Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Sermon: What If?

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Romans 6:3-11
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said 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.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

This is the Word of the Lord.

What if all we had to go on – what if all the information we had about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – was this passage from the Gospel of Mark? What if, as many scholars and historians believe, this Gospel ended right here… and what if no other Gospel had ever been written?

We may, then, begin to understand the reaction of the women that morning.

After all, they had been there. They had sat at the foot of the cross, weeping, as Jesus breathed his agonized last breath. They’d watched as Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus had Jesus’ body taken down, and fairly whisked him away to a garden tomb before night fell.

There had been no time to treat Jesus’ body properly. No washing, anointing, nothing. The stone was rolled in place with moments to spare before the Sabbath began.

They went back to the Upper Room, of course. Where else was there to go? There were the men, wide-eyed in fear, numb with grief, jumping with every sound, sure the Roman legionnaires or the temple guards were going to burst in at any moment and drag them away to nail them to crosses of their own.

As Resurrection People, living on this side of the resurrection, whenever we bother to think of that Saturday, “Holy Saturday” it’s called, I guess for lack of a better name, we often think of it as a day of waiting. Waiting for Sunday, waiting for everything to be OK again because Jesus was back, waiting for Easter sunrise.

But there was none of that. Death was death, after all. The stone was in place, as permanent a symbol of the end of life, of hope, of the future as the moment we see the casket sealed, lowered into the ground, and the dirt thrown in on top of the vault. Tomorrow is irrelevant. It’s over.

For those disciples, for the women, aside from the occasional whispered conversation, isolated sobs and sniffles, the bodies crowded into that dark, stuffy Upper Room are alone in the silence, remembering what had been, trying to comprehend how it could all be over.

Perhaps there, in the darkness imposed first by the night, then the tightly closed windows, and then the night yet again, they’d remembered the things Jesus had said. Perhaps they recounted how he’d nearly been killed that first time he’d preached in a synagogue, and how he’d cast the demon out in Capernaum. Peter might have talked about Jesus healing his mother-in-law, while over in another corner, John talked about Jesus turning water into wine.

As the night wore on, Peter would have gotten some gentle ribbing over how he started to sink when he walked on the water toward Jesus, and they would all laugh a little sadly at themselves over how terrified they were when they saw Jesus walking on the water in the first place. Peter would have ended up getting a pat on the back, I bet, for being the one brave enough to try it himself. It wouldn’t help ease the knot he felt in his gut, though, the terrible knowledge that Jesus had been right about him all along… he’d betrayed Jesus, right there where Jesus could hear him do it!

Still, the stories would thread along for hours: healing the lepers, bringing sight to the blind (remember Bartimaeus? Yelling and screaming, he wasn’t gonna take ‘no’ for an answer!), and that time Jesus had healed the Temple ruler’s favorite servant without even going to his house.

After awhile, the stories tapered off. It sunk in that this was all they had, memories. Jesus was dead, gone, and the adventures, the discoveries, the preaching and the miracles were over.

So horribly, bloodily, painfully, permanently over.

I wonder if it was Mary Magdalene who first thought about going and completing the preparation of the body?

We don’t know a lot about Mary Magdalene, except that at some point in the past, Jesus had cast seven demons out of her. Lots of legends and suppositions and wild fabrications fly around about her, and I will not go into them here. All we know is that she traveled with the disciples, and was there at the end, and she figures heavily in the Resurrection accounts.

I can imagine her sitting in the corner of that room, listening to the stories, getting tired of it all, knowing that none of them understood what Jesus had done for her. For s many years she had been tormented, tortured, listening constantly to all those voices in her head, running about madly doing all the vile things the voices had made her do, and Jesus had made them go away, forever!

She had followed Jesus everywhere not because she thought he was going to be King of Israel, not because she wanted to overthrow Rome, not because she thought she’d get a sweet gig in the coming Kingdom of God. She followed Jesus because Jesus had set her free!

Through the shuttered windows, she could see the twilight before dawn. She gathered Salome and the other Mary, James’ mom, and they left, waking up some merchants to buy spices on the way to that garden tomb. Preparing the body was the right thing to do for Jesus, after all, an act of honor for a man who had meant so much to them all.

As they neared the last hill before the garden, Salome stopped short. “The stone! How are we gonna move that big ol’ thing?” The other Mary slowed, concern creasing her brow, but Mary Magdalene never broke stride. “We’ll figure it out,” she said over her shoulder.

What they saw as they walked into the garden made them all stop short. They didn’t have to worry about moving the stone – it had been rolled away.

Rushing into the tomb, they were more or less successful stifling screams of shock: in the place they expected to see the hastily-draped body of their Lord… there was some guy. It made no sense.

“Don’t be scared,” he said, and no one pointed out how silly a statement that was. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” Well, yeah…

Then he said something astounding. Breathtaking. Impossible. “He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”

A long moment, the women staring at the man, then at the cold, stone slab where the graveclothes lay empty. Then he spoke again: “Go, tell his disciples – and especially Peter – that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. That’s where you’ll see him, just like he told you.”

I’ll ask again: What if that was all the information you had to go on? What if you leave the Resurrection narrative there, with the women running in terror – arguably holy terror – from the tomb, and that’s all you’ve got?

Is it enough? Can we, on this alone, be Resurrection People?


The women walked toward a tomb they thought was sealed. They needed the stone rolled away. Mind you, the resurrected Christ, in other places in the Gospel accounts, appears to disciples behind locked doors. He didn’t need the stone rolled away, apparently he could walk right through that kind of stuff.

The women needed the stone rolled away.

They needed the obstacle removed so that they could see.

They needed to see the empty slab with the tangled and bloody graveclothes.

They needed to see so that they could hear the message, the glorious, impossible, wonderful message that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead!

They may have run away in terror, yes, but they ran to tell that Good News! Good News that would bring those fearful, confused, forlorn disciples into the joy of the Resurrection!

You and I have the benefit of other Gospel accounts, of course. We know that others, Peter and John, specifically, saw the empty tomb. We know that Jesus physically appeared to the women, to the disciples, to the travelers on their way to Emmaus, to five hundred people at once, and on and on. We know that there were witnesses as Jesus ascended to heaven.

Most of all, because the stone was rolled away, we Resurrection People know that the tomb wasn’t the end. It was the beginning.

Richard Rohr observed that “most of human life is Holy Saturday,” and it makes sense – for us, the caskets still lower into the ground, and the dirt still gets piled on, and that is that. Whatever the plans for tomorrow, whatever the hopes for the future, all of that gets sealed in when the casket’s lid is closed.

And so much of the world lives like that’s all there is. Greed, hatred, oppression, bullying, class warfare, racism, sexism, all the endless consumerism and power grabs – men and women struggling to get all they can in the here and now, because there is nothing else.

So much of the world struggles for enough to eat, for clean water to drink, for a safe place for their children to sleep, without fear of being kidnapped and forced to fight in a rebel army, or sold as slaves, every one of them the victim of someone else’s greed or hatred or lust for power, someone else living like that’s all there is.

But we know, you and I, we know differently, don’t we? We know that the stone has been rolled away. We have heard the message. We are Resurrection People.

And because of this, we have a mission.

The first message to the women and the disciples following the Resurrection was “go.” But with that command is a promise, did you hear it? “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee…”

Jesus’ last word to his disciples, and by extension to us, was “Go.”


Go and carry the message of the cross, go and carry the glorious Good News of the Resurrection, with the knowledge that, wherever we go, whoever we meet with that Good News: when we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned; whenever we speak the truth to power about oppression and marginalization; whenever we confront the evils of racism and class warfare and the status quo which crush the spirits and lives of the poor; whenever we do these things, Jesus has gone ahead of us.

The stone has been rolled away.

He is not here, for he has risen.


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