Toorak Uniting Church

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He is ahead of you

Mark 16:1-8
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
Confirmation of Arend and Freke Oppewal
Easter Day, 12 April 2009

 'Follow Me' Icon from www.jeromes.co.nz On the front of your order of service there is a beautiful Icon depicting the journey of Jesus and his disciples, a bit like a cartoon. In the bottom left corner we see the disciples in a boat with their nets and one of them stepping out, ready to follow Jesus. That’s where it all begins: With Jesus calling a couple of fishermen and them dropping their nets and following him. Then others join, and as we go around the Icon we see the numbers growing and the experience intensify. First there is one, then there are two, then there are many more.

In the top right hand corner we see an open grave with a multitude, reminding us not only of the story of the raising Lazarus but of many other stories about the miracles Jesus performed.

This is how the gospels tell us about Jesus: The story of a rabbi who like the pied piper of Hamelin attracts more and more people to his following, teaching and performing miracles as he goes along. The journey of him and his followers a typical human journey with ups and downs, highs and lows, stupid misunderstandings and profound insights. Sure enough: The fervor and idealism is there, most of the time, but it doesn’t always work out. The willingness to follow Jesus is in all of his disciples, but it takes them forever to shed what prevents them truly from doing so.

And now he is dead.

Anybody who has ever lost a loved one will know what those first couple of days after a bereavement are like, and can probably imagine how much worse it would be if an unexpected and violent death would be added to that equation. They travelled to Jerusalem hoping for triumph and glory, what they encountered is failure, suffering, and pain instead.

What were they feeling? Numb I imagine and extremely sad, lost and not sure where to go next. Their journey with him is finished, his life has been crossed out. The road has come to a dead end for them.

If you’ve ever been in such a place you’ll know how despair feels. You may have felt like that when you lost your job, when you went bankrupt, when your marriage broke up, when you lost your partner, when your children lost track, when you were told you had a terminal illness. Any of those situations can bring you to that point where life seems to come to an end and all seems to be lost.
It is the way some of us feel about the future of the Church at the moment, or the future of the world even, ecologically, financially, or politically. No hope, and heading for irreversible destruction. No prospects of any improvement, ever.

That’s where those three women are at when they set out to embalm Jesus’ body on that third day after his death. Not only is their beloved master dead, their dreams are dead, the movement is dead, there is no hope, no prospects, and their whole world lies in ruins.

It is in that hopeless place where they are told to pull themselves together and return to Galilee to continue their journey. "Go, tell the disciples and Peter, he is ahead of you....."

He is ahead of you.....

Jesus has been where they are, in that deep and dark place of despair and no hope. He has cried out on the cross "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" But that is not where he finished. He has left the tomb of death and is ahead of them, ready to join them as they continue their journey.

Back to Galilee. Back to that place of trial and triumph where they learned to follow and miracles happened every day. Forward into the future to once again follow and learn and see miracles happen as they have before, trusting they’ll find the living Christ beside them as they do.

Nothing has changed, but at the same time everything has - because death and deadliness have lost their sting, because they have discovered nothing, not even the deepest despair of death, can separate us from the love of God and the company of Christ.

Two young people commit themselves to Christ today. They commit themselves to following him in their lives. On their journey they will encounter moments of triumph and moments of despair, moments of the experience of the sublime miracle working presence of God as well as periods of the mundane, lonely uphill struggle life can sometimes be as the disciples did, on their journey through Galilee.
They will probably come to the cross more than once, as we all do.
In that experience however, and you may want to look at the Icon again, the Christ will rise again and again in their lives, like the tree of life, calling them to follow him on his journey through the ages, bringing life, light and healing to the world.
We are all invited to that journey. To respond to his call, to follow on his journey, to come to the cross, and to experience love stronger than death, hope conquering despair. To find him next to us - a travelling companion. To find him ahead of us - showing us the way. to find him behind us - catching us when we fall.

How do I know this is true? Because it is true in my life. Because I find Christ beside me every day, because he opens the tombs of my existence and calls me to come out and bear fruit. Because I stumbled and fell and found him helping me up. Because I could see no hope wherever I turned and his light opened a way through where there didn’t seem to be one.

That is the message of Easter. For all of us. That Christ is ahead of us. That the future we may feel scared and hesitant about is already his, that he is there, trail blazing and opening the future for us. Amen.

Icon: http://www.jeromes.co.nz/catalog/images/Follow Me Icon.jpg.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2009


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