I’ve Seen the Lord!

It’s still dark as Mary Magdalene comes by herself to the tomb,

Overwhelmed by grief.

The course of her life changed by this man.

Remembering the horror of Jesus’ death as she stood at the foot of the cross with

Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister.

Refusing to leave.

Watching as the body of Jesus is laid in a tomb in a garden in the place Jesus
was crucified.

Haunted by the memories.

Mary Magdalene, defined by the name of her village, Magdala, along the Sea of Galilee, coming back to the tomb the next morning.

Immediately sensing that something is amiss.

What? The stone has been rolled away.

Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here.

The body – it’s gone. Jesus, where are you?

Crying out to Peter and John. “Please, come! My Lord is gone! They have taken him away!”

Running back to the tomb, John gets there first.

Taking a peek at the entrance, he sees the linen cloths but stays outside where it is safe.

Peter goes right on in and finds the cloths, with the face cloth neatly folded.

Finding his courage, John tiptoes in, sees, and believes.

Then they go back, wondering what all of this means.

Mary refuses to leave the tomb. Through her tears, she looks inside and sees two angels dressed in white, sitting where Jesus had been laid.

“Why are you crying?”

“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they put him.”

Turning around, there he is: Jesus. But Mary doesn’t recognize him. She thinks he’s a gardener.

“Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

“If you’ve taken Jesus away, tell me where he is.”

Jesus gives her a long, loving look.

“Mary…”

“Rabbouni…” (Teacher)

“Don’t try to hold on to me, Mary. You’ll have to let go. I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Mary Magdalene, without the best of reputations, is the first one to proclaim the good news to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.”

She testifies to the good news.

Watching, running, bending, looking, seeing, believing, proclaiming, letting go, witnessing:

Where have you seen the Lord over this past month of social distancing, prayer, and reaching out?

Where have you experienced transformation?

Whom have you called, just to check in?

When have you testified to the goodness of God in the midst of a pandemic that threatens so many in our world?

How have you observed hope through the care and compassion of our healthcare professionals, risking their lives to save other lives?

How has your church embodied the radical love of Jesus by providing food, clothing, and other aid to all those who are now unemployed or in need?

How do you pray for your pastor as well as our political leaders, who are responsible for such momentous decisions?

Where have you been able to boldly proclaim, “I’ve seen the Lord!” and then put your resurrection faith into practice?

Risen Lord, as Mary Magdalene met you by the garden tomb on the morning of your resurrection, so may we meet you today and every day. Speak to us as you spoke to her. Reveal yourself to us as our living Savior. Renew our hope, kindle our joy, and inspire us to share the good news with others. … In the light of the risen Christ, all is transformed. Now we may look back over the past, we may look in upon ourselves, and we may look out upon the world, and see all in a fresh light. We see people, and we pray with the “resurrection eyes” of our Lord Jesus. Amen.[i]

From the gospel of John, chapter 20 (CEB)

[i] Liturgies from Lindisfarne (Ray Simpson, Kevin Mayhew LTD, 2010 pp. 162-163)

 

Unmuted

“Mute yourself!” The call rings out whenever I’m in the midst of a Zoom or Microsoft Teams meeting, and the speaker’s words become garbled. If everyone else on the call mutes their microphone, we’re able to hear each other more clearly. The first commandment of virtual meeting etiquette is, “Mute thyself.”

Of course, the opposite happens as well. If we want to respond to a comment, we have to remember to unmute ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll be gesturing wildly and in vain while making a point with no one having a clue what we’re trying to communicate. It’s not until someone points to their mouth that we realize we’ve neglected to unmute ourselves.

In the past two weeks, I’ve participated in 26 Microsoft Teams or Zoom meetings. I haven’t met with any group in person, which is critical in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. We are all learning new ways of being the church in today’s coronavirus world. COVID-19 has taught us that we must be adaptive and willing to shift gears at a moment’s notice.

As I’ve unmuted myself dozens of times over the past several weeks in virtual meetings in order to be heard, I have also been pondering what it means to be muted. Have you ever had the experience of being silenced? I am an admitted introvert. I often remain quiet unless someone points out that my voice has been left out. I do not need to be the life of the party and am content to be silent, even though I have learned how to be extroverted as a leader when I need to be. I am also learning the importance of intentionally muting my voice so that other voices can be heard.

As I read the scriptures for Holy Week, I realize that Jesus also wrestled with when to be muted and when to use his voice. Imagine the scene. In Luke’s version of Palm Sunday, when Jesus reaches the outskirts of Jerusalem, he asks his disciples to find a colt (donkey). Of course, Jesus has a plan in mind. Jesus is well aware that by entering Jerusalem, he is signing his own death warrant. But Jesus also knows what he is called to do.

Roman military leaders who entered Jerusalem rode magnificent war horses as a display of the power and might of empire, intimidating the masses into submission and subservience. By contrast, Jesus deliberately enters Jerusalem on a lowly donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of the prophet Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.”

As Jesus approaches the road that leads down the Mount of Olives, his disciples begin rejoicing and saying, “Blessings is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.” However, some of the Pharisees from the crowd say to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” And Jesus answers, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

Do you see what is happening? The Pharisees are trying to mute Jesus’ disciples. The last thing they want is for the crowds to be incited to riot because of this imposter, but Jesus is having none of it. He says to those who have ears to hear, “Unmute yourselves! You will be my voice and hands and feet and heart after I die. Soon it will be your turn to go out into the world in humility and faith to share the good news of my love and grace.”

My friends, Jesus came into our world to unmute our voices: to give us the courage and authority to speak truth to power, expose hypocrisy, and challenge injustice. At the same time, Jesus gently encourages us to lead with humility, seek out those who need to discover their voice, and extend grace and mercy to all who are suffering or feeling hopeless.

Think about Holy Week. Yes, Palm Sunday was a great day. Jesus used his voice and encouraged his disciples not to be silent. At the same time, Jesus knew what was going to take place, and he let it happen. The word “passion” comes from the root word, “passive,” which essentially means “letting go.” Jesus chose to be passive, yet his voice was heard clearly all week and from the cross.

Jesus was unmuted. In Matthew 22:21, when a Pharisees asks, “Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus replies, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Then a legal expert asks Jesus, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And Jesus says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind,” and “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

Then, two days before the Passover, when Jesus is visiting the house of Simon, a woman with an alabaster jar anoints Jesus with expensive perfume despite the disciples chastising her for not selling the money and giving it to the poor. And Jesus says, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She’s done a good thing for me. You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me. By pouring this perfume over my body, she’s prepared me to be buried.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

Eventually, Jesus shares a last supper with his disciples, is arrested, condemned to death, and crucified. Yet, even on the cross, Jesus refuses to be muted, sharing seven last statements of faith in the midst of his agony.

  • “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (forgiveness)
  • “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (assurance)
  • “Woman, behold, thy son! Behold, thy mother!” (care for his mother)
  • “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (vulnerability and humanity)
  • “I thirst.” (pain)
  • “It is finished.” (surrender)
  • “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (letting go)

During this Holy Week, we are in death, just as our country and world are in the midst of a COVID-19 Pandemic that threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. As many of us live in a virtual world of muting and unmuting our microphones, I pray that our voices will never be muted.

Our world needs to hear us proclaim that in the midst of fear and uncertainty, Jesus is risen from the dead! Our country needs to hear that there is hope as, together, we will do whatever is necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Our communities need to hear that we are praying for those who have been infected as well as for the millions of people who have lost their jobs. And our churches need to reach out to all those in need of our spiritual and material support, for we are all one human family.

“Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” And Jesus answers, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

“Unmute yourself!” Jesus proclaims. “You are now my voice. Go and be the church.”

Leading in a Coronavirus World

The outpouring of grace, generosity, and ingenuity across our world over these past several months has been beautiful to behold. A story in the March 24 Des Moines Register immediately caught my attention because of my Anabaptist religious heritage, which includes the Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, Hutterites, and Amish. A woman named Mary Swander, who lives in the Kalona area, became concerned when she talked with an elderly Amish man who did not seem to be aware that a coronavirus pandemic had reached Iowa. Talking with a few other Amish folks, most of whom do not have telephones, TVs, cars, or computers, confirmed her suspicion.

Swander, who has lived in Amish areas for many years, did all she could to ensure that they understood the danger of the coronavirus and the need for social distancing in the midst of their communal society. In addition to distributing information about COVID-19 to her Amish friends and neighbors, she contacted other professionals who could help Amish leaders understand the seriousness of the virus and take appropriate precautions.

As we struggle with the spread of COVID-19 here in Iowa and around the world, the initiative that Mary Swander took in reaching out to the Amish was a perfect example of the kind of leadership we need right now. It is critical for all of us to learn how to lead with vision, confidence, and courage.

Last week the New York Times published an article by Stanley McChrystal and Chris Fussell called What 9/11 Taught Us About Leadership in a Crisis. McChrystal, a retired four-star Army general, is best known as the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command in the mid-2000’s and founded the McChrystal Group in 2011 as a management consulting and leadership developmentfirm. Fussell is a former Navy Seal and is the president of The McChrystal Group.

McChrystal and Fussell wrote, “On Sept. 11, 2001, the job of every leader in the U.S. Special Operations community changed. In the ensuing years of fighting a highly complex, networked enemy, we redesigned how our organization communicated, shared information, made decisions and, most critically, maintained a cohesive culture while operating in almost every corner of the globe.” They proceeded boldly with a new vision, even when there was no clear end in sight.

Knowing that our darkest moments can often bring out our best leadership, I’d like to share a few reflections based on learnings from McChrystal’s and Fussell’s experiences in leading after 9-11. How is God calling you and me as leaders, whether clergy or lay, to be the hands and feet and head and heart of Jesus during this time of worldwide crisis?

Such a time as this requires us to creatively be the church when we can no longer gather together.

One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make is to ignore the crisis and hope it goes away. The overriding issue facing our world at this moment is a spreading coronavirus pandemic, which, in turn, is endangering lives, affecting our economy, causing jobs to be lost, and creating deep social isolation. Here in Iowa and around the country, we have to carefully and prayerfully make difficult decisions in order to address the ripple effect of COVID-19. Faced with our governor’s wise prohibition from being in groups of more than ten people, the first thing we’ve had to do as United Methodists is immediately change the way we “do church.”

  • It is important for local churches to develop a comprehensive strategy quickly, deliberately, and collaboratively, using the gifts of the laity.
  • How can we be creative in worship in an empty sanctuary and with an online congregation?
  • Since we are all shut-ins right now, how do we remain connected with each other and offer pastoral care, with a special focus the elderly and those with special needs?
  • How can we continue to offer small groups and Bible studies online?
  • How can we encourage our congregation members to keep current on their financial commitments to the church?
  • How do we offer support to church members who lose their jobs?

Be a visible and a calm presence, even when it cannot be a physical presence.

  • Congregation members take their cues from the demeanor of their lay and clergy leaders.
  • Reassure parishioners that we have a great opportunity to share Christ’s love in our communities.
  • Make use of social media to create inspiring videos that congregation members and others can access.
  • Make phone calls, send notes, and use social media to communicate.
  • Thank people and affirm their gifts.

Be compassionate, humble, collaborative, flexible, and as transparent as is appropriate.

  • Don’t sugarcoat the crisis or make unrealistic promises about when we’ll be back to “normal.”
  • Empathize with the fears and anxieties of your parishioners.
  • Be realistic and honest as well as hopeful.
  • Provide creative ideas about how church members can connect with each other and their community, even while staying home.

Empower, delegate, and adapt.

  • Leaders need to be clear about their primary responsibility: to be the face of the crisis, consult and make informed decisions, and then proceed.
  • Empower the laity to be the church and then get out of the way!
  • Continually RAD (reflect, adjust, and do). The best leaders continually adapt and adjust to changing circumstances.
  • Consider using a team of teams approach to create a flatter perspective on leadership.
  • Failure is inevitable, so don’t dwell on it. If something doesn’t work, end it and try something else. Not everything will go well all the time.

Be accommodating and understanding. Do not ask others to do what you would not do.

  • Listen to those who know more than you do and change accordingly.
  • A little bit of grace goes a long way.
  • Give feedback in a way that is gentle and encouraging.
  • Create an atmosphere where we are all in this together, no matter what our particular role is.

Undergird everything in prayer.

  • Enlist your prayer warriors to develop a prayer ministry during this time.
  • Take time for yourself and live in God’s presence, which is with you always.

I believe that God is calling us to rise up at this moment in our history, just as God spoke to Joshua after the death of Moses (Joshua 1:9), “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” May you witness to others of Christ’s love, extend care, show grace, and embody the good news of Jesus Christ now and in the days ahead.