Those Five Words – Br. James Koester
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Acts 10: 34-43
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
John 20: 1-18
Something happened. Something happened and something is happening.
Something happened on a hill, in a garden and in an upper room long ago in Jerusalem. Something is happening on beaches, in churches, shopping malls, hotels and university campuses today; in villages we have never heard of and cities and towns where many of us have never been and where most of us will probably never go.
Something happened and something is happening.
What happened, on first glance, was not all that unusual. It was a brief encounter between a grief stricken woman and a caring gardener. But what actually happened changed lives and set in motion a tidal wave that continues to toss and turn people nearly 2000 years later. A question asked. A name spoken. A pair of eyes opened. A command given. A breathless run taken.
I have seen the Lord!
It all started out so well, and then turned so horribly, horribly wrong. In an instant the crowd went from proclaiming him king, to demanding his blood. From cries of ‘hosanna’ to screams of ‘crucify’, in just a matter of days. No wonder Mary stood and wept outside that cold, rock hewn tomb. She wept for the One she loved who was now dead. She wept for herself. She wept for another, older Mary who was her dead friend’s mother. She wept for his friends, hiding now in fear of their own lives. She wept thinking of the agonizing death He suffered. And now she wept at this last indignity: grave robbers who had stolen the body even before she and the others had had a chance to wash, and anoint and dress it. She wept for all of this and more.
But then she noticed someone standing there. Surely the gardener. I can see it now. A stranger in a big floppy sun hat, leaning on a garden spade, with callouses on his hands, dirt under his nails and scratches all over his face. He’d obviously been rooting out thistles.
In an instant the tears of grief turned to tears of joy and 2000 years later we too can scarcely believe what has happened even as our own cries of “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” fill the air.
We are here today because of what happened on that hill and in the garden outside Jerusalem. We are here today because the One who died on that hill was seen alive three days later in that garden. “I have seen the Lord!” Mary announced breathlessly to Peter and John, and even to his mother Mary. And so she says to us today “I have seen the Lord!”
Those five words turned the world upside down. They renewed love. They restored hope. They rekindled courage. “I have seen the Lord”. In five simple words Mary Magdalene changed the course of history just as she changed the course of your life and mine.
What she saw and what she said was not an idea, or a thought, or a wish. It was not a dream, or a theory or a proposition. It was real. “I have seen the Lord!” And in an instant love was renewed. Hope was restored. Courage was rekindled.
It was this message: “I have seen the Lord!” that taught the disciples that hate, death and fear do not have the last word. It was this message: “I have seen the Lord!” that propelled and compelled those early Christians to proclaim Christ’s resurrection from the dead before councils and kings, before crowds and Caesars, in arenas and auditoriums. “I have seen the Lord!” Perhaps the five most amazing words ever spoken.
Those five words turned a fearful band of defeated cowards into a bold company of witnesses who knew Christ’s defeat of hate and death and fear to be true. No longer did they need to be afraid. No longer did they need to feel hopeless. Instead they could sing:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Those five words continue to inspire. They continue to renew love; restore hope and rekindle courage. We have seen it on beaches in Libya. We have seen it in villages in Syria and Iraq. We have seen it in hotels in India. We have seen it in churches in Pakistan. We have seen it in shopping malls and schools in Uganda and Kenya. We have seen the power of those five words and how they have emboldened children in Iraq and construction workers in Libya and worshippers in Pakistan and students in Kenya to know that hate, and death and fear does not have the last word.
By his death Christ trampled down death by death, not simply for himself but for them as well. By his death Christ trampled down death by death, not simply for himself, but for us as well.
We say in our Rule of Life that the witness of the martyrs should never be far from our minds as we go forward in the vowed life day by day, because in baptism we share the same grace that gave the martyrs strength to submit gladly to death as witnesses of the resurrection.
I don’t think anyone goes happily to their deaths. I know I probably won’t when the time comes. But knowing death is not the end will give me the courage to face death when it does comes. I don’t think any of those Christians who have been martyred recently went happily to their deaths. But knowing that fear and death and hate do not have the last word gave them, I hope, courage to face death when the time came.
“I have seen the Lord!” is not idle chatter of a gossip. They are words of power that can change lives. Those five words changed the life of Mary Magdalene. Those five words changed the life of Peter, Paul and John. Those five words changed the life of Cleopas and his companion. Those five words changed the life of Salome and the other Mary. Those five words have the power to change hate into love; to change death into life; to change fear into courage. Those five words have the power to renew love; restore hope and rekindle courage.
Those five words turned a world upside down nearly 2000 years ago. They continue to turn the world upside down today. Those five words changed lives long ago in Jerusalem. They continue to change lives today. May the power of those words change your life today. By them may your love be renewed; your hope restored; your courage enkindled.
I have seen the Lord, proclaimed Mary. And her life was changed.
I have seen the Lord, proclaimed Mary. And the world was changed.
I have seen the Lord, proclaimed Mary. And your life was changed.
I have seen the Lord. Alleluia!
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What a wonderful rrestoring of what those words meant and continue to mean as they reverberate across time and space for all of us. Words change consciousness. Then and now. Thank you, Brother James, for giving us fresh reason to “revive our drooping spirits” during these times.
Many times I have seen someone leave a comment saying that the sermon presented was exactly what they needed to hear on that particular day and now I know the feeling they must have felt. This is exactly what I needed to hear today! Thank you Br. James.
I have seen the Lord! Alleluia!
Just great! thank you Br. james