Sermon: April 1, 2018

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The Resurrection of Our Lord

We call the Bible a book of faith, but throughout the Scriptures we get a fairly consistent image of the people of God in general—and Jesus’ disciples in specific—being more than a little bit foolish. Nowhere is this more true than in the Gospel of Mark. I can’t help noticing that the wisest and most faithful followers of Jesus tend to be women, and in Matthew, Luke, and John’s Gospels, they are the first to proclaim the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead. That’s why theologian Jugen Moltmann wrote: “Without women preachers, we would have no knowledge of the resurrection.”

However, this year’s Easter story is a great big April Fools joke on us all, including women preachers. Mark’s Gospel does not conclude with the women who discovered the empty tomb running back to tell the disciples what they saw and heard. Here, the young man we presume to be an angel tells the women to inform the disciples “and Peter” that Jesus has been raised from the dead (notice that the angel mentions Peter specifically, whether that’s because he’s in a self-imposed exile from the group or because the other disciples were ashamed to count him among their number). Anyway, instead of doing what they were told, Mark’s Gospel ends with the women leaving the tomb filled with terror and amazement “and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” Wanh-wonh.

To make matters worse, these women fleeing in terror isn’t just 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 Bibles include alternate endings—typically an additional 10 verses in brackets—entitled something like “The Longer Ending of Mark.” In those verses, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and other disciples, and closing verse becomes this: “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.”

And that is a much more satisfying ending for an Easter story, right?

Alas, the earliest copies of Mark’s Gospel—the ones most textual scholars, historians, and ancient manuscript specialists agree are the original versions, before the more palatable ending was tacked on in the 2nd century—have the 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 even the faithful women betraying the Lord at the end?

Maybe. Let’s remember that it is the very nature of God to work through the most horrific, empty, and hopeless situations to bring forth something good, something new, something unexpected, something beautiful. Christians cling to the image of the cross not because capital punishment is a blessing, but because the cross reminds us that through Christ’s acceptance all the violence and cruelty the world had to offer, through his experiencing the depth of human pain, God fully entered our reality. And then, by raising Christ, God turned the excruciating physical and mental anguish of the crucifixion into a means of grace. God took all the evil that people succumbed to and transformed it, making even death a pathway to new life. Why then, should we doubt that part of the Good News is that God embraces and calls people who are afraid, confused, and not always faithful?

One of my favorite images of God working through frailty comes from a sermon on Psalm 22. It was written by Bishop Lancelot Andrews, who served both Queen Elizabeth I and King James of England. Ps. 22, you recall, is the same psalm of lament Jesus quotes from the cross when he cries, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Verse 6 of Psalm 22 is “I am a worm and no human,” a vivid image of what depression and anxiety can feel like. Bishop Andrews used that verse to reveal a wonderful Easter image:

“A fisherman, when he casts his angle into the river, doth not throw the hook in bare, naked and uncovered, for then he knows the fish will never bite, and therefore he hides the hook within a worm, or some other bait, and so, the fish, biting at the worm, is caught by the hook.”

No doubt this is familiar imagery for many of you who fish. Andrews goes on: “Thus Christ, speaking of himself, saith, “Ego vermis et non homo.” [“I am a worm and not a man.”] He, coming to perform the great work of our redemption, did cover and hide his Godhead within the worm of his human nature. The grand water serpent, Leviathan, the devil, thinking to swallow the worm of his humanity, was caught upon the hook of his divinity. This hook stuck in his jaws, and tore him very sore. By thinking to destroy Christ, he destroyed his own kingdom, and lost his own power forever.”

In other words, April Fool’s, Satan! You thought you were the Big Kahuna, swallowing up Jesus and all his preaching and teaching, all his healing and mercy and justice-making. You presumed that by swallowing that wriggling worm of Jesus’ humanity, you were swallowing up God’s power. But you got caught by your own short-sightedness! You bit that bait, and now are going to have some serious indigestion from swallowing the tricky Lord of Life. No, Jesus will not let anything, not even your barracuda fangs, take him away from the world that God so loves!

This idea of death trying to gobble us up and ending up being the main course is also what Isaiah is describing in the first reading from today: death has been swallowed up by God. It looks like the devil, the big fish, eats the little worm of Jesus on Good Friday, and that is the end of God on earth. But in fact, God has the last laugh, swallowing death, deception, and misery in one gulp!

It’s a silly story, and we are all April Fools for believing it. How can life comes from death? How can it be that love is stronger than both hate and apathy? Foolish. But God’s comfortable with fools. After all, look who’s preaching to you today! Furthermore, look at whose preaching in today’s second lesson, from the book of Acts! It’s Peter, the once and future disciple, who was the first to call Jesus the Messiah, and then quick to deny even knowing him when push came to shove. Here he is, once again surrounded by his disciple friends, explaining boldly in public what forgiveness looks like, and what resurrection means for him and for all of us. If God can use a cross to bring life to a hurting world, if God can use Peter, that wriggling worm, and to proclaim the Good News, then why not use each one of you, members and friends of Trinity Lutheran Church?

Mark’s Gospel may not have a sunshine-y ending, but for that very reason, it offers us something else instead. It offers us a promise BEYOND the resurrection. The young man who greeted the women in the tomb told them Jesus was “going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7). Easter morning is not the last word of God’s work on earth. It’s the first word. It’s where we begin.

Today each of us fools—with all our fears and faults—is called to witness to what we’ve experienced of God’s presence and power in our darkest moments. Resurrection is our story to keep living out. Jesus is on the loose; forgiveness and compassion are in the air. Healing and hope and welcome are wafting all around, chaotically uncontained. Mark’s Gospel is not finished, but is still unspooling. The mystery of everlasting life—the amazing grace that causes new shoots to spring up from the ground after every brutal winter—is still guiding us forward toward Jesus’ love and life, which continues to go on ahead of us and to meet us on the way. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

~Pastor Susan Schneider

About Trinity Lutheran Church

A congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) located in Madison, Wisconsin.
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