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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Too Good To Be True - 04/15/2018

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

I had the opportunity to be in Chicago last weekend. One of my favorite Chicago things to do is visit the Art Institute. I've been going there since I was little so it's very familiar space to me. When I'm there, I make sure to visit my favorites – like the stained glass windows of Marc Chagall. I like to look for something I've never noticed before. This time that was a lively depiction of John the Baptist preaching by Dutch painter Peiter Lastman.

 And I usually seek out the special exhibits too. It is often these temporary exhibits that make statements about the present time – political, economic, and social issues, for instance. Art helps us see other facets of these issues and understand them a little more and in new ways … sometimes very challenging ways.

On this visit, it was the work of Mounira (Mow Nhera) Al Solh that captured my attention and my emotions. The exhibit was her vast body of beautiful sketches she made of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, mostly on yellow legal pad paper. Mounira (Mow Nhera) is Syrian-Lebanese and she met these people in Beirut, Chicago and Turkey, primarily.  Most of the sketches include something the person shared about their refugee experience. One young Syrian woman spoke for her family. She said “We believe that if they really want to make a one-minute silence for the bombings that happened in Belgium, then the whole world has to shut up for two years for what has happened and continues to happen in Syria.”

Mounira (Mow Nhera) and her immediate family had escaped from the terror of the 15-year Lebanese civil war in the 70s and 80s. I find her perspective on the present-day Syrian civil war to be one of those places where my understanding of the world's refugee crisis grows a lot. In an interview she said:

“I had always been unable to speak about the war in my artwork. Growing up in the war is not about analyzing; it's more about surviving. It's beyond words. Even when you get older, there are traces that you will never be able to analyze or speak about.

“That changed with the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2012 following the popular uprising in 2011,” she continued. “The war became very real again, as I still have family living in Syria. I was living in Beirut at the time, and it was like being in the direct image of the war – not the actual war, but its mirror. A direct reflection of it's impact, and immediate witness to how people flee and are focused on survival.” (Mounira Al Solh, I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous. Feb-Apr 2018, Art Institute Chicago.)

I could hear it in her words and see it in the eyes of the subjects she captured on those legal pads –  she had escaped the daily landscape of war that dominated her childhood, she was not physically in Syria for this new war, but she still felt it's trauma. Even though we can recognize that God had brought her and her family up and out of the Lebanese war, it must seem, on some level, to Mounira (Mow Nhera)  too good to be true and so she continues to experience it in her daily landscape even from as far away as Chicago.

We most certainly perceive this experience of thinking something is too good to be true where we join the disciples in our gospel story today. They have all found their way back to each other in Jerusalem to talk about what they'd experienced that day. It began with the women who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body. They found that Jesus was not there. And others had just proclaimed “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” (24:34) Just as those disciples were saying that, two more disciples burst in having just raced back from their trek to Emmaus where – they said –  Jesus walked with them and opened the scriptures to them and broke bread with them!

And now, in the midst of all this excitement, confusion and fear and doubt, Jesus is there too …. among them. It's the third time he appeared that day.  “Peace be with you,” he says.

The disciples are startled and terrified. You can feel it in the text. It's in that moment in Emmaus when Jesus broke the bread and the two disciples recognized him... and then he was gone.

It's in the moment Jesus stood before Simon, the one who had denied and fled from his beloved rabbi at the cross only three days before.

It's in that moment at the tomb when the women “were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.” (v5).  I think any of us here would also be quite startled and frightened, trying to make sense of the impossible reality unfolding … standing ... right before them.

So Jesus begins to assure them  …  again. He shows them his hands and his feet. Allows them to touch him. They are not being deceived. He is not dead, ”a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

But even then, the disciples are like deer caught in the headlights. They want to believe …. their senses tell them they should believe, and “yet in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering” (v41) …. Can this be true? Surely this is too good to be true, they must have thought.

The evidence that Jesus is alive before them continues to mount. First Jesus asks for something to eat and they watch him eat in their presence. Spirits and ghosts don't eat.

And then Jesus takes on his familiar role of teacher and begins ... It is as Moses and the prophets and the psalmists said, he tells them … again. The Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. As Jesus explained this, the disciples would have thought about the scriptures they knew so well. Perhaps their minds turned to the prophet Isaiah sharing God's message of hope for the Israelites in exile … “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,” Isaiah prophesied, “who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'” (Isa 52:7)  Or maybe like us today they saw Jesus through the lens of the Psalmist:  “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”  (Ps 4:6)

Jesus is the Messiah, their senses are telling them. Can this be true? It must be too good to be true.

How many times did the disciples need to be reminded before they finally believed? How many times was the evidence presented – scriptural, physical? How many times did they have to be convinced that this unassuming man from Galilee  was God incarnate, who – just like Moses and the prophets and psalmists foretold – brought about the ultimate victory over that which stands between us and God.

How long was it before they could begin living on this side of the cross where the Kingdom of God has been revealed more plainly than ever before?

How long was it before they could truly live like they believed that the way God has chosen to be in relationship with us centers specifically in this startling news that repentance and forgiveness of sin was proclaimed in Jesus' name to all the nations – to all of creation.

And what about us?

Do we doubt that this could really be true? What does your life say about which side of the cross you live on? Do you live like trauma and sin have been defeated for good? Or do you live like that is just too good be true and let that daily landscape overshadow how you are loved and how you love? Who are you in the mirror of the tomb? Who am I in the mirror of the tomb?

*******

I think we should go easy on the disciples for not “getting it” right away …  for acting like this was too good to be true for awhile. Without this part of our Christian story, we wouldn't have these reminders in the weeks that follow Easter.
            And I believe, my friends in Christ, we need these reminders as much, if not more, as those earliest followers of Jesus who were said to have been so “foolish and slow of heart to believe.”

Just look around us today. Creation is beginning to burst forth with activity (despite the weather forecasts) – and we add to it. It's only been 14 days since the tomb was found empty of Jesus, but full of mystery and questions and a hint of pure and utter joy that the Messiah had risen from the dead. 

And yet, we mostly find ourselves fully returned to every day life as it looked prior to that Easter Sunday news. Our task lists and deadlines at work, school and home demand our attention. Graduation season is upon us. Spring and summer usher in longer days of recreation and work, growing and harvesting, travelers and visitors.

So it's good that we are reminded. It's good that we too have the scriptures to retell the story of how God so loved creation that God came among us in human form, walked this earth with us, experienced the wonder and the pain of human life.

It's good that we are sanctified by the physical presence of Jesus among us each time we gather around the table and honor his body and blood in the bread and the wine.

Our story today even reminds us how we are called to behave as followers of Jesus. When we enter a home or greet another, we offer peace. We share with each other what nourishes our bodies and hearts – bread and wine, maybe a bit of broiled fish … our stories as people of God and followers of Jesus in this world. Even how we … at times … feel like the resurrection was too good to be true … even when our actions show that it can be a challenge to get on this side of the cross.

 It is through these actions and these words that we continue the work of those first witnesses in Jerusalem. We proclaim that the Messiah suffered and on the third day rose from the dead and brought repentance and forgiveness of sin to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem and now from places like Munising and Harvey. We are the witnesses of these things that seem too good to be true, but truth we believe they are.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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