Romans 6:3-5; Psalm 16:5-11; John 20:1-10

This evening we continue our series, “Conversations on the Way: the Man, the Message, the Movement”.  These sermons are meant to be provocative; that is, to provoke questions. You are welcome to join us for a simple soup supper following the service, when we can reflect together.

The topic this evening is “the message”.  If Jesus had a message, what was it?  If there is a core message, what is it?  If there were a contest to summarize the message of Jesus in as few words as possible, what could we say?  My entry into this imaginary competition is five words.  Here are my five words summarizing the core message of Jesus, as I hear it today: “Join me in the Resurrection”. Five words.  Actually, I’d like to tack on five more words of clarification: “Don’t wait ‘til you’re dead.”  Join me in the Resurrection–don’t wait ‘til you’re dead.  My entry in the “Message-of-Jesus-in-as-few-words-as-possible Contest”.

In the Gospel story the disciple bends down to look into the tomb.  Stoop or crouch down might be a closer translation. You can still see first century tombs today in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem (also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher).  What’s left of what is believed to be the actual tomb of Jesus is covered with a kind of mausoleum, but just a few feet away off a side chapel are a couple of first century tombs hewn out of the limestone bedrock. They’re often called “oven tombs”, because they look like and are not much bigger than ovens.  They’re not much more than a yard or so wide and waist high.  You have to crouch down to go inside.

These tombs are small, confining spaces. And with a stone covering the opening, small, confining and dark spaces. You can’t stand up in an oven tomb.  But Jesus stood up.  The biblical word for resurrection is ανάστασισ—literally, standing again, rising again. For Jesus to stand again, he had to be out of the tomb.  Out of the place of darkness and confinement.  For Jesus to stand to his full height, he had to leave the small, dark place of the tomb. And so it is. For us to rise up to our full stature, we must leave the small, dark places of life.  We must leave the many and various tombs of this earthly life, and find our way to the broad, open and light filled places.

“Join me in the Resurrection,” Jesus calls out to us today. “Even now, even today—don’t wait ‘til you’re dead.” Come out of the small, dark, confining places of life into the broad and bright places—stand up, rise up to your full height.

When we say we believe in the Resurrection we usually are thinking of what we might call the Great Resurrection: our entrance into life beyond the gateway of death, our eternal life.  I want to state unambiguously that I believe in that Great Resurrection. But I don’t know much about it and have little to say, just that I’m sure it will be wonderful beyond our imagining.

But resurrection is woven into the texture of life in the world we live in now.  We understand Christ to be the one through whom all things came to be. We understand Jesus Christ as one abiding in us, as we abide in him. He is all in all.  And he said, “I am the Resurrection”. If Christ is all in all, and if he is himself the Resurrection, we should expect to find something of the Resurrection all around us in the world we live in, the world created in and through and for him.  He said he would be with us always.  If he is with us always, we should be alert to the possibility of resurrection all around us—resurrection in all its manifestations, even in the most ordinary things.

What about some of the other big ideas we associate with Jesus’ teaching? What might they have to do with resurrection?  I think they are variations on a theme.  Like in a musical theme and variations, the variations may sound completely different and yet all have the same underlying structure.

What about, for example, ethics of love and compassion.  Isn’t Christianity all about loving our neighbors, even loving our enemies?  And, animated by this love, pursuing justice and provision for all?  It is, indeed. But there is resurrection in these things. Fearing our neighbors or hating our neighbors is a small, dark place. Fear and hatred are tombs. As are contempt and disdain. And we are not meant for tombs: we are meant for life, for light, for the freedom of broad and bright places.  “Join me in love,” he says. “Join me in love, in compassion, in generosity and the pursuit of justice,” he says. “Join me in the broad and bright places of life–join me in the Resurrection.”

Or, what about forgiveness?  Isn’t Christianity all about forgiving others and being forgiven?  Isn’t the cross about God’s forgiving us?  Yes, indeed.  And there is resurrection in these things as well.  Not being forgiven can be a very dark and confining place to be.  And not being able to forgive someone else can create its own kind of claustrophobia. We’re called to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  You will probably know how liberating this can be.  When people are able to forgive one another there is a sense of release, a sense of openness and light.  This, too, is resurrection.  In this freedom we can rise to our full height.

Or, what about healing?  Isn’t Christ the great healer? Yes. Indeed. Physical and mental illnesses and addictions can be kinds of tombs.  Life can become very dark and confining when we are ill.  We seek healing not only to be relieved of our suffering, but also to be open to new possibilities. When we experience healing, we can know something of fuller and greater life. Being healed, being released from the captivity of our suffering, we can begin to rise to our full stature.

Or, what about following Jesus?  Isn’t Christianity about following Jesus?  It is, indeed.  It is what St. Francis meant to do.  Today is his feast day.  Francis found the wealth and status of his  family too confining, too small a space.  He sought a larger life, a more expansive way of being.   He was like the rich young man in the gospel story, except that he actually did give everything up and follow Jesus. The poverty he embraced, following the example of Christ, was for him a kind of liberation, a freedom.  His conversion was a kind of resurrection; his new life provided the space for him to rise up to his full stature as a human being.

Jesus was known, of course, for teaching in parables. His death and burial and resurrection is his greatest parable, a parable in flesh and blood, a parable embodied.  The parable of all parables. The great theme upon which infinite variations are possible. Leave the small, dark, confining places of life—come out into the broad and bright places and discover the freedom to rise to your full height.

I want to squeeze in one more thought before I finish: Sometimes—by sheer determination–we can just kick the stone away from the door of the tomb and march out triumphantly into Resurrection Life.  More often, we must wait: wait for circumstances to change, wait upon on God, wait on others for help.  When Lazarus was called out of the tomb, Jesus said: “unbind him.”  You –you friends and family of Lazarus—you unbind him.  Sometimes we cannot unbind ourselves, but have to wait for others to help us into freedom.

So, what is the message of Jesus?  Is there a core message?  If there is a core message, what is it for you?  I’ve told you my entry in the “Message-of-Jesus-in-as-few-words-as-possible contest”: “Join me in the Resurrection—don’t wait ‘til you’re dead!”  What would your entry be?  I look forward to hearing from you over clam chowder.

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  1. SusanMarie on April 13, 2018 at 08:54

    “Love as I have shown you to love.”

  2. suzanne robinson on May 16, 2017 at 02:01

    THIS TEACHING.. I simply cannot stop reading
    it… before going to bed, waking in the morning, sitting in the garden, marveling at the beads of water on My Ladies mantle, sharing God’s Word with my sister in Delaware, conversing with a friend, caught up by Love,
    standing near the washer ~ praying it daily in bits and pieces but always Jesus leaning standing near by,
    whispering in my hear, “Join Me in The Resurrection- the utter intimacy and innocence of that invitation. He who know everything that I ever prayed, said, thought, or done, would ask me to join Him in The Resurrection! I want to draw back but am held spellbound by the great
    gap that is, in that invitation bridged by such Love.
    I cannot turn Him down. I love Jesus for only in
    Him. with Him and through Him will I know and experience God in Him as The Way, the Truth and the Life promised and fulfilled in Jesus. “Jesus loves us this
    I know , that where He is, we may be also.”

  3. John Gishe on May 5, 2017 at 11:04

    What a wonderful blending of Gospel themes under the banner of Resurrection! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and loving reflection. Living on the West Coast, I will probably never ever meet any of the SSJE brothers. Your love of Jesus spans far and wide.

  4. Rhode on May 5, 2017 at 09:01

    God first

  5. Lorna Harris on May 5, 2017 at 08:28

    Really enjoyed this…. thank you!

  6. Jim Davis on April 15, 2016 at 16:47

    Help someone each day

  7. Martha Ann Hatch on April 14, 2016 at 15:14

    Enjoyed reading you sermon. It was very enlightening and will share among my friends. I wish I lived closer to attend in person.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Prayerfully thru Christ,

    Martha Ann

  8. susan zimmerman on April 14, 2016 at 13:08

    ..workin on it as we speak/write…i think when Jesus rose he did spend some time ‘in there’ just wondering perhaps

  9. anders on April 14, 2016 at 10:46

    I appreciate the clarity of your message but also feel sadness in honoring it. For me to rise up to my full stature as a man and single father, I must leave the small, dark places of life in the church, or at least keep a healthy proximity to them. My spirit has a foundation but not always a home in the church. As I child I was told I think too much, ask too many questions and don’t have enough faith. As an adult my last priest told me that my intensity was off-putting. I noted her cringing when I asked her a question about her sermon, likely because it was too challenging despite that it was an honest response to where my spiritual journey had brought me. As a result, plus that my children felt isolated without any other children attending, I had to leave that church. Now we are attending another church with a good kids’ program, though I do not feel welcomed within their narrowly defined suburban demographic profile.
    I see today’s church struggling to find its relevance in a changed world. It seems to be the most unbound and free at its periphery—such as community outreach—over Sunday mornings. I will continue to show up as a single parent with my sons and flashlight. I will be gentle with those dark, dim places I encounter there and focus on my freedom to choose places and events of vitality and growth, sometimes even in the church, knowing that they are good.

    • a city monk on April 15, 2016 at 13:04

      extreme degree of strength, force, energy, or feeling. I suffer with my intensity but not as much as others do.
      It is as if I am expecting someone who drink from a fire hose. It truly doesn’t matter how thirsty a person is, or isn’t…
      Nobody can drink from a fire hose. The context in which fire hose intensity is appropriate is really rare, and profoundly urgent… and while the fire may be out, there is the collateral damage cause by the water! Do not look for gratitude from the home owner…
      Remember, and this one I forget a lot… a fire truck is ‘called’ to the fire, invited, welcomed… The truck isn’t just driving by and lo spots flames coming from a barbecue grill and the fireman springs into action.
      Burning leaves is intentional and controlled… not so a house fire.
      Discerning if something is burning or on fire is the difference between having a garden hose on hand if needed and having a house fire endangering lives.
      Mostly, though people drink their water from a glass. A clean, clear transparent glass… holding Living Waters…
      Offered… without any attachment, with a purity of heart. Soothing, refreshing, comforting, consoling.

  10. John Backman on April 14, 2016 at 09:06

    I have a weird confession to make: the Resurrection has always left me cold. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is because a great deal of my life has been spent in small, dark tombs: old wounds, mental health issues, various struggles. Thanks to all of this, the Cross is so much more compelling to me–especially the aspect of God’s showing compassion to us by becoming like us, living with all the schmutz we live with, all the way to death. And I think that’s why, of everything Br. Mark wrote, his second-to-last paragraph touches me most: the idea that we often have to wait for God, for others, for life to take us by the hand and guide us out of the tomb. That smacks of the compassion I see in the Cross–the compassion that, to me, is God’s greatest call to us.

    • a city monk on April 14, 2016 at 10:14

      John… perhaps it is Holy Saturday you are describing? We really skip over Holy Saturday. Without the Resurrection, I just had a really really terrible Friday to ponder. A crucifixion like a gazzillion other crucifixions committed by the Romans and witnessed by those who cared and those who didn’t. So I spent time in Holy Saturday just turning over and over the minutes of Good Friday… I considered Holy Saturday from the heart of each of the disciples, and when I came to Mary and to John what was different? What did they know in their hearts that the others didn’t and could I beg them to teach my heart their prayers of Holy Saturday. So I began with that prayer, no words, just a holding of the question… Without the Resurrection …. there is nothing Good about Good Friday.
      Welcome to Holy Saturday’s prayers… and your Mother, Mary and your Beloved brother John.
      Peace and all good…

      • John Backman on April 15, 2016 at 09:14

        That’s a wonderful point about Holy Saturday and your approach to it. Funny you should mention it, because this is the first year I’ve ever attended the Holy Saturday service, and I found it surprisingly rich and deep. I’ll have to think about this. Thank you.

        And then there’s your description of the Cross as “a crucifixion like a gazzillion other crucifixions committed by the Romans and witnessed by those who cared and those who didn’t.” I find I connect with Jesus most deeply in the places where his life looks like mine; it’s why, for me, the Incarnation is THE essential doctrine of my faith. So your description actually resonates, because it reminds me of my own anonymous life, just like a gazillion others witnessed by those who cared and those who didn’t–and yet, for all that, still treasured boundlessly by God.

        • a city monk on April 15, 2016 at 12:35

          I hope I’m not sounding like I am doing apologetics. There is a difference between ‘super-sizing’ an aspect of a whole and making an ‘aspect’ the whole…
          4 Gospels reduced to One Gospel…
          As a yankee living in the South, it has been years since my ears heard the word schmutz used so for authentically oh how my heart smiled.

  11. Ruth on April 14, 2016 at 08:44

    This is so timely, even more so today. We live in a “Hash Tag” world. Sometimes we need the details, most of the time we don’t. The core message is what needs to be conveyed. Didn’t St. Peter say, “You alone Lord have the Words of life.” Thank you Brother Mark

  12. Michael on April 14, 2016 at 08:29

    ” Don’t worry. I have been with you to this point, and I will bring you through this point”. Regardless of the ‘tomb” we find ourselves in God knows the way out. We may have to wait, need help from others, but we have never been alone regardless of how we feel or what we might think

  13. Ferial on April 14, 2016 at 03:37

    Too late to join you in clam chowder – especially on the other side of the pond – but I can still contribute my words (a few more than 5 I’m afraid). “I came that you might have life; life in all its fullness.”

    • a city monk on April 14, 2016 at 09:57

      Join me in the Resurrection…
      Lord prepare my heart for Pentecost!

      How dynamic is God’s love for us! There is this stirring of the heart that whispers “yes— and!” Brother Mark’s homily moves us through so many of the “yes—and’s” that even gathered together shouts ‘even more’…
      Life in all its fullness sings with
      ‘even more’…

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  15. Paul Raymond on May 12, 2015 at 13:48

    I believe you asked, ” So, what is the message of Jesus? Is there a core message? If there is a core message, what is it for you? ” . Of course this is THE question. It seems people tend to convert Christ into an idol, a hero, versus a teacher who invited you to adjust your hatred, judgement, revenge, condemnation, shallowness of heart. I suspect he’d be far more interest in how I treat my neighbor this afternoon, specifically, versus some vague ideal to reflect hazily about.
    The core message? Follow the teachings of compassion and devotion carefully, humbly and devoutly throughout this reality, this today, this tomorrow – in your actual daily life with the people who are actually around you. May sacrifice to do this, its worth it.

  16. Barbara Frazer Lowe on April 22, 2015 at 21:48

    Br. Mark – In our world, you are just fantastic. What a blessing right here for us. Deepest, spontaneous, urgent, heartfelt, praise for you. But how do we praise you, gives thanks for you, your gifts to our living, on a higher level. Somehow, I hope it could be the way we give thanks to the Lord, give our thankfulness to the Lord, it is actually very ‘plebeian’, but we trust, count on, that He knows what is in our heart. YHour Oct 4, 2011, St Francis b=day. message. Kept. Barbara Frazer Lowe

  17. george on April 22, 2015 at 19:08

    My entry is 4 words for Jesus’s message…..Let me heal you……i think this is what Mark means in his gospel……thanks so much….isn’t it fun to be a Christian?

    • Jennifer on April 25, 2015 at 12:34

      I love that! Yes, He came that we might have life, joy (and fun!) overflowing.

    • Ruth West on April 26, 2015 at 00:36

      I love your outlook, George. Indeed, it is fun to be a Christian! When the stone has been kicked aside, and we can emerge into the bright sunshine of Resurrection, what could be better?!!
      Thanks for your good message, Br. Mark.

  18. anders on April 22, 2015 at 11:27

    Thank you. You tapped into some deep anxiety by making me realize that my childhood “faith” was a small, confining and dark space of “Join Jesus in the Resurrection and listen and behave until you’re dead.” It was a message of contempt and disdain rather than loving others, of shaming rather than forgiveness and healing. It was a take on the Apostle Paul where Jesus’ teachings were given mere lip service as a footnote in the transformation of Jewish to Christian exceptionalism. Love one another. Create new life from death, including irrelevant dead dogmas that serve only fear. The Jesus pulling me out of the tomb is stronger than the one directing me that I should squat in darkness. He is stronger in the life he shows me through others and I am grateful that I may struggle but don’t struggle alone.

  19. KC on April 22, 2015 at 10:30

    Love Never Fails.

  20. Charlotte Weaver-Gelzer on April 22, 2015 at 07:39

    “Grace and maturity are yours!”

  21. Kathy Trotter on April 22, 2015 at 07:11

    Thank you.

  22. Marta e. on April 22, 2015 at 06:51

    I have an “old” dog, an elderly dog who has been with me 14 plus years. He is my “prayer partner” among many other roles. He s like an old friend — sometimes with a bad habit of licking a spot on his leg. Whereas, I used to scold him for wearing away the hair and skin and making an open wound on his leg, I just noticed that now I rub him gently to distract him, or, if I have to do more, then move him gently so as to disturb him only slightly, and let him continue to doze. That might be a way to consider working with challenging relationships with people, lay gentle seeds of kindness and affection, rather than correction or advice. We have so little time, gentle kind thoughts of understanding and love . . . . .

    • John Backman on April 14, 2016 at 08:58

      Oh, this comment is magnificent. I want to put this into practice. Thank you, Marta.

  23. Charlotte Weaver-Gelzer on April 22, 2015 at 06:01

    “Grace for maturity is yours!”

  24. Roderic Brawn on April 22, 2015 at 05:27

    Every time I hear things like this I know the Christian Path I work hard to follow is the right one.

  25. Greg Schaffner on October 17, 2014 at 08:37

    Thank you for this and all the other messages that I get from SSJE. I am in the midst of a deeply painful separation from my church. I have been hurt by others and I have, in turn, hurt them. In my final meeting with my rector, he asked me to forgive him for the part he played. I couldn’t, not then, and told him so. The best I could do was say that I wanted to feel that way and was going to continue working towards that. Your post is helping me to understand this path. I am like the man who said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” I believe in the resurrection, the healing, the new opportunities that my departure will bring. At the same time, my greater present reality is that I am in a dark, confining space. You have reminded me to trust that even though my efforts to kick the stone away aren’t working right now, the stone will be removed, and that a power greater than myself – the Holy Spirit – is with me and those I have hurt.

    • SusanMarie on April 13, 2018 at 08:43

      Dear Greg,
      I am posting this years after your post in 2014. I have been through the same thing. You wrote your story well. I hope you will remember that is one small story of your life. If you happen to read this nearly 4 years after that part of your life, I hope and pray you have a new story to tell. I do. For me it took time; forgiving — or trying to forgive — over and over and over. I had to forgive myself as well. I had to make a new life; a resurrection in my own life. I, too, was in a dark, confining space during that time, and yes, trust was the key for me too. The stone has been removed through the power of the Holy Spirit along with beautiful people I met along the way and in my new church, and I know they could only have been placed in my path by God. There was also some necessary inner work to do — entering the belly of the whale for what seemed like an eternity. But God did bring me to another shore and has showered me with God’s grace, emotional sobriety, and a renewed spirit. I hope and pray you have found a similar “new story” — a resurrection in your life!

  26. Pat on October 16, 2014 at 11:52

    I believe in the resurrection. My sister has cancer and her prognosis is terminal.
    It’s hard for me to rejoice that she will have life after death as promised by our Lord because I will miss her so much. To me, it’s a sweet but bitter pill to swallow.

  27. Ruth West on May 18, 2014 at 00:10

    “Join me in the resurrection” is a great and deep message. It means to me renewal, a bursting forth of new life, emergence of victory in the midst of trial, temptation or darkness, an ultimate shining
    which only Jesus can give. Praise His Name!
    Thank you, Br. for enabling me to realize his presence tonight.

  28. Christopher Barnhart on May 17, 2014 at 07:10

    It is all about Love. Love your neighbor as youself. Love your enemy as yourself. Love life, life Loves you.

    • Janet on April 23, 2015 at 17:58

      That is so true. My entry for the message of Jesus in the fewest words is ‘ Love transforms everything’. Thank you Brother Mark for such thought provoking words.

  29. D Hull on May 16, 2014 at 16:10

    Amen, Amen. Alleluia! Alleluia!

  30. Margaret Dungan on May 16, 2014 at 15:07

    Thank you Br.David Your words inspire me.


  31. Susie Grommet on May 16, 2014 at 12:58

    I’m in a 12-step Program and have recently finished my first-time 4th Step Inventory. This step asks us to take a hard look at our past, as well as present circumstances, including relationships, choices, everything. Resurrection is a good way to look at working toward resolution of some of these issues. Thank you for suggesting to look at recovery in this way.

  32. Fred Adams on May 16, 2014 at 11:31

    “Put love into action.”

  33. Dale on May 16, 2014 at 10:56

    Brother Mark, How absolutely wonderful and “all inclusive” is your message. I found new joy in each paragraph. God certainly was, and is, guiding you in the creation of this message daily. I for one will probably be reading and rereading this message for weeks to come as it speaks so well of the thoughts in my heart. May we all bless God for guiding you in the formulation of this wonderful message of love.

  34. John McDargh on May 16, 2014 at 09:35

    Dear Br. Mark: Wonderful reflection.. It took me back to a poem I loved by the Sufi/Hindu poet Kabir. Offered here by way of thanks.

    Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
    Jump into experience while you are alive!
    Think…and think… while you are alive.

    If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
    do you think
    ghosts will do it after?

    The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
    just because the body is rotten —
    that is all fantasy.
    What is found now is found then.
    If you find nothing now,
    you will simply end up with an apartment in the City
    of Death.
    If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
    you will have the face of satisfied desire.

    So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
    Believe in the Great Sound!

    Kabir says this: When the Guest is being searched for,
    it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that
    does all the work.
    Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.

  35. Margo on May 16, 2014 at 08:41

    Great offering Br. Mark. Thank you.

    • Margo on April 22, 2015 at 07:43

      It bears a second reading. Thank you again.

  36. george miller on May 16, 2014 at 08:26

    I admire your work–i have such a tough time summarizing like that.

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