Blog: John 20:1-18: Running to Jesus

There is no way to describe the feeling I get when one of my girls surprises me by running toward me and giving me an unexpected hug.  Of course, as they are getting older the feeling I get is sometimes fear of being knocked over, but my heart is always warmed when they show me this type of affection.  I can remember many occasions when one of my little girls would run down the aisle toward me after worship service on Sundays.  She would jump into my open arms or crash into my legs if I was not paying attention.  Either way she just wanted to give me a hug.  These hugs came as a result of her being excited and happy to see me, but they also happened on occasions when she was unsecure or fearful.
On one occasion after Sunday morning worship, a group of men and I were talking while my youngest daughter was playing a short distance away.  For some reason she began to feel uneasy and wanted her dad.  Without thinking, she turned and ran toward a pair of legs and grabbed hold as she has done so many times before to me; however, this time the legs were not mine.  When she looked up and saw that she had the wrong dad, panic came across her face for a moment.  She quickly backed off and began scanning the group of men until she came across the face in which she found her security.  She then ran to me and I picked her up and she gave the biggest hug and smile possible.
In John 20:1-18, Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb to pay her respects to Jesus.  No doubt she is still distressed and grieving the events of the Friday before.  What an emotional week for her and all the followers of Jesus.  They had experienced the excitement and motivation of entering Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna,” and now they were experiencing the lowest of lows.  If ever Mary needed Jesus, this was the time; but He was dead.  She had seen Him die with her own eyes, there was nothing that could be done now and everything she hoped for was buried in a tomb behind a boulder.
When she reached the tomb Mary saw that the stone has been rolled away and she immediately thinks that things have just become even worse; now even Jesus’ dead body has been stolen.  Peter and another disciple ran to the tomb and simply confirm Mary’s fear that the body had been taken away.  Even the sight of two angels does not ease Mary’s pain.  In my mind I see her hunched over on her knees weeping, when she hears someone behind her and turns to see who could be standing there.  Through her tears and distress she simply glances at the figure behind her and assumes the man to be the gardener; of course she would not expect to see Jesus, he is dead.  She resumes her position of mourning at the feet of this gardener and pleads with him to help her make sense of this unthinkable situation.  Then Jesus calls her name and Mary looks up from her weeping and through the tears she looks into the eyes of the last person she expected to see, but the person she needed to see the most.
As we read this story we have the advantage of knowing the whole story.  What Mary did not know was that the victory had already been won before she even saw the empty tomb, but Mary needed to see Jesus to be assured of the victory.  We really are not much different when we are going through the dark times of our lives.  We tend to forget that God has already won the victory and that he will carry us through these difficult and burdensome times of life.  Sometimes the darkness becomes so dark that we feel like Mary and just want to fall to the ground and weep.  Only when we look up and fix our eyes on Jesus will the darkness surrounding our life begin to fade into the light of Jesus’ victory.
During the trying times of our life we need to act like my little girl and run to where our security and encouragement resides.  We need to run to Jesus and allow Him to comfort us, cry with us, encourage us, and strengthen us.  You may find yourself in a dark place right now and there seems to be no light anywhere.  Remember that this darkness is only part of the story; the full story ends with an empty tomb and the light of Christ filling all the dark corners of our lives.
There will always be dark and difficult times until Christ comes again, but even in the midst of this darkness we know that the victory is already won.  Jesus told Mary to go and announce His victory over death.  In a world so consumed by death, violence, immorality, and hopelessness there needs to be a message of hope.  Jesus is that message.  We need to go and proclaim that darkness has not prevailed, that there is light to be found in the midst of the darkness, and that the light of Christ will extinguish all remnant of darkness.  Let us live in the light and share the light with those who are still lost in darkness.


Blog: Missing the Point

I had an unexpected and powerful experience today in an unexpected place.  I think you may need a little background to better grasp this experience, so please bear with me.  For many pastors and church staff this week feels a whole lot like the opening sentence to the classic book “A Tale of Two Cities.” To be honest this is a book everyone was probably supposed to read and many will claim to have read every page.  I however, doubt I ever read the whole thing, but I can throw out the first line to make myself look smarter. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” is a line that rings true this week.  I love Easter week and yet I am usually overwhelmed by everything this week is not really about.

This morning I decided to leave the house to go to a quiet and serene location in order to finish or start, depending on how you look at it, preparing for our Good Friday and Easter services.  The library is normally my first choice, but because of a horrible mistake I woke up too early and the library does not open until 10.  Apparently, in my mind the next most logical place for a quiet and serene preparation place is McDonalds (they do have free wi-fi).  As I stand in line to order a healthy and delicious McGriddle meal I begin to take in my surroundings and realize my decision-making paradigm for finding a quiet and serene preparation location needs to be altered dramatically. First, there were very few open places to sit and even fewer that look to have been cleaned due to the excessive number of people ordering the healthy and delicious breakfast value meals.  Secondly, I realize there is a constant conversation going on between the very busy workers as they are trying their best to keep up with the ever-growing number of people being drawn to sweet taste of the McGriddle like a swarm of moths to a bonfire.  Thankfully, by the time I order, a table has come open.  I sprint toward the table in order to claim my little island in the midst of the sea of chaos that is McDonalds.

After enjoying the wonderful McGriddle, I decided to begin/finish my preparation, but before I could even start, my mind started to go through a mental checklist of everything that needed to be done this week.  Between preparing for family coming in to town and trying to remember everything that needs to be done for our two services, my mind had plenty of places to wander.   Just about the time I am reeling my mind back to where it needs to be, a voice reminiscent of a blow horn bellows through the restaurant, “number 321 please… NUMBER 321 PLEASE!”  I said a quick prayer asking the owner of number 321 to please show up at the counter as fast as humanly possible.  Finally, I began to focus on my preparation.

I must confess to you that there are times preparing for services and sermons can become somewhat mechanical and routine.  This is not to say the Holy Spirit is not involved, but there are times when doing your job feels like doing a job.  A hectic week and sitting in the chaotic atmosphere of McDonalds is not the most conducive atmosphere for sermon preparation.  As I was reading, thinking and hashing out an order of service I watched a worship video I have seen many times.  The final words on the video were, “He is Alive!”  That’s it, nothing unusually profound or revolutionary.  All of the sudden, in the middle of McDonald’s mind you, my eyes start to tear up.  I am fairly sure in the midst of the order calling, cleaning, devouring of McGriddles and general chaos, that not many would notice a grown man balling by himself in the corner; however, I did my best to compose myself.  The emotion continued to build and all I could think about was that He is Alive.

On Palm Sunday, I preached about how so many people missed the point of who Jesus was and what he did as he entered Jerusalem.  I cautioned us all about how easy it is for us to miss the point as well.  There in the middle of McDonalds I realized I had been missing the point.  The point is that He is Alive!  The preparation of a service remembering Jesus’ death on Good Friday is pointless unless, He is Alive.  Preparing for Easter and celebrating the resurrection is pointless unless, He is as Alive and active today as he was on that first Easter morning.  In the midst of the chaos of our lives the fact that He is Alive brings purpose, joy, and peace.  Do I still need to finish many of the tasks that were swirling in my mind, yes, but those tasks are put into perspective when they fall under the realization that He is Alive.  

Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed by the unending list of tasks in your life or so involved in participating in the events of Easter that you forget He is Alive!  Who would have thought in the middle of a hectic week while sitting in the chaos of McDonalds I would find the perfect spot of peace and serenity.  All because, He is Alive!