The Gospel of Mark starts out with these words,
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.Mark 1:1
I like that it starts with those words. The good news of Jesus Christ isn’t reserved for some time in the past. The good news of Jesus Christ isn’t being set aside for some day in the future. We are told that the good news begins with Jesus Christ and that it continues on making it relevant for today as well. This year of 2020 is a year that we would all like to put behind us. The political turmoil, a raging pandemic and environmental impacts leave us with an urgent plea for good news to ring out, calling us to hope for today.
The reading cites Isaiah speaking of a voice calling out from the wilderness. The voice urges one and all to make the way for the coming of the Lord to be straight: take out the potholes and other obstacles in life that get in way. John the Baptist is presented as that voice. He wears clothing made from camel hair to bring to mind the prophet Elijah. He also ate a diet of honey and locusts which left him independent from others, except for his dependence upon God.
John the Baptist spoke from the wilderness and the people gathered from all around to hear him. The wilderness was a place considered inhospitable for people to live. Wild animals lived there and so did thieves and criminals. Demons dwelt there too. So why go out to such a place? The people had heard the speeches before from those living in mansions and places of political power but there was no good news to be heard, just the same old lines that kept the status quo. John the Baptist spoke in the wilderness news that was different. He told of the coming of one who will baptize not with mere water but with the Holy Spirit. The result is that we would be guided not by the edicts of the powerful but by God. Jesus was the one to whom John the Baptist pointed.
Jesus came preaching a word of liberation to those held unjustly in bondage by political systems. He fed the hungry and healed the sick: he paid special attention to the weakest of society. Jesus welcomed those cast aside by society. He spoke truth in the face of power. John the Baptist was that voice but he was pointing out to a greater voice; Jesus was and is the Word of God en-fleshed calling out to us in 2020’s wilderness which is good news to hear.
So what is John the Baptist telling us to do? He is telling us to repent. Repentance is more than simply saying that we are sorry. Repentance means to turns our lives around and take life in a different direction that Jesus lived out for us to see. Yes, we are living in 2020’s wilderness but a voice is calling out for us to take life on a new path. If we are willing to listen, then we’ll begin on a new journey that is good news for all in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The past week has been a wild ride. Some states are going full steam ahead with opening up the economy against the caution that too much too soon will only make things worse. Crazy and deadly comments (sarcastic or not) were made about injecting disinfectants to get rid of Covid-19. Protests are happening against stay at home orders. After a few weeks of staying at home, we are all getting a serious case of cabin fever and as Spring is blooming the fever is only going to get worse. We want to get back to what life used to be like: full bars and restaurants, sports stadiums filled with cheering fans, hanging out with friends and hair cuts. There are a few voices that are saying we should just let the Covid-19 chips fall where they may and if it means some folks die as a result that is better than letting the economy tank. I personally don’t want to believe that we have become that callous, lacking empathy to place money over the value of life. We might want to hope for a return to what used to be but Covid-19 has happened and the future will be different as social distancing and face masks will be in that future.
The reading for this Sunday out of Luke has two people walking and talking about the events of the past couple days. They had hoped…they had hoped that a prophet mighty in word and deed…Jesus of Nazareth would redeem Israel. However their hope had been betrayed by the religious leaders who handed Jesus over to be crucified. Women carried the news of an empty tomb and angels announcing Jesus was alive, the tomb was empty with no Jesus to be seen. Hopes were reignited but were once again crushed because it was the third day – it was too late.
The risen Jesus joined them but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Despair can do that to us. We become so focused on what is bad that we can’t see the good. We become so focused on the unfilled hopes of the past that we can’t see a new future coming into reality. When Jesus joined them at the table and in the blessing and breaking of the bread their eyes were opened, Jesus disappeared from their presence. Suddenly eyes focused on unfulfilled hopes were able to recognize a resurrection future. They ran off to tell others that Jesus was indeed risen and that in the breaking of the bread he and a new hope filled future was revealed to them.
These days we’re hoping to bring back the past. Our eyes and focus are on what used to be and our frustrations are the result. There is another reality that invites us to look and see the risen Christ joining us in these days. The resurrection reveals a new creation (where the death and despair that the likes of Covid -19 bring are no more) that is becoming in Christ and this is our new hope.
This new hope is not for the past nor letting chips fall where they may, but focused on life for the future. Frustrated because we still must struggle with Covid-19 while hoping for what is to be in Christ? Absolutely! So we wear the masks and practice our social distancing because they are defiant acts against Covid-19 and what it represents. So we protest not to bring back the past but appeal for Christ to bring the future to completion. Our new vision is for what brings life to our neighbor and world that God so dearly loves.
This new vision is not easy to stay focused on but in breaking of the bread – Holy Communion – we declare a holy love so great that Jesus Christ would die for us. His resurrection is our life and future. This holy love lived out in Christ is our hope instead of despair.
A week has now passed since we celebrated Easter behind the closed doors in fear of Covid-19. Easter was different this year. It was more introspective. Without the usual activities surrounding the day and filled churches, we were left to wonder what does the resurrection say to us behind the closed doors? If we are willing to allow the Spirit to speak in our wondering, we just might discover a greater depth to what we believe and a hope that goes far beyond hurrying to open up the economy and get life back to normal.
On that first day of the resurrection, the Gospel of John tells of the disciples hiding in fear behind closed doors. They had good reason with fear of Roman soldiers wandering in the streets making sure peace was being kept along with the fear of what will the future hold with Jesus’ crucifixion. However, earlier in the day Mary Magdalene had told them that she had seen the Lord and passed on the risen Jesus’ words to them. Perhaps their greatest fear was facing Jesus whom they had abandoned and denied. Then he appeared, wounds and all. Their fear was suddenly changed to celebration with Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!” The Lord who beat death and was ushering in the reign of God with the start of a new creation appeared to them, not for revenge or to judge but to forgive. The disciples were sent out by Jesus with the Spirit and a message of forgiveness.
On that first day, Thomas was missing. Even though he got the news, he wouldn’t believe until he had proof – he wanted to physically inspect the wounds for himself. A week later he was present when Jesus appeared and this time Jesus gave Thomas the invitation to go ahead and even stick his fingers in the wounds. Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” I think that we would all like the opportunity for our doubts and fears to be replaced by physical proof and to have God stand before us and announce “Peace.” What we do have in these days is the witness of others, the belief of parents and friends. They tell us that God has not abandoned us and this world but has taken on its wounds and death giving forgiveness and life instead. They show us that the statement “My Lord and my God” is more than a formula to be recited but an intense hope of healing as a new creation is brought into being.
Now we still huddle behind doors for fear of the pandemic. Now our hopes may be on returning to normal and reopening the economy. Now we worry about toilet paper shortages, masks and social distancing. What Easter tells us is that God has shown up in this world and taken on our sickness to bring forgiveness and life instead. What Easter instills in us is a hope of a new creation healed in Jesus Christ risen.
As Jesus said, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”