The Body of Christ Appears

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
April 26, 2020● Morning Prayer Rite II
Third Sunday of Easter (Year 2)
Gospel: Mark 16:9-20

WCEC Sunday Worship Service: Morning Prayer Rite II

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church: Sunday Worship Service of Morning Prayer Rite II (10:30 a.m.). Officiant: The Rev. Adrienne Hymes; Lector/camera: Mr. LeGrand Jones; Music: Ms. Gina Spano.

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, April 26, 2020

On my office wall hangs a stunning, thought-provoking and haunting black and white print of an artistic photomontage entitled, “Church Aisle,” by the late American photographer, Scott Mutter.[1] Mutter specialized in creating composite pieces by joining different photographic images. When people first gaze upon the print, the reactions are usually layered in three parts: “That’s cool;” “Oh, wow, I didn’t see that at first;” “What church is that? Wait, those are cars where the pews are.”

In this piece, two main images—a cathedral style church with the wooden pews and altar rail and a bustling metropolis—are beautifully merged. When the eye focuses in closer, one sees that the focal point of the piece is the center church aisle which has been transformed into a bustling city street complete with stop lights, cars and people.  Church in the world and the world in the church. At the top left corner of the montage piece is a church banner of Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In Mark’s gospel passage today we hear Jesus commission his disciples to, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (v. 15).  Mark provides us with two examples of how Jesus used human instruments of God’s grace to spread the word—by their own personal testimony—the good news of the risen Christ.

Mary Magdalene, the first person to whom Christ appeared, was a walking billboard for Jesus’ power to cast out demons (recall that he had cast out seven from her).  After her encounter with the risen Christ, Mary went out and told the other disciples that she had seen Jesus “while they were mourning and weeping” (v.10), yet they would not believe. One barrier to the disciples’ inability to believe Mary’s first-hand testimony was their cultural perception of Jesus’ chosen instrument of evangelism—a woman. Her message was not credible.  Consider, also, the emotional state of the mournful and weeping disciples. Heartbreak, loss and grief can be powerful barriers to one’s ability to perceive joy and hope even when the antidote to end the suffering is offered.

The second example is of Jesus’ appearance to the two non-descript disciples walking into the country.  After their first-hand encounter with the risen Christ, they went back to tell the others, but they were also not believed. Jesus, then appeared to the 11 disciples as they were sitting together at the table, and admonished them for their unbelief of the reports by witnesses of his resurrection.

But, Jesus did not give up on them. The disciples now had their own first-hand testimonies with which to nurture new believers; believers who would be equipped with the spiritual powers that Christ would bestow on them in his name. Jesus empowered his disciples to, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

Notice that the reader is not provided with details about the settings or the people other than Mary Magdalene. Mary went “out.” She told “those.” “Two of them” were walking into “the country,” and they told, “the rest.” Very general. What is clear is that Jesus appeared. He appeared to Mary, to the two walking, and to the eleven disciples as they sat at the table. Jesus was personally present, up close and personal, with these people, but the writer of Mark placed little emphasis on the details of where he made himself present.

While the temporarily-closed doors of churches prevent the body of Christ from worshiping in our sacred spaces; Jesus is not restricted. Jesus makes appearances. His body (the church) now appears in more places than ever before, going into all the world and proclaiming the life-saving good news of God in Christ.

The church—as the body of Christ—is now going into—and is even invited into—the sacred spaces of people’s homes and workplaces. The church—as the body of Christ—now sits at the table to break bread. The church—as the body of Christ—can be held in the palm of one’s hand on a phone, and can be heard through the delicate shape of an earbud embraced by the human ear.  The Church as the body of Christ—appears to those who have the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the hearts to receive.

Scott Mutter’s “Church Aisle,” captured only a snapshot nearly 35 years ago of what the Holy Spirit has always been up to; moving in and through God’s people to make Christ known to those he came to save.

The ways in which we continue to make Christ known must necessarily change, but Jesus’ commission to his disciples then and to his 21st Century disciples now remains—“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (v. 15).  May it be so.

Amen.

[1] Resource: https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/arts/features/view/28084/scott-mutters-church-aisle. Retrieved April 25, 2020.