April 1, 2018
Before I begin, a disclaimer, there were no animals harmed in the making of this sermon. You'll understand later.
We don't often read from the gospel of Mark for his account of that first Easter morning. We are much more familiar with John's account. Mary Magdalene and the other women get to the tomb and find it empty. They run get Peter and John. They race to the tomb; go in and see empty grave clothes. They leave and Mary recognizes Jesus when he says her name. Mark is much briefer and the women leave seized by terror and amazement.
Why do we read the resurrection story from Mark this morning? Each and every year the lectionary gives us the choice to read John's gospel. So why Mark? Since I get to choose the readings, it is up to me to explain why Mark. For me, today, it's because our Christian journey in life does not always feel triumphant. We struggle. We question. We fail. We doubt. Disappointments happen. Plans fail. Mark's journey to the resurrection included all of that. We read it and are left with a story that feels incomplete. So I want us to look at Mark's account and see if we can't find our way to feeling the triumph of Easter in the midst of a life that doesn't always feel triumphant.
It starts much the same as John's, women going to the tomb. The three women hurry to the grave. They have spent Saturday, the Sabbath, wondering what happened. Life hasn't turned out the way it was supposed to. Jesus isn't supposed to be dead, he's supposed to be with them; teaching, healing, loving. They felt anything but triumphant on the way. As they walk, they think of a problem. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Kind of late to think of it, but we all have learned the hard way that our brains don't function just right when we have faced the death of a loved one. What to do about the stone? It turned out there wasn't a problem—the stone was already rolled way!
So they entered the tomb; but no body...rather there was “a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side;”. The young man, an angel perhaps, probably... tells them what happened. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” They could see he wasn't there, but the good news was that he'd been raised. Now there is the opportunity for celebrating. But that's not what we get.
We get the stone rolled away, an angel, an empty tomb. Notice who we don't see in Mark's gospel. There is no sign of the risen Jesus in Mark's gospel. No words of comfort from the Messiah. And no celebrating the resurrection. In fact, what we see is fear. Mark described the women as fleeing in terror with amazement. I did some cross checking with other ways the Greek was translated; fear and wonder, terror and dread, shock and trembling, greatly agitated and surprised, dread and quaking. Not exactly the feelings we would associate with Easter.
I need to share a little biblical study here. If you look in your bible, you will see that Mark doesn't actually end at verse 8. That's because sometime after the first writing of his gospel, some well-intentioned scribe added verses after this to include Jesus. Those final 12 verses were added later trying to bring the triumph of Easter into Mark's gospel. But the author himself ended it with fear and terror and silence. And we should consider why. Why wouldn't an author of the story of Jesus the Messiah follow up with appearances of Jesus? Why fear instead of joy? Why an unfinished story for us to consider?
I can't say for sure, Mark never told me. But doesn't it make sense that Mark understood the unsettled life so many people live? His ending is what our lives often look like; confusing, doubt-filled, wonder, even fearful.
Those women had to struggle to come to grips with what they'd seen and heard. In John's gospel, we don't have to struggle so much. But Mark leaves it to us to come to grips with what we are going to do with an ending with questions still there. What do we do next? Eugene Peterson asks, “Will the invasion of new life that completely rearranges reality for us, ... send us scurrying in anxious fear for cover or venturing in reverent fear into worship?" Will we live in fear and anxiety, or worship and joy?
By your presence here this morning, you have answered his question. You are here; you have come to joyfully worship the risen Lord. But that doesn't mean we understand it all. Life still brings us questions. And the big question is always death. We have faced a couple of deaths in the last few weeks. We celebrated a long, faith-filled life using the very verses found in our Old Testament reading today, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” Marshall enjoyed food and wine, and we celebrated the good life and the good news of Easter... “he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.”
And then we mourned a father and grandfather who left far too soon. But the promises are still there for us to hold onto. The love of Jesus reaches beyond our four walls here, the love of Jesus is for the whole world...God so loved the world! In 1 Peter we read, “The Lord is... is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish.” And so he went to the cross for each one of us; all of us. We don't understand the why and the how of God's saving grace through sacrifice, but we understand and trust the promises in God's word. And so death does not have the final word because Jesus rose again.
I'm inserting a song here, Savannah's singing, not me. She sang this at the funeral of the father of my co-worker. When I told Shelly I was asking Savannah to sing it, she wondered why I'd want a funeral song at an Easter service. I pointed out that this is in many ways what Easter is about.
Savannah's song?Heaven's Now My Home: “Enter into paradise, ‘cause heaven’s now your home.”
There is another direction we can take this abrupt ending. The angel tells the women, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” Why Galilee? Well, that is where they came from, that is where they knew life before Jesus, that is where they had families, had jobs. It is a real, physical location. Jesus will meet them in the familiar, the ordinary things of their lives. And that is an important message for us. Jesus is with us in the “real” world, not just here in this sanctuary. Judy pointed out in her sermon last week that God is involved and cares about our ordinary days. Jesus is with us in our daily routines. Jesus is with us in the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the boring and the exhilarating. Jesus is with us...because Jesus wasn't in that grave, he was risen just as he had said.
Jesus is going before us wherever we are going. Just as the angels told the women; “he is going ahead of you; there you will see him.” So we trust that Jesus goes before us. Consider that whatever is on your agenda this week, Jesus is going before you and will meet you there. As we live out the ending of Easter in our own lives we just need to keep filling in the locations of our own "Galilees” - our own unique situations: "He is risen..he is going before me to my job, there I will see him, just as he said." "He is risen..he is going before me into that operating room, there I will see him, just as he said." "He is risen...he is going before me into this situation with my wife; with my husband; with my child; there I will see him just as he said."
I have started the year with assignments given the first Sunday of each month. Here is your assignment for today. See in your bulletin the line, “Jesus is risen..he is going before me to blank, there I will see him just as he said.” Your assignment is to write in a specific location, appointment, meeting; one where it is important that you be reminded that Jesus is meeting you there. Take it home and post it or copy it somewhere where you will see it and know that Jesus is meeting you there.
So it seems there was a method to Mark's madness. The story truly is not complete until you choose to believe and then move on, meeting Jesus in all aspects of your life.
This would be an appropriate place to end. But I want to put my own special spin on the triumph of the resurrection story. I have given this metaphor before, Easter 2009—my first Easter as commissioned Pastor here. It is a spring cleaning tip with my own resurrection spin. Eight steps to clean your toilet bowl.
- Put both lids up and add 1/8 cup pet shampoo.
- Pick up your cat and soothe her while you carry her to the bathroom.
- In one swift movement, put the cat in the bowl and close the lid. Note, you may need to stand on the lid.
- Allow the cat to self agitate and make suds. Another side note-ignore any noise the cat may make, she is actually enjoying this.
- Flush three or four times, this provides a power wash and rinse.
- Very important, have someone hold the front door of your home open. Yet another note, make sure there are no people between the bathroom and the front door.
- Stand behind the toilet and quickly lift up the lid.
- The cat will rocket out of the bowl and streak straight outside where she will dry herself off.
The resurrection spin...imagine the power and zest and determination that cat showed leaving her damp, wet, closed-in trap. And I like to imagine the power of Jesus' resurrection maybe looked something like that. He was locked up in a damp, cold, dark tomb. With great power and speed he left, free of the constraints of humanity; fully divine and fully victorious. Crazy, but for me, this vision gives us the triumphant ending that Mark didn't have.
Christ is risen; victorious, triumphant, powerful. And because he is risen, death has lost its sting and we will rise again with him. And because he lives, we are able to meet him in our world today everyday. Don't miss him in the busyness; or the quiet. He is meeting you there, just as he said. Alleluia, Amen.
Hymn: Up From the Grave He Arose. 165 HLC