How Did I Miss That?
The Easter story is a comedy of errors with a continuing chorus: Jesus is alive! But nobody seems to notice him, even when he’s right there.
One of the worst things to say to me is, “You can’t miss it!” I can miss anything. Apparently there is a statue of a giant bull in Ronkonkoma (note: look up “giant statue of bull in Bible), but I’ve never seen it, even though many people have told me, “You can’t miss it!”
Update: When I preached this sermon on Easter Sunday, a few people shouted out, “It’s in Smithtown!” Now I know how I missed it!
I somehow missed the fact that our church lights had dimmer switches, even though they have been there for years. I missed the fact that the horseshoe things people put around their necks on planes are neck rests; I thought they were toilet seat covers.
Sometimes I miss things because I’m not looking. Sometimes I don’t look hard enough. Sometimes nobody tells me things. Sometimes I’m just blind.
On Easter, Mary is crying over Jesus, pouring out her sorrows to the gardener. But it turns out he’s not the gardener; he’s Jesus, standing right in front of her! She becomes the first witness to the resurrection, and she and her friends spend the rest of the day trying to convince the clueless men, who think she is making it up.
Two-thirds of those who attend church are women. They showed great love at Jesus’ death, and great faith after the resurrection. On Easter Sunday, they get the party started early. Get those ovens going! Bake a cake! Jesus is alive!
The men continue to be clueless. Two of them are walking to Emmaus when they are joined by a stranger. (Spoiler alert: it’s Jesus!) But they don’t recognize him. They tell him all about their problems, and how bummed out they are, how disappointed and downcast.
Why didn’t they recognize him? Was he in disguise? Were they crying? Were they walking into the sun? Perhaps they’d never seen him up close ~ Jesus often drew large crowds, and there were no large screen TVs for those in the back. Later they would ask themselves, “How did we miss that?”
The disciples were in shock. They were in mourning. Their hopes had been dashed. They had heard so much bad news that they had stopped looking for good news, and in the process had become blind.
Jesus called them “foolish.” I looked for a nicer word, but this is the word in every translation. Then I realized ~ this year, Easter is on April Fools Day! And after the week he’s had, we can see why Jesus might want to have a little fun. He walks all the way to Emmaus, has dinner with his companions, breaks the bread, then ~ *poof!* ~ they recognize him, and he disappears! Then he materializes through closed doors to say hello to the Eleven, and they scream, “It’s a ghost!” Yes, Jesus is having a blast.
After Jesus disappears from dinner, his companions say, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning within us when he explained the Scriptures? How did we miss that?” In hindsight, they realize they had been foolish. They’d allowed themselves to be blinded by bad news, and had stopped looking for good news, even though it was right there among them.
This reminds me of a story. A man is looking back on his life, and he sees two sets of footprints in the sand. But during the hardest parts of his life, he notices only one set of footprints. He asks Jesus, “Why did you leave me when I needed you the most?” And Jesus says to him, “My dear child, when you see only one set of footprints, those were the times when you got really cranky. And I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I took a break.” (April Fools!) Actually Jesus says, “My child, that was when I carried you.”
The Bible is filled with stories of unnoticed blessings. Hagar is crying in the wilderness, thinking she is going to die of thirst. God opens her eyes, and she realizes that she has been right next to a well the whole time. Elijah and his servant are surrounded by an army, but the servant doesn’t see that around the army is God’s greater army. Tobit brings his friend home to meet his dad, and his dad falls down and cries out, “Your friend is an angel!” There’s a talking donkey in the Old Testament (and he doesn’t eat waffles). He tells Balaam that there’s an angel right in front of him, even though Balaam doesn’t see it.
We read these stories and think, “How did they miss that?” But sometimes we don’t see what’s in front of our faces. We don’t see a child begging for our time, or a spouse who wants to work things out. We don’t see that we’re truly loved, or that we don’t have to do it all alone. We don’t see that God is real and active and present. We become so blinded by our fears and anxieties that we can’t see the blessings to our right, the miracles to our left, the Lord right in front of us, calling our name.
We see a world filled with bad news, and we believe it. But the world is also filled with Good News. Jesus is waving his arms: “Look, I’m right here! The flowers are blooming, the birds are returning, love is all around, and I’m alive!”
We are all on the walk to Emmaus. Some of us are just starting out. Some are sad and downcast, unable to accept the Good News. Some have heard the message, but are having difficulty believing it. Some are listening. Some are learning. Some are loving. Some are understanding. Some are following. Some are proclaiming.
If you haven’t found Jesus yet; if you’ve found him and lost him; if you think someone’s taken him away, keep looking. He may be hidden in plain sight. Later you may say, “How did I miss that?”
May our eyes be opened to God’s world of blessing. May we seek and find and rejoice together. Happy Easter!
Hands (Good Friday)
According to historians, Jesus may have been crucified through the wrists, but artists portray him crucified through his palms. Take this nail. Press it into your palm, and imagine how it might feel pressed through the palm to the other side.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ hands. Margaret Cropper’s hymn focuses directly on this subject: “Jesus’ hands were kind hands, doing good to all, healing pain and sickness, blessing children small, washing tired feet and saving those who fall; Jesus’ hands were kind hands, doing good to all.”
I think of Jesus as a baby, reaching his hands to his parents, and what a blessing it must have been for Joseph and Mary when he wrapped his tiny hands around one of their fingers.
Hands of need, hands of trust.
The hands of a toddler, fascinated by motion and possibility, grabbing everything in sight, moving it around to see how it worked ~ Jesus as a one-year-old, learning how to clap, delighting all those around him.
Hands of playfulness, hands of curiosity.
The hands of a child, as Jesus followed his father around his workshop. It’s hard to imagine, because he was the Son of God, but Joseph probably had to tell him, “Jesus, don’t touch that! Jesus, put that down!” But as he got older, his father began to teach him. How happy he would have been the first time his father let him hold a nail, or swing a hammer, or build a chair.
The hands of a carpenter, putting things together, creating something out of nothing, working with tools, hammering, sawing, sanding ~ but also fixing, repairing, salvaging broken things ~ training for his ministry.
The hands of a builder, the hands of a mender.
Hands of prayer, whether clasped together or raised to the sky: palms up in supplication, or held high in praise.
These same palms, now pierced.
Hands of greeting, hands of hello and goodbye. Hands shaken in friendship. Hands for carrying heavy loads, hands for carrying the burdens of others. Jesus’ hands were strong hands.
Once, Jesus extended his palm to say, “Stop.” Every other hand was holding a stone, but his were empty. He stepped between the crowd and the woman on the ground. He used his hand to write something in the sand. Then he looked up and said, “The one who is without sin may cast the first stone.” One by one, the stones fell. The people walked away. He reached out to the woman, lifted her up. “Go and sin no more,” he said.
Hands not of judgment, but of rescue. Hands not to break down, but to build up.
Hands for common activities, such as eating and drinking. Hands that turned water into wine, multiplied loaves and fishes. Hands that broke the bread, hands that lifted the cup. Hands of generosity, hands of blessing, hands of invitation.
These are the hands that would soon be still.
Hands of courageous healing ~ hands placed on lepers, on people no one else would touch. Hands that risked all.
His were the hands that healed the sick, the lame, the paralyzed. People came to him with all kinds of needs, and he placed his hands on them, and healed them. He touched the eyes of the blind, and gave them sight; the ears of the deaf, and gave them hearing; the tongues of the mute, and gave them speech.
In the words of the Gaither Band’s famous hymn, “Shackled by a heavy burden, ‘neath a load of guilt and shame. Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same. He touched me, oh He touched me, and oh the joy that floods my soul! Something happened and now I know, he touched me and made me whole.”
And others said, “No more!”, and drove nails through these very same hands.
The hands that were never raised in self-defense, that could have raised a sword, led a rebellion, but did not.
Hands of humility, hands of peace.
Hands that balanced children on his lap. Hands that held other hands. Hands that embraced his family and friends and followers.
Hands of love, now mutilated by a hammer, a carpenter’s tool.
Hands that bear the marks that should have been ours. Hands that bear our guilt, our shame. Hands that carry our suffering. Hands that bear the weight of our sins.
Hands of sacrifice. Hands of acceptance.
“Look at these hands,” he will say to his disciples after the resurrection. To Thomas he will say, “See my hands. Take your hand, and place your finger in my wounds. It is I.”
These are my hands. These are my marks. This is my body, broken for you.
These are God’s hands, outstretched to us in love. The hands we slap away, the hands we ignore, the hands we reject, the hands we pierce. Every time we turn away from a person in need, ignore the cries of a hurting world, proclaim our Christianity without acting like Christ, we hammer another nail into God’s palm. Johann Heerman writes, “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.”
But now, as St. Teresa of Avila writes, “Christ has no hands on earth but yours. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours.”
We carry his sufferings in us so that we might also be glorified with him.
But even if we fail on every level; even if we use our hands to help ourselves rather than to help others; even if we use them to strike down rather than to raise up; even if we use them to point rather than to pray; even if we never lift a hand to help another in need, never extend the hand of friendship, never place our hands on another in prayer ~ Jesus still extends his hands to us, broken bones and pierced palms.
Hands of redemption, hands of grace. Hands gentle enough to gather a lost sheep and strong enough to hold the whole world.
These hands, these kind, beautiful hands, nailed to a cross as if they were worth nothing at all.