Seventh Sunday of Easter/Transfiguration
My friend Carrie is a pastor in Jerusalem, and although I didn’t get to see her when I was in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, I constantly appreciate her insights from that context… the culture that is the source of these stories of Jesus that have spread all over the world. She preached on Transfiguration Day (last Thursday), and as another friend Patrick says, “Ascension Day is the Christian’s least celebrated feast day.” On this seventh Sunday of Easter, after seeing the risen Jesus show up and disappear, share a meal and disappear, offer peace and disappear, resurrection appearances of Jesus that are like a long, drawn out, Minnesota goodbye…
Good bye! Hugs all around… oh wait, I forgot to tell you this… (20 minutes later…) Okay, we’re really going now… oh, I forgot something… Okay, bye, really this time. See you soon!
After an Easter season of appearing here and there and everywhere, today we celebrate Jesus raised to heaven in a cloud until all they can see is his feet. He’s really going this time… this is when our humanity goes home to the heart of God, when we realize the incarnation isn’t just a 33-year experiment in the life of God but eternally part of who God is.But in the moment, the disciples don’t know all that. They sit staring into the sky. Watching. What on earth do we do next? Then, some angelic messengers call them back to where they are… and what they can do.
One artist depicted it the way I shared with the children—like footprints on the ground. Even after the human person, raised from the dead, is gone in a cloud… even then, the footprints remain—the places where Jesus touched the earth. Or put much more concretely, the people who Jesus touched and changed and transformed remain, and in them, we see Jesus in an ongoing way.
This is one of the things that travelers wrestle with as modern or post-modern people traveling in the land where Jesus walked. Constantly, there are multiple sites where pilgrims remember various stories from the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. There are at least three places where pilgrims go for this one story. We can certainly learn something from being in the land where Jesus lived, but maybe what is not so important is which site it is exactly… maybe what we’re invited to notice are the footprints.
Let me give an example. There are two major sites where pilgrims flock to the tomb of Jesus. One is in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (sepulcher means tomb). There, pilgrims light candles, just like we do on All Saints’ Sunday but even more so. The big metal vessels filled with sand have so many candles placed in them that there is two full inches of hot, melted wax on top of the sand. People lay down, spreading their hands out in prayer, over the rock where pilgrims remember how Jesus’ body was anointed before it’s burial. People line up for hours to duck into the small, dark chamber to see the stones that have been remembered as Jesus tomb since about 300 AD/CE.
Outside the old city wall, there is another place where pilgrims remember the resurrection. It’s called the Garden Tomb, discovered by evangelical archeologists in the mid-1800s, and it looks much more like people’s picture of what a garden tomb ought to look like. Some people in our group were a little disappointed in this site, but here’s what Max Miller, our teacher from Atlanta said, “I’ve been here several times. It doesn’t do anything for me, but I brought my mother here, and she was so touched by this place, both times.” And I noticed as I looked around that he was right, there were many pilgrims here who were visibly moved by the experience of remembering Jesus’ resurrection. There was a sign that our evangelical guide at the site pointed out, “Well, the main point is—Christ is not here, he has been raised.” I received word on Tuesday that Max’s mother died this week after a long life, 100 years old… with a faith very different from her son’s faith, and yet… with a willingness to find unity across Christian differences because of love, the kind of love that Jesus asks us to look for… and help others find. These are the living footprints, the places where Jesus’ feet touched the earth, the places where we can see evidence of the living Christ even now.
On Wednesday this week, we all woke up to news of the terror attacks in Manchester. As I waited for my coffee at my weekly text study, I read the headlines and was relieved to see that Earned Sick and Safe Time was safe in Saint Paul. Not even two hours later, I learned from our Isaiah team that crazy things were happening in state politics, and the news had changed overnight. Throughout the day here at Christ, we talked with various people for various reasons in our office space… and I encountered at least four people who were completely spent from advocating in what seems like a impossible situation. Tears were in their eyes from exhaustion, frustration, despair. I went over to the Capitol briefly to see if I could connect with people from our congregation who were advocating to pray for them and encourage them… and I walked into the rotunda, full of shouting. On the way in, I was able to talk with a security guard… I was able to hug a young worker who connected at Christ during Lent and who was trying to give a tour to school children under the noise… I was able to check in with another friend who was advocating for education funding. I gave up trying to find our people as the chant turned to “Shame, shame, shame…” and I came back to tell Angie that I’m not sure that chants of “Shame” from Christians have ever changed anyone’s hearts about anything. But regardless of our particular sense of calling and methods for how we advocate for one another… what I went into the evening thinking about was how we keep hope over all these days of trying to protect democracy with our physical presence, with our songs, with our prayers… how do we see Jesus’ footprints here and now, in such fractured and demoralizing times?
Since I returned from the Holy Land, I have been reading and just finished a book by Mitri Raheb called Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes. Dr. Raheb, Pastor Mitri (he is both) has been writing for years, trying to get the world to notice the situation of the Palestinians. He’s been at this for years… and so I’ve felt like he certainly has something to teach us if we feel like things are spiraling out of our control, if we are tempted to give in to despair, if we are standing here staring up at the sky, wondering “What in the world are we supposed to do now?”
Raheb writes, “[We face] immense challenges [yes, but…] imagination shows us the endless opportunities that are within reach. The bridge between immense challenges and myriad opportunities is hope in action… Hope is the power to keep focusing on the larger vision while taking small, often undramatic, steps toward that future. Imagination can be highly deceptive if it is not connected to a well-defined strategy and a plan. Hope doesn’t wait for vision to appear. Hope is vision in action today. Faith that makes people passive, depressive, or delusional is not faith but opium. We have a great deal of that in our world today. Faith is facing the empire with open eyes that allow us to analyze what is happening while, at the same time, developing the ability to see beyond our present capacities. Hope is living the reality and yet investing in a different one.” Then he describes the prophet Jeremiah who as Jerusalem was being burned and the temple was being destroyed, was asked by a cousin to buy a field there. He did.
“Hope was deciding to invest in the area at a time when no sane person would so dare. Hope is faith in action in the face of the empire. Hope is what we do today. Only that which we do today as people of faith and as engaged citizens can change the course of history and lay the foundation for a different future. This was the prophetic tradition that came out of Palestine, a tradition we must keep alive.”
This makes me think of our neighborhood. As we look toward our 150th Anniversary celebration in 2018, what are the ways that we will invest in hope… invest in a different future… for our closest neighbors, for our city, for our partners in ministry here and throughout the world?
On this Memorial Day weekend, I can’t help but think of the lasting legacies of those who have gone before us… how the people of Christ Lutheran gave their time, their resources, their lives to plant and grow this place. We get to enjoy the fruit they planted. But we are also invited in faith and hope to plant seeds here, now, for what will come next.
And so, the angels come among us to remind us not to stand staring into the sky wishing Jesus had not left us, but to look around for the footprints of Jesus that are still so clearly in our midst… looking to each other, and waiting with hopeful expectation… Waiting with our hands open… for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, coming at Pentecost…Alleluia. Christ is risen!