Devotional for April 12: Stone
PRELUDE: Today, Lent in Plain Sight: A Devotion through ten objects, invites us to look at Luke 24:1–12. The object for this week is a stone. The title of the meditation is “Moving Stones”. If you have the book, read the meditation. Watch Piper, a 2016 computer-animated short film produced by Pixar Animation Studios.
OPENING SENTENCES (Resources for Easter Sunday)
Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Christ is risen! We have seen the glory of God.
HYMN: Listen to "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!" GtG 245
CONFESSION: (Resources for Easter Sunday)
Almighty God, in raising Jesus from the grave, you shattered the power of sin and death. We confess that we remain captive to doubt and fear, bound by the ways that lead to death. We overlook the poor and the hungry, and pass by those who mourn; we are deaf to the cries of the oppressed, and indifferent to calls for peace; we despise the weak, and abuse the earth you made. Forgive us, God of mercy. Help us to trust your power to change our lives and make us new, that we may know the joy of life abundant given in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. Amen.
PARDON AND PEACE (BCW)
Hear the good news of God’s promise: I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. (Take time to think about one thing during the week that has given you peace. It can be the sound of birds chirping, flowers coming out, or hearing from someone dear.)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION (Resources for Easter Sunday)
Living God, with joy we celebrate the presence of your risen Word. Enliven our hearts by your Holy Spirit so that we may proclaim the good news of eternal and abundant life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
SCRIPTURE: Luke 24:1–12 (NRSV)
1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
REFLECTION: Even Stones Change (Marissa Galván-Valle)
I remember being in an ordination exam once, where a Candidate for ministry was asked to describe his faith. He said that his faith was like a stone: it never changed, and it was unmoved. But I remember thinking that this was not a good description.
If this candidate knew anything about geology, he would have chosen this image but applied it in a different way… because stones do change and move. Water changes them. Wind changes them. Maybe it’s not as noticeable as the change of season or the change of weather, but stones do change. They transform with time. They become smother. They break off when there’s an earthquake. When people use them to step on, their weigh changes them.
Jill Duffield starts the last meditation of her book with a simple affirmation of faith: “I believe transformation is possible.” This affirmation of faith comes from believing that God has been able to conquer death, which is the affirmation of faith that we remember today.
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women go to the tomb taking the spices they prepared to work on what they were expecting to find: a dead body. They expected to find a stone blocking their way to do this solemn and loving work. Instead, they find a rolled away stone, a missing body and two men in dazzling clothes. These two men remind them of Jesus’ words: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” And hearing those words, they remembered… and they believed in transformation. They believed that Jesus had risen. They told the eleven what had happened.
I love that the women that had accompanied Jesus on their journey are the ones that immediately believe that transformation is possible. The disciples have a harder time believing. Peter must see for himself. But… no judging here. Believing in transformation is hard. As Duffield states… it doesn’t always happen. It’s not easy. Sometimes it happens in fits and starts. Sometimes we are so disheartened that we cannot see it. Sometimes fear takes such a hold that we cannot believe in it and the stone does not budge. Sometimes hate becomes a stone. Sometimes bitterness becomes a stone. Sometimes anxiety becomes a stone. Sometimes disbelief becomes a stone.
One of the greatest dangers in my vocation as a pastor is precisely falling into a place where you no longer believe that transformation is possible. Imagine stepping up into a pulpit and thinking that the words that you are saying cannot enact any change. Imagine doing pastoral care no longer believing that your presence can have an impact. Imagine doing ministry not having transformation, God’s transformation as your main goal. I think if that ever happens to me… I must rethink my line of work!
But… I do believe that transformation is possible. I don’t believe that this is my doing in any shape or form, but God’s doing. The same God that rose Jesus from the dead is the one responsible for transformation. As Duffield states “All of us encounter seemingly immovable stones. We face loss or illness, disappointment or depression, oppression or exploitation, grief or separation.” But… “If we remember Jesus’ resurrection, and all he taught and lived, angels whisper ‘Jesus is risen. Transformation happens. Death does not have the last word’”.
Piper, the short film that we watched at the beginning of this service, reminds me of that transformation. Here is this sandpiper whose first experience with the sea is traumatic. But… in order to survive he needs to learn the skills he needs to reach adulthood. He needs to deal with the seemingly immovable stone of fear. Then he meets a family of hermit crabs. The child of that family becomes his angel. He whispers… “there is another way to deal with the sea. You can transform. You can do something new”. And the little sandpiper uses this new transformation to feed others. He has been given life… and he gives life.
Stones can and do change. I believe that transformation is possible. May God help us deal with all the stones that we encounter in our lives… with the stones that we are dealing with right now… and find transformations and new life, so that we can give life. May God help us transform our "alleluias" to powerful affirmations of faith: Transformation happens. Transformation is possible. Alleluia! Transformation happens!!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION (Duffield, Jill. Lent in Plain Sight (Kindle Locations 1086-1090). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition)
When have you faced what felt like insurmountable obstacles? What happened?
When have you experienced transformation? What changed and how? How do you maintain hope in circumstances that leave you bereft and afraid?
HYMN: Listen to "Beautiful Things" by Gungor
PRAYER OF INTERCESSION: (Resources for Easter Sunday)
God of endless life and new beginnings, we give thanks for your goodness and steadfast love. Hear now our prayers: For the church throughout the world, that we may be faithful witnesses to the resurrection, so that all may come to believe and have new life in Christ. For the people and leaders of every nation, that your boundless grace, which shows no partiality, might bring Christ’s reign of peace and justice to all. For all who are despised, rejected, and oppressed, that they may know the liberating power of the gospel and rejoice and be glad in the day of the Lord. For those who weep like Mary at the tomb, that their tears of sorrow may turn to cries of joy in the presence of the risen Christ. For the promise of a new creation, where all creatures may live together in safety and none shall hurt or destroy on your holy mountain. God our strength and salvation, we pray all these things in resurrection hope, and with the confidence that you have already answered us; through Christ, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
May the steadfast love of the Lord be yours, this day and forever. Alleluia!
Christ is risen! Do not be afraid. Go and tell this good news to all. Amen.