Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
I was recently captivated by a story that was made into a film called Risen which follows a tribune, a soldier in charge of a garrison of Romans in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. Pontius Pilate calls in the tribune and tells him to go and oversee the end of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, already underway. When he arrives, Jesus is already dead, but he takes a careful look. Someone claims the body of Jesus so that he is not cast into a common pit for the victims of crucifixion and lays him in a tomb. The next morning the tribune is once again summoned by Pilate. The religious authorities are worried that someone will come and steal the body during the night, as the so-called Messiah Jesus had claimed he would rise to life on the third day. Pilate commands the tribune to post a guard and make certain the body is secured. Exasperated but ambitious, he follows orders and seals the tomb of Jesus after a huge stone is put in place and he leaves a guard.
The next morning, there is a commotion as the stone in front of the tomb has been moved, the ropes securing it and the seal are both broken; the body is gone. The tribune is summoned once more by Pilate and told to find the body so that it can be shown as tangible evidence that the disciples of Jesus stole the body. It is a race against time as, in the intense Palestinian heat, the body will unrecognizable within two or three days. The tribune uses all means; he offers bribes for information, threatens torture; but no body is found. Eventually, days later, he follows a woman known as Mary to an upper room and there he comes face to face with the man called Jesus, whose dead eyes he looked into on a cross just days earlier. How could it be??
He abandons his work as a tribune and follows Jesus’ disciples to Galilee, as they hope to see the Risen Jesus again there. They meet Jesus and, as the days go on, welcome this outsider, the one they had feared, this powerful Roman tribune, into their group. He was a stranger to them, the ultimate outsider whom they feared. But, in Jesus, he became one of them ...
The good news of this day is grounded in Ephesians wonderful claim that, by the blood of Jesus Christ, those who were far off – who were not part of the community of God – had been brought into it, near, in peace. We are no longer strangers to each other or to ourselves, and certainly not to God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus.
And so we celebrate in Baptism, in the sacrament of Jesus, because we are part of God’s blessedness. Baptism is so important to us for two reasons. First, it is a sacrament that Jesus himself was a part of. Paul claims that if we are baptized as Jesus was, then we are all part of a death like his and also a life like his. We remember, in Baptism, that we lay claim to the promises of God in Christ. We embrace God’s forgiveness, we embrace God’s community, we accept God’s saving wholeness. Baptism reminds us that Jesus has put to death not only our sin, but our difference. Baptism instructs us that the dividing walls between us have been obliterated and we are brought into Communion by Jesus - not only to God, finally and eternally, but with each other. WE are no longer strangers or aliens – we are no longer required to follow a proscribed set of rules to follow Jesus. We are made one communion, one life, one body, and we are all part of the God who is a friend, and never a stranger.
In our modern world, as in the early Christian community, it can be hard to recognize each other as brother, sister, and friend. We desperately want to apply a litmus test – that we must be citizens of a common band before we can truly belong. We must be circumcised, the early Christian Jewish community asserted, and embrace Judaic truth before we can be Christians. Paul said that it was by the blood and resurrection of Jesus alone that we belong to God, an idea that finally arrived. And later, we must be Catholic, or German or Italian, or English. We must be American, we must be white – we must be this or that … we must be male or female or straight. To be other is to be outside of God’s grace and who, in his or her life, has not felt like an outsider, alien, or stranger ...
Baptism reminds us that we are all part of a common bond and life, brokered by the death and blood of Jesus. God has battered down the walls that we have created and brought us into unity and peace through the totality of His love in Jesus. The compassion of the Good shepherd, who is never too tired too teach, never too tired to heal, never to afraid to love, and never to hopeless to give of himself entirely. God has broken down the walls of privilege, of national identity, of any separation … by the blood of His Christ. Baptism tell us that nothing can ever take away the love of God, because we are marked and sealed by the blood of our Savior who asks us to live into his love by following the example of His disciples who followed him even to death. We are asked to share the communion of his death and resurrection in Holy Eucharist. We are beckoned to love one another in the fullness of His love, no restrictions, no fear, no tests, only love.
We who were far off have been brought near; not by ourselves, either but with one another. Not by our own heroics or righteousness but by the sacrifice of Jesus. And because Jesus shattered the darkness we are all beckoned into the light as community, as friends … no longer alien or stranger.