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2018 April 1 UNREADY FOR RESURRECTION? You're not alone!

John 19:38-42; Matthew 27:57-61; Mark16: 1-8
While driving to the service on Good Friday, we heard part of an interview on Radio National with author Sarah Sentilles. In her book "Breaking up with God she tells of her spiritual journey into the ministry and out again, to a position she now calls "post-Christian. Her latest book, "Draw your Weapons is about the art that depicts torture, such as happened during the Iraq war at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. She questions the name "Good Friday, with its implication that somehow violence can be redemptive. She worries that that our culture might apply the same logic to torture and its outcomes. She goes on to reflect on the speed with which the church moves from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection. In this process, she says, the body of Jesus is never properly mourned. We do not, know how to stay with the body of Jesus, to give it proper attention, to grieve, and above all, to recognise the violence that was done to it.

As a minister I have always found it a big call to move from the spiritual and psychological space of Good Friday; and quickly come up with a way to communicate a credibility-bending story about a dead body coming alive, to a congregation in the age of reason and science. No wonder some theological colleges taught their students to not worry about the sermon- just read the story!

For those who have the time and space, Easter Saturday is at least a short opportunity to reflect. In this liminal space one can bring into focus the enormity of the violence done to Jesus body, and honour people like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithea who care for Jesus body. To honour also those ubiquitous women, variously named as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and Joanna, among others.

It is only being realistic to want more time to complete this arduous assignment; a reality brought home by the Markan resurrection story. In its original brevity, it ends abruptly on that seemingly wildly inappropriate phrase "for they were afraid.

It seems like NOBODY is ready for resurrection – except, that is, Jesus himself.

I notice a theme through these gospel narratives, which I call "trying to catch up with Jesus! On Easter Saturday, those who were not too frightened to venture out are preoccupied with death, tombs and Jesus body. On the Sunday there is a resurrection that no one expects. The women go to the tomb, but Jesus is not there. In Mark, the women are instructed to tell the disciples that he has gone ahead of them to Galilee. The walkers on the road to Emmaeus are just settling down to a meal with him, when he disappears- so they hurry back to Jerusalem. When he appears in the upper room, he disappears again. When they meet him in Jerusalem, he ascends into heaven. Every time, just when they seem to catch up with him, he moves on ahead of them.

Thinking back to the time when he was with them on the road, teaching and healing, we recall that his followers seldom seemed to be up with the program. His mind, his heart, was always a step ahead

It is almost as if they were never really meant to catch up with him.

I hope that you can hear this today, not as a depressing reality of a futile quest for the holy grail of Jesus risen presence; but as an affirmation of how it is OK to be where we are and who we are on the journey. Some things take time to process, especially the major dramas of our experience and of our faith. It is also good to recognise those who, while close to the action, are not among the big names, but were brave and compassionate enough to be there when it really mattered.

These unsung heroes receive scant mention in the Gospels, and nowhere else in the Bible. They are not generally considered to be among Jesus disciples, though Matthew does claim that status for one of them. They are not recorded witnesses of the resurrection, though one wonders what they saw and heard.

Of one of them, Joseph of Arimathea, Mark says that he was looking for the Kingdom of God. All four Gospels tell us that he was one who looked after the body of Jesus. He is known as a respected member of the Jewish Council, or Sanhedrin, and had not consented to their action in plotting Jesus death. (Did he oppose them, or did he merely abstain?). The evidence varies as to whether the new tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually his own property.

The other is Nicodemus, a Pharisee who, according to Johns Gospel, comes to Jesus by night seeking the truth about him. He is later reported as questioning the Sanhedrin, of which he was a member, as to why they were prepared to condemn Jesus without giving him a fair hearing according to their law.

Nicodemus begins his Gospel journey in darkness. He starts with what he knows "You are a teacher come from God- otherwise you would not be able to do what you do. He then quickly discovers that he has a lot of catching up to do. His literalism is challenged (How can anyone be born after having grown old), also his lack of understanding of the ways of the spirit. This conversation leads to the revelation of John 3:16 (For God so loved the world).

Along the way, he grows enough in his faith in Jesus to dare to question the devious ways of his colleagues as they plot Jesus death. Finally, he takes a major risk in bringing the embalming spices to prepare Jesus body for burial. The journey that starts in the darkness of fear and questioning comes at last to a place of commitment. He has not seen the resurrection, but he has found the way of the spirit, which blows where it wills, and blows him into the thick of the action.

We dont really know about the starting point of Joseph of Arimathea, except that he is one of the privileged class, highly educated, apparently wealthy. He is a man with a lot to lose by getting in with the wrong company. While the gospel narratives are strongly critical of the hypocrisy of the religious elite, Joseph is an exception to the rule. The phrase "looking for the kingdom of God in Matthew indicates a spirituality beyond the norm of his colleagues. His righteous and merciful actions in caring for the body of Jesus place him within the scope of the "blessed ones of the Beatitudes. Joseph is one of those people to whom life has dealt a strong hand. He has an awful lot to lose. Yet stronger than his survival instinct is a pulsing, compassionate spirit that will not be quietened nor quelled. He is not far from the kingdom of God that he seeks. By his right action, though he might not know it, he is right there.

Though we do not pay much attention, to these two sincere, rebellious Pharisees, their contribution is nothing short of heroic.

And let us not forget the brave and compassionate women at the heart of the resurrection story. Matthew tells us that while Joseph of Arimathea was closing the tomb with Jesus body in it, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. The next day, they are first on the scene of the empty tomb.

I am not sure how ready you are for resurrection; or how close you feel to Jesus. There are times when I feel that I do not qualify for the term Christian, especially according to the hard and fast definition. In particular, I do not want to be identified with some who claim that name, then do abominable deeds that pervert the civic process and destroy the lives of innocents. I much prefer the term "follower on the way of Jesus. Less cut and dried, less hard and fast, it allows me the realisation that just when I think I may be getting somewhere Jesus has moved on ahead. Suddenly there is some new challenge to meet, some new opening of the mind required, some deeper compassion for others.

Todays gospel narrative exposes the reality of brave, shaken, frightened people who may yet be unready for resurrection, but are willing to put their hearts and lives on the line for Jesus. They are not among the really big names, yet it is their love, their courage and their sheer perseverance that lifts them up, and gives us an inkling of what faith looks like in the absence of a clear grasp of the deeper mysteries of those fateful, heroic days.

The resurrection of Jesus is a mystery too deep for full human comprehension. What really matters, as one non-churchgoer said to me yesterday, is that he is risen in our hearts. And even if we are not yet ready for that, catching up with Jesus is a quest worthy of all we can give to it- heart, soul, mind and strength.



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