September 2016 Archive for Bishop's Message

RSS By: Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

The Rev. Dr. Robert Rimbo shares regular thoughts and reflections about our life together.

There are scars

Sep 05, 2016


April22002Bishop Rimbo, representing the Conference of Bishops, preached at the opening service on Saturday, April 6, 2002 at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. This worship service brought all the visitors from across the ELCA and members of the Metropolitan New York Synod together. At the time, Bishop Rimbo was bishop of the Southeast Michigan Synod. This and many other sermons and letters appeared in The Cross at Ground Zero: Lutheran reflections in response to 9/11.


Propers for Easter 2A:

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31


In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Dear Sisters and Brothers, Friends in Christ, for six years Lois and I and our children lived and served in this great metropolitan community. We lived in New Jersey and Long Island and worked in New York. We have family and friends in New York and Connecticut. So the events of September 11 were close to home and heart. We grew to love this City, a love rekindled every time we are here. Our love for New York now is shared with Detroit, though not diminished. And from your sisters and brothers in the Southeast Michigan Synod and throughout the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America I bring you greetings and invite your Easter acclamation:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Easter is the confirmation of hope, the mightiest act of God in history, beyond our common experience, inscrutable to scientific inquiry, and astonishing to non-believer and believer alike. Jesus lives, and moves, and speaks again. But how do we recognize him, gathered here in this holy place on this most remarkable day for this grace-filled Eucharist? Even here, how do we recognize him in this more than skeptical age?


Sentimental assurances from poems by Helen Steiner Rice are less and less comfort to us. Happy endings seem to be absent, even absurd. So how do we know that this risen Christ is Christ indeed? How do we know that the disciples did not steal his body as the authorities preferred to believe, as such authorities will always prefer to believe?


We could waste time and effort trying to prove that the Resurrection actually took place. But the Gospel writers could have done a better, more convincing job if that’s what they wanted to do. They could have spun a story about a Messiah risen in overwhelming triumph. A Cecil B. DeMille epic tale with Steven Spielberg special effects would tell the kind of story we could all use at this point in our lives. I can see it now: It would have the Star of Bethlehem miraculously reappearing, with choirs of angels singing like the Mormons, and Christ the King perfectly restored, shining with such radiance that no mortal could gaze upon him and live.


In my vision the disciples would even have big hair like some of his TV preachers.


But no. The resurrection was quiet. Uncrowded. And strangest of all, the body of this Risen Christ is not perfectly restored.


He healed many others of deforming diseases and physical flaws. He made many broken bodies whole. But on this transformed, risen body of the Son of God, there were scars. The holes in his hands and feet. The wound in his side. And it was by these scars that doubting, realistic, post-September 11th disciple Thomas my Twin, was convinced. By these scars, we who have seen Hiroshima and Auschwitz and Vietnam and Palestine and Israel and towers falling to dust and thus creating a great scar on this City may be convinced, too. We give in to the miracle of Easter at the sight of these risen scars, for they say much about the permanence of wounds inflicted on this earth and on our lives.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Christ is risen with his scars.


The Christ who could not come down from the cross to save himself, God could not raise up without the marks of that death. The marks convict us still for by the authority of those marks, he speaks a message of hope, of triumph: "Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last and the living one: for I was dead and now I am alive forevermore."

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


But now, having said these glorious and lofty truths in your hearing, I must say other things, things about the half-humorous, half-insane mentality of our world. Saul Bellow says this about our time: "This generation thinks–it is its thought of thoughts–that nothing faithful, nothing vulnerable or fragile can be durable or have any true power. Death waits for these things as a cement floor waits for the dropping light bulb."


Is he right? Living in this era of calamities, of concentration camps and atomic bombs and suicide bombings and disproportionate military might and terrorist attacks, who can believe in the power of God to resist such things or redeem such losses? While we rummage through our Easter baskets for the choicest jelly beans, thousands of children will die today. As Robert Schuller pushes a button in his pulpit that activates a multi-million dollar system of water fountains, millions suffer from stunted bodies and damaged brains and walk for miles to get a single bucket of half-clean water. While we trip the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York - we bishops and pastors and rostered leaders from across the country who are investing in the economy of this great city which I dearly love–we can smell Ground Zero, the Ground Zero of New York, of our world, of our lives, the Ground Zero of our scars.


But are greed and inhumanity and conflict exclusive to our day? Are we so exceptionally sophisticated in our evil? Do the cynics of our times know the darkness of this world any better than the writers of the Gospels? Satan knew what hunger could do to people’s wills when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Pilate knew what the fear of physical pain could do to courage when he threatened Jesus with crucifixion. Peter knew what the threat of death could do to one’s commitment to one’s Lord. Judas knew, perhaps best of all, what a failure of nerve could do to one’s love of a teacher and master. Caesar knew what the fear of terrorist power could do to a nation. Herod did not hesitate to run his sword through the bodies of those children of Bethlehem. All any of them lacked was the sophisticated technology that can send planes careening into buildings. I imagine the councils then, at the time of Jesus, saying: "Let them see the fate of one who presumes to forgive sins, to defy the religious and political establishment, to stop the stoning of adulterers. Then they will be demoralized as human sheep are always demoralized; their little movement will fall apart and fade away into oblivion." And so they saw Jesus die. And so also that little movement should have fallen apart.


The piece that does not fit into the historical puzzle of the first century, nor into ours, is Easter. Here it is, nearly two thousand years later and people are gathered to proclaim:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Against all reason and natural law, Jesus rose from the tomb, scars and all, by the power of God.


And we believe it.


Blest more than many with education, we affirm that never has the world stood in greater need of Easter. Its comforts are not sentimental. Its implications are overwhelming. Cynics argue that, even if there were such a thing as rising from the dead, the scars on many of us would be so numerous there would be nothing left to rise. And so, they fiercely resist the temptation to hope. They shake their heads at our Easter lilies and alleluias and are sure that they are right as they say "Who believes in resurrection anymore?"


Well, we do.


We do.


Here is the heart of the Christian mystery: "By God’s great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Make no mistake. If Jesus did not really come back to life, go home, turn on ESPN or HBO, revel in whatever it is that excites you. But don’t waste your time on a Christ who simply lives in your memories, simply in your hearts, simply in a picture frame. That Christ deserves to stay dead.


Jesus is alive. Alive now. More alive than you and I have ever been. Alive for us, for you and me with amazing new life. Alive, scars and all. You can believe what passes proof. You can take God’s word for it that God loves you and lives in you, that God died for you and rose for you, that life does not end in a hospital bed or a crumbling tower. That death is a prelude to life without end. For "without having seen Jesus, you love him; though you do not now see him, you believe in him." This is what hope is. It is not wishful thinking, say, that Brooklyn will not be humid this summer. It is not a stiff upper lip, whatever that means. It is the confident expectation that the God who is ceaselessly faithful despite my infidelities will always be there for us, in the here-and-now and in the hereafter. Such is the hope that marks a follower of Christ.


Jesus, too, was afraid, did not want to die, begged that the cup would pass from him. They covered his back with the scars of the whip, his head and hands and side and feet with the scars of thorns and spear and nails. And yet in hope, through parched lips to the God who seemed to have abandoned him, Jesus commended himself into loving hands. The fragile light bulb, that great light that should have smashed on the cement floor, did not. He rose from the dead with his scars showing, proclaiming the love of God who cares for us, even for us.



Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.