – is a done deal. Happened 2,000 years ago, outside the gates to Jerusalem, on a Sunday morning. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt to boot.

But for so many, the Good News of God’s love is not a fact around which they center their lives.

For so many, it is … well, it’s a special brunch on a Sunday morning. Or an Easter Egg Hunt. Or a chocolate bunny.

You can’t really blame people for not knowing this Good News, for reducing it to off-hand comments like my boss, for making it seem impossible …

Not when you read Mark’s Gospel, you can’t.

Because Mark’s Gospel ends in such a way that it’s amazing anyone knows the Good News of God in Christ Jesus.

Really.

Women Arriving at the Tomb, by He Qi

Listen to it again:

So they (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

You may not realize it, but this verse is considered the true ending of Mark’s Gospel. That’s it: The women left and said nothing to anything, for they were afraid.

No actual resurrection moment.

No Mary Magdalene going to the others to say, “He is risen!”

No disbelieving disciples.

No other appearances, not to the 11, not to the two walking along the road.

No charge to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”

Nothing.

For they were afraid.

How many of us are as afraid as the women to proclaim the Good News?

How often do we, who gather joyfully on Easter morning to celebrate, to say “Alleluia!” again, go out into the world and actually use that word?

How many of us are willing to overcome our fear and tell the truth, God’s truth?

The ending of Mark’s Gospel – the true ending, not what has been added on later – is as abrupt as its beginning. In his beginning, Mark doesn’t present a long genealogy like Matthew, he doesn’t tell a sweet story of the birth in the stable like Luke, he doesn’t engage in theological discussions like John.

Mark simply and brutally lays out the truth:

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Short and sweet and to the point. Just the facts, ma’am, thank you very much.

The ending is the same: He has been raised; he is not here. … And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Short and sweet and to the point. Just the facts, ma’am, thank you very much.

And if you think about it, wouldn’t you have been afraid, if you had been the first ones to go to the tomb, filled with grief, because the man you’ve followed for so long, the man you’ve seen done miracles, the man who preached a truth such as the world had never heard, if that man were dead, crucified by the cruel Romans in the cruelest way possible, in a way that in your own tradition was nothing less than total humiliation?

Wouldn’t you have been afraid, if when you arrived at that tomb, you discovered it was … empty? And that some young man … a man you do not know, whom you have never seen before … was sitting there, clothed in a white robe, telling you that Jesus was gone, that he had been resurrected (“What?” you think. “What does he mean, ‘resurrected’?), and that you are to go tell this improbable, this impossible so-called “truth” to the rest of the disciples?

Wouldn’t you have been, like those three women, scared to death?

And wouldn’t you, like those three women, have kept your mouth shut?

Well, thankfully, the women did not keep their mouths shut, nor did the disciples, because obviously someone girded up their loins and told the truth, God’s truth, and the world soon knew … with astonishing speed, if you think about it … that Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Because – think about it – if no one had told the truth, God’s truth, we wouldn’t be here today, would we?

But that still leaves us with the question, on this Easter morning, of whether we are afraid, in this day and age, to tell that truth, God’s truth, ourselves.

Commentator David Lose believes that Mark intentionally ended the Gospel as abruptly as he began it “precisely to place the burden of responsibility for telling the Good News squarely on our shoulders. … By ending his account in this way, [Mark] invites us into the story, to pick up where these women left off and, indeed, go and tell the Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised, and is going ahead to meet us, just as promised.”[1]

In other words, no matter how afraid we might be, it is our job to tell this story, to finish it. It is our job to tell people, like that boss of mine at the non-profit, the meaning of Easter.

It is our job, my friends, to set aside our fear so that we can stand up for Jesus.

• • •

I remember the first time I tried to proclaim the Gospel, tried to tell the story of Jesus. I was a child in Catholic elementary school – I was probably in fourth or fifth grade at the time – and I, the little Roman Catholic who had cut my teeth on doctrine, tried to tell my little Protestant friends about Jesus. The problem was, I had cut my teeth on doctrine, and that’s about all I could proclaim, whereas my little Protestant friends had cut their teeth on the Bible and actually knew the story of Jesus. I can tell you, it was a good long time before I tried proclaiming the truth of God’s love in the Risen Lord!

So I know what it’s like to be afraid … I know what it’s like to be like those three women who went to the tomb very early on the first day of the week, and to be confronted with a truth bigger than I could handle.

Now, as you all know well, you can’t keep me from proclaiming the Gospel!

So … on this Easter morning, I am asking each of us to dig down and think hard and long:

What are we afraid of?

What is it that keeps us from proclaiming the truth, God’s truth, to the whole wide world?

If we can’t speak the words – He is risen! – in public, then can we at least live those words with our lives?

Can we do what St. Francis is purported to have said, to “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words”?

Because, I can assure you, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Because I can assure you, this is true: Christ is risen.

So let’s get to it.

Let us set aside whatever it is that scares us, let us stand up for Jesus, and let us proclaim that truth, God’s truth, to the whole wide world:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

Sermon preached on Easter morning, Year B, at Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 8 April 2012.

 


[1] David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, “Just the beginning,” on workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=574, posted 1 April 2012.

 

 

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Cipro dosage for uti

John 20:19-31

Last Wednesday night, I was at an Episcopal church for the installation of the new rector. I sat in a pew with the rest of the clergy, and at one point during the service, the priest next to me reached over and pulled out a card that had been filled out by someone and returned to the pew holder. It was a newcomer’s card – you know, the kind where the parish welcomes you and asks you to share some information about yourself. These cards are supposed to go into the offering plate, but this person put it back in the holder. Because the writer didn’t actually offer the usual information.

This note was actually a plea:

The Doubt of St. Thomas, by He Qi.

“Can anyone tell me if Jesus is real? (it read).

“Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

“I’m sitting here surrounded by people who believe, people who have faith … and I don’t know if I can believe.

“I want to believe, but I can’t.”

This plea was written on Sunday morning, on the first day of the week – on Easter morning. There this person sat, in the third pew on the Gospel side, surrounded by hundreds of other people shouting, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”, not knowing how to believe!

I do not know who wrote this note – it was signed, “Anonymous.” Below that, the author had written, “I’m learning to believe.”

I do not know if this person was male or female, black or white or Latino or Asian, young or old, gay or straight.

All I know is that on Sunday last, on Easter, Thomas showed up at an Episcopal church and in the midst of celebration, surrounded by believers, said, “Wait just a darned second …”

We call today “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. Poor Thomas. Just because he wasn’t in the upper room when the Risen Lord first appeared to the disciples, we mock Thomas for wondering what was going on, and we hang an epithet on him – “Doubting” – as though nothing else he had ever done – none of the faithful following of Jesus, none of the declarations of “let’s go also, that we may die with him” – ever happened or even matter.

But a little warning here:

Nowhere in John’s presentation of the Risen Lord’s appearances in the upper room does the word “doubt” appear.[1]

The Risen Lord does not say to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.”

What Jesus says, instead, is that Thomas is apistos – without trust or faith. He was just like those other disciples, who had been apistos as well. They were untrusting just like Thomas (remember, when Mary Magdalene came to them that very morning with the news of the Resurrection, they for darned certain didn’t trust or believe her, because if they had, they wouldn’t have still been huddled behind locked doors in that upper room, praying no one would find them!). They had not been pistos – faith-filled – until the moment the Risen Lord had bid them his peace and showed them his wounds.

So when Jesus showed up the second time, a week later, what Jesus literally says to Thomas is, “Do not become untrusting (or faithless) but trusting (or faithful).”[2]

So you see, it’s not that Thomas doubted. It’s that he wasn’t quite ready to trust again – not this soon.

Remember, Thomas had been with Jesus for a large part of Jesus’ ministry. He had walked with Jesus, heard him preach, seen the miracles, felt the hope, saw the love, reveled in the joy …

And then …

Well, then, Jesus was arrested, tortured, killed.

And all those words, all those miracles, all that hope, that love, that joy … all of that had died on the cross and been laid in the tomb, and now … now … just three days later, the other disciples want Thomas, who has given up all hope, to hope again? They want Thomas, who saw his trust violated, to trust again? Just three days later?

You know what Thomas was thinking, right?

Give me a break!

Thomas needed more than just the word of the other disciples – because he had believed once and been burned, and he wasn’t going to get burned again, at least not that easily. It took another appearance by the Risen Lord to convince him.

Sounds just like that person who showed up at that church on Easter Sunday, doesn’t it?

Can anyone prove to me that Jesus is real?

Thomas two thousand years ago … an anonymous person on Easter Sunday 2011 … they’re asking the same questions, they’re caught in the same bind.

They want to believe.

They just can’t.

Which leads to the question:

How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

How many witnesses do you need?

Let’s do a little experiment in faith, shall we?

Let’s see what happens when together, we do something rather unbelievable, and you have to convince others – let’s say, the people at the 8 a.m. service, because I wasn’t here for that – that what is about to take place actually took place here this morning.

Do you see these flowers here?

They are pansies – I know this because I went to a nursery yesterday and specifically asked for them.

They’re pretty, are they not?

They’re lovely harbingers of spring.

They come in an assortment of colors, which I have carefully chosen, because believe me, colors make a difference.

Why?

Let me show you …. (eat pansies)

Mmm … quite tasty, actually.

And yes, just to let you know, it is perfectly safe to eat pansies. Not so much other flowers, but pansies are fine.

Now … if one of you were to call someone who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, “You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” that person probably would not believe you.

Because unless I’m sorely mistaken, preachers do not normally eat pansies in the pulpit. It simply isn’t done.

But that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? (eat more pansies)

Now … if, say, ten of you were to call that same person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and tell that person, ““You’re not gonna believe it! The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!” there’s a good chance that person still won’t believe you. Because, after all, ten of you could be pulling off an elaborate joke, right?

But what do you think would happen if all of you were to call that person who came to church at 8 o’clock this morning and proclaim, “The preacher ate pansies in the pulpit!”?

Do you think they would believe? Because all of you were witnesses, and all of you proclaimed the truth?

My friends, I assure you: If enough of you testify to the truth, others will believe.

And the truth is, this morning, I am eating pansies in the pulpit.

So again, the question: How many witnesses do you need to believe the truth?

Going back to the Scriptures and the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, how many witnesses do you need to believe the truth of the Lord’s Resurrection? Because we have witnesses. We have lots of witnesses.

We have the women who went to the tomb on the first day of the week and met the Risen Lord.

We have the disciples, hiding in fear in the upper room.

We have Thomas, who eventually did trust enough to believe.

We have the various other followers of Jesus, who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus … in their villages … out in the open …

We have the 500 to whom the Risen Lord appeared at once …

And then we have Paul, who then was still Saul, who was on a murderous mission to persecute those who claimed to have seen the Risen Lord, and who met the Risen Lord while sitting on his butt in the middle of the road to Damascus …

Exactly how many witnesses does it take to convince you that the unbelievable is believable?

What does it take to make us move from Thomas’ “I do not trust your story and therefore will not believe” to Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and My God!”?

Do I need to eat more pansies to make the unbelievable believable?

Because I will, if that’s what you need.

Just as the Risen Lord made many more appearances to his disciples, which John did not write in his book, because that’s what those disciples needed.

To have their trust restored, to be able to believe again, to become pistos again, Jesus came back, again and again, so that his disciples could know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that he was raised from the dead.

My friends, we are not the witnesses to the actual Resurrection.

But there were witnesses – lots of witnesses, hundreds of witnesses – who saw the Risen Lord, and because of that they became pistos – they trusted again, they believed again.

And because they trusted and believed, we trust, we believe.

That’s why we’re here this morning – because we trust and believe their eyewitness accounts, the ones they have been passed on to us.

So what are we going to do with this trust, this faith that we have received?

How are we going to tell the story in such a way that those who do not yet believe – like that anonymous person who wrote that poignant note last Sunday – can indeed learn to believe?

How are we going to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus?

We don’t get to hear the story of the Resurrection just so that we can put that story in our back pockets. We hear the story, we become pistos, so that the whole world can hear the story, so that all can become pistos.

It’s kind of like me eating these pansies in the pulpit.

It’s a good story, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t do something with it.

So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go home and pick up the phone and call someone from the 8 o’clock service (let’s call him “John”) and I want you tell him that the preacher ate pansies in the pulpit. I want you to convince him that this really happened.

And then, I want you to talk a little Gospel. Talk about where you have seen the Risen Lord in your life, today, and everyday. Convince him that the Lord is risen indeed. And talk about where he sees the Risen Lord in his own life.

I guarantee you, there are more Thomases out there. Thomas might even sitting right here this morning. Any one of us could be Thomas.

Whoever Thomas is, wherever Thomas is, he needs to hear from us. He needs to hear that the Lord is risen indeed.

Our mission is to tell the story in such a way that those who are apistos can become pistos, those who aren’t sure, who don’t trust, who want to believe but can’t quite get there, become certain, dare to trust and do believe.

I’ll even give you some pansies, if that will help. (eat pansies)

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Easter, 1 May 2011, Year A, at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Dunn Loring, Va.



[1] This discussion is based on Brian P. Stoffregen’s Exegetical Notes on Crossroads Christian Resources, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john20x19e2.htm, accessed 26 April 2011.

[2] Stoffregen’s translation, along with The new Greek-English InterLinear New Testament, United Bible Societies’ Fourth, Corrected Edition, 404.

 

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Zofran uses

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine asked on Facebook what we would say if we had to Tweet the Good News of God in Christ Jesus on Easter morning.[1]

You all know what Twitter is, right? It’s that instant messaging service in which you can say whatever you want in 140 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation.

I have to be honest: I have not been a fan of Twitter. I find it to be terribly narcissistic, that most of what goes out to the world is useless, vainglorious nattering.

But Twitter now has a place in our lives. Look at the role it has played in the Arab Spring … in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria. More than 26 million Americans alone use Twitter … tens of millions more people use it around the world, and tens and tens of millions more people follow it without every posting a thing.

Which means that if we can come up with a really, really, really great Tweet on Easter, we could reach tens of millions. And if our Tweet is really, really, really, really great, we can reach maybe even hundreds of millions of people!

All we have to do is figure out what to say about the Risen Lord in 140 characters or less … including spaces and punctuation.

So here’s our challenge on this Easter morning:

What should we say?

How should we announce the greatness of this day?

The Women arriving at the Tomb, by He Qi.

Should we edit Peter down and say, “Jesus Christ is Lord of all, raised from the dead on day three. He is ordained by God as judge of all. All who believe receive forgiveness”? (That’s 138 characters, by the way.)

Meh … too complex.

Perhaps we could turn to the Psalmist: “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! The right hand of the Lord is exalted! This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”? (That’s 139 characters.) But … that’s not quite clear, is it? And it is very triumphalist. So this won’t work either.

Now we could quote Paul, the apostle who never met Jesus in the flesh, only the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. His Tweet could read: “You have been raised with Christ. Set your minds on things above where Christ is. For you have died, your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Ha! That one is exactly 140 characters!)

Um … I’m thinking this isn’t the good news we were looking for.

So what about quoting the Risen Lord himself? “Jesus says: Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Ninety-five characters – pretty concise.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell people that Christ is risen, does it?

There’s the message from the angel: “Do not be afraid. He is not here. He has been raised.” That’s fairly straight-forward, and it only takes 53 characters.

It is Good News, but is it enough? Does it really convey what we want it to convey? Is it enough to convince people that this is the Good News of their lives? I don’t think so.

So even though we know what the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, is and what it means, we still don’t have a message to Tweet that is good news for our readers.

And we do want to convey good news, because this is our job. We don’t just get the Good News this morning … we have to give it as well. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, on the day he died for us, “It is finished.” He was saying that his work on this earth was done, and now he was turning it over to us.

Make no mistake: This is our job. We have to spread the Good News to a world that does  not know the Good News is even there! There’s a whole world out there that hasn’t quite gotten the message. For far too many people, this day isn’t about resurrection. It’s about Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies!

But Jesus gave us this job, and we’d better get working.

So tell you what.

Let’s roll up our sleeves, and let’s build a Tweet together.

Let’s figure out how to share with the whole world the Good News we receive on this holiest day of our lives.

We can start with the words of the ancient song, the Exsultet, which can only be sung on Easter.

The Empty Tomb, by He Qi.

 

(chant)

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,

And let your trumpets shout salvation

For the victory of our mighty king.

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,

Bright with a glorious splendor,

For darkness has been vanquish’d by our eternal King.

Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,

And let your holy courts, in radiant light,

Resound with the praises of your people.

That’s a pretty good message, don’t you think?

A little long, though … it kind of blows the 140-character limit.

So let’s reduce it down.

Let’s just make the first part of our Tweet say, “Rejoice!” That’s eight characters – still plenty of room to work with.

But to be effective, we have to be clear why we’re rejoicing.

What is it that makes us so happy on this holy day?

Is it the knowledge that Jesus died for us? For each of us? Personally?

Yes. But what does that mean?

That God loves us, perhaps?

That is why Jesus died for us, you know – because he loved us.

So I think that might be the next part of the message.

God loves you.

That’s another 14 characters, so we’re still in good shape.

But even though that message has been repeated many times before, there are still some people who don’t quite believe that God loves them. Some people don’t believe Jesus died for them, and others say, “Yeah, OK, he died for us, but how does that prove that God loves us?”

Well, we have that answer, don’t we? It’s pretty simple, actually:

Jesus’ tomb is empty.

(chant)

This is the night,

When Christ broke the bonds of death and hell,

And rose victorious from the grave.

The women went to the tomb on the third day so they could anoint Jesus’ body, but he wasn’t there. He was gone. It was the angel who told them the God’s-honest truth: He has been raised from the dead – just like he told you.

In that rising, my friends, God proves his love for us by not just defeating but by annihilating the one thing we fear the most: death itself.

Jesus loved us so much he died for us – for each one of us, right here.

God loves us so much he destroys death for us – for each one of us, right here.

So let’s make that the next part of our Tweet:

The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ, who died for us, is risen!

That takes us up to 83 characters. Meaning, we still have some room to get more of our message across.

So let’s explain some more why this is all Good News.

(chant)

Easter Morning, by He Qi.

 

This is the night,

When all who believe in Christ

Are delivered from the gloom of sin,

And are restored to grace and holiness of life.

How blessed is this night,

When earth and heaven are joined,

And man is reconciled to God.

And there you have it.

The gloom of sin, which leads to death – emotionally, spiritually and physically – has been lifted. Our lives, which sometimes can seem so empty, so pointless, so difficult, so draining, are restored to grace and we are made holy again.

Any separation from God that we may have experienced in our lives is over and done with. We have been reconciled to God. Our relationship has been put to right, we have been brought together, our accounts have been squared. We are reunited with God, and all our differences have been patched up and resolved.

By dying for us, Jesus wiped the slate clean.

By raising Jesus from the dead, God keeps that slate clean … forever.

And that is Good News indeed. Why, it’s such Good News that I think we ought to praise the Lord for it.

So let’s put an “Alleluia!” in our Tweet. We’ve got the room.

And look! We still have some room left.

He Is Risen, by He Qi.

So let’s go back to where we started. Let’s put in another “Rejoice!

Put it all together, and I think we just might have our Tweet. I think we are ready to proclaim to all the world what makes us so very happy on this Easter morning.

Rejoice! God loves you! The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ, who died for us, is risen! All of us are reconciled to God! Alleluia! Rejoice!

And we did it in 135 characters, thank you very much! I think my friend on Facebook would be pleased.

Yeah.

We have Good News to share this morning:

God loves us, and we can prove it. The tomb is empty, Christ is Risen. Alleluia!

And you can Tweet that!

Amen.

Easter sermon, preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Arlington, Va., 24 April 2011, Year A.

 

[1] The Rev. Mark Delcuze, Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Beverly Farms, Mass., “Tweeting the Resurrection,” 13 April 2011, https://www.facebook.com/mark.delcuze?sk=notes

 

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Buspar

John 11:1-45

In 1988, a controversial movie, The Last Temptation of Christ, was released. It was based on a novel written in 1960 by Nikos Kazantzakis, and is, in reality, the author’s and director’s great “What if …?” exploration of the life of Jesus. “What if,” they ask, “Jesus had given in to temptations offered him? What if he hadn’t died on the cross?”

I can tell you that many, many people were quite upset about this movie, because it is very challenging to them. The question of “What if …?” forces you to examine your faith, and to examine everything you know about Jesus.

But regardless of how you feel about the movie as a whole, there is one scene in it that is absolutely stunning in its power, the scene of the resurrection of Lazarus.

In this scene, Jesus goes to the grave of his friend Lazarus, the one whom he loved, led by Mary and Martha, followed by his disciples, surrounded by mourners. Once there, he orders the people there to remove the stone at Lazarus’ tomb.

Remember, Lazarus has been dead for four days by now; Lazarus’ sister, Martha, objects, warning Jesus of the stench. (I do so love the King James Version of this Gospel: “Lord, by this time he stinketh!”) And indeed, when some of the men open the grave, the stench of Lazarus’ rotting body causes everyone present to gasp and cover their noses and mouths, and watching, you find yourself waiting for that next scene, showing people becoming ill.

But that doesn’t happen.

Instead, Jesus takes a deep breath, goes to the entrance, to this black hole cut into the side of a hill, says a prayer to his Father in heaven, and calls to Lazarus: “Lazarus, come out!”

Unlike in today’s Gospel, where Jesus cries out in a loud voice but one time, Martin Scorsese, the film’s director, has Jesus call twice, in a much gentler voice: “Lazarus. Lazarus! Come out. Come out!”

But nothing … happens … So Jesus crouches by that black opening of the tomb, staring into the darkness while the silence – and the tension – builds. The only noise is that of the flies, buzzing around the body in that lightless tomb.

For 15 … seconds … nothing happens.

Jesus stares into the darkness and twice more, very gently, calls out: “Lazarus … Lazarus …”

Still, nothing happens … for another … 10 … seconds …

And then … suddenly …

… a hand shoots out of the grave!

Everyone jumps back in shock, including Jesus …

… who then reaches into the grave with a trembling hand, takes Lazarus by his decaying hand, and begins to pull him out. But Lazarus resists and actually pulls Jesus part-way into the tomb. So Jesus uses both of his hands and braces himself and tugs Lazarus out of the darkness of death and back into the light of life …

… Thus proving, in no uncertain terms, that it is never too late …

… It is never too late for Jesus to reach into the darkness of our lives, into the graves in which we find ourselves buried, to resurrect our lives and to give us new life.

It is never too late for Jesus to unbind us from all that holds us in our graves and in the darkness and set us free

Even when we have been in the graves of our lives so long that decay has set in, even then, it is never too late for Jesus, because we are never beyond his reach.

• • •

Russian Icon. The Raising of Lazarus. 15th century. Novgorod school. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

This recounting of Lazarus’ death and resurrection, which appears only in John’s Gospel, is a story of resurrection, of new life, of being set free – by God – from everything that buries us, from everything that binds us, everything that separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, everything that keeps us from living the life that God dreams of for us.

Face it, we all spend time in the grave, we all live in darkness at times, we all find ourselves bound up … by fears, by anxiety, by grief and mourning, by despair and loneliness.

This is the Washington Metro area, and we know what it means to live with anxiety. We’ve been stuck at Orange Terror Alert since September 2001. We know that, right? For us, it’s just the norm. But anyone who comes here to visit from someplace that is not under Code Orange wonders if there’s something going on that they should know about.

How many of you pay any attention any more?

And how many of you drive on (Interstate) 95, or 395 or 495, and see those signs, “Report suspicious activity”? Really? How do you define “suspicious”? I’d love to report people speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, but I don’t think that’s what Homeland Security has in mind.

How many of you here ride the Metro? I know we take the Code Orange level for granted, but how would you feel if you saw someone get off one of the trains and leave behind a knapsack under a seat? Would you feel anxious? More anxious than normal?

And how many of you receive a paycheck from the federal government? Or have someone in your family, or know someone, who gets one? Talk about anxiety and fear! I don’t get a paycheck a federal paycheck, and I was checking every 10 minutes on Friday night, waiting to find out if the government was going to be shut down, or if an agreement could be reached. How much anxiety and fear did you experience on Friday, wondering if you would have enough money to pay your mortgage come Tuesday, or whether you would be able to make the down-payment on the tuition so your high school senior could go to the college of her choice? Or feared you would not be able to pay your credit card bill? All because our leaders seem to have forgotten that they are supposed to be servants of the Lord, and are not Masters of the Universe?

And then at the last possible second, just in time for the 11 o’clock news, our leaders announced that they would not shut down the government and we could all breathe a sigh of relief.

Oh, yes, we know anxiety here and we know how it can plunge us into the depths of darkness and feel like a grave to us. We know what it means to be bound up.

But I am telling you, Jesus is standing right here … right here … this very minute, with us, calling each of us by name, reaching into the graves of our lives and pull us out of that darkness, using both hands if necessary, so that we can be restored to the light.

Jesus is right here, because he loves us just as he loved Lazarus.

And he is crystal clear: “I am the resurrection and the life.” And all who believe in him have life … because he loves us.

Now, I don’t want you to leave this place today and say that the preacher told you could wander through life, throwing your arms in the air and proclaiming to everyone, “Jesus loves me! Isn’t life great?”

Because Jesus does not pull us out of the grave just so we can wander around and practice happy-clappy Christianity. Because Christianity is not supposed to be happy-clappy. And for darned sure that isn’t what it means to be an Episcopalian. Resurrection is serious business.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, and he is in our lives, giving us the same gift he gave to Lazarus: new life so that we can go forth into the world to love and serve the Lord!

This new life that Jesus gives us is a life of service. It’s a call to us to delight in God’s will, to walk in God’s ways to the glory of God’s name!

Being set free is not about us – it’s about God and God’s dream for us.

We are set free so that we can exactly what God is calling us to do …

… to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty …

… to make the blind see and the deaf hear and the mute sing and the lame leap with joy …

… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor not once every 50 years, but every year!

Jesus is standing at our graves, my friends. He has said the prayers over us. And he is calling us – each of us – by name.

He is reaching into the darkness of our lives, grasping our already decaying hands and pulling us … tugging us … dragging us out of our graves …

He is taking us out of that darkness that binds us, and setting each one of us free.

He is calling us …

Lazarus!

Lazarus!

Do you hear him?

Amen.

• • •

A sermon preached on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A, 10 April 2011, at St. George’s Episcopal Church, Arlington, Va.

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Waiting for resurrection

Holy Saturday in Haiti:

Dear Beloved in Christ:

On this Holy Saturday, the sun has set here and technically, we can make our proclamation of the Risen Lord. Technically. But we don’t do that in Haiti. Our tradition is that we wait until Easter morning to shout with joy. So we are, like so many around the world, still waiting.

That’s what Holy Saturday is all about anyway — waiting. The women were waiting for the Sabbath to end so they could go to Jesus’ grave. All of creation was waiting to discover what God would do next.

And that’s what we’re doing here in Haiti as well. We’re waiting.

People who need medical care wait for hours to be seen. People wanting food stand in line for even longer. Those living in the Tent Cities are waiting for more information from the government, to find out where they can go next, where they might be able to find a place to live. Students are waiting for schools to reopen. My friends on the streets wait for someone to come along to buy something, so that they might have enough money to feed their children for one more day, or pay a school fee when those eventually come due.

It’s not that Haiti has come to a standstill, with all this waiting going on. There’s so much happening here, day and night, as people try to remake their lives, that it seems the country never rests. In the area where I live, up in Petion Ville, above Port au Prince, the main road right outside the church is always busy. What wakes me up at night is not the sound of trucks grinding gears as they climb up or down the mountain, but any absence of sound. That’s when I find myself waiting, trying to figure out what’s going on, why the traffic has stopped, whether something is wrong.

We held our Easter Vigil tonight at St. James the Just. Before the service, we were waiting to see if we could find a new Paschal Candle … we had been searching for many days, but so far no luck. In the end, when we had waited long enough, we got out last year’s candle, with “2009” clearly stamped on it, dusted it off and put it to good use again. While singing the Exsultet, I had to wait a few times while a man out on the street struggled to start his car, his engine grinding so loudly that I couldn’t be heard. As the darkness fell and became complete, it surely felt like the time had come to end the waiting. But because of the traditions in this place, we have to wait just a few more hours.

Haitians are patient people. They know how to wait. But I think the time has come to end all this waiting. I am as anxious to end Haiti’s waiting as I am to proclaim the Risen Lord.

Just one more night, Lord.

Then we can greet you anew, with great vigor and joy, shouting at the top of our lungs, “The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Would that Haiti’s wait for new life would be as short, and that it ends with the same joy.

Blessings and peace,

Lauren

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Celebrex side effects

Tuesday in Holy Week in Haiti:

Dear Beloved in Christ:

Tuesday in Holy Week in Haiti began with taking more Duduza Comfort Dolls to the children at the Little School at College St. Pierre in Port au Prince. Today was the last day of the school; the Tent City is being taken down, and the Internally Displaced Persons are being sent out into the countryside – or so the Haitian government hopes. All of the Tent Cities are hard places in which to live; there is little sanitation, not enough room, not enough water, and with the rains here, the situation is only getting worse. Where all the people will go, and whether the new camps will be ready for them, is a question none of us can answer.

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So bringing the dolls – these came from St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in New Hope, Pa. – and the soccer balls and basketballs and little bouncy rubber balls donated by my friend Rhonda Busch of Burke, Va. – to the children was yet another poignant act in this holy time. For three weeks, I’m told, the children have been asking: “When will Mere Lauren return? Will she bring us the dolls and balls she promised? When is she coming back?” When Jeanne Pocius, the musician who has been running the Petit L’ecole, and I arrived in the car this morning, the children swarmed around us, greeting me with gladness and shouts of joy, along with instant demands of “Puse! Puse!,” the thumb-wrestling game I taught them on my first visit. (To be honest and above-board, I instantly lost my first three matches. My friend, DeMarius, who is also named Ricardo, I discovered this morning, can beat me in two seconds flat – no lie.)

It took more than two hours to give each child a gift, and to get a picture of each one. Jeanne gave them cardspastedGraphic_1.pdf with her contact information on them, so that if they need anything, they know how to reach her. We put their names on the backs of the cards, too – “just in case,” Jeanne said. “It might help if something else happens, and someone needs to know who to contact.”

What a hard way to live: To know that at any moment, another disaster could strike, and these little ones could be left alone, with no one knowing who they are, or to whom they belong. It is not simply fear of another earthquake or aftershock that drives this fear; we had a 4.2 aftershock early on Sunday morning. It’s knowing that with so many buildings still crumpled but not completely fallen, with so many canted to one side or the other, with balconies overhanging streets without any support, that it not take much to create another disaster. And never mind the disease that already is being seen in Haiti; more rain brings more illness, and despite all the aid flowing into the country, there is still not enough medicine, or medical care, and an almost total lack of decent housing.

Yet despite this fear that hangs over everything, the Haitians continue to show incredible strength. They work together, they help each other, they hold revivals, they pray, they sing songs of praise to God daily. For the past couple of nights, there has been a revival concert going on at the Tent City across from my church in Petion Ville. The shouts of “Allelulia!” ring late into the evening. Haitians are suffering, but they haven’t forsaken their faith in God. Or, as I keep telling them, they have confidence in God because they know that God has confidence in them.

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I also went over to College St. Pierre itself, to see what no longer was. Most of the grounds have been cleared; construction already has begun on a new school. It is a shock every time to see empty land where once a beloved landmark stood, almost as shocking as seeing the destruction. But the Haitians never stop. Yes, there was an earthquake. Yes, it was and remains horrible. But to paraphrase the Bishop and all the Haitians I know, no earthquake is going to stop the Haitians.

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This afternoon, the clergy of the Diocese gathered at the open-air Cathedral on the grounds of the Holy Trinity complex. To renew my ordination vows here in Haiti at this time was indeed holy. Behind the open-air Cathedral stand the remains of the magnificent, world-renown cathedral. And all around us are empty grounds now. Holy Trinity Primary School, Holy Trinity Music School, Holy Trinity Trade School … all are gone, razed to the ground. It’s very disconcerting to drive down the street and be unable to find any landmarks. Thankfully, Pere David Cesar was driving and knew where to go; I would have driven right on by.

Bishop Duracin preached about the need for us to re-examine our vows and live into them more deeply, more fully, to exercise patience and pastoral care, to be strong so that we can lead the Church and the nation in this time of renewal. What he said today is what he has been saying from the beginning: We have our people; we have our faith. This IS our new creation, and we must make the most of it.

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At the end of the service, Bishop Duracin anointed each one of us – 250 or more – with holy oil, pressing the cross of Christ onto our foreheads to further strengthen us as we go right back out into the world to do the work God has given us to do.

Looking around, seeing all the clergy, along with 200 laity who came to worship as well, is to see the strength of the people of Haiti. Life is difficult here. But no one is giving up. We are clearing rubble, burying our dead, praising God and moving on with life. Haiti will be resurrected.

And in this holiest of weeks, that is the message I and so many others especially need to hear.

Blessings and peace,

Lauren

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