Easter Year B: Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118:12, 14-24; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Mk 16:1-8
A sermon preached at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL on April 5, 2015
Terror and amazement, fear and trembling; these are the emotions expressed that first Easter morning. There is no excitement, no joy, no light shining in the darkness”instead there is only darkness and a void. There are a few bright spots here and there”the stone is rolled back from the tomb, a young man in a white robe sitting on the right side, words–strange and nonsensical words–but words that point toward a hope that can not yet be comprehended. This is the experience of the first Easter. It ends in terror and amazement and silence.
Mark’s witness to the Resurrection looks nothing like the Easter story we experience in the 21st century; the one of chocolate bunnies and pastel colors, egg hunts and barefoot children in smocked clothing.
Our Easter experience focuses on life and joyfulness because we know the rest of the story. But those three women who were the first to arrive at the tomb know only grief and hurt. Its not that they lost a savior, they lost a friend, a loved one.
This morning’s Gospel reading is a reminder to us of the heartache and pain we all experience whenever we lose someone we love. We may know the hope of the Resurrection, but the reality is that we are here and our loved one is no longer with us. We can look forward to the day when we will be with them again, that is the hope of Easter”that death is not the end”but that does not lessen the pain we experience in this moment when we are still raw, when we are hurrying to the tomb.
This morning’s Gospel is probably the most human telling of the Resurrection experience. It is the one that speaks to the mystery of the moment, the fear of that which cannot be understood. And we don’t understand it”that’s why we dress it up all in white and cry Alleluia! We disguise our mystery with joy. We so easily forget the events of the past week, putting the journey of Holy Week behind us. But if we were to take just a moment this morning and remember the lifetime of events that have happened in this space of a few days, maybe the terror and amazement of the women is a little more understandable.
We started the week with a glorious entry into Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey; we will end it with a glorious resurrection. But everything that happens in between is shrouded in the veil of the cross”the confusion amongst Jesus’s followers, the betrayal of a close friend, the inability to stay awake and pray, Peter’s denial, the trial and hatred of the crowds, the thirst for blood, Crucify him! Crucify him!–all of our short comings piled onto Jesus when he needs us the most. Our tears are so easily wiped away by the Good News, by the Resurrection. But not for these women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, their tears become terror, their good intentions become silence.
It really doesn’t seem such a happy ending for a book about the life of a man especially not Jesus. It’s the unexpected twist at the ending that seems to leave you hanging. Others felt that way about the ending to Mark’s Gospel and over the years other endings would be attributed”a shorter ending and a longer ending.
The shorter ending would have the women finally go and tell the disciples who are now gathering around Peter what they had witnessed and the longer ending would include post-resurrection appearances and commands. With these endings in mind Mark’s Gospel is a little less austere. But is it helpful?
Should Easter simply be a great festival occasion that marks the end of forty days of abstinence for some of us and a vague awareness of Lent for the rest of us? Maybe, maybe that’s enough. It is awfully pretty in here right now”the prettiest the church will be all year. It is a safe place, a joyous place”and we need those places. But, out there, it’s hard and darkness permeates so much of the world”violence, brutality, terror–this Easter light seems so small, is it enough?
The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is his way, his perfect way, of breaking the cycle of sin that permeates our landscape. Jesus does not dominate or control men”this past week over and over again he has told his friends and those in authority what he knows they will do and allowed them to do those things which seem like treachery.
He has not tried to stop them or judged them for their actions or words; instead he has kept everyone in the reality of the moment. And that reality is no less expressed today”Jesus doesn’t rise again and start planning rebellions, his resurrection is accompanied with concern and compassion, a divine messenger is sent to offer words of comfort and guidance”do not be alarmed, he has been raised, he is not here, he is going ahead of you to Galilee, you will see him again, just as he told you.
Terror and fear greet these words, but so does amazement. This story is amazing”and I have no doubt these women needed a little time to process before they could tell this story, much less try to understand it.
This past week, my twenty-four year old cousin posted on Facebook that she had changed her mind about learning about her Jewish heritage because Jewish holidays were so awful. She didn’t like rigidly keeping kosher and remembering the suffering of her ancestors. Instead she found Easter to be a lot more fun! I know her post was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but there is some truth and some danger in her thought process.
Easter is meant to be joyous, but we are not to forget that the joy came at a cost. And yet, at the same time, it is not the cost that we should count.
The job that is done is done for us; the unconditional love that is poured out upon us is the love we should remember. That kind of love is terrifying. It is unexpected and unimaginable and when it is poured out upon us it reminds us of our unworthiness and yet, because we are chosen, we are worthy”how can such a contradiction in terms be true?
What is truth? Pilate asks Jesus. The truth is God’s love for us, his desire to draw us into his perfection, the perfection from which he first created. That kind of truth can be a bit terrifying, but it is also amazing. What is truth? The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us and for our salvation”that is truth and thanks be to God for that. Alleluia!