Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Church Stopped at the Tomb

During this time of Lent...

Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. It's the forty days before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like a little Easter.

... I've been exploring what it means to be part of the church. In a quick correspondence with my Uncle today, he sent me some thoughtful words in response to my explorations of what church might be for me in this period of my life. He started by reminding me of what Jesus said at the Last Supper...

The Last Supper is the final meal that, in the Gospel accounts, Jesus shared with his Apostles in Jerusalem before his crucifixion. The Last Supper is commemorated by Christians especially on Maundy Thursday.
27-28 Jesus told them, “You’re all going to feel that your world is falling apart and that it’s my fault. There’s a Scripture that says,
I will strike the shepherd;
The sheep will go helter-skelter.
But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you, leading the way to Galilee.

Jesus told the Disciples and anyone present at this meal, that he is going to die and that he will be resurrected. Even more importantly, that he will go ahead of them leading the way into Galilee. Wow! How many times have I read this and not ever considered those words? He will go ahead of us into Galilee.

Photography by Gage Bulick

Galilee is in Northern Israel and it is the region where Jesus was born and raised. This is where Jesus came from and where he lived most of his life. Nazareth, Capernaum, these were both in the region of Galilee and were both home to some of his greatest miracles and sermons. 
After Jesus was killed, he was buried in a tomb for three days before any of his loved ones could come and anoint his body (which was traditional at the time). This was very troubling for many who wished to perform these rites of burial properly for the Lord they loved so dearly. They could not get to the tomb because it was being guarded by the political and religious officials who did not want to have the Disciples hiding his body and claiming that he rose again. This could possibly create a dangerous uprising from a people who were already causing ripples that the officials were nervous about. Jesus had ignited quite a stir over the last three years before his crucifixion, and when he raised his friend Lazarus who had been dead three days, this really was the last straw. Jesus had officially become threatening to the powers that be.

Side note, the thing about being dead three days was a big deal. The Jews believed that when you died your soul lingered with your body for three days so there was a chance of the dead person coming back to life somehow. If you were dead for three days this possibility was now gone because your soul had left the premises.  Jesus was dead-dead when his followers were finally able to get to his tomb.

Photography by Gage Bulick

Maybe you know this part of the story, 3 women who were his followers also, arrived at the tomb early on the third day and were stunned to see that the huge stone that had been placed in front of it had been rolled away. The women went inside and saw two men dressed in white robes who appeared to be gleaming. The men asked them who they were looking for and assured them that Jesus was not in this grave, but that he did rise from the dead. The fabric that were wrapped around his corpse were folded neatly on the stone where they laid him. However, there was no Jesus in sight. 

The women were elated and ran back to the place where the Disciples were hiding (at this point, it was extremely dangerous to tell anyone you were a follower of Jesus). A couple of the Disciples wanted to believe the women so badly that they ran full speed to the tomb. Apparently, Peter was outrun but his buddy waited on him before entering the tomb which was considerate. Sure enough, Jesus was not there and they saw his burial clothes folded neatly just as the women did. They went back to their hiding place to tell the others.

There was one follower who was left behind that morning. She doesn't get a mention in the race to tomb but it would be hard to imagine that she was not part of it; Mary Magdalene was sitting outside the tomb alone and wept. A man approached her as she cried as said, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She replied, "They have taken my Lord and I don't know where they have put him." Then (and this part always chokes me up) the man said, "Mary". He said her name and she looked up and saw Jesus standing before her. She rushed to him and he asked her not to hold on to him because his time had not yet come and soon he would join with the Father, our God. Mary later went to the hiding place to tell the others. I can only imagine the great depth of joy she must have felt from that encounter with Jesus, who called her by name.

I bring this up for several reasons. The scripture narratives seem to make it clear that Jesus did not want anyone lingering at the tomb. He is NOT in the tomb. He told the Disciples before all the horror and wonder even began, that he would rise again and go ahead of them into Galilee. He did not say, "When I die, come anoint my body and mourn for me at the tomb and try to imitate everything I taught you out of your faithful sadness." No! He said, he was already back in his town. He was connected to the Great Spirit (God, Father, Lord, whatever you want to call Him or Her) and he was already ahead of them in their own region.

This Lenten season, I can't help but wonder if we are worshiping in a tomb. We build brick and mortar buildings and call them "church" and stand at the door wondering "Where is God in my life, in this world, in this situation?" We weep in the pews and listen half-heatedly to sermons when somewhere deep in our hearts, we still sense that something isn't right here. Something is still missing.

The Apostle Paul taught us that the church is the people, the followers of Christ Jesus. He also said that the church where the people meet is in the home. The early church met in people's houses. My home, my hometown, my body, my friends, my community are the church. Not the tomb where we keep Jesus. He isn't there. He is already in my house.

Photography by Gage Bulick

My Uncle encouraged me during this season with these words and I hope they are equally as meaningful to you, "You have left the sarcophagus and gone into Galilee...the church stopped at the grave...thank goodness you have gone into Galilee where he waits for you."

Are you part of a tomb? Did you stop at the grave and mourn how Jesus is missing in this real world? Or are you heading home to meet Jesus where he is already waiting on you and called you by name to join him?

Definitions provided by Wikipedia