Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 3, 2015, the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

8:26 How do you deal with angels in your teaching and preaching?  Why Philip? So what that this is a wilderness road?
8:27-28 There is a lot in this verse to unpack.  Why are we told so much about this man? Is there anything special about Ethiopia? What is a eunuch? What or who is “the Candace”? Why would an Ethiopian come to Jerusalem to worship?
8:29 Has the angel of 8:26 become the spirit?
8:30-31 Why would the Ethiopian be reading aloud? Why would anybody read anything on their own if they needed a guide to help them understand it?
8:32b-33 Where in Isaiah is this found?
8:34 What an opportune question!
8:35 Perhaps the lesson we should learn from this is to proclaim the good news beginning with where people have questions.
8:36 Was there a reason why this Ethiopian eunuch should not have been baptized?
8:37 This sure sounds like confessional language but does it say everything we would expect an adult being baptized today to say?
8:38 To bad we don’t have a description of the baptism. Then again, maybe we should be thankful that we don’t have a description.
8:39 Why would the Spirit snatch Philip away?
8:40 What do you know about Azatos? Did Philip stop proclaiming the good news when he arrived at Caesarea?

22:25 Who, or what, is the great congregation?  What vows?
22:26 What do we do with the shift from the second person to the first person?
22:27 How many ends does the earth have? How many families of the nations are there?
22:28 How do we understand dominion?
22:29 Who are sleeping in the earth? Is death being contrasted with life?
22:30 How can the Psalmist speak for posterity? How many generations?
22:31 How can anything be proclaimed to people not yet born? Done what?

4:7 Who is “us”?
4:8 What does it mean to say that God is love?
4:9 Why did God’s love have to be revealed?
4:10 How can a sacrifice atone? Does this passage presume any particular theory of the atonement?
4:11 But what does it mean to love one another?
4:12 What does not seeing God add to the argument? How is God’s love perfected in us?
4:13 Who is “we”? Is it logical to shift from so abruptly from loving to abiding, from the Son to the Spirit?
4:14 What is the meaning of “world”?
4:15 See Acts 8:37. What does it mean to abide?
4:16a What is the difference between knowing and believing?
4:16b I think this is not only good poetry but good theology.
4:17 What and when is the day of judgement?  What does  “as he is, so are we in this world” mean?
4:18 I like this verse.  What does this verse say to hell, fire and damnation preachers and their sermons?
4:19 Could be argued that without God’s love we cannot love?
4:20 How does this verse inform Christian ethics? What about loving people who are not brothers and sisters in Christ?
4:21 After fourteen verses about love why say anything about a commandment? Who is “him”? How does this relate to the New Commandment of John’s Gospel?

15:1 Is there a difference between a vine and the true vine? What is the meaning of “true”? Is there such a thing as the false vine?
15:2 What branches do we find within ourselves? Even fruit producing vines are occasionally cut back.
15:3 How does the word cleanse? Is cleansing the same as pruning?
15:4 How do we abide? See 1 John 4:13.
15:5 Note that this is one (of the seven) “I am” sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. What is more important, bearing lots of inferior fruit or less but superior fruit?
15:6 Are we still talking about the branches within us? I think it is wrong to, in any way, connect this verse to any concept of hell or fires of hell.
15:7 Is Jesus the same as his words? Whatever we wish?
15:8 Is bearing much fruit something other than becoming Jesus disciple? Not that Jesus uses the plural “disciples”.

ADDENDUM
I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz, worshiping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM. Please like The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz on facebook.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Prayer for Earth Day

As a person of faith, environmentalist, and avid lover of nature and the great outdoors, I offer this prayer for Earth Day. It is adapted from page 120 of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Common Worship.



Creator God,
awaken all people to the inconvenient truth
about the dangers we have inflicted upon the planet
you entrusted to our care.
Implant in each a reverence for all you have made,
that as responsible stewards of the Earth
we may leave no trace of our presence in its wild places,
and restore and preserve its delicate ecological balance
for up to the seventh generation. Amen

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Homage to Hubble

In the beginning
when God began to create the heavens and the earth,
the universe was a formless void
and light had not yet illuminated the face of the deep.

“Pinwheels of stars,
gauzy pillars of gas and dust,
and bright galaxies scattered across a dark backdrop”*
barely perceived their neighbor in the Milky Way Galaxy of the Virgo Supercluster,
but on April 24, 1990
the third planet from a no name star in that galaxy
boldly took notice of its neighbors.
“Nebulae, distant galaxies and nearby planets,”*
observed from 250 miles above its surface
appeared like accidental spatters of paint and brushstrokes of light
on a master painters three dimensional black canvas,
giving Hubble’s creators an eyeful of a glorious cosmos.

From stardust its makers came,
and to stardust they shall return,
but for one glorious millisecond blink of the human eye
they beheld the face of God.


*I was inspired to write this after reading the back page article of the April 14, 2015 edition of USA Today, Hubble Telescope Turns 25 by Traci Watson. The two descriptive phrases in quotation marks are taken from that article. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 26, 2015, the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

PREFACE: As of this post, last week’s Lectionary Ruminations post has received more pageviews than any post since August! 

4:5 What happened the day before?  Who are “they” of the “their”?
4:6 Annas and Caiaphas I am familiar with.  Who are John and Alexander?
4:7 What prisoners?  Did what? How are “power” and “name” connected? Consider this in the context of Luke 20:2.
4:8 Was Peter filled with the Holy Spirit prior to this or just for this? Consider this in the context of Luke 12:11-12
4:10 Juxtapose this verse and its “name” with Psalm 23:3 and 1 John 3:23
4:8-10 Peter’s response might have been better received if he had not accused his interlocutors of crucifying Jesus.
4:11 What is Peter quoting or alluding to?
4:12 This sounds like confessional language. How is healing (4:10) akin to salvation?

23:1-6 Is this Psalm too familiar for us to hear it anew? IF the Shepherd image no longer fowrks for most people, what other images might we employ – dog walker, day care worker, home health aid?
23:1 Note that in the NRSV, LORD is all uppercase.  So what?
23:2 Have you ever lied down in a green pasture?  Have you ever been led by still waters?
23:3 Juxtapose with Acts 4:10 and I John 3:23
23:4 What is the darkest valley you have ever walked through?  Are a rod and a staff two different things or is this an example of Hebraic poetic repetition?
23:5 Have you ever eaten a meal in the presence of your enemies?  Has your head ever been anointed with oil? What is the meaning of an overflowing cup?
23:6 What and where is the house of the LORD?

3:16 Who is “he”?  What  does it mean to lay down one’s life? Consider John 10:11-18
3:17 Ouch!
3:18 Why the moniker “little children”?
3:19 It is beginning to sound like “truth” is being personified.
3:20-21 It sounds like one’s heart is the same as one inner voice or conscience. How and when do our hearts condemn us?
3:22 Whaat has been asked? Whose commandments? Which commandments?
3:23Where have I heard something like this before? Juxtapose this verse with Acts 4:10 and Psalm 23:3. What does it mean to believe in a name?
3:23-24 Consider this in the context of John 15:1-17.

10:11 And which Psalm are you know thinking of?
10:12-13 Who is the hired hand?
10:14 Should we make anything of the “I am” language?
10:15 Is Jesus referring to the crucifixion?
10:16 I love this verse and its invitation to think about Christian universalism.  What does it mean for there to be many folds in one flock? What is the difference between a fold and flock?
10:17 Does the Father need a reason to love the Son? Does the notion of Jesus taking up his life again conflict in any way with Jesus being raised rather than rising?
10:18 What command?

ADDENDUM
I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz, worshiping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM. Please like The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz on facebook.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Meditating Along the Ohio


To paraphrase Heraclitus,
one cannot meditate by the same river twice.

A cool spring breeze caresses my right cheek
while the warm noonday sun kisses my left temple.
Water passing through a fallen elm branch,
rippling like a mountain spring cascading over rocky ledges,
and a crow calling from upstream,
offer an outstanding outdoor orchestra,
a natural ambient soundtrack for twenty-five minutes of mindfulness.
The roaring of trucks barreling along the highway across the river
fails to disturb spring’s sensual serenade.

Lewis and Clark floated past here,
as did Native Americans and pioneers before them.
The queen of the delta and her sisters also paddled by,
floating monuments to the age of steam.
Now barges full of coal, oil, and gas navigate this river,
this once beautiful river,
leaving behind diesel fumes and oil sheens upon her surface, that
when combined with the plastic trash littering her banks,
serve as a testament to our throwaway, petrochemical culture.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Raccoon Creek State Park (PA) - First Hike

At the start of the hike,
the Appaloosa Trail
It had been almost nine months since I last hiked, a grueling twelve plus mile day hike while camping along the banks of Shavers Fork in the Monongahela National Forest. Even though I was recently on vacation I did not have the time to drive several hours down to the Mon to camp and hike, so instead I explored nearby Raccoon Creek State Park, about forty-five minutes from home and just across the state line in Pennsylvania. Since this was going to be my first hike in the park I set out to hike an eight mile circuit described in Bob Frye’s Best Hikes Near Pittsburgh, a Falcon Guide published in 2009.

Wildflowers along the
Wetlands Trail
It was a beautiful spring day for hiking. With temperatures in the mid-fifties I began with a short sleeve base layer and long sleeved wicking top but as the day warmed up into the mid to high sixties I abandoned the long sleeve top. The first five to six miles were thoroughly enjoyable as I passed through naked oaks, shagbark hickory, and walnut trees that had not yet started to bud and then a long, open air grassy meadow laced with a meandering stream leading into the Upper Pond. The only signs of spring were scattered assorted wildflowers and skunk cabbage breaking through wet and damp ground.  This slightly out of shape, overweight, fifty-seven year old started to tire, however, after only about six miles and the last few miles were a tough going. In retrospect, perhaps an eight mile hike was a bit of an over reach for the first hike of the season.

Near the end of the hike,
the Heritage Trail
as it crosses Nichol Rd.
While the circuit hike offered a variety of ecosystems and some nice views, parts of some of trails were very muddy. In one particularly wet section, hikers and horses had created a side bypass trail that was also muddy. In another stretch of trail, even though it had not rained in a day and a half, water was flowing down the center of a muddy walkway.  Several times I was forced to either climb over or hike around downed trees blocking the trail. While there were some small rocks and roots, the trails were still much easier than many in the Mon and with less elevation gain.

From beginning to end I saw, from a distance, only two other people and their dog as they hiked through a nearby area. While crossing a road to get from one trail head to another I saw only one car.  I felt like I had the park to myself.

When I returned to the car and checked the track on my GPS I learned that I had hiked not eight miles but 9.4, reason enough for feeling a bit spent.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 19, 2015, the Third Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

3:12 When Peter saw what?
3:13 What about Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Zilpa and Bilha?
3:14 How often do we make liturgical use of “the Holy and Righteous One”?
3:15 Is this the only occurrence of “Author of life”? How often do use that phrase liturgically? What had Peter and the others (who were the others) witnessed the killing, the rising, or both?
3:16 Whose faith, Peter’s or the man’s?  What is faith in a name? Could this verse lead to using the name of Jesus simply as part of an incantation? What is faith that is through Jesus?
3:17 Why does Peter address the people as “friends”? Is ignorance any excuse?
3:18 Is “all the prophets” hyperbole?
3:19 Repent of or from what? Does “wiped” suggest any sense of washing or cleansing?

3:1 God of my right?   What about God of my left?  What does the Psalmist mean by “You gave me room”?
3:2 Are vain words the same as lies?
3:3 What does it mean to be set apart by the LORD?
3:4 Sin only when you are not disturbed?  Doe being disturbed promote sin? Ponder what? Can this verse be used in support of contemplative prayer or even mindfulness meditation?
3:5 What are “right sacrifices”? How can right sacrifices be offered after the destruction of the Second Temple?
3:6 Who were these “many”? Is there a difference between seeing the face of the LORD and the light of the LORD’s face shining on you?
3:7 Who are the they of “their”? Is the LORD the generator of our emotions?
3:8 Might this have been a Psalm associated with evening prayers?
3:1-8 Why was this Psalm paired with the First Reading?  What is their theological or thematic unity?

3:1 It is one thing to be called a child of God. It is another thing altogether actually to be one.
3:2 Who is the “he” yet to be revealed?  Does John have another—a second—revelation in mind?
3:3 Why the emphasis on purity?
3:4 I though sin was separation from God.  John’s definition of sin seems more instrumental and less existential than I am comfortable with. It is, however, one of the shortest definitions I know of.
3:5 John defined “sin” in the previous verse but writes about “sins” in this verse. What is the difference between sins (plural) and sin (singular)?
3:6 This reads like pretty strong language, especially when, as a Reformed Christian, I have been raised that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. What does “abide” mean and what is it all about?
3:7 What is the difference between being a child and a little child?  Does this verse, especially in light of verse 4, lead to a theology of works righteousness?

24:36b Where was Jesus standing and among whom was he standing?  What is the meaning of “peace be with you” and does it mean anything more than usual when spoken by the resurrected Jesus?
24:37 What is the difference between being “startled” and being “terrified”? Have you ever thought you saw a ghost?
24:38 What doubts was Jesus referring to? Does fear necessarily give rise to doubt?
24:39 The resurrected Jesus may have had flesh and bones, but resurrected flesh and bones, and therefore something inherently different than our pre-resurrected flesh and bones.
24:41 How does joy exist in the midst of disbelief and wonder? Do ghosts hunger?
24:42 Why do we not have the tradition of serving broiled fish on Easter morning or sometime on Easter.
24:43 Do ghosts eat?
24:44 The fish are Jesus’ words? The actions are his words? What was he talking about? Note the  threefold TANAKH.
24:45 How does Jesus open OUR minds to understand the scriptures?
24:46-47 Where is thusly written?
24:48 Witnesses of what things?
24:36b-48 Why does Luke tell us about broiled fish rather than bread. Is the author substituting fish and bones for flesh and blood, bread and wine, or are there no Eucharistic overtones here?

ADDENDUM
I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz, worshiping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM. Please like The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz on facebook.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 12, 2015, the Second Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

4:32-25 If you plan to preach using this passage you may want to read Acts 2 for context.
4:32 What is the size of this group?  Have you ever known of any group, or a Church, of one heart and soul? Why did common ownership go by the wayside?
4:33 What was great power look and sound like? Are there gradations of grace?
4:34 Are there needy persons in your church?
4:35 Who determined the need?

133:1 Is this Psalm about kin or kirk? Do you know of any family or church that lives together in unity?
133:2 I love this sensual imagery but think it means more when we anoint with oil at the times of Baptism and when praying for healing and wholeness. If we never anoint with oil the imagery seems to loose some of its power.
133:3 What and where is Hermon and what is so special about its dew?

1:1 Who are “we”? I think three of the five senses are mentioned. What about the other two? How can we offer worship and other spiritual and religious experiences that address all the senses?  I think many of our churches need a more fully embodied, sensual worship that will help us get out of always being in our head. Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.
1:2 What is the meaning of “revealed”? What is the difference between eternal life and everlasting life?
1:3 What is the nature of this fellowship?
1:4 How can writing a letter complete one’s joy?
1:5 Who is the “him” from whom they heard this message? How can we be sensitive to and deal with issues of racism when contrasting images of light and darkness?
1:6 Why would someone say they have fellowship with God when they really don’t?
1:7 Why is walking in lightness connected with being cleansed with or by the blood of Jesus?
1:8-9 These verses are often used as part of a Call to Confession, such as found in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Common Worship page 52.
1:10 What if someone knows they have sinned but do not care that they have sinned?
2:1 Why the “little children” address? Is it possible not to sin? “Advocate” is usually associated with the Holy Spirit, not Jesus.
2:2 What is an “atoning sacrifice”? How many theories of the atonement are you familiar with?

20:19  Why did the disciples fear the Jews? What is the meaning and significance of “Peace be with you.”?
20:20  Did the disciples not rejoice when they heard the Lord? Why is seeing more significant than hearing?
20:21  Why does Jesus repeat his greeting?
20:22  What is the significance and meaning of Jesus’ breathing on the disciples? Is “Receive the Holy Spirit” an invitation or a declarative command?
20:23  I thought only God had the power to forgive sin(s). Why do we and the Scriptures sometimes speak of sins (plural) and other times speak of sin (singular)? What is the difference and does it matter?
20:24  Why was Thomas called the Twin? I wonder where Thomas had been.
20:25  Notice they say nothing about hearing the Lord. I think we should call him Skeptical Thomas rather than Doubting Thomas. The other disciples and Jesus were living in the resurrection but Thomas was not.
20:26  Is there anything special about this house? Note that we are told that the doors were shut, not locked. (See 20:19). This is the third time we hear this greeting.
20:27  Jesus invites Thomas to do so but the text does not say that Thomas did as invited. Was seeing and hearing Jesus, and the invitation, enough for Thomas?
20:28  Is this an early Christian confession of faith?
20:29  Was “seeing” enough? (Reconsider my question for 20:27.) We are not Thomas or the first disciples. We did not witness this or the other signs Jesus did. We cannot put our finger in Christ’s wounds and see his hands. All we have are the stories passed on to us down through the centuries. Yet we ought to come to worship expecting to see Jesus. Can “Magic Eye” 3D images teach us anything about seeing Jesus in the present day?
20:30  What other signs? Why are
20:31  I wonder what the criteria was for including these signs but not others.

ADDENDUM
I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz, worshiping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM. Please like The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz on facebook.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Resurrection Morn


“Resurrection Morn”
A Sermon based on Mk. 16:1-8, Mt. 27:62-28:15, Lk. 24:1-12, & Jn. 20:1-10
By The Reverend John Edward Harris, D. Min.
The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz
Cadiz, Ohio
April 5, 2015
Resurrection of the Lord / Easter

                   Not long after beginning to serve as your Interim Pastor I started thinking about preaching a sermon inspired by our Tiffany window.  A little research and reflection suggested that what our window presents is a compendium of resurrection morning accounts from the Synoptic Gospels as well as John.
          The first three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—are called the Synoptic Gospels; synoptic means “seen together” because of their close similarities which enable the texts to be set out in parallel for comparison. It is generally agreed that there is a literary relationship among the Synoptic Gospels but that relationship is far from definitive. The Gospel According to John compared to the Synoptic Gospels, is so sharply distinguished—in style, wording, structure, and especially theological emphasis, seeming to see Jesus and his ministry from such a different perspective compared to the first three Gospels—that it stands alone showing very little literary relationship to the Matthew, Mark or Luke (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, p. 724.).
          While the Gospels were written centuries ago, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) didn’t establish Tiffany Glass Company until 1885, intending to make ecclesiastical and secular windows and, shortly thereafter, lamps.  (Tiffany & Co., his father’s firm, was independent.) In 1892 Tiffany renamed his firm Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company and established a glass manufacturing plant on Long Island directed by glassmaker Arthur Nash where our window was probably created.
          Our Tiffany Window bares an 1884 Copyright from Tiffany Glass Decorating Company and was originally designed and built for the Calvary Methodist Church in Pittsburgh. After Calvary ordered the 10 x 20 window the church found that it was too small for its plans so they ordered a larger one. Presbyterians in Cadiz were therefore able to obtain it at the bargain basement price of $2,000, which, adjusting for inflation, would be close to $50,000 today. Referred to as the Dewey Memorial Window, thanks to bequest from the estate of Nancy Prichard Dewey which made the purchase possible, the window was dedicated in April 1900.  It was removed in 2000, restored, and in 2001 reinstalled and rededicated at a cost of $60,000.
          The window’s design, entitled “Resurrection Morn”, is executed in three panels. The left panel features three women. The Gospel according to Mark is the only Gospel that tells us specifically three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought spices so that they might go and anoint the body of Jesus.
          The right panel features two men. The Gospel According to John is the only Gospel that tells us that two men, Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, ran together to the tomb.
          The lower center panel features three soldiers. The Gospel according to Matthew is the only Gospel that reports Jewish guards, without telling us how many, being stationed at the tomb. While our Resurrection Morn features three guards, the Resurrection Morn window now in the Calvary Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, being larger, features four guards.
          The main center panel features Christ flanked by two white robed figures. The Gospel According to Luke is the only Gospel that reports two beings in dazzling clothes appearing at the empty tomb.
          The top panel features what appear to be cherubs, “supernatural creatures associated with the presence of God, and in postbiblical tradition identified as one of the choirs of angels.” While cherubs are mentioned nearly a hundred times in the bible (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, p. 107), they are not mentioned in any of the resurrection accounts. They probably appear at the top of our window simply for balance and decorative affect.
          What our Tiffany window presents to us, then, is not a single Gospel account of “Resurrection Morn” but a compendium.  Rather than depicting “Resurrection Morn” through the lens of any one particular Gospel, it offers us an element from each of the four Gospels.
          As I have ruminated on how our window might shed light on the morning of the resurrection, it dawned on me that the four groups of characters—the three women, the guard, the two men approaching the tomb, and the two beings in dazzling clothes— offer vignettes of at least four possible reactions and responses to the news of the empty tomb.
          The first vignette I want to focus on is that of the three women from Mark because most scholars agree that Mark is the oldest of the  Gospels and was used as a source for both Matthew and Luke. As we already heard, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, the type used to embalm a corpse, intending to anoint the lifeless body of Jesus. These three women serve as an example of people who set out to do a good and right thing without thinking it through, for they had no idea who would roll the stone away from the tomb, and without the stone being rolled away, there was no way for them to anoint the body. Yet they had the faith or determination to try anyway. Maybe sometimes we need to set out to do what is right and good, not knowing how we will surmount all the obstacles, but having the determination and faith to do it anyway.
          Unexpectedly finding the stone rolled away, the three women enter to tomb. Seeing who or what is obviously an angelic being rather than the corpse of Jesus, they tremble in their footsteps. The heavenly messenger instructs them to go and tell Jesus’ disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Mark then tells us that the women fled and, filled with bewilderment and fear, said nothing! But, if they said nothing how can we be reading about what they experienced? They must have eventually overcome their fear and bewilderment and told someone.
          First and foremost, let it be known that in Mark, the oldest Gospel, it is women who first arrive at the empty tomb, women who first learn that Jesus has been raised, and women who are instructed to go and tell the men.  Seized by terror and amazement, they may not have told anyone right away, but eventually they must have told someone. If nothing else, the women should warn us not to assume that men or people with the power and authority are always the first ones to know and experience God’s revelation.
          The Jewish guard in Matthew is perhaps the antithesis of the trio of women in Mark. Sent to secure the tomb so that Jesus’ disciples could not go and steal the body and then claim that he was raised from the dead, when there was a great earthquake and an angel of the Lord appeared and rolled away the stone, the guards shook from fear and, sent to guard the body of a dead man, became themselves like dead men. Apparently the guard did not hear anything the angel said to the women. Afterward, some of the guard reported to the temple authorities what they had experienced. The religious authorities paid off or bribed the guards to lie and say they actually saw Jesus’ disciples come by night and take away the body of Jesus while they were asleep.
          I think the account of the guards warns us not to sell our souls and value financial gain over spiritual insight and illumination. I think they also warn us that sometimes we in the church can go to great lengths, and even great expenses, to guard against change when change is what God has been about all along. They warn us not to cast aspersions against those whose religious understanding and spiritual experiences are not like our own, for as we seek to guard the church we may in fact be working against new things God might be doing in the world.
          In Luke, not one but “two men in dazzling clothes” stand beside the women in the empty tomb. Obviously heavenly messengers, they tell the women not to look for the living among the dead and remind them of what Jesus had taught them. I think these two spiritual beings remind us that sometimes we need an out of this world, unexplainable experience, something or someone to give us a spiritual slap against the face to wake us from our spiritual slumber in order to recall and better understand the religious lessons we have already been taught but have forgotten. While we might normally expect our religious and spiritual faculties to be awakened by the Word of God in Scripture, Sermon, and  Sacrament, we should never rule out the unexpected and inexplicable.
           While I am generally a rational and logical kind of guy, I am also enough of a mystic to believe the world is still filled with mystery and that God can surprise us when we least expect it.
          John, the most unique of the four Gospels, tells us that Simon Peter, and the other disciple whom Jesus loved, which tradition identifies as John, the author of the Gospel,  ran to the tomb after hearing from Mary Magdalene that the tomb was empty. The other disciple went into the tomb, saw, and believed. But what did he believe? “As yet he and Peter did not understand the scripture”, that Jesus must rise from the dead. He obviously did not believe that Jesus had been raised. Maybe at first having doubted her, he finally believed what Mary had told him, that the tomb was indeed empty, now that he had seen the empty tomb for himself. And then in what seems the most anticlimactic statement possible, the Gospel tells us that these two disciples return not to the other disciples but to their homes.
          Perhaps these two disciples warn us not to at first doubt what others tell us about their spiritual and religious experiences but to go look for ourselves. They might also warn us not to base our faith on first impressions, for our first impressions might not be the whole story, and we have not fully processed and understood what we have seen, heard, and experienced.
          Finally, focus on the window. Note that two of the guard, sitting motionless on the ground, have their faces covered, hiding their gaze from both Jesus and from us, but one, also sitting on the ground, is looking toward us, as if wondering what we think, if we know the truth or will believe his lie. The three women and the two disciples appear to be neither looking toward nor walking toward Jesus. They are looking at and walking toward us, as if they expect to encounter us and tell us their story. The two motionless angelic beings frame a radiant, resurrected Christ who appears to be descending some steps and walking straight toward us, as if he himself intends to encounter us.

          It is as if the women and the disciples and Jesus are attempting to break the dimensions of time and space by extending a two dimensional interpretation of the past into a three dimension experience in the present that includes us.