Sermon Seeds April 16, 2017

Sermon Seeds April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday Year A color_white_1.jpg

Worship resources for Easter Sunday Year A are at Worship Ways

Lectionary citations
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10


Sermon Seeds

Focus Scripture:
John 20:1-18
Sermon reflection on John 20:1-18

Weekly Theme:
Yes!

Reflection:
by Kathryn Matthews Kate_baptizing_Avery_SS_(2).jpg

This isn't the first time we've heard about someone released from the grave. Earlier in this very Gospel (11:1-45), John tells the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and in doing so, sealing his own fate with the religious authorities who were driven to distraction by his power.

O. Wesley Allen writes that resurrection is an important theme in John's Gospel, in fact, the lesson of Lazarus being raised isn't proof of Jesus' power so much as it demonstrates who he is: "Jesus is the Resurrection." You could see the truth of that claim in the lives of his followers in the days that followed, right down, we hope, to our own time.

What were you expecting to find, Mary?

Poor Mary Magdalene. One might think that she has it worst on this first day of the week, her hopes once high, now crushed. In John's Gospel, she comes to the grave alone (she was here in all four Gospel accounts); if she hasn't come to tend the body, then perhaps she just will feel closer to Jesus by keeping vigil at his tomb. In John's account, Allen says, there are significant differences from the other Gospels: Here, "Jesus was buried with care (10:38-42), so Mary Magdalene comes not to complete his burial, but simply to mourn and honor Jesus..." (New Proclamation Year A 2008).

Since "it was still dark," maybe she had spent the night tossing and turning, sleepless from sorrow and grief. We wonder what she's thinking, and what she expects to find. It seems certain that she does not expect, of all things, an empty tomb. In Barbara Brown Taylor's sermon on this text, she describes the finality of death ("the only place springtime happens in a cemetery is on the graves, not in them") and likens Mary to the "abandoned pup" who still waits for her master to return (Home by Another Way).

Still, Mary Magdalene's thoughts and feelings seem less mysterious than those of the two disciples, Peter and "the one Jesus loved" (we traditionally think of him as John). As Philip Culbertson notes, when Mary runs to the disciples with the alarming report that "they" have taken Jesus' body (and we don't know where they took it, or even who "they" are), she's "fearful," but the male disciples are "excited"--a not insignificant difference (New Proclamation Year C 2010).

Why bother to run if there's no hope?

Perhaps, when they rush to the grave, Peter and the other disciple are trying to make up for their earlier failures. The worst has now happened, and maybe they hope to prove themselves in the aftermath of the Teacher's death. When they arrive at the grave, racing, it seems, against each other (John mentions three times that the other disciple got there before Peter), they see the grave cloths left behind by Jesus, who, unlike Lazarus, did not need to be unbound by others. This detailed description matters, for thieves would certainly not have taken the time or care to wrap up the head cloth and set it neatly aside.

Whether they considered such details or not, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," the texts says, "saw and believed" (what Mary had told them, having seen with his own eyes?). Then the two men went back home, a very different response from that of Mary, who felt compelled to share the news, and then to return to the tomb, and remain there (I often wonder why, and what she expected to see). At this point, the text tells us, Peter and John didn't make the connection between what their eyes were seeing and what their ears had heard from Jesus on more than one occasion, about his suffering, dying, and rising again.

Who's the real witness?

This seeing-and-believing theme, like that of resurrection, runs throughout John's Gospel. Did Peter and the "other disciple" really get it? We know, from the end of today's passage, that Jesus still felt it necessary to commission Mary Magdalene to tell his disciples (and that means the community, really, not just the small band of "apostles") the good news. One wonders about the confidence he has in the disciples' ability to carry through even after seeing the empty tomb.

This is a good moment to consider the fact that, in all four Gospels, Jesus entrusted such marvelous news and responsibility to a woman, of all people. This charge is both remarkable and ironic, given the lamentable status of women in communities of faith then and ever since, despite Mary’s faithful abiding, and her witness to the rest. And that's not the only marvel, for Jesus talks with Mary "in the garden," alone, one single man, and one single woman, a quietly intimate, heartfelt conversation. If we stop to think about it for a minute, not as 21st-century readers who have experienced a least a measure of progress for women, we realize that this intimate conversation, in a very secluded place, must have shocked John's earliest audience.

Easter_lilies_with_cross.jpgTelling the least of them the good news

At this crucial moment in the Gospel story, in salvation history, a woman, Mary Magdalene, represents that bright thread of hope that runs through the Scriptures like a vein of indestructible gold: God's trust of the small ones, the ones on the margins, the ones without voice, the prophets whom God lifts up to shine like the sun.

Remember the "other Mary," the Mother of Jesus, singing in the Magnificat about the lowly being lifted up and the mighty being brought down? How ironic, and how wonderful, that Jesus entrusts the primary proclamation of our faith to one of the "least," one of the "small ones"...and yet, how very biblical!

Many scholars note that Mary Madgdalene meets the two Pauline criteria for being an apostle, having experienced the Resurrection and received the charge to preach the gospel. She was overlooked for centuries, a "silent" but powerful witness against the marginalization of women in the church. Not that that has kept church leaders from distorting this text in order to accommodate patriarchal practice: I have read more than one church document claiming that Mary was simply a messenger to the "real" witnesses, the male apostles!

"Whom or what are you looking for?"

The way John tells the story, there's no conversation between the two male disciples and God's messengers (the angels), or with Jesus himself. That kind of encounter waits for Mary to return to the grave, still faithful, still weeping, too. Why does she look in the tomb again? What does she expect to see--the body now returned? Evidence of where it was taken, or who took it? We don't know, nor do we know whether she perceives the angels to be more than ordinary people, for her grief focuses on where Jesus' body has been taken.

Even when Mary turns and faces Jesus himself, she doesn't recognize him. It's surely no accident that the question he asks of her is the same one asked twice before in John's Gospel: first, of the inquisitive disciples-to-be ("What are you looking for?" 1:38), and later, of the mob who came to arrest Jesus ("Whom are you looking for?" 18:4; see Mary Margaret Pazdan, The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels).

Nothing will ever be the same

John doesn't concern himself with the technical details of "how" Jesus was raised. Instead, he emphasizes the profound change in the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and all of the disciples of Jesus right down to us, today. From now on, Pazdan writes, the disciples of Jesus are even more than they were before: "Jesus' hour of glorification enables the disciples to be children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus, ...[not] persons who are under parental care as dependents...[but] adult believers who belong to the household of God."

The story "in the garden," so lovely that it inspired a hymn by that name, is a deeply personal experience of the Resurrection. Maybe that's why some folks are uncomfortable with that hymn, dismissing it as "sentimental" and too "personal," that is, if they miss the third verse that tells Mary, and us, not to linger there, waiting for Jesus, but to go back into the world that is suffering. We have been assured that that is where we will find him, in that suffering and that need.  

Bringing the personal and the communal together

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus' Last Days in Jerusalem, culminates in the Easter experience and its two-fold significance, both personal and communal. Crossan and Borg say that our joyful proclamation, along with Mary Magdalene, that "Jesus lives" is a claim about Jesus today, in our own life and time. Like the earliest Christians, we follow "The Way," a way that leads to our transformation. Mary Magdalene's garden encounter with the risen Christ is familiar to us in different forms today, when we experience resurrection and new life, when we encounter the risen Christ in our own lives.

But there is the other side, too, for the Resurrection is God's way of defeating and denying the powers that be that were responsible for his death, including empires both ancient and contemporary. We are reminded that Jesus is really in charge, not the petty powers that seem to rule the world in every age. And that, Borg and Crossan write, tells us something about God and what God is about, for God is about repairing the damage that has been done, and is calling us to join in the work.

Dare to distribute justice

We may feel very close to Jesus when we imagine ourselves in the garden, walking and talking with our risen Lord. But following Jesus after that encounter means caring about Jesus' great passion, which is also the great passion of God--Borg and Crossan call it "the Dream of God," the well-known "Kingdom of God," when all of God's children will live in shalom, with enough for all, and healing, peace, justice, and mercy will reign. (They even dare to use the word "distributive," a word that sounds a lot like the controversial "redistribution" that has become a hot button in our political discourse.)

This beautiful world of God's Dream, Borg and Crossan write, calls us to be "grounded ever more deeply in the reality of God, whose heart is justice," which is, they claim, "the political meaning of Good Friday and Easter" (The Last Week). That sounds as if there is more for us to do than merely take good news back to the others: it's a call for our whole lives, a way to live them. The world should be able to see in our lives our own passion for the truth that Jesus is risen and that God has indeed begun the "Great Clean-up," the work that requires our participation. If we go back to our lives tomorrow as if nothing has changed, what then have we really experienced? Do you think the world is ready to hear a "political" meaning in Easter?

How do we respond to the Resurrection?

John K. Stendahl's insightful commentary on this text contrasts the boyish racing between Peter and the other disciple with the depth of feeling in Mary Magdalene's response to the Resurrection. The difference between the two notes struck by this account--almost comical, and deeply tragic--is a font for preaching: not just one or the other meaning is worth our attention, Stendahl claims, but both, because different people respond differently to the Resurrection (Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 2).

I remember what that was like in Bible study in the local church, with one church member who had a PhD viewing (and struggling with) the Resurrection story through a different lens than another person, who simply took the story at face value. Each, in his own mysterious way, grasped the truth of Easter Sunday and proclaimed together in worship, "Jesus is risen!" There is a delicate and deep interplay between faith and life experience, even life stages and cultural conditioning. The people in our pews, members and visitors alike on this Easter Sunday, are each in a place and time in their lives when they need to hear a word of hope and new life, even if each one hears it differently.

Moving forward into God's future

If Taylor calls resurrection "unnatural," so is the truth that it reveals this "happy morning," the new life within us, planted by God, new life that "cannot be killed, and if we can remember that then there is nothing we cannot do: move mountains, banish fear, love our enemies, change the world. The only thing we cannot do is hold on to him...." Instead, we must "let him take us where he is going," to be with God, a God of the future, drawing us forward into new life (Home by Another Way).

What do we expect from life? In our relationships and ministries, in our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, the nation and the world, in our own congregations and in the United Church of Christ, there are so many opportunities for new life, new possibilities, new wonders, if we dare to hope for them, to open our hearts and minds to what God can do. The wonderful writer, Mary Gordon, has written, "For me the meaning of the Resurrection is the possibility of possibility. The great perhaps. Perhaps: the open-endedness that gives the lie to death. That opens up the story." When you come to church on Sunday morning and prepare for worship, what possibilities lie before you? When you go to meetings, write sermons, keep appointments, visit the sick, make plans, dream dreams, how might God "open up the story" of your church?

Affirming God's great "Yes!" to creation, to life

Have you ever done everything as you planned, and then witnessed something, or even experienced something that you never thought would happen? When have you been surprised, caught "off guard" by good news and unforeseen joy that affirm and express God's great "Yes!" to the world, to creation, to new life?

Has anything ever happened in your life, or the life of your church, that seemed too good to be true? Have you ever received news so good that it required a re-appraisal of your worldview? What evidence did you need in order to trust in the good news? What did you need to "see" in order to "go tell"?

Easter Sunday was the moment that changed the world, and, hopefully, our expectations, even today, two thousand years later. Where do you stand in a world made new by the events of that morning so long ago? Where does your church stand in such a world? What, then, will you do?

For further reflection:

George Eliot, 19th century
"It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. "

Mother Teresa, 20th century

"Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen."

Frederick Buechner, 20th century
"It has always struck me as remarkable that when the writers of the four Gospels come to the most important part of the story they have to tell, they tell it in whispers. The part I mean, of course, is the part about the resurrection."

Emily Dickinson. 19th century
"To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else."

Sermon reflection on John 20:1-18:
by Kathryn M. Matthews

"At the Heart of Easter Sunday is a Woman." Wait. What? At the heart of Easter Sunday is a woman? It was right there on Facebook, and we all know it must be true if it's on Facebook, right? The Ursuline Sisters (who were my grade-school teachers so I totally trust them) had posted a short reflection (from onbeing.org) written by a playwright named Norman Allen, who's not technically a theologian but sometimes playwrights and poets are better theologians than, well, the official theologians are.

Mr. Allen focuses on Mary Magdalene in today's story from the Gospel of John--although, I have to mention, Mary Magdalene is actually at the tomb in all four of the Gospels. Anyway, he says something so surprising that even this ardent feminist was taken aback: "Easter," he writes, "isn't about the resurrection of Jesus. It's about the enormous achievement of his star pupil, who has the courage to open her eyes to new possibility."

My goodness. How far we've come in a few short years, since I was taught that women could not be ordained because there weren't any women apostles, and they couldn't be apostles because they were not witnesses to the resurrection, and when someone asked the bright question, "What about Mary Magdalene?"--the official church teachers wrote, in an official church document, and I am not making this up, "The women at the tomb were sent to inform the 'real' witnesses to the resurrection, who were the male disciples." In my head, I would silently add, "who were hiding out, scared, behind closed doors." Which is how I used to survive reading things like that, and I have to wonder if the Ursuline Sisters were maybe having a little fun by posting Mr. Allen's reflection.

Let's be clear about what we're saying branch_of_white_flowers.jpg
    
Still, I don't agree with him that Easter is not about the Resurrection of Jesus. Of course it's about the Resurrection of Jesus. But, if you stay with Facebook, you find lots of fascinating conversations about what that means. For example, when a pastor dismisses the movie, "Heaven Is For Real," one of his friends laments what he sees as the loss of the doctrine of the Resurrection; here's what he says: "It's the impetus for the dispensationalist lens which so badly distorts our anthropology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and eco-theology, to name a few." Wow.

I confess that, no matter how many theology classes I've sat in, or how many books I have on my bookshelves, my eyes glaze over when we church folks over-intellectualize and can't get to the heart of the matter on the teachings that are most important to our faith. And Easter is at the heart of what we Christians proclaim as the good news: Jesus Christ is risen! Jesus Christ is alive.

Looking for a different lens
    
I'm not saying that we could ever fully explain the Resurrection, but I do think we can look for different lenses through which we can view it. Stories are really good ways to do that, like the story of Mary Magdalene, who comes to the tomb feeling so blue, so bereft, and wanting to feel a little closer to Jesus; maybe it's easier for her to grieve there, or, maybe she no longer has any place else to go. I'm guessing, in any case, she isn't there because she expects the tomb to be empty.

After Mary goes to tell those "real" witnesses to the resurrection, and Peter and John come running to see the empty tomb for themselves, the Gospel says, "they saw and believed"--and then they do something odd: they go home! I'm not sure what I would have done in their situation, but I can't imagine simply going back home. Apparently, neither can Mary. She hangs around, weeping, checking the tomb again, the way we do when we've lost something and keep looking for it in the same place, again and again. Suddenly, she's talking with angels, and then, with the risen Jesus himself.

Too tender, too personal?

Way back in 1975, I remembering watching the Robert Altman film, "Nashville." One of the characters, a country-western singer, was in the hospital and quite frail, emotionally and mentally as well as physically. In one scene, she sat in a wheelchair in the chapel and softly sang a hymn I'd never heard before: ...."and he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own...." As she sang about the risen Jesus meeting Mary Magdalene in the garden, it felt to me like she was also telling her own story of feeling close to Jesus, like a lost lamb being gathered up by her Good Shepherd and taken back to the flock.

It touched my heart in ways that I couldn't explain, because, to be honest, belief for me at that point in my life was up here, in my head, not here, in my heart. So when I went to seminary twenty years later, I was disappointed to hear my teachers dismiss that hymn, "In the Garden"; what felt tender to me, they saw as sentimental, too focused on a private relationship with God, a kind of "me-and-Jesus" faith. But I still found it moving.

Some folks say the Resurrection is about joy, others say hope; I appreciate the way Marcus Borg calls it "God's yes to Jesus and God's no to the powers that be"--the empires of violence, injustice and greed that try to rule our lives today just as they killed Jesus long ago. But God, Borg reminds us, said no to all that and yes to Jesus. Jesus, who told us that everyone would know that we are his followers if we love each other. So I think we can also say that the Resurrection is about love.

Tell them that God loves them

Years ago, at the church where I served, we had a lively little Thursday-night Bible study group that often discussed that week's sermon. One Easter Sunday, a guest preacher had done the children's message and had valiantly attempted to explain the Resurrection to a group of very young children. I don't remember what was said, but clearly it went right over, or around, their heads.

A member of our group, Beth, long-retired after many years as a church educator, was a font of wisdom: I'll never forget how frustrated she was by that sermon. I can still hear her New England-accented voice: "The one lesson we need to teach children at that age," she said emphatically, "is that God loves them. They don't need to understand all the technicalities when they're little; they just need to hear, in many different ways, that God loves them so much." Isn't that what we need to hear at every age, not just when we're young?
    
It's all about love

By the way, years later, I noticed that the third verse of "In the Garden" actually moves outward, into the world, not just inward, to our hearts. While Mary wants to linger with Jesus, to "hold onto" him in that beautiful, peaceful place after the nightmare of the previous week, Jesus tells her to go, to answer "the voice of woe" that springs from the suffering of the world every day, not just on Good Friday.

Each time we hear Jesus in that voice of woe, and see him in every suffering sister or brother and in the suffering of creation itself, every time we respond in love, we meet him again and again in a different, but very real, face-to-face experience of the Resurrection. Just in case you don't believe me, I read it there on Facebook. The post said: "It's about love. All of it. Always." That opens our eyes to all sorts of new possibilities, doesn't it?

The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired in July after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.

You're invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below the post on our Facebook page.

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.

Photo of Amistad Chapel cross and lilies by the Rev. Tricia Gilbert, member of Amistad Chapel United Church of Christ in Cleveland.

Photo of blossoms on the tree branch by the Rev. David Schoen, member of University United Church of Christ in Seattle, Washington. David retired from Local Church Ministries at the national setting of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.

For further reflection:

Carolyn Heilbrun, 20th century
"Power consists in deciding which story shall be told."

Pope John Paul II, quoting Augustine, 4th century
"Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song."

Arundhati Roy, 21st century
"Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

Martin Luther, 16th century
"Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail."


Lectionary texts

Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

or

Jeremiah 31:1-6

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
Thus says the Lord:
  The people who survived the sword
   found grace in the wilderness;
  when Israel sought for rest,
   the Lord appeared to him from far away.
  I have loved you with an everlasting love;
   therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
  Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
   O virgin Israel!
  Again you shall take your tambourines,
   and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
  Again you shall plant vineyards
   on the mountains of Samaria;
  the planters shall plant,
   and shall enjoy the fruit.
  For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
   in the hill country of Ephraim:
  "Come, let us go up to Zion,
   to the Lord our God."

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

O give thanks to God,
   for God is good;
God's steadfast love endures
   for ever!

Let Israel say,
   "God's steadfast love
endures forever."

God is my strength
   and my might;
God has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory
   in the tents of the righteous:
"The strong hand of God does valiantly;
   the mighty hand of God is exalted;
   the strong hand of God does valiantly."

I shall not die,
   but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of God.

God has punished me
   severely,
but God did not give me over
    to death.

Open to me the gates
   of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to God.

This is the gate of God;
   the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
   and have become my salvation.

The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.

This is God's doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day
   that God has made;
let us rejoice
   and be glad in it.

Colossians 3:1-4

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

or

Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

or

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."


Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (mailto:blains@ucc.org)
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ

(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: "Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place" in Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)  

The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about "traditional" colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.

The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.  
    
Before the Reformation's iconoclasm, and Trent's code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of "best," "second best," and "everyday"--not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the "best" vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got "second best" or "everyday."

So, here is a challenge to worship planners: Take it upon yourselves to develop and expand the "received" tradition!