Narrating Grace

Easter Sermon

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Sermon for April 8, 2012
Text: Mark 16:1-8

Let us pray: Risen Lord, place your Easter miracle in our hearts today and everyday.  Amen. 

It feels like Easter today.

Spring has come early, so early that the trees growing greener everyday even though it’s only the beginning of April.  We almost DARE to put away our snow blowers.  It’s a little cool today, but still warm enough to wear our Easter best. 

It feels like Easter in church too.  The rainbow banners are up, the festival songs are sung, the brass and choirs and bells are helping to lead worship today.  We say with gusto, “Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!”  It’s a joyous day, full of fanfare and celebration—arguably the biggest Sunday of the year.  We gather to celebrate the resurrected Christ, the one who gives us hope and joy.

It feels like Easter…or does it?

Not according to Mark.  In the middle of all our celebrating, we hear a quiet, stark story of resurrection from the gospel of Mark.  This story is not full of fanfare or celebration or joy.  Instead, it is full of fear, trembling, silence, and failure.  Is this the story of a miracle?

The women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome get up before the sun after the Sabbath, three days after Jesus’ crucifixion.  They silently creep to the tomb, carrying spices to anoint Jesus’ body.  They were full of fear, for it was dangerous to approach the tomb of such a notorious traitor of the Roman government. 

They are completely alone, for everyone else has abandoned Jesus. 
The centurion has done his job and declared Jesus dead. 
The Roman officials no longer need to bother with him. 
The men sealed his body in the tomb. 
The disciples, having abandoned Jesus at the cross, are no where to be found. 

And so the women approach utterly alone, as the sun is rising, already feeling like failures because they don’t even know if they’ll be able to move the huge stone covering the tomb. 

This is our Easter story for today.  This is what Easter feels like.

Once the women reach the tomb, they find the stone rolled back.  Fear grips them as they wonder if Jesus’ body has been stolen.  They wonder if they will be attacked.  When they finally look into the tomb, they find it empty other than a young man, dressed in white.  They become even more alarmed.  They don’t recognize him, and they don’t know why he is there.  They are astonished.

He says to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

He gives them very clear and simple instructions.  He proclaims Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  He tells them to go tell the disciples and meet Jesus is Galilee.  And how do the women respond?

They run away.  They are seized by terror and amazement.  Other translations describe them as beside themselves, trembling, bewildered, astonished, distressed, terrified.  In the literal Greek, they are gripped by ecstasy—in a frenzy or a trance.

And they say nothing to anyone.

And here ends the gospel of Mark.

It’s a terribly unsatisfying ending.  It’s so unsatisfying that later copiers of the text added their own endings—two different ones—to try to wrap up the story.  Yet we know from careful study these two endings were not written by Mark.  They were tacked on later because people were convinced that something was missing.  Surely Mark didn’t mean to end the gospel with fear, trembling and silence.  We wonder if maybe he keeled over while writing that last sentence.  In fact, the Greek ends in the middle of a sentence.  There must have been a page or two lost.  Some people, even current Biblical scholars, are still convinced that Mark didn’t mean to end it like that.

Yet we have to work with what we have.  And we need to ask ourselves the question:  what if Mark has really wanted to end it that way?  This ending is in line with Mark’s style.  Through his gospel Jesus tells people many times to keep silent and yet they tell.  In this ending, the women are told to “go and tell” yet they keep silent.

This is not the Easter we imagine.  This story doesn’t feel like Easter.

Notice Mark’s account of the resurrection is stark.  There are no trumpets, to pyrotechnics, no earthquakes, no angels flying around.  This gospel would not make a very good movie.  There is no resurrected Jesus talking to them and greeting them on the road. 

The women are terrified and awe-struck, but not by the special effects.  Instead, they are terrified by what the young man says to them.  “He is not here, He is risen.  Go, and tell.”

These few words turn their lives around in an instant.  They had three days to absorb Jesus’ death, and they were going through the rituals that would allow them to wrap up his life and put him in their past.  In a way, it was comforting to them to prepare to embalm his body, for it was a ritual they knew, a way to honor the past and complete the burial process. 

They did not expect their futures to suddenly break open.  They did not expect a new and risky venture would be offered to them.  They were ready to finish the embalming, go home, and continue on with their lives.  Instead, they are brought into a new hope, a new direction, and a scary prospect.  With Jesus’ resurrection, the world has changed.  They have new responsibilities and opportunities.  They come as mourners, and they leave as disciples.  There is no road map for them; all they know is they are to go meet Jesus, for he has gone ahead of them to Galilee.

We, like the women, have expectations of Easter.  In fact, Easter morning is heaped with expectations.  There are lots of “shoulds” when it comes to planning and attending these services.  There should be lots of music and fanfare.  There should be the Hallelujah chorus at the end.  There should be a fantastic sermon. There should be egg bake (you knew I couldn’t let that go).  All of you have expectations placed on you this morning as well.  You should be dressed in your Easter best.  Your children shouldn’t be too hyped up on sugar at 8:30 am and should be well-behaved.  You should feel a swelling of joy in your heart during the service and leave with a stronger faith than when you came.  There is no room here for doubt, or grief, or sadness, or skepticism.

Yet that’s exactly what we find in Mark’s story of resurrection.

What a relief it is to read Mark, a true realist.  What a relief it is to know the women ran away when confronted by the resurrection.  It’s good to know the disciples don’t even show up at the tomb, they are so convinced Jesus will never rise from the dead.  What a relief to know that first Easter morning was quiet and full of fear, trembling, and unbelief. 

All of this, this is not Easter.  This is celebration and praise and glorious worship, yes, but Easter is more than this. 
Easter is tomorrow morning when you wake up to face a new week, tired and not quiet ready. 
Easter is when you find yourself in a hospital room with someone you love, facing a new future you are unprepared for. 
Easter is when fear grips you so hard you can hardly stand, much less function. 
Easter is when God places a longing in your heart that won’t leave you alone until you have to embrace it.

Easter is God meeting us just as we are and giving us a new future.

We know God got the word out about the resurrection somehow, even if the women couldn’t speak.  We know the young man told the women specifically to go and tell the disciples—and Peter—naming him by name.  The disciple who had abandoned Christ completely, publicly denying him three times, is called by name as one who needs to know about the resurrection. 

That’s what feels like Easter.  It is God meeting us wherever we are.

So if you feel as if you are too skeptical, too full of grief, too afraid to face your life, too stuck, too hopeless, too much a failure, Easter is for you.  The resurrection does not just come on Easter morning here at church.  Resurrections also happen in quiet places when we least expect them. 

Easter is God breaking into our darkest places to give us new life.
Easter is when we run away from God and God follows us, chases us down, until we are found.
Easter is when God looks skepticism right in the eye and gives us the courage to dare to believe the hope found in the resurrection.

May God fill your hearts with hope and give you the courage to trust in the promises of the miracle spoken to the women at the tomb, and may God use you to speak this good news to others.

Amen.      
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