An Easter Message from the General Presbyter, Russell Gladding
Will Willimon, Methodist minister, Bishop and author tells this story in a sermon I watched recently online. He says while he was the Bishop of Alabama he was faced with a wayward Church that had run off their pastor. They had been in such conflict that he went to visit the small rural church in the southern farm country part of the state. On a Wednesday evening he met with the farmers who comprised the majority of the membership. Willimon says he gave it to them, telling them the way they had acted toward their former pastor had put them in a position that not a single preacher in the state would be will to come to be their pastor. Then, he said, an older farmer spoke up and said, “Well Bishop, if what you say is true, it is a strange coincidence that just about every Sunday Jesus Christ seems to show up. Willimon says, “He was right.”
My friends, there is nothing we could do or not do that would have altered God’s plan for our redemption. Every other covenant God made with humanity from the time of creation was broken by humanity. This new covenant was only God’s work. We are recipients of unmerited grace through the love Shown in Jesus as he died on the cross for us. And then he was raised conquering death for us so that we might live. What a miraculous gift!
Willimon, in that same sermon says, “That would have been quite enough as miracles go. But there is more.” I am paraphrasing the rest of Willimon’s words. He comments that there are no first-hand accounts of anyone seeing the stone moved or Jesus removing his burial clothes and walking out of the tomb. The people who got there first saw what had already happened. They were amazed and fearful. The first-hand accounts are all in the form of appearances with the Risen Christ, with Mary, the disciples in the upper room, the two disciples running away on the road to Emmaus, Peter, and the fishermen on the beach. Later on another road to Damascus Paul encountered Jesus. Jesus showed up unexpectedly to those who had been or were to be his followers, who also had deserted him, denied him and persecuted those who followed him.
So the good, and even more important, news this Easter is this. Jesus came back… for us! The farmer and Willimon are right, Jesus keeps showing up! Most of the time, like those to whom he first appeared, we don’t see him, recognize him. That however does not stop Jesus from calling us in our time to follow. When he calls us by name, or feeds us in the sacrament of the meal in remembrance and celebration of God’s great love and grace, or when he appears in our community as a stranger, hungry, cold, worn out from the life of this world, these are the times we recognize him. These are the times he comes back for us.
He bids us to go into the world with him. That is why he keeps showing up!
Thanks be to God! Happy Easter!