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March 2016 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"Oh, Brother!" — March 6
"The Best That We've Got" — March 13
"The Simplest and the Best" — Palm Sunday
"Let Yourselves Be Served" — Maundy Thursday
"The AHA Moment!" — Easter


“Oh, Brother!”
March 6, 2016
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

A Sunday School teacher told her class the parable of the Prodigal Son. “There was joy and happiness when the Prodigal came back,” she said. “But someone didn't want to go to the party the father gave for the son. Who was it?” she asked. There was silence as the children thought about who didn't want to be at the Prodigal Son’s party. Then a little voice responded, “I bet it was the fatted calf.” That story reminds us that this parable isn't just about the younger son. There are also the loving father and the elder brother, the servants, and the fatted calf. This parable has been called the greatest short story ever written. I think it’s so meaningful for us because we can relate to the feelings these characters express.

Sometimes we feel like the Prodigal Son. We know we’ve been selfish and greedy. We long to make changes for the better, but we wonder if we will be accepted—or even if we can succeed. At other times we are more like the father, waiting, with a broken heart, for someone we love to come to their senses. I’m sure you’ve figured out that the father represents God. Sometimes we may be like the elder brother, angry and resentful because his kid brother lost so much money and still seems to be dad’s favorite. I’m guessing that the elder brother represents the Pharisees, who are so intolerant of people who aren’t like them. Maybe sometimes we even feel like the fatted calf—sacrificed by one of our parents to make everything all right!

I want to focus on the older brother’s anger. He is as much of a sinner as the younger brother. This character’s first sin is the sin of self-righteousness. The elder brother says to his father, “Look, Dad, I have slaved for you all these years and never disobeyed you.” The elder son is quick to point the finger of blame at his sibling. Aren’t we like that, sometimes, focusing on others’ faults while ignoring our own? We need to be careful when we complain, “That’s not fair!” Jesus says in Matthew, Chapter seven, “Judge not that you may not be judged.” He continues, “How can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in our own eye...first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.”

The elder brother's second sin is that he won’t accept his brother's repentance. Even the worst sinner receives God's amazing grace.  Consider the story of John Newton, who lived in the eighteenth century. Newton had a gentle mother who raised him to be a Christian. She died when he was only seven years old. His rough sea captain father sent Newton to boarding school, and then took him to sea. Under his father’s influence, the boy became a ship’s captain and a drunkard. He made his living in the slave trade. Slave trading was not only legal, but very profitable, in those days. 

Then one day in 1748 there was a terrible storm in the Atlantic. Newton was convinced his ship was going down. He recited the Bible verses his mother had taught him as a child and fell to his knees in prayer. He promised he would reform if God spared his life. The next day the storm ended. Newton continued as a slave trader for a little while longer. But he was a changed man. He took a job ashore and gave up being a ship captain. Newton began to study for the ministry. He eventually was ordained and served as a parish pastor in England for forty years. He told everyone the story of God’s amazing grace in his life, and wrote more than three hundred hymns, including “Amazing Grace.” At age 82, Newton said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: ‘That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great savior.’”

The elder brother’s third sin is his lack of compassion. He’s so wrapped up in his resentment that he can’t see other peoples’ pain. His younger brother has been lonely and scared, and is sorry for all he did. The elder brother gives little or no comfort to his brother, and even less to their father. When the father begs the elder brother to join the party to celebrate the younger brother’s return, he refuses. The story reminds us that holding a grudge forever says more about us than about the other people involved. The sins we can’t forgive are sometimes a mirror for the disappointment in our own lives. As the father says, "This brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found." The dead one is the one who stubbornly chooses to remain outside the Father's party. We don’t find out whether the elder brother ever joins the celebration. I like to think that he eventually does embrace his brother with love.

Because we have heard this parable so many times, we don’t feel the impact of the sons’ sins so much any more. Let’s take a look at one of the worst news stories of our time—the Columbine shootings. It’s been seventeen years, but the story is still a nightmare for the victims. The parents of the teenage shooters were victims, too. Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, recently wrote a book about the impact of Columbine on her life. Its title is A Mother’s Reckoning, and it reveals how little Klebold knew about her son’s descent into darkness. Sue Klebold wrote the book in an effort to forgive herself, not her son. She writes, “I was the one who let HIM down, not the other way around.”

One of her son’s victims in the shooting has taken the bold step to forgive her. Several weeks ago, Anne Marie Hochhalter, a student who had become paralyzed in the shooting, wrote an open letter to Mrs. Klebold on Facebook. She is now in her thirties and uses a wheelchair. Hochhalter’s letter tells of receiving a note from Mrs. Klebold shortly after the shooting. The younger woman’s letter to Dylan Klebold’s mom ends with these words: Just as I wouldn’t want to be judged by the sins of my family members, I hold you in that same regard. It’s been a rough road for me, with many medical issues because of my spinal cord injury, but I choose not to be bitter towards you. A good friend once told me, “Bitterness is like swallowing a poison pill and expecting the other person to die.” I have forgiven you and only wish you the best. Signed, Anne Marie Hochhalter.

None of us have sinned on the scale of the Columbine shooters. But some of us have been in a "far country" and are making our way home. And others (like the older brother and the Pharisees) have kept the faith and worked hard for years, but now are more invested in staying in control than in celebrating God’s love for us. The church is a house of joy. God calls one and all to the Communion table today. He will fill our cups with love. Don’t miss the party!


Let us pray. O God, you came to us in mighty love. You have received us in our sinful rags and invited us to celebrate our forgiveness and your gift of Jesus Christ. In these days of Lent, bring us to see the fullness of your glory, and to acknowledge the depth of your love for us. AMEN


“The Best That We've Got”
March 13, 2016
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 12:1-8

People who are about to die, and know it, seem to live differently from the rest of us. I’ve known people with terminal illnesses who were able to face each day bravely, knowing it might be their last. My brother was one of these people. Healthier folks, like us, could choose to face our mortality “head on,” but we don’t. We live as if there will be many tomorrows. We don’t embrace today as if it were the only gift God has given us.

In today’s gospel lesson, Mary has realized that today is a great gift from God. She is the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Jesus has just brought her brother back from the dead. Mary wants to show Jesus her gratitude for saving her brother’s life. The pound of perfume with which she anoints her brother’s Savior, is worth a year’s wages for an ancient laborer. Scholars say that much pure nard was worth, in today’s American currency, almost thirty thousand dollars. Nard was imported from India—from a tiny plant that grew only in the Himalayas. The oil represents the best Mary can give. And yet, she realizes the perfume is far less valuable than God’s gift of life, so she pours it all out on Jesus’s feet. It is a profound act of devotion.

Why would Mary do this? Why is she so grateful to Jesus? Because He is the guest of honor at Mary and Martha’s celebration dinner. This banquet takes place just before Jesus’ triumphal ride into Jerusalem—the beginning of the last week of His life. A crowd of important men has showed up to honor Jesus. Quite a few of the guests have probably come just to hear Lazarus’s voice, or to touch his skin. He’s a walking miracle! Meanwhile, the scribes and Pharisees have placed a price on Jesus’ head. He is simply too powerful with the crowds now, and much too dangerous to be in the city during the Passover celebration. He might give all those rebels and Zealots the upper hand! So Jesus is in hiding with His friends.

Apparently, Mary feels that giving thanks to God for the gift of her brother’s return to life, and for the gift of this day—is the most important thing she can do. She is bold in approaching Jesus—a woman of low status, walking into a crowd of men during a formal banquet. She goes right up to Jesus without warning and pours a pint of perfume on His feet. Imagine how shocked the men are! This is outrageous behavior. Such a thing, simply isn’t done by women at banquets.

Judas Iscariot sees Mary’s gift as an incredible waste. To him, it’s just a matter of money poured out on the floor. What Judas says about Mary’s gift in this gospel reading sounds cheap and stingy. Unfortunately we have a lot in common with Judas, at times. We’re frugal with our money and we’re stingy with our schedules. When was the last time you had to stand in a long line? When did you last sit in bumper to bumper traffic? How many times did you look at your watch? What did you mumble under your breath?

I’m sure you know people who say that going to church is a waste of time. In America today, the gospel has been twisted to support our opinions and our lifestyles. Some people never attend worship unless they can see something in it for them. Bill Gates, the software engineer who is one of the wealthiest people in America, was interviewed by Time magazine a few years ago. The conversation came around to church attendance. Gates’ wife, Melinda, is a devout Roman Catholic. She goes to Mass regularly and takes their daughter with her. But her husband, who was raised in the Congregational church, typically stays home instead of accompanying his family to church. The Time interviewer asked him why. “Just in terms of allocation of time resources,” Gates said, “religion is not efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.” Our society is an instant one. We have instant everything—fast food, mashed potatoes, EZ Pass, and Netflix online. But there is no substitute for spending time, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Prayer and Bible reading are just two of the ways we can sit at Jesus’ feet. Mary of Bethany does this quite a bit in the gospels of Luke and John.

Judas is very irritated by Mary’s gesture toward Jesus. But he completely misses the point of worship, just as Bill Gates does. The gift of worship can never be reduced to efficiency or cost-effectiveness. Mary is feeling the joy of seeing her beloved brother alive again. She’s so intent on filling the house with the fragrance of love, that she can’t smell anything else, including the stink of Judas’ impending betrayal. But Jesus can!

Jesus defends Mary, telling Judas in no uncertain terms to leave her alone. He recognizes Mary’s extravagance, but He also knows that Moses told the Israelites, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy." To speak up for Jesus’ message of love and justice is as risky, nowadays, as it was in His time. Only a few days after the banquet, when Jesus is arrested, none of those men will have anything to do with Him.

Few of us are willing to take the risk of giving, and living, as freely as Mary does in this story. That’s because we’ve convinced ourselves that we have many years to live. Mary has lived through the death and revival of her dear brother, Lazarus. Jesus will soon take His first steps toward the cross, and Mary is the only one who seems to understand this—other than Judas the betrayer, to whom 30 pieces of silver are more important than Jesus’ life.

Mary loves Jesus, and she knows He needs a friend. She understands the pain He is about to bear, and wants to prepare Him for His final journey. There’s important symbolism here. In those days, you only anointed the feet of a dead person. Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet foreshadows His crucifixion, and He knows this. Jesus lets Mary soothe His tired feet and His weary soul. This is the best gift she can possibly give to her Lord.

My prayer, as we begin the journey from Palm Sunday through Holy Week, is that we will fill our lives with the fragrance of love. May that sweet aroma be so powerful that all we will want to do is to fill the world with that same perfume. To pour out the gift of extravagant love on people we meet, is to live as Christ would have us live.


Let us pray. O God, we pray for the church, that we may proclaim your Word boldly. Lead us, by the power of your Spirit, to witness to your truth, for we remember that death does not have the last word, in the church, or in the world. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN


“The Simplest and the Best”
Palm Sunday
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Luke 19:28-40

Someone once said, "A preacher can condense into half an hour what anyone else could say in five minutes." That is probably true! But from my perspective, there is so much to say and not enough time to say it!

Palm Sunday is one of those days when it’s hard to pick out one idea or theme. Do you preach on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem? And if you choose that theme, do you treat it as happy or sad? Is Palm Sunday a triumph, because Jesus finally gets cheered by the crowds? Or is it a tragedy, because some of the folks who praise Him on Palm Sunday will be calling for His crucifixion on Good Friday?

Or, because this is not only Palm Sunday, but also officially "Passion Sunday," do I preach on the crucifixion? I hope many of you will attend our Maundy Thursday service and/or our Good Friday service. But some of you can’t. So for some of you, Palm Sunday is the last time before Easter that you will be hearing the message of the cross. So, on Palm Sunday should I preach about the cross? I usually don’t. I focus on the parade and the celebration, and preach about the cross on Good Friday.

Palm Sunday music is my favorite—right up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving. It’s never hard to figure out which hymns we will sing. The title of this sermon is a line from our first hymn, “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna.” There are so many choices. In this sermon I would like to focus on one detail of the Palm Sunday story: the animal Jesus rode.

Jesus says to His disciples, "Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a donkey colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it, you shall say this, ‘The Lord has need of it.”

"The Lord has need of it." Think about it! Jesus’ Palm Sunday plan depended on a donkey. Let’s take a moment to consider what that might mean. In the ancient Near East, a donkey was the most common—and most basic—form of transportation. It was today’s equivalent of a two-door Ford Pinto with no air conditioning.

The donkey is a curious creature. Its back is only three feet off the ground. And while it’s strong enough to carry a full-grown man, if the man is tall, his feet will drag in the dirt. And, as you probably know, a donkey can be stubborn. The Harper Encyclopedia of Bible Life says, "A donkey does require the frequent application of a light stick…on the rump if a good day’s journey is to be attained.”

With its enormous ears, long narrow nose and stumpy legs, a donkey looks rather foolish. Not beautiful or noble like a horse. But it’s also economical. That’s why poor farmers used donkeys to plow, because a donkey eats only about one-quarter as much as a horse. And it works hard, too.

Furthermore, the donkey is a peaceful creature. Kings and warriors rode on horseback, but farmers and families rode donkeys. Horses were a symbol of war. Donkeys symbolized peace. So, if someone calls you a donkey, maybe it’s not so bad an insult, for a donkey is hardworking, economical and peaceful, too.

Still, isn’t it remarkable that Jesus, the Son of God, The Light of the World, our Good Shepherd, our Redeemer and King: Jesus, the most influential human being who ever lived, on His day of triumph, had to depend on a borrowed donkey? How much more, in God’s great plan, might God have need of you and me?

Sometimes, I have to admit, there’s a bit of donkey in me. Like the donkey, sometimes I can be stubborn. Like the donkey, sometimes I need a slap on the backside to get going. Like the donkey, I eat a lot less than a horse!

I suspect all of us, at times, can be stubborn as donkeys. Yet one of the great mysteries of our faith is not only that we believe in God, but that God believes in us! No cathedral can be built, no anthem of praise lifted up, no rain forest saved, no poor man fed, no child comforted, no prayer prayed, no hospital patient visited, no Sunday School class taught, no injustice corrected, unless you and I, working with God, do it! The Lord has need of you. And the Lord has need of me.

There’s an old legend about Jesus entering heaven after his Ascension. An angel asks him, "Who have you left to carry on your work?" Jesus answers, "Just a little band of men and women who love me."

"But what if they fail when the going gets rough?" asks the angel, "Will everything you have accomplished, be defeated?" "Yes," said Jesus, "if they fail, all I have done on earth will be lost."

"And you have nothing more than these feeble, imperfect women and men, to carry on after you?" "No," said Jesus, "there’s nobody else but them." "What if they fail? What then?" asks the angel. Jesus replied, "They will not fail!" That’s how much God has entrusted to us.

No one cheered for the donkey on Palm Sunday. The crowd cheered for Jesus. And there He was, bouncing on the back of a fuzzy little donkey, riding toward the cross to die for our sins. There He was, riding toward the Resurrection of Easter morning.

So, easily, the Palm Sunday crowd turned away from the true Lord. They wanted to be on the winning side. No one cheered for the donkey, but the Lord had need of him.

I would have no problem being God’s humble, useful helper—like the donkey. I would rather do that than raise up empty cheers with the crowd. What about you? The Lord has need of you. In this Holy Week, will you promise to give yourself to God?


Let us pray. We have come to worship you, O God, and to celebrate the entrance into Jerusalem of your Son Jesus. We are aware that the crowd and the disciples did not perceive who He was or understand His message. We are aware that we often act in as clueless a fashion as they did. Open our eyes and our hearts, so that we may truly celebrate the humble Messiah who comes to offer himself for the freedom of us all. Amen.


“Let Yourselves Be Served”
Maundy Thursday
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 13: 1-17, 31-35

Here’s some Bible trivia. Where in the gospels does Jesus say, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"? Actually He did say this, according to the Apostle Paul, but this quotation isn’t in any of the gospels. Paul quotes Jesus as having said this, in Acts, chapter 20, verse 35.

Not surprisingly, all across the years the Church has agreed! What is the weekly offering but an opportunity for people to give rather than to receive? What are annual special offerings like One Great Hour of Sharing, but opportunities to give rather than to receive? What are invitations to sing in the choir, to teach Sunday school, or to serve on the Board of Deacons, but opportunities to give, rather than to receive? "It is more blessed to give than to receive," Jesus said, and across the years the Church has agreed.

Tonight’s reading from the thirteenth chapter of John has a strong emphasis on giving. Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, grabs a towel and a basin of water, and begins to wash the disciples' feet. A moment later He says to them, "If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” So we Christians understand ourselves to be a servant people, following the example of our Lord.

Robert Holland, a Presbyterian minister, was offered a wonderful gift by a neighbor who was a sculptor. "I've been thinking of sculpting you a figure of Jesus," said the neighbor. "What do you think His most characteristic pose would be?" Holland thought long and hard about the question. What is the most characteristic pose of Jesus Christ? Is it the teaching Christ, sitting on the Mount, preaching the Beatitudes, the healing Christ reaching out to touch someone in need, the crucified Christ nailed to the cross of Calvary, or, maybe, the resurrected Christ standing in front of the empty tomb? Finally Holland replied, "I'd like you to carve me a statue of Christ with the towel washing the disciples' feet. That's the Christ I want the world to know - the serving Christ, the one who gives of Himself for others."

We are often told that receiving is just as important as giving. Yet, for many of us, receiving is much more difficult than giving. Consider, for example, the late Reverend Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard University in the 1990’s. Early in his career, while teaching at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he received invitations to preach from the pulpits of small, rural, Baptist churches in Macon County. These churches paid the visiting preacher by taking up a "love offering" immediately following the sermon. "Early on," he writes, "I refused these offerings on the grounds that these poor people and their church needed the money more than I did, since I had a decent salary, and it was my pleasure to give." But when Gomes mentioned his refusals to the dean of women at Tuskegee, she thundered, "Who are you to refuse to accept the gift of these humble people? You have insulted these congregations by refusing to let them do what they can do for you.” Sometimes, you see, it is more difficult to receive than to give.

Most every congregation has a handful of saints like a certain woman I remember from a church in New Jersey. Active in church all her life, she was one of the most tireless and selfless members of her congregation. While many of the members drove new luxury cars, she zoomed around town in a nine-year-old Honda Civic. She wasn’t a trendy dresser, either. When people dropped hints that she ought to update her car or her clothes, with a shrug of her shoulders she'd say, "I can think of more important things on which to spend my money." When a couple would arrive home from the hospital with a brand new baby, she'd be the first to visit them with a casserole and a word of advice about how to change a diaper or give the baby a bath. When the church needed someone to fold the Sunday bulletins, to weed the memorial garden, or even to substitute teach the confirmation class, she would be the first to volunteer.

But then, tragically, she suffered a stroke, which left her partially paralyzed. Other church members tried to offer to help her, but she refused. "Thank you, dear," she would say, "but I can get by just fine by myself." Finally, in exasperation one of the deacons said, "She is an independent soul, and she’s been a care-giver all her life. But now she needs to learn how to receive help as well as give it." For her, and for many of us, it is more difficult to receive than to give.

In Jesus’ time, when guests arrived at a banquet, there would be a slave who would wash their feet. But Jesus and his followers had no slaves. So, according to custom, the most junior of the disciples would have to do their foot-washing. No one volunteered—no one but Jesus! But, when Jesus took a towel and a basin of water, Peter protested. "Lord, are you going to wash my feet? You will never wash my feet!"

If the truth be known, most of us don't like to receive help, not even from our friends, not even when that friend happens to be Jesus. We want to succeed in life on our own. Like Peter we prefer to stand on our own two feet. "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Peter asks. "You will never wash my feet."

But Jesus replies, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Jesus, filled with divine wisdom, understood how hard it is to be a disciple. No matter how many positive thoughts we think; no matter how many kind words we speak; no matter how many good deeds we perform, the world will eventually wear us down unless the grace we receive is as great as the grace we try to give.

Nowhere is this grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ more tangible than in the upper room on the night of Jesus' betrayal. For during supper, Jesus got up from the table and laid down His robe, which symbolizes the way Jesus would soon lay down His life on the cross, and He began to wash the disciples' feet. 

Like Peter, we continue to protest. "Lord, you will never wash our feet." Like Peter, we’d rather be totally in charge of our lives, both physically and spiritually. But we can’t manage entirely by ourselves. What we need, day by day, is regular washing of the parts of our personalities that get dusty and dirty. Jesus keeps reminding us that whatever power we possess for living Christian lives is not our own. Instead, it comes from Him. "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." "You will never be able to give," He seems to say, "until you learn how to be a generous receiver."


Let us pray. Father in heaven, may we accept, with humility and gratitude, the gifts your Son leaves us tonight. May we joyfully become footwashers for one another, and may our putting aside our own wants and needs to wash the feet of others make us worthy to be His disciples. AMEN


“The AHA Moment!”
Easter Sunday
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 20:1-18

Do you like to put together those huge jigsaw puzzles with a thousand or more pieces? My brother loves the ones that are just gray, white and black—no colors--and have more than two thousand pieces. Those are serious puzzles! He says there are three stages in the completion of a serious jigsaw puzzle.

Most people have a plan for starting out. Some begin by putting the corners together, and then the edges. That’s the first step, and the easiest. If it’s a landscape, they look for, say, the blue of the sky. As they put together the middle, it gets a lot more tedious. There’s no substitute for hard work. After they have finished several big chunks of the middle, they just try one piece after another, to bridge the gaps between the chunks. Most people lose interest at that stage. At least one person needs the patience to keep going.

And then, in nearly every puzzle, there comes an “AHA! moment,” when the big picture comes together. The one or two people who are left to work on the puzzle, grab leftover pieces and put them in place. Suddenly, it’s done. It’s exciting! It can be sad at the same time.

In John’s gospel, hundreds of people meet Jesus. Most of them don’t get Him at all. Some do get it— after they’ve put pieces of the puzzle together. Most people who listen to Jesus talking about His body and the Bread of Life, don’t get it. When Lazarus dies and comes back to life, Mary and Martha get it. The woman at the well gets it.

In the Gospels, Mary Magdalene has supported the ministry of Jesus and His disciples. She has witnessed His crucifixion. She comes to His tomb, the day after the Sabbath. It’s dark. She’s alone and afraid. Because Jesus had been buried in haste, she’s in a hurry to anoint His body for proper burial.

Right away, Mary notices that the stone at the front of Jesus’ tomb has been removed. Now she has few pieces of the puzzle, but not enough to figure out what’s going on. So she does what Jesus tells her to do. She runs to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple what she has seen. She thinks body snatchers might have made off with the remains of Jesus, but because she’s a woman, she knows the law won’t recognize her as a witness.

Now let’s look at this situation as if we are putting a puzzle together. Only a few pieces are in place. Mary knows the life and works of Jesus. She has heard the words of the Old Testament prophets. But at this point, she doesn’t understand what she’s seeing. Her grief and shock don’t help.

Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to the tomb when Mary calls them. They hesitate to enter. Remember that, for the Jews of Jesus’ time, contact with a dead body made a person unclean. But it’s obvious that something out of the ordinary has happened. The Beloved Disciple bends down to look, and sees the wrappings there, but he doesn’t go into the tomb. He’s still thinking things over—trying to make sense of what he sees.

Peter arrives a few moments later. He enters the tomb suddenly, as you’d expect the impulsive Peter would do. He sees the grave linens lying there. He notices the piece of linen that had wrapped Jesus’ head, separately rolled up. Peter has just put together more pieces of the puzzle. An empty tomb. The stone rolled away. The grave cloths lying there. The body of Jesus, missing.

And John writes, “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw. And he believed! For as yet, they did not understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.” This is the AHA moment. The Beloved Disciple sees and believes. He’s the first one to get it. Peter doesn’t understand yet.

We shouldn’t worry about Peter. He will figure it out later. He’ll receive forgiveness when Jesus asks Him if he loves Him—three times He will ask Peter, and three times Peter will answer.

And Mary? She isn’t the first to get it, but she will. Mary receives the richest blessing of all. Weeping outside the tomb, she encounters two angels, who ask her why she is weeping. She says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Then she sees Jesus.

Jesus asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She replies by asking Him a practical question. Mary is trying to force puzzle pieces where they don’t fit. She says, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him.”

And then, all it takes is one word. Jesus says to her, “MARY!” She turns to Him and says in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (This word means, “teacher!”) This is Mary’s AHA moment! Because Mary’s first to proclaim the risen Christ, she’s the first apostle. The word, “apostle,” means “ambassador.” The Beloved Disciple believes, a bit later. He becomes an ambassador, too.

What are the clues, in your own life, that point to the Risen Lord? Remember, it isn’t the DEATH of Jesus that brings life, it’s His RESURRECTION. It isn’t just that someone has been raised from the dead. Jesus has passed into another reality. We see that in other places in the Bible—the story of Lazarus comes right before this in the gospel of John. The fact that the grave clothes are neatly placed in the tomb contrast Jesus’ resurrection with Lazarus’ resuscitation. When Lazarus comes from the grave, he wears his burial clothes because he will die again. The risen Jesus can leave the grave clothes behind forever. He will never die.

Jesus was crucified, sinless, for the sins of others. There comes an AHA moment when we get this. With Easter Sunday, we see the cost of the cross, for Jesus, and we then see the glory of the empty tomb. Suddenly the last piece of the puzzle falls into place. The words Jesus has said, the healings, the miracles, His caring for the poor, the rigged-up trial, the opposition of the powerful, and the tomb. The picture becomes clear, and all the pieces fit. Then we add the experiences of Peter, the Beloved Disciple, and Mary.

Jesus is risen indeed! It’s not a puzzle any more. We get it. We become the living reminder of the cross and the resurrection. Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. God’s power is stronger than any of the storms of life. Do you get it? Good! We are ambassadors now! Let’s proclaim the good news.


Let us pray. We thank you, God, for the revelation of Easter. Stay with us through the experiences of death and resurrection in our own lives, until you raise us from graves of suffering into new life and hope. AMEN


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3005 S. Front Street, Whitehall, PA 18052 | 610-264-9693 | hokeypres@gmail.com
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