(John 20: 1-18)
As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m currently reading a morning devotional based upon the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Theologian who stood up to Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party in the 1930s and 40s until his death just prior to the end of World War Two. The book is entitled: Mornings With Bonhoeffer, 100 Reflections on the Christian Life, by Donald K. McKim.
Number 20, Jesus: Being for Others, caught my attention last week. From prison on August 3, 1944, Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend Eberhard Bethge and enclosed an outline for a book he wanted to write. One section would deal with “Who is God?” In this letter and outline there were some key expressions of Bonhoeffer’s understanding of Jesus Christ. In short, Bonhoeffer’s view of Jesus was as “the man for others,” or “the human being for others.” The author says it is Jesus’ “being-for-others” that marks transcendence, the going beyond, the connecting of us to a God that seems so remote and distant. But God is not remote. God is experienced by faith as one participates in this “being of Jesus.” McKim explains that new life comes to us as we are “being there for others,” reaching out to them in self-giving love. He points out that the transcendent is experienced by “being there” for “the neighbor within reach in any given situation. God is in human form!”
Jesus being here one day, alive and living, and then suddenly being gone the next is what is so perplexing to so many. It surely seemed to his followers that his earthly ministry was cut way too short. Things were just beginning to happen, and he was taken before his kingdom was established in God’s Holy City. The fact that we celebrate his short life and abrupt end is also perplexing to others. The author points out that Jesus is not an abstraction; he is a real human who met the needs of others in everyday situations, which ultimately led him to the cross.
And this is where we find ourselves today, on Easter Sunday morning. It’s early on the first day of the week and, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to check on Jesus so she could prepare his body for burial. When she saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb she ran to where Peter and John were staying, saying; They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. When they entered the tomb, they saw the linen wrappings laying there along with the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. At this point we are told that they did not yet understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. The disciples departed leaving Mary weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. They asked her why she was weeping, and she said; They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him. She then turned around and saw Jesus whom she did not recognize. Jesus asked her why she was weeping and who was she looking for. She took him as the gardener and asked him to take her to Jesus if he had carried him away to another spot so that she may take him for a proper burial. Jesus then called her by name and she immediately recognized him calling him “Rabbouni” which means teacher. Jesus said, Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples that she had seen the Lord and told them what he had said to her.
For many, this is where the Jesus story ends. It ends with his death. The resurrection is confusing and difficult to understand. It’s like your believing in a ghost. But Peter, the same Peter who ran to the empty tomb, understood it. In the tenth chapter of Acts he tells us that he truly understands that God shows no partiality. Because in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Peter says; You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ, he is Lord of all. He said that the message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. Peter said that Jesus commanded them to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. He said that all the prophets testified about him and that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
I think that’s the point. God shows no partiality. God is the God off all who fear him and do what is right. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and anointed with the Holy Spirit going about doing good and healing all who were oppressed. In that one sentence, Peter referenced the trinity, the triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, all working together for the benefit of everyone, with Jesus as the human being for others. He gets us, he understands us.
In our Sunday morning Learning Circle, we just started a new study that is about the parables of Jesus. Our first session was on three widely known parables that shared a common theme. They were the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son all found in the 15th chapter of Luke . Professor Amy-Jill Levine describes the parables as the Man Who Lost a Sheep, the Woman Who Lost a Coin, and the Man Who Had Two Sons. She puts the emphasis on not what was lost, but on those who lost the sheep, the coin and the two sons. The man didn’t realize the one sheep was missing until he counted, and the woman didn’t realize she had misplaced one of her ten coins until she counted them. The man had two sons, the one who left and later returned and the one who stayed. The one who stayed felt as if he didn’t count when the rejoicing father threw a party for the prodigal son. To the Apostle Luke, these parables seem to be about repentance and forgiveness, but Professor Levine says there is nothing to indicate that anyone did anything wrong. To many, the two men and the woman represent God, but Professor Levine disagrees as God cannot lose anything. I think they represent those of us who are responsible for others. God has entrusted us with the care and well-being of those who cannot fend for themselves. We get busy and distracted and often fail to notice those among us who may not count. In God’s eyes, in Jesus’ eyes, everyone counts. Everyone matters. Everyone has value. We need to ask ourselves some very searching questions. Who is missing from our personal relationships? Who is missing from our community of faith? What do we count as lost? Who do we consider as lost? Who are we taking for granted? What is it we can we do to seek those who are lost?
Professor Levine says we need to take count not only of our blessings, but also of those in our families, and in our communities. And once we count, we need to act. Finding the lost, whether they are sheep, coins, or people, takes work. It also requires our efforts, and from those efforts there is the potential for wholeness and joy. As McKim points out in the book on Bonhoeffer, as followers, those who know the “costly grace” of discipleship, the church, are committed to “being for others” too. The church can only be the church when it is “for others.” This is life with Christ which did not end with his crucifixion. The church by speech and action is “Christ existing as community.” We enter into Christ’s ministries to the poor and suffering, meeting the needs of others in everyday situations, being there for the neighbor within reach in any given situation because everyone counts.
Please pray with me.
You know us all, Lord Jesus, and you know those whom we do not. Forgive us when we lose those who are precious to you, by what we do or by what we fail to do. Send us in your Spirit’s power to them, that we may rejoice together as children of your Father in heaven, and ours, because everyone counts. In the name of the lost and lonely, we pray, Amen.