Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday

Luke 24
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.

By the time you get to the next room, you’ve forgotten why you’re there.
If your keys, cellphone, or touque could talk, you would never forget where they are.
If you can only remember the first six digits of a phone number, I don’t recommend dialing each possible variable beginning with zero.
Many assume that “hey!!” is a substitute for remembering someone’s name, but it’s not.
And if you can’t remember any of the ten commandments I showed you two weeks ago (except, of course, number seven) then see me over coffee.

Except, sometimes we hesitate to ask for help. When someone says “Remember, I told you...” it can rarely be taken as ‘I’m happy to help.’ ‘Remember, I told you’ says ‘I wonder if you were listening at all’ or ‘what else have you forgotten?’ or ‘if this is what you’re like at 51, how will you be at 81?’ I’ve discovered there is no actual answer to this question.

But it does shed some light on the Gospel lesson: “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ 8 Then they remembered his words.”

Then they remembered his words.

But how could they forget? The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone? The son of man must suffer many things at the hands of many and be killed only to rise on the third day? The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified? My soul is troubled and what shall I say—Father save me from this hour? And when I’m lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself? Destroy this temple and in three days I will lift it up?

Part of the issue here is the question of how we receive bad news. You might assume that a search for recent literature on the topic might take you into the realm of medicine or psychology but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Searching for “the inability to hear bad news” two websites kept coming up: a US government site for bureaucrats explaining the proper way to deny benefits and a study by Deloitte describing how managers and middle-managers can give and receive bad news, including dismissals and redundancy. Simply saying ‘you’re fired!’ doesn’t do it (sorry Donald).

And since I’m a big believer in working with what you’ve got, let’s look at any helpful insights we might glean from these pages. Looking first at the dot-gov page, the advice in the “Delivering Bad News” section is actually quite specific:

When delivering bad news, it helps to temper the situation by prefacing the statement with a term such as "we regret" or "we're sorry" or "unfortunately". For example, you might write, "Unfortunately, we cannot approve your application."[1]

Granted Jesus never used “we regret” or “we’re sorry” or “unfortunately” in any of his pronouncements, I don’t think this was the root of the problem. Once again, the bureaucrats have failed to help.

Turning to our management consultants, they seem to be closer to the mark. Beginning with what they call the “ostrich syndrome,” they suggest that people will only seek out new information if it doesn’t contradict the conclusion that they’ve already reached. In other words, it’s okay to put your head in the sand if you already think you know what the outcome will be.[2]

Over time, the disciples became convinced that they were following a future king, a king that would restore the fortunes of Zion, defeat the Romans, and maybe grant seats to the left and the right of the throne. New information like rejection, betrayal and death didn’t fit the plan they already had mapped out, so they couldn’t hear it.

Going a step further, our consultants describe the “deaf-effect” that follows when the credibility of the messenger is in question. The manager is more likely to listen to an external auditor than a junior staffer, even if the message is the same. But, you can argue, Jesus had all the credibility, especially in the eyes of the disciples. And that’s true, but we learned in our recent study that Jesus had numerous roles (teacher, sage, healer, prophet) but may not have been perceived as a socio-political analyst, someone with an in-depth read on the politics of Roman occupation and the relationship between the Romans and the religious elite.

Finally, the consultants looked at the extent to which bad news is sugarcoated or omitted altogether and the extent to which it distorts the message. Obviously Jesus didn’t do this—he did the opposite of sugar-coating the message of his death and resurrection. But the consultants hit on something when they added this insight: “When speaking to their bosses, employees may simply omit negative feedback or sugarcoat it in such a way that makes it hard to interpret.”

The disciples heard the message Jesus was trying to share, but never seemed to say “we don’t understand” or “can you explain it again.” In other words, smiling and nodding as Jesus predicted this day was the same as omitting feedback and giving a sugarcoated response. They didn’t want to appear stupid so they didn’t seek out the additional information that would prepare them for Good Friday and Easter.

This is the moment that Jesus takes a whip of cords and drives the bureaucrats and the management consultants out of my sermon. It might seem extreme, but necessary, since the first flood of memory that arrived on Easter morning is also the most important. It says “they remembered his words” and I am certain that memory served words that continue to confirm and comfort down to today:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself so that where I am, you may be there also.

19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.

It will fall to the Holy Spirit to fill in the details, with some time in a locked room, and on the road to Emmaus, and an early morning by the sea. It will fall to the disciples and all the other followers to encourage one another, to offer comfort in the face of fear, and to begin the work of understanding the nature and role of the Risen Christ in their midst.

An in many ways, this work continues. Jesus’ promise to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28.20) seems oft forgotten and easily ignored. We heard the promise, but maybe it contradicts some conclusion we have already reached; or maybe the Risen Christ somehow lacks credibility in a world where we need continual proof; or maybe we struggle to respond to the Risen Christ, engage in conversation, pray our questions, remain open to a response. It’s worth the effort, and the Spirit will always be there to help.

For today, the journey through Holy Week concludes and another journey begins. Jesus will continue to appear, will continue to bless us with comfort and eternity, if we can only take it in. With minds eager and hearts open, we meet him—in life, and death, and life beyond death, he is with us, we are not alone. Amen.



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