Easy Return

Yesterday returning as associate pastor at St. Matthew UCC was, well, easy. There was a lot of "Welcome back!" comments and a very warm feeling. Being a pastor in worship felt very comfortable and natural -- and the senior pastor and I quickly remembered our camaraderie and work together as a pastoral team.

Today is the day where I get to start going through the small, yet present, stack of things that didn't quite get finished while I was gone. Thankfully the stack is pretty small and I should be through it in just a few days. Not bad after a 6-week sabbatical.

I posted a new blog entry at i.ucc.org this morning -- "Who's afraid of the empty tomb?"

It's the beginning of the week, and devout followers of Jesus, devastated by his death, head to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body. They don't know how they're going to get the tomb open -- but they go anyway.

They find that the tombstone has been rolled back. They go in. (Somehow a horror movie is swirling in my head right now) They see someone inside and they are startled . . . shaken . . .alarmed . . . terrified! The person tells them to be calm and that Jesus -- the one whose body they had come to anoint, wasn't there. Jesus was alive. Tell the disciples that Jesus is alive!

And the women ran away -- terrified and amazed. And they didn't say a word to anyone.

The Gospel of Mark, (Our reading this week is Mark 16:1-8) from the earliest and most reliable manuscripts, ends right there. No understanding of what has happened. No appearance of Jesus to the disciples. No ascension into heaven. No promise or great commission. It ends with fear. Other endings to Mark, from later manuscripts, wrap up things a little better. Jesus appears to many, commissions the disciples and then ascends into heaven. It follows the other three gospels more closely.

But this ending -- this ending without closure -- reflects well what the earliest followers of Jesus spoke of and wrote down. They didn't know what really had happened and they didn't know what any of it meant.

And they still followed Jesus.

Following Jesus isn't about knowing all the details or understanding the resurrection completely or even at all. It's about the life Jesus offers. It's about the two greatest commandments. It's about loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbor as ourself.

Jesus is risen! And whether we know that, get that, or even believe that, we are God's precious ones. Everyone is precious and loved by God -- no exceptions.

We don't have to be afraid -- but it's OK if we are.

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