The women’s feet pounded on the dirt path. The three women had just come from Jesus’ tomb, where they had met a strange man who had told them the news that Jesus is alive. They responded by fleeing, by running, and even now their feet continued to press on the hard-packed dirt as they tried to make sense of the man’s words.
His news, really, had caught them by surprise. As they replayed cherished memories of their teacher in their head, they suddenly understood everything he had said in a whole new way ….
As their lungs burned and they breathed hard, the women abruptly realized, this news that Jesus lives changes *everything* … Jesus lives … love triumphs over death … new life is possible and yet, and yet, their wonder gave way to confusion:
What would happen now? What would they do with this incredible news? What does it mean to be people of resurrection and new life?
These questions are precisely the ones that the people in the early Jesus movement were asking.
And they are no easy questions with which to wrestle.
The Jesus movement, after all, was a minority. Roman historians say that at the end of the first century the empire had a population of about seventy million. And they estimate that there were maybe as many as forty thousand Christians. Think of it. In a town of seven thousand people, four Christians.
What are you supposed to do when there is only four of you? How do you get the word out?
Then there is of course the political landscape. They lived in a land occupied by the Roman
Empire, where the emperor is known as the son of God and occupants are expected to worship him and pay a treat. Sharing the Good News that Christ is risen was dangerous and subversive.
What would they do???
And so Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem sat with these questions … getting curious … praying, hoping, dreaming, and wondering together: What comes next?
“We know the odds seem stacked against us,” they thought, “Yet we know – even in the most desperate of circumstances – God is at work … so at this moment of uncertainty, we pray that God will speak to us, guide our feet and show us the way forward.”
And as they prayed and wondered and questioned:
Land owners began to selling their land and gave the proceeds to the apostles to be distributed. People began to share their possessions so that everyone could have what they needed. The followers began to see each other differently, viewing those who were once strangers, in the words of one commentator, as “soul mates” or precious friends.
One Roman emperor notes, the Galileans were feeding not just their own poor but ours as well!
What we see in story of the early Jesus movement is that there is something holy about listening … about making space, about being uncertain, about being able to say I don’t know, about questioning and journeying together …. About wrestling with the questions that Jesus leaves us with … this journey opens us up to the work of the Spirit and changes our lives in deep and profound ways.
One of the notable things about the way the early Jesus movement in Jerusalem answered the question of “What now?” is that they were not unique in their response. Other Jews groups at the time, were choosing to live apart and share all that they had. So the Jerusalem group did not invent this way of living, instead they saw their neighbors doing it and thought, “Hey, I think God is calling us to try out this new way of living and loving.”
What the disciples teach us is what embracing the Good News, what soaking in news that Christ is risen looks likes in their specific cultural context. They teach us that Good News and compassion mean having the flexibility to discern and respond to new situations in new ways. This is true even for Paul, one of the most well-known early Jesus followers. Paul’s contemporaries had expect him to be financially dependent on the congregations that he visits but Paul, instead, takes up part-time work as a tent-maker. We know that he received a lot of flak for this because he writes a long explanation for his actions in Corinthians, Paul goes on to say, hey to those who sit around and judge me, aren’t we free? Don’t we have a choice about what we eat or drink? Or whether we get married? Or whether we work? It’s not about idealizing specific patterns of being but about embracing the Gospel, about letting the Good News of tenderness and mercy sink into the core of our being.
Paul sees beyond rules to the heart of the matter.
Paul invites us, when we find ourselves like the women, like the early disciples, at the edge of the unknown, to live the questions, to wonder aloud:
How can we live in a way that brings Good News to those around us? What does the Gospel look like in *our* context?
I can’t help but think of a story that I once heard preached once about a girl named Tiffany. Tiffany was a sixth grader, who went on a “graduation trip” of sorts. For two nights and three days the older and wiser members of Tiffany’s elementary group went to a magical and mystical place called Camp Knickerbock. Her sixth grade year was filled with anticipation for this trip. From the first day of school, the cool kids were already calling the back of the bus and filling their cabin with the social elite from our elementary ranks. Those who did not meet the standards, Tiffany included, quickly formed alternative bands to secure a cabin of their own.
When they finally left for the wilds of Camp Knickerbock, they found that indeed their plans unfolded as they imagined. The lines of cool were drawn just as tightly at camp as they were on the playground every single day. That is except for one night. Camp Knickerbock had a tradition of nighttime hikes reserved for the last night at camp. That evening, long after the supposed lights out curfew, the counselors came to their cabins and fetched them for an evening adventure in the dark. The counselors had split their cabins up so that they were now walking single file cool kids intermingled with nerds, mixed with jocks, and interspersed with preps.
As the lights went out one by one, they had to rely on the person in front and behind us to make our way. Increasingly they became more dependent on one another as they walked farther and farther into the wilderness. And as they journeyed, they found the social hierarchy began to crumble as their excitement and wonder of being in the wilderness rendered them one. If they were to make it out safely, they had to rely on one another…hold each other’s hands, talk to one another: where to step, where to duck.
At long last the final light was extinguished as they circled up in a small clearing surrounded by tall, slender trees pointing us toward the starry sky. As they stood there, each of them in the circle realized something profound had happened. Somehow, the wilderness had managed to break down their prejudices and preconceptions and allowed them for one brief hour to experience a community bound by common purpose and perhaps even a little admiration. The walls of division had been rendered useless in their common quest to find the way.
In Tiffany’s story, as the kids seek to find their way together, they begin to see each other differently … they stand at the edge of the unknown saying I don’t know what to do, I can’t see the way forward … and so together they journey and question, listen and discover …. And that process transforms them, it transforms their lives as well as the way they see the world.
It is this process and discernment that we find in the Easter stories. The reality is that, after Christ is risen, the women didn’t directly go from the tomb to the new community … the early disciples didn’t immediately know what to do. Our Scripture today teaches us that Easter – and new life – is not a one day event but an unfolding, a journey, a process of discovery.
It is to this journey that we are called to as people of faith. We have been pondering our own path here at First Baptist Church, discerning where God is calling us forth. Two months ago, we had a half-day retreat, celebrating the ways we are sharing the Good News with the shoreline and becoming curious about new ways we might embody God’s love to those around us. We wondered aloud about young adults and children, grief groups and daycare, housing and community service. As we prayed and listened, talked and questioned, we decided to hold a series of community potlucks and conversations on these topics as a way to delve deeper and discern where God is calling us as a congregation. Our first one will be at 6:30 p.m. on April 28th and will be hosted right here at FBC and is focused on our children and youth here on the shoreline. Everyone is invited to participate. It’s a potluck so we invite you to bring some food and your selves, bring your questions and your dreams so that, together, we might embody and share and proclaim this incredible news discovered by three brave women:
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
As we stand at the edge of the unknown, like the women and the disciples, like Paul and Tiffany, God calls us forth, to love, to community, to possibility, to promise, to beauty, to joy and to new life. Come and journey, God says to us, come and journey ever closer to my own heart.