Sermon: Easter

April 8, 2012

The Resurrection of Our Lord

“The women went out and fled the tomb, for terror and amazement seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8) Not exactly a jubilant, celebratory, triumphant ending for an Easter story, is it? No flowers or trumpets. No “Alleluias” thundering across the empty tomb. There’s not even an exclamation of “The Lord is risen!” with its corresponding response, “The Lord is risen indeed!” Nope. Just three women running away in fear.

The worst part is, that’s not only the end of today’s Gospel reading, it is the end of Mark’s Gospel. Later readers found this ending to Mark’s Gospel so unsettling that many of your Bibles will include an alternate ending, and additional 10 verses, usually in brackets and entitled something like “The Longer Ending of Mark.” In those verses, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and other disciples and the closing verse is “And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.” That’s better, right?

But the earliest copies of Mark’s Gospel, the ones most textual scholars, historians, and ancient manuscript specialists agree is the original version, before the more palatable ending was tacked on in the 2nd century, has women fleeing from the tomb, terrified, amazed, and saying nothing to anyone. Is this really how Mark intended to conclude his testimony about the good news of Jesus Christ? With women who, by the way, behaved better than any of the other disciples during Jesus’ last few days on earth, also fleeing and refusing to give testimony? These women, who had courageously stood by Jesus while Peter and Judas actively participated in Jesus’ suffering and everyone else went and hid, also giving in to fear and confusion at the very last?

I don’t know. But I do know that part of the Good News of Jesus Christ is that God works through people who are afraid, confused, and not always faithful. And these women were grieving and in shock. They had set off in the morning with spices and oils to anoint Jesus’ dead body. I don’t know if they even had a plan for how they would do what they wanted to do. Did they know how they intended to move the giant rock that was covering the entrance to the tomb? Or did they just go, no plan, no expectations, just knowing they wanted to be in the presence of Jesus, dead or alive?

Whatever they had in mind, I doubt it involved being greeted by young man in white lounging in Jesus’ tomb. He tells them Jesus is not there, but has gone on to Galilee and will meet them there, just as he promised. Can you blame the women for being terrified and amazed? What would you have done?

Yes, the young man tells them to go tell Peter and the other disciples the news, but I doubt that would be my first impulse. Doesn’t it seem likely that you would you go home quickly and quietly, lock the door, and wonder if you’d lost your mind? Don’t you think you’d try to make sense of what had happened? Had someone stolen Jesus’ body? Was someone making up an elaborate story to counteract the bloody, discouraging events of the past few days?

The women didn’t know what to make of the fact that Jesus wasn’t where they expected him to be. And I get that. It is a problem some of us have even today. Maybe it never goes away. But God is God, and refuses to turn up in places we expect, while deliberately showing up all over in places where we wouldn’t imagine God to be. It’s frustrating. We in the church have come to expect God to show up under certain circumstances in places and ways we find comfortable, and I’d say that people outside the church are even LESS comfortable with a God who is unrestrained.

But Jesus fled the confines of the tomb that Easter morning, and ever since, has refused to stay put. Even now, Jesus is on the loose! Uncontained and obviously stronger than any earthly rules! Every time believers utter those Seven Deadly Words (“We’ve never done it that way before”), Jesus throws us a curveball. I suspect we’d rather not be surprised and amazed. We want order, control. But Jesus is on the loose, and sometimes that is more terrifying than consoling, especially to people with reason to believe Jesus might be disappointed in them.

To those who have something to be ashamed of (and who doesn’t?), the idea that Jesus has come back to life and is planning to meet us down the road a bit might not sound like good news—especially if we believe in karma, the idea that people get what they deserve. Maybe that’s why the women left the tomb, “terrified and amazed.” Though the young man in the tomb suggested the women go tell Peter and the other disciples, I wonder how long they waited before they did. Maybe they didn’t tell anyone for awhile, but only discussed it amongst themselves in quiet voices. Maybe they told their kids. Maybe their spouses or partners. Maybe their parents or their favorite teacher.

Obviously they eventually told someone, or why would all of us be here? It had to be someone they trusted. Someone who wouldn’t make fun of them for seeing angels. Someone who knew what Jesus meant to them, who understood what it might mean if Jesus wasn’t dead after all. Someone who would help them think about the ramifications of that, and what they should do in response.

Maybe they met as a group to consider, if Jesus really was on the loose, what that would mean. Conventional reasoning and rules wouldn’t apply, because, after all, we’re talking about Jesus. And maybe as they talked, they remembered all their experiences with Jesus. Perhaps they reminded one another that with Jesus, people DON’T get what they deserve. If Jesus is on the loose, it means forgiveness and compassion are in the air. Healing and hope and welcome are wafting all around, chaotically uncontained. Though the women left the tomb terrified and amazed, apparently the amazement eventually won out over the terror, joy over fear. At some point, the women must have found the courage to tell their story. And their hearers must have told someone else the story. And so on. This is why Paul says in the letter to the Corinthians today, that he passes on as of first importance what he received from someone else. Not that he himself had witnessed it, but that he’d heard it from someone who was sure it was true. And the Corinthian church passed on that letter to generations after them, and sure enough, here we are reading that letter, telling that story, thousands of years later.

Someone you love and trust must have told you the story, or what would you be doing here this morning? Someone you believed in told you about Jesus’ empty tomb, of the living Lord, and you heard them. Even if we ourselves have not actually seen the empty tomb, someone else has, and that person is sure the story is true. Someone has assured us that Jesus is not in the grave, but intends to meet us on our way, even if we don’t understand how or where or even why.

It may be that you have not seen Jesus on this Easter morning. It may be that you have come to worship today with your spices and oils, expecting to encounter death. Or nothingness. Perhaps you feel only discouragement and the emptiness of dashed hopes. Maybe you don’t see new life, and you don’t expect to. Even peeking into the tomb doesn’t help. You don’t see Jesus. You don’t see anything. Maybe you encounter a messenger in white who says that Jesus is risen, and everything is going to be OK, but you don’t know her, you don’t trust her, and you have no reason to believe that this messenger has any more idea about where and how to find Jesus than you do. Maybe you will leave here today, still not having glimpsed the risen Christ.

And that’s ok. It really is. I know you don’t expect to hear that at church, but it’s really ok. Sometimes Easter morning leaves us feeling frightened and amazed, rather than joyful and optimistic. But this is the good news: eventually Jesus will find you. Jesus will meet you on your way. It may not be a Sunday. It might not be in a church building. It might be on a crisp Tuesday afternoon in September while you are raking leaves. Or on a Thursday in June, while you are picking up your mail. Suddenly Jesus will find you. You might not think it’s appropriate for the Messiah to turn up in the places and times he does, but Jesus is risen from the dead, so he can surely overcome all other restrictions. A resurrected Jesus does not abide by our rules or expectations. What is of first importance is that Jesus is longing to be with you. Jesus wants very much to meet you on your road.

Don’t be frightened by that truth. Think of the stories you’ve heard about how the resurrected Jesus greeted his lousy disciples after the first Easter. He did not wreak vengeance on Peter or Judas or the others. Nor will Jesus be vicious with you, no matter what you have done or left undone. Jesus is not plotting punishment for the ways you haven’t lived up to your baptismal calling to be a little Christ to the world he loves. He isn’t planning to condemn you for abandoning him or using his name in vain, or denying him. In next week’s Gospel reading, when Jesus encounters his disciples for the first time after his resurrection, the words he says to them over and over are “Peace be with you.” That’s what Jesus wants for you, too. Peace. New life. Grace. Possibility.

Today you might be frightened and amazed, but someday Easter will come for you. And when it does, you will receive the presence and love of Jesus in such a way that you will not be able to keep it in. You will HAVE to find a way to share the story. You will have to tell someone! Perhaps Mark really did intend his Gospel story to end abruptly. Maybe he wanted others to continue it. Maybe he wanted us to join the frightened and amazed women, eventually finding that the story of Jesus is too good to keep hushed up. Perhaps Mark’s Gospel STILL isn’t ended, but keeps on going, because as we embrace the resurrection, we will pass on the message to someone else. And they will pass on the story too. The Gospel is still unspooling, because it is the mystery of everlasting life—it is the amazing grace that causes new shoots to spring up from the ground after every brutal winter. Against all odds, Jesus’ love and life keep conquering evil and darkness. Jesus is risen, not in the tomb. And what’s more, Jesus intends to meet us on our way and to give us peace. Thanks be to God! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

~Pastor Susan Schneider

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