On Easter we sing “Hallelujah, Christ is Risen.” But we could just as well sing, “Jubilee! Jubilee! Christ is Risen.”
Through these 40 days and 40 nights leading to Easter, our theme here has been Jubilee. We have explored Jubilee as a way of understanding Jesus’ life and teaching and his saving power. Jesus embodies God’s Jubilee. And we can see Easter as being the triumph of Jubilee – come what may, the Jubliee of Jesus lives ever on.
Now, Jubilee is a call that has come to humanity through the Hebrew Prophets – from Moses to Micah to Isaiah, and on. According to the Law of Moses every seven years and then seven-by-seven or 49 years, a faithful society is supposed to do and not do different things for a kind of periodic rest and reset.
This is so a society stays merciful and just, despite the tendency for things like greed and violence and power to make a mess of God’s intention for our way of living. Through most of Hebrew and then Christian societies, Jubilee has not been honored. So there is a strong theme through the bible of Prophets calling for Jubilee. This is what Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”.
So, to begin the time in our worship when we reflect on the meaning of the sacred story of Easter, I’ve asked some of the young folk in our church to help us get up to speed with what the Hebrew Prophets say about Jubilee, the kinds of things we’ve been exploring through Lent.
Let us hear some good words of Jubilee
Jubliee means That we forgive others what they cannot repay us, and that we will be forgiven for what we cannot repay. Jubilee means Everyone grows in mercy
Jubilee means That we give the earth some time to rest and recover from how hard we work it. Jubilee means Everyone grows in gratitude
Jubilee means That we release those Who are enslaved or trapped in fear. Jubilee means Everyone grows in freedom
Jubilee means That we celebrate new life, resurrection, God’s goodness. Jubilee means Everyone grows in joy.
So the question is:
What happens when we actually live with God’s Jubilee as our heart and our vision? And when we look to the life and teaching and actions of Jesus we see that what Jesus was all about ended up being a profound challenge to the way societies and our own selves tend to be organized. But what Jesus also showed us is that however much it may be a struggle to live in the holy Way of Jubilee, with Jesus there is a holy power that is far greater than the power of death, a power that is far greater than the power of sin and the denial of God.
To explore this a little more, let me sing a little something. This is a song by Woody Guthrie about Jesus. I changed some of the words and added a verse. So if you don’t like it, blame me, not Woody.
“Jesus Christ” By Woody Guthrie, with heavy modifications and a closing chorus by Nathaniel Mahlberg, with apologies
“Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land A holy man, true and brave He said to the rich, “Give your money to the poor,” But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave
CHORUS: Jesus was a man, a carpenter by hand His followers true and brave The priests and the legislators called them dirty agitators And laid Jesus Christ in His Grave
He went to the king & caesar, He went to the priest & preacher He told them all the same “Change your hearts and live by mercy, give your riches to the poor,” So they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.
The good people held their breath when they heard about his death Everybody wondered why God’s Mercy come on earth, living fully from birth Would have to suffer and die
But Jesus didn’t die in vain, He rose up and lives again He can live in your heart and mine So be true and be brave, and fear not the grave Share life’s riches, share God’s Love divine.
Now Let us hear the Easter Story, from the Gospel of Luke Luke 24:1-11 Luke 24:13-32
The Jubilee of Jesus Lives Ever On The resurrection fulfills the Jubilee, and unfurls the Spirit of Christ over all creation, for all to receive and to live by. One of the powerful gifts of this Spirit of Christ and Way of Jubilee is freedom, by God’s mercy. Freedom from what oppresses us and harasses us and binds us in. Freedom, in particular, from fear.
Now, with all due respect, to dear old Woody Guthrie, Jesus’ follower were not always true and brave. They did grow to become incredibly true and brave, as they lived out the Good News of Jesus with joy and confidence despite the consequences. But that was only after Jesus’ life. When Jesus was still around, the disciples were famously not true and brave.
And the story of what changed for them, what changed their hearts to become hearts of mercy free of fear, this is the Easter story.
The gospel stories, are really honest about how, when it came to the critical moments of Jesus’ last week, his core disciples just scattered. Jesus was being persecuted, the threats were escalating, he was getting set up to become the victim of the powers-that-be who were desperate for a scapegoat to sacrifice to keep order. And his disciples just spooked.
Peter, James, John, the rest of the famous 12, when it came down to facing the consequences of following Jesus and his Way of Jubilee, they were afraid. The powers of domination came after Jesus to put an end to his call for Jubilee, and the people around him did not want to become scapegoats too.
This is very easy to relate to. This is why bullying can work so well, in the schoolyard or on the national scale. Bystanders and friends are afraid of stepping in because they are afraid of becoming scapegoats themselves.
So, can we really judge the disciples for this?
Jesus didn’t hold this against them. He didn’t hold any of it against anyone. He continued to embody God’s Jubilee through his last week – he kept a heart of mercy, a heart of faith and truth and courage. Jesus didn’t get sucked into the violence that was targeting him. He was free from fear, from hate, from resentment.
(And, my friends, I’m sharing all this with my heart hurting for the victims of that violence against churches in Sri Lanka earlier today.)
The Way Jesus lived, he didn’t get sucked into the violence – He stayed free from fear, from hate, from resentment.
Now, he felt sadness, yes. He felt pain. He felt loneliness. All to a degree beyond anything any of us can suffer – his heart was one with the broken heart of God, Godself.
And so, Jesus became a purely innocent victim of the violence of how societies can sacrifice people to keep the order of things and to feed their earthly human powers or nurse their all-too-human grievances.
As the purely innocent and holy victim, with a strong open heart of mercy through it all, fully awake and active as the Realm of Heaven come on earth, Jesus unmasks those cycles of violence
What he unmasks is the lie at their core, a lie that is willing to sacrifice even God. And as a lie that is willing to sacrifice even God, these powers are shown to be truly powerless. Simply pathetic in the God’s-eye scheme of things.
Easter is the triumph of God’s Jubilee as embodied by Jesus the Christ.
The Jubilee of Jesus Lives Ever On.
It’s amazing to see in these resurrection stories that the moments when Jesus’ followers come to see the reality of Christ’s Resurrection, that the Jubilee of Jesus Lives Ever are, are the moments when their hearts open and the scales fall from their eyes, are moments when they have opened themselves in mercy.
The women who were the first to get the Good News, they received it while they were coming back to the tomb to tend in a loving way to the dearly beloved Jesus.
When they tried to share the Good News, the male disciples didn’t believe them. (feel free to roll your eyes).
And to break through the thick heads and hard hearts of the male disciples, it took the resurrected Christ himself. But as we saw in the second story from Luke, the reality of the resurrection could break through to those guys only after they were willing to extend mercy and kindness to a stranger on the road.
What was revealed to them changed their hearts and their lives and transformed them into courageous messengers of God’s Jubilee.
What Jesus showed his disciples and the world is that the worst fears can come to pass, whatever they may be, or whatever we may imagine them to be, but with God as our hope and our redeemer, with our souls entrusted in God’s hands, the Spirit of Jubilee will sprout back up and blossom on the other side.
That’s something to celebrate.
This is a celebration.
Remember, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding feast.
God’s jubilee frees us to live by mercy, courage, and great joy.
“Jesus didn’t die in vain, He rose up and lives again He can live in your heart and mine So be true and be brave, and fear not the grave Share life’s riches, share God’s Love, share the wine.”
(Delivered Easter 2019, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)