Saturday, November 21, 2009

And I Saw a New Heaven

"And I Saw a New Heaven" is being rehearsed by the Kingston men and boys choir in this excerpt from a documentary about the parish's efforts to raise funds for a new organ. Grace Church Utica people will know why this is particularly apt for giving you a flavor of what the music was like at the Requiem Eucharist. This was the main anthem sung at the Offertory.

The Eucharist of Christian Burial
In Thanksgiving for the Life of

The Very Reverend James M. Jensen
November 28, 1946 - November 14, 2009

7:00 P.M. November 19, 2009

Grace Church
Utica, NY


Sonata in g (Opus 1, No.3) John Loeillet (1680-1730)
Adagio J.M. Molter (1696-1763)
Ave Maria Bach/Gounod (1818-1893)
Fanfare J. Cook (1918-1984)

Entrance Hymn 379 'God Is Love, Let Heaven Adore Him' Abbots Leigh
Entrance Hymn 208 'The Strife Is Oer' Victory

Psalm 46 Anglican Chant sung by the choir M. Luther (1483-1546)

Gospel Acclamation Gelobt sei Gott

'Be faithful until death, says the Lord,'
'And I will give you the crown of life.' (Rev. 2:10)

Offertory Anthem 'And I Saw a New Heaven' E. Bainton (1880-1956)

Offertory Hymn 625 'Ye Holy Angels Bright' Darwall's 148th

Eucharistic Prayer B

Sanctus (S 128) W. Mathias (1934-1992)

Memorial Acclamation (S 138) M. Robinson (b. 1943)

Great Amen (S 146) M. Robinson

Christ Our Passover (S 154) D. Hurd (1950)

Lamb of God (S 158) H. Willan (1880-1968)

Communion Anthems 'The Lord Is my Shepherd' T. Matthews (1915-1999)
'E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come' P. Manz (1919-2009)
He that shall Endure to the End F. Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
'Rejoice in the Lord Alway' Anon

Communion Hymn 516 'Come Down, O Love Divine' Down Ampney

Recessional Hymn 207 'Jesus Christ Is Risen Today' Easter Hymn

Postlude 'Fantasy in G Major' J. S. Bach (1685-1750)


Bruce G. Smith, Organist and Choirmaster

Choir of Grace Church

Bertram Bookhout, trumpet; Janelle Bookhout, oboe; Sarah Hoffman, bassoon; Timothy Davis, organ; Elinor Hadity, soprano soloist; T. J. McAvaney, violin; Susan Sady, organ.

See also the Utica Observer Dispatch coverage of the funeral. (Don't miss the line from the homily about the "chicadee rector"!)

Friday, November 20, 2009

A long but wonderful day

Yesterday was a very long but strangely wonderful day. I tried not to think about it beforehand - just kept pushing myself to try to get ready in time because there was a good chance (as Jim often half-joked about) I'd be late to his funeral, punctuality not being my strong suit. I also pushed out of my mind any thought of how I would get through the long hours from noon to 7:00, first at the funeral home and then at the visitation and reception at church. Although I can write up a storm and talk your ear off one on one, I'm truly an introvert. Put me in a crowd (more than three people), and I clam up, panic, or just get overly anxious. I know I can "handle" just about anything I put my mind to, but getting through most social occasions, especially involving people I don't know well or not at all, is quite a chore. Needless to say, I was not born to be a rector's wife.

All I wanted out of Thursday was for people to gather and make their peace with Jim's departure. For me, I was just going to plod through, be a trooper, and then let my emotions swell with the glorious music and, I hoped, cry my eyes out.

It didn't work out that way - not at all. For days now (and again today) I've had this big knot and deep ache in my gut. I have difficulty sleeping, especially from about 1 to 4 a.m. And at times I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone. But yesterday afternoon and evening suddenly a great calm settled inside. I don't know that I did a great "job" greeting and meeting people at the church, but I was relaxed and truly enjoyed it -- looking into each person's eyes, reading their pain and concern, listening to their words, and marveling at some who told stories of their times with Jim. There were people from downtown restaurants and diners, waitresses and owners, who told me how much they enjoyed his good humor and cheer. There were children, young choristers and teens, both the boys and girls high school varsity soccer teams and their coaches, local Roman Catholic clergy, and those from various denominations who had been recently working with Jim in a series of community organizing meetings under the auspices of PICO. Parishioners came, not just from Grace but from area churches, whom Jim had listened to and supported in many ways, and there were all the Episcopal clergy and staff, with whom he had shared his wisdom and counsel and given much care. There were tears and many, many hugs. No one told me anything I did not know already about Jim and how he affected people, but it was as if the whole of his life outside of me and our family appeared in the flesh before me.

At the core of Jim's convictions was the Incarnation. He once explained Anglo-Catholicism to me as deeply rooted in the notion that we could see, touch, and taste God. The mystery of the Real Presence in the Eucharist was one and the same as the face of God we see in each and every one of us and in the greater Creation that surrounds us. Worship and prayer that involves kneeling, standing, crossing and genuflecting, songs and music, candles and incense are a physical expression of our faith, as is feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and caring for those who are abandoned. All that somehow came together for me Thursday afternoon, in the vast expanse of sanctuary, with the votive candles and Sr. Mary Gabriel's icon, where Jim's body lay in the nave, as people came one after one to kneel beside him and say their goodbyes.

This was so unexpected. In the past, to the little extent I ever contemplated Jim predeceasing me, I was ambivalent about the role the church would have to play in his funeral arrangements and what I formerly thought would be the focus on his personhood as priest, which might well eclipse the man who was and is my love, my life, and husband. But what I experienced on Thursday was not an "either / or" but a richness of "and"s. Each person reflected a layer of who and what Jim was in life, and the glorious celebration that followed was for the man and priest who was one and the same.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Borderless World by Chuck and Peg Hoffman. Acrylic on canvas, Sept 2008, 30 x 30 inches.

Proper 28-B - November 15, 2009
Grace Church, Utica

From today's Old Testament Lesson we hear these words:
There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence.
And in today's Gospel reading, Jesus says,
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.
Some Sundays in the Calendar of the Church Year have specific names attached to them: like Palm Sunday and Trinity Sunday. If we were to give this Sunday a name the most appropriate would be Apocalypse Sunday.

The word, apocalypse, in its Greek form, means "a lifting of the veil." So it's a word that has to do with disclosure and revelation. In one sense, of course, all of Scripture is a revelation. We believe that Scripture is God's Word to us, that through the scriptural writings, God's Word for us is revealed. But there is a more particular sense of apocalypse associated with the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, as well as the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament. The book of Revelation, traditionally attributed to the Apostle John, is a vision of "the end" of all things, the end of time. The graphic scenes of crisis and judgment, of the separation from good and evil, of devils from angels, of the righteous from the unrighteous -- with the monsters and beasts on one side and the saints and the Mystic Lamb of God on the other side -- it's all a dramatic and vivid presentation of the struggle that goes on between the forces of good and evil, both in our individual lives and also in the world at large.

If you think about it, every age, every historical period has these moments: wars, plagues, great disasters; the sudden end of an era, the conquest of a nation, or the fall of an empire. The movie Apocalypse Now revealed the horrors of war in Vietnam. A more peaceful and more amazing Apocalypse was the sudden collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989; the whole world changed in a few months without a shot being fired. Then of course there were the events of 9/11, when we all wondered if the world might be coming to an end.

There are also more personal experiences of an apocalyptic nature. A crisis comes -- a loss, an illness, a financial setback, a death -- something that tests, reveals and uncovers our true character. In some instance, you might say that these experiences lift the veil on our soul, sometimes just to our own eyes, and sometimes for all the world to see.

While all these revelations may bring new and startling things to light, life nonetheless goes on. As the angel told Daniel, "Many shall be purified and made white and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand." Some people, some of the time, gain new insight. At other times, we continue to be left in the dark.

But what about the end, I mean the real, final end of all things?

In the opening chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, at the time of the Lord's Ascension, Jesus and his apostles are gathered together at a place outside Jerusalem. They asked him, "'Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? He replied, "it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority."

It was not theirs, and it's not ours, to know the dates and times. Yet scripture clearly points to the fact that there will be an END, a closure, a reconciliation of all things in heaven and earth. We see it in nature all the time; and we see it in human life as well. At least as far as our earthly life is concerned, you and I will come to an end in death. A hundred years from now, not one of us here this morning is likely to be breathing and walking around on this earth. And yet, as commonplace as death is, the death of each and every human being, is, nonetheless, a deeply moving moment, an apocalypse of its own before God. We know from our own experience, that everything in life has its own Alpha and Omega -- it's beginning as well as its end. Scripture affirms that this is true of all creation.

But scripture and the Christian Faith make one more important affirmation. In the grand vision of heaven found at the end of the Revelation to John, a voice from the throne proclaims "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end" (21:6). It is our belief, it is the truth that we know by faith, that the beginning and the end are not just events in time and space. The beginning and the end cannot be separated from the one who is, in His own Divine Being, the Alpha and the Omega. God is not only the source and beginning of life; God is also the One who stands before us at the end. That's because our end is not determined by the deterioration and obliteration of death. At the end, there is God.

Remember what C.S. Lewis told his friend, when he was asked what happens when we die. Lewis told him that death would be that moment when God throws his arms around us and says, "At last, I've got you."

And what will we find? We'll find that any questions and doubts will fade away, as we meet God face to face. Which is simply to say that when things fall apart and time runs out, God's love remains and God's eternity breaks in. The word to us is wake up and live; watch and pray! Jesus Christ is truly the Living End -- the One in whom there is a new Heaven and a new Earth, a City of God, where we will at last be home, safe and sound, forever.

This was the last sermon Jim wrote. He finished it on Friday, November 13, 2009 - he was to preach it on Sunday, November 15,2009. I found it lying on his desk in his office today.

More memories

Thank you Joan, for these

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A few words

I hesitate to add any words here, as I would like to freeze time and not go forward, leaving Jim's photo up top, his sermons below, and forever be silent here. Soon I must take his clothing and vestments to the funeral home so he can be dressed and prayed over. I don't want to go ahead, but I must, and am so very thankful for all who have been with me, near and far, to help me, the children, Alison, John, and Greg, and Bonnie (Greg's mom and Jim's wife for many years), to get through what lies ahead. Please continue to keep us all in your prayers.

I cannot begin to name all the names I would like to thank now, but I must name a few: The Rev. Sarah Lewis, who will be dressing and praying over Jim today; Bishop Skip Adams, who anointed him and prayed over him Saturday at the hospital, was with the parish and me Sunday, and will be celebrating the Requiem Eucharist on Thursday; Jim's very good friends and colleagues, Fr. John Wingert, who will give the funeral homily and Fr. George Greene, who will be assisting along with Sarah Lewis; Fr. H. Alan Smith, who left the ordination service to be with Jim and me at the hospital during Jim's final hours; Mike Killian and Lisa Firsching, our wardens, the vestry, and Bruce Smith, our choirmaster and organist and pastor and friend to us all. As for the rest, I'd have to name every member of the parish, including the choir, and a whole host of friends and family, near and far. Please know I have felt your love and support and it has meant so much to me.

I also wanted to give special thanks to my online friends and church community, especially Fr. Jonathan Haggar, Fr. Terry Martin, and June Butler (Grandmere Mimi), among others, who alerted so many to our tragedy. Jonathan, I cannot begin to tell you how much Jim must have appreciated you closing down your site at OCICBW on the weekend in his memory. That was such an incredible honor and something that must have made him leap for joy on the slab - seriously! For a long time I used to just occasionally send him links to your posts, which he enjoyed, but later he came to read you more regularly, when he could find the time. Jim also had a quick wit, an earthy sense of humor, and a special love for bog standard folks, as he was also from a working class family and community (Racine, Wisconsin and Newcastle, U.K. may have much in common). He recognized you as a priest's priest - one who knows all that us lay people can never quite grasp about what being a priest means to you, your sense of humility and unworthiness unspoken, the dutifulness to God, all his people, and their needs, never mind the slings and arrows of life in the Church. And you made him laugh, as you have done for so many, about things that might otherwise make us cry. In fact, thanks to you, just the other day when Jim was talking about retirement (which he so rightly feared he'd never make), he smiled and said that maybe what he'd want to do is blog like you and Fr. Christian Troll (this from the man who resisted reading blogs for a long time and, I think, dared not look at my own, and mainly only read The Lead, which he loved and appreciated a great deal, for "real" news and commentary - thanks to you, Jim Naughton).

There was so much more I wanted to say now - musings in the middle of the night (as I am still not sleeping well at all) - but I don't remember them exactly now. Someday maybe I can pull them altogether. For now, let me just say briefly, that what I've learned so painfully and beautifully the last couple days is how glorious is the Church, the Body of Christ (which, forgive my heretical views includes Christians and non-Christians). In the past I have been often critical of the institutional church (which despite the lowercase "c" encompasses "ours" and lots of "theirs"). While we may have gotten past the Crusades and the Inquisition, Christian institutions still have much to answer for in the way of harm they have done, rather than good. But, as I once was more cognizant of when I first returned to church 20 years ago, after a time in the unchurched wilderness, the church's flaws stem from our humanity, and to criticize church or religion in general is to miss the point that it/they are the best we have and what makes us want to be our best, as close as we can to what God wills for us. Religious communities may be declining in numbers in the West, but they are essential.

Ah... descending into my usual wordiness and drifting into netherlands. I don't have the right words for this now, maybe I never will, but these last few days, no doubt the most painful of my entire life, have shown me Christ incarnate. I used to give Jim a hard time about not wanting to talk much about theology, doubt, belief, etc. with me, which I nevertheless understood because his ESFJ just did not communicate easily or well on such matters with my INTP, and, more practically, he needed time off from the pastor gig once he got home. But the core of his Anglo-Catholicism - incarnational theology (yes, with the smells and bells but without the misogyny and homophobia of some) - is what I've been seeing and feeling this week. All I can say is, thanks be to God.

Jim at Reagan's Baptism, Grace Church, Utica, 2009, courtesy of the proud grandfather, Chris Williams

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Very Rev. James M. Jensen 1946 - 2009

The Very Rev. James M. Jensen, 62, of New Hartford, Rector of Grace Church, Utica and Dean of the Utica-Rome District of the Diocese of Central New York, died suddenly November 14, 2009.

Fr. Jensen graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1969. He graduated from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois in 1972. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1972 at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin. He served parishes in Greenville, MI, Joliet, IL, Delavan, WI, DeKalb, IL and Hinsdale, IL prior to becoming Rector of Grace Church, Utica in 2001.

Fr. Jensen also served the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York as a member of the Executive Board and the Standing Committee.

The funeral will be held on Thursday at 7 PM at Grace Church, Utica where a Requiem Eucharist will be celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams, III, Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Central New York . Calling hours will be on Thursday from 3-6 PM at Grace Church.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Grace Church Music Fund or the Society of St. Margaret – Haiti.

UPDATE - From the parish:

UTICA, N.Y. The wardens, Vestry and congregation of Grace Church ask the Utica-area community to join us in prayer as we mourn the passing Saturday of the Very Rev. James M. Jensen, Rector of Grace Church since 2001.

Father Jensen died at Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City, N.Y., near Binghamton after being stricken while attending an ordination service in Chenango Bridge. His wife Kathryn and members of the clergy were with him.

He was 62. Father Jensen was the 11th Rector in the history of Grace Church, founded in 1838 in Utica. Grace Church is located at the corner of Elizabeth and Genesee streets.

The Right Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, traveled from Syracuse to Grace Church Sunday morning to support the congregation at both the 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Masses.

Bishop Adams pointed to the beginning of Sundays second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, which talks of priests standing day after day at their services. He said it reflected Father Jensens commitment to Grace Church.

He loved being a priest, the bishop said in addressing the congregation at the 10:30 a.m. Mass. He loved being your priest. And he loved you.

Bishop Adams counseled the congregation members to minister to each other in our grief.

Father Jensen was called to be Grace Churchs Rector in spring 2001 following an extensive nationwide search. He served previously at parishes in the mid-west.

During his 8 years at Grace, Father Jensen showed a deep love and commitment to the people of the parish. He gave great support to the music program, to the churchs Christian Education programs and to various community missions, which include a thrift shop on Devereux Street. He was extensively involved in ecumenical efforts with other Utica-area religious leaders and served in several diocesan-level roles including Diocesan Dean for the Eastern District, which includes the Mohawk Valley.

During his tenure, Father Jensen oversaw mergers with St. Georges Episcopal Church in South Utica and St. Pauls Episcopal Church in North Utica.

Susan Ulrich, Directress of the Grace Church Altar Society, had served on the search committee that helped bring Father Jensen to Utica.

He was an outstanding priest in all the capacities in which he served, both in the parish, and in the Diocese, Ulrich said. He guided the Altar Society members in their work through the myriad of liturgies over the year, always in a caring manner and with a wonderful sense of humor. We all feel blessed to have had him serve as our Rector, for what we now realize was much too short a timeframe. He will be missed immensely by all of us who had the pleasure of knowing and working with him.


Fr. Jim R.I.P.

Jim was reluctant to publish his sermons, in part because he never thought he got them quite right. I mean to save as many as I can from his office, but here are a couple I persuaded him to send to me, which I could not publish before:

EASTER III — April 6, 2008
Grace Church, Utica

High on the list of life’s frustrations are those situations in which things have not turned out the way they were supposed to, and at the same time they’ve gone beyond the point that we can do anything about it. I’m thinking of those times when there isn’t another chance, when the damage done is beyond repair or when something has passed the point of no return. These can be painful experiences, that often have a note of finality about them. They compel us to admit that certain doors are closed.

These times serve as a dramatic reminder that as far as this life in concerned, there is little that lasts forever. It’s true about our physical lives, but it’s also true about opportunities, hopes, and dreams. None of them are immune from death. Just like any other death, when hopes and dreams die we grieve; and our grief involves a mixture of feelings— among them both regret and anger. I suspect that’s as good a description as any of the emotional state of the disciples as we meet them, in this morning’s Gospel lesson, on the road to Emmaus.

For some time now, they had been followers of Jesus. Their hearts had been warmed by his presence; they listened as he would preach and teach; they had learned a great deal from him; and they had seen him heal people— restoring them to wholeness and strength. They believed that all of God’s promises were about to be fulfilled.

But beginning with Palm Sunday, everything went wrong. Even before Good Friday came, it was obvious that Jesus was going to die— and not only would he die, but it would be the agonizing and humiliating death of crucifixion. In some ways one of the most haunting sentences in all of Scripture is that one we hear today: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

As with other deaths, when dreams die we mourn. We mourn our disappointments and our failures— we mourn our own sense of responsibility and feelings of guilt. In the Emmaus story it’s the disciple Cleopas who says, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” “We had hoped....” How often those words are spoken.

We had hoped that he would finish school.
We had hoped that the new job would work out.
We had hoped that the biopsy would be negative.
We had hoped that at least in the Church we would find
love and acceptance.

What do you do with a broken dream? The answer never comes easily. Sometimes we keep asking the question and the answer doesn’t seem to come at all— we feel as though we’re left to sink in disappointment.

But today we meet Jesus’ disciples on their road of broken dreams, and the miracle is that in the midst of it all God is preparing them for the greatest experience of their lives. They’re about to experience the Resurrection— they’re about to come into a fuller understanding of who God is and how God acts. Needless to say, they weren’t ready for it. They were too wrapped up in their own despair to even notice it at first. But God loved them enough to use the disappointment and bitterness that they felt to prepare them for that Resurrection experience.

Spiritual writers down through the centuries have described God’s way of hollowing out our souls that they can be filled— filled with God’s own life. And that’s exactly what happened with those disciples. Their grieving was a kind of hollowing-out so that they could be filled with the power and love of God.

They didn’t recognize Jesus at first, because they were so wrapped up in themselves— in their own despair and self-pity. Fortunately, they did have enough presence of mind to extend what in their culture was considered common courtesy to a stranger. They invited him to stop and eat and spend the night with them. And that’s when the reality of the situation could break through. Once they made the first gesture toward something and someone outside of themselves, the miracle could take place. Jesus broke bread with them, and they recognized him. Resurrection became real for them when they forgot about themselves for a moment and became concerned with someone else.

Life in this world is a curious blend of highs and lows. Sometimes we feel on top of it all because our hopes and dreams come true. And then there are those times when it just doesn’t work out the way we planned. We’re all entitled to mourn those broken dreams— but only for a brief time. Then life has to go on. When it does, there are always important choices to be made. It can be a life that is controlled by things that are broken and dead, or it can be one that finds its focus in the new opportunities that God provides. Resurrection is a gift that God offers— but as with any other gift, it’s one that we have to receive and accept before it can bring us any joy.

To believe all that— to believe in God’s power to bring life and hope out of the ashes of despair doesn’t mean going back over old ground to resuscitate the old dreams; it means letting them go so that we can embrace the new possibilities that God holds before us. The Emmaus story reminds us that God is in charge of things, and that death and destruction will never have the last word. But as usual, God is going to bring it about in a way that’s unique.

Resurrection is the Good News about life, but resurrection doesn’t come on our own terms. It comes when we’re open to the new things that God has in store for us— when we’re willing to listen and watch for them so that we can embrace them and make them our own

The joy of the Christian life is rooted in the truth that in all things God works for good with those who love him; the promise of the Christian life is that in the power of God’s Holy Spirit all things can and will be made new.

© James M. Jensen

Easter Day 2009

Easter Day 2009

If you were an artist, and were asked to take brush in hand to do a painting of Easter, what would it look like? What would you see in your mind’s eye, as you prepared to paint? Chances are quite good that somewhere in the painting the sun would be breaking over the horizon. There something about sunrise, about the dawning of a new day that speaks to us of Easter. It’s a feeling so natural and so deep within us that we really expect Mother Nature to cooperate. If Easter Day should actually be overcast, or, heaven forbid, raining— or snowing— there’s something in us that wonders if God forgot to check the calendar.

Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you: Easter should be bright, cheerful, and overflowing with light. Dark, gloomy weather is all right, maybe even fitting, for Good Friday, but Easter means life, and life is reflected in light.

And yet, as logical as all that may be, it is not the way the story unfolds in the Gospel of John. Just a moment ago we heard these words:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalen came to the tomb.... (Jn. 20:1)
“While it was still dark..”

John the Evangelist was an artist— an artist with words and images. He wasn’t using words casually when he began this account of the first Easter. He was painting a verbal picture for us, preparing us for what was to follow.

The contrast of light and darkness is a theme that John used throughout his writing. In the opening verses of his Gospel he tells us that God’s Son came into the world as light, that this “...light shines in the darkness...” and that the darkness has not been able to overcome it. But now, as we come to the end of his Gospel account, it looks as though darkness and fear have indeed gained the upper hand. Mark writes in his Gospel that when she came and found the tomb empty, Mary Magdalene fled in fear, because she believed that someone had stolen the body. And she was frightened beyond belief.

Fear— and the darkness that fear embodies— is a dominant theme in history. Fear is a common human emotion. Authorities tell us that infants have two primary fears: fear of falling and fear of loud noises. Gradually that number multiplies. We fear our fellow human beings even as we fear being alone. We are afraid of both the past and the future. We worry about what we can see as well as about what we cannot see. Anxiety comes on us about ourselves and about our loved ones. We sometimes dread living almost as much as we dread dying.

Mary Magdalene was apprehensive, she was fearful, and for good reason. After all, Jesus was her dearest friend, a friend who had cared for her as no one else ever had. Jesus had taught and shown her more about God than she had ever known before. He had helped Mary to understand herself. He had brought out the best in her, and loved her unconditionally. Because of Jesus, Mary’s heart and soul had come to share a dream of new possibilities for her life. But that dream came crashing down around her when Jesus was so violently put to death and buried. In the midst of her grief she at least wanted to pay her respects, anoint his dead body according to Jewish custom, and hopefully get some closure on this whole tragic mess. But now she couldn’t even find his body. What was all this about? What was going on? What was she going to do?

Mark’s gospel tells us that Mary fled. That’s natural, isn’t it? We often flee when we’re afraid. Then we become more fearful because we’re fleeing. The problem is that there is no escape from fear. We have to face it and overcome it.

We live in a time when people are fearful. Our national economy is in deep crisis. People have lost jobs. They’ve lost the security they thought they had for retirement. For many, the American dream seems like a cruel joke. The future is one big question mark. While people may tell their children that all will be well, deep inside many are fearful.

While this may not be a time for optimism, as people of faith we do have every reason to be hopeful. The Christian Faith is not a prescription for “pie in the sky” optimism. The optimist believes that better days are coming. The person of faith believes that God is coming. Our hope is not in the future, but in the God of the future, the One who holds history and all of us in the palm of his hand.

The Gospel is not based upon wishful thinking or blind optimism. The Gospel is rooted in faith and trust placed in God: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Sarah, Ruth, and David; the God of Mary and Joseph, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This God has a track record. Hope is neither an emotion nor sheer idealism. Hope is the blessing that comes to a heart and soul grounded in faith and commitment— the belief that the God who built a nation out of a band of suffering Hebrew slaves, who led them through the wilderness to a land of promise, who later rescued them from exile in far-away Babylon, and who sent from their ranks Jesus of Nazareth, whom we Christians know as the Messiah. This God is our refuge and strength. He is our Redeemer and our Lord. Ours is a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

What does resurrection mean? What does it look like? Listen to these words from Frederick Buechner:
I cannot tell you... what I think I would have seen if I had been there myself. But I can tell you this: That what I believe happened and what in faith and great joy I proclaim to you is that he somehow got up with the life in him again and the glory upon him. I was not there to see it anymore than I was awake to see the sunrise this morning, but I affirm it as surely as I do that by God’s grace the sun did rise this morning because that is why the world is flooded with light.

The disciples experienced the risen Christ so surely, so dynamically, that the change in them was comparable to what had happened to Jesus himself. They were transformed, given new life, and went forth to share it with the world.

In St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, there is an inscription acknowledging Sir Christopher Wren, the famous architect. It concludes: “If you seek his monument, look around you.” If you are seeking sure signs of Jesus’ resurrection, look around you; look at history; look around you at the lives of ordinary mean and women that have been transformed and changed by grace and resurrection power. Neither the Church nor the New Testament scriptures would exist, if it were not for the absolute certainty of Jesus’ followers that they had experienced his resurrected presence. The fear that had threatened to overtake them was dispelled, and they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus had Risen!

The resurrection is not a fact to be proven. It is an experience to be shared. And when it is, your entire life will become a joyous and never-ending “Alleluia!”

© James M. Jensen