What a way to end a story! Did you catch how the Gospel writer Mark ends his “good news?” Talk about cliff-hanger!
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Solome–the women who saw the horrendous act of Jesus being executed by the state were the ones to gather spices to anoint him. It was customary to wait three days to anoint a deceased person’s body…but none of this was customary. First of all, rarely did the crucified have a luxury to be buried or placed in a tomb. Secondly, few would have the courage or gumption to attempt to see the remains of someone who had been executed by the empire. And thirdly, they knew that Jesus was in a tomb, closed off…they may have had good intentions to dress their teacher and show some respect, but they had no earthly ability to accomplish it. No way the three of them could have moved that large stone. It all seems like a fool’s errand.
And then comes the good part…the part that we’re all expecting. Cause come on–many of us have heard this story before…at least once. They get to the tomb…and the stone is already rolled away. And so they go into the tomb and who’s there? Not Jesus! Nope! You know who’s there…as Mark puts it “a young man dressed in a white robe”..and we know that Mark’s not referring to someone like Mitchell all dressed up nicely in a white robe as acolyte this morning. No–this is a heavenly being. Yep. And he says “don’t be scared” he says, “Jesus of Nazareth…your Jesus…the crucified Jesus…has been raised…just as he told you.” And to this great and amazing and delightful news what do these three courageous ladies who were at the cross, who saw their lord die and who had the gumption to go to the tomb that Sunday morn…what do they do? They run. Terrified. Delerious. And silent. They don’t say anything to anyone.
That’s how you end the Good news of Jesus Christ?? What gives?
What gives Gospel-writer Mark? Why did you leave us with a cliffhanger like this? What are you trying to tell us about Jesus?
Well, maybe first things first… Mark is telling us that the story of Easter isn’t about “happily ever afters.” That great and happy and frightening things happen when God works in the world, but they’re not simple stories that can be tied up in a bow. Sometimes we act terrified or delierious. Sometimes we’re silent, when really we need to be witnesses.
The Easter message that the gospel writer doesn’t want us to miss is this… “Jesus lives.” The one who faced the dominating powers of the Roman empire and all the authorities who were in cahoots with them could not win over God’s power. Jesus lives. In raising Jesus to new life, God has exonerated him. What God did on that Sunday morn was that he said “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the powers who executed him. Easter is God’s yes to Jesus against the powers who killed him.
Let’s take a step back and think about those powers of the world. That includes the governors of the land who washed their hands of the situation and didn’t want the hassle of defending an innocent man from an angry mob. That includes religious authorities who were so scared of losing their places of power and change that they plotted to kill anyone who got in their way. That includes disciples who saw Jesus’ ministry as being a lost cause and traded in his trust for 30 pieces of silver. Or followers who were so scared of the forces at hand that they abandoned their teacher at his darkest hour. That includes the empire itself and the emperor who had the audacity to call himself “Caesar” meaning Savior and claimed that he was in fact the Son of God. To all those people–to the emperor, to the governors, to the authorities steeped in corruption, to the disciples bent by their own personal demons–God says “no.” These forces and the broken ways that lead Jesus to the cross and to persecution and to death will not have the final say. Jesus lives. God’s great clean-up of the cosmos and our brokenness has begun and is happening right now.
And that means that God will work with the petrified and scared, so that they would become witnesses to the resurrection. That means that God will take disciples who abandoned their lord and transform them into leaders of the church who would spread the good news “Jesus lives” to the four corners of the world. That means that God will break down the chains and forces of oppression that attempt to snuff life out rather than set it free. Jesus lives.
That’s what the resurrection story is about. Jesus lives. This is reality.
I know that we’re going to say our Alleluias and sing our praises. I hope that you will feel the spirit move in this place and God’s presence be with you. I pray that when you take the bread and wine, Jesus’ body and blood that you will feel Jesus closer to you than your own breath. That is reality.
But I also know that you’ll leave this place. You’ll get in your car. You’ll hit a few potholes on the way home. Maybe another church goer cuts you off. Maybe when you get home what comes to mind is that appointment at the end of the week, the assignment that’s due, that bill that’s looming…and all the alleluias may fade. The glow of Easter may dim.
And the moments of despair, the moments when it doesn’t go well
There is that thing that happens when the alarm goes off in the morning and you think “another day?” Or There is that small habit that grew and grew until now it’s like a destructive pattern and you don’t know what to do with it. And there may be this fear that underneath it all it actually is random and pointless And perhaps the Easter feeling…or those good, beautiful, true, moving, inspiring moments the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye, that sense when you embrace somebody and it feels like you’re holding the Universe in your hands. Those moments start to feel like they’re just little detours and escapes from how it really is Which is cold, dark, lonely, and pointless. (Excerpt from Rob Bell’s Sunday, Garden Liturgy)
God says “no.” And says yes to Jesus. Jesus lives.
And that means those glimpses–the heartfelt embrace, the beauty of the sky at sunset, the feeling of love, the cry of Alleluia… those are actually the real thing. They’re the thing that undergird the whole thing. Looking over at your child smiling up at you. The wash of relief when you’re told you are loved. The deep connection of communion and grace. The prayer said in earnest.
They’re signs and glimpses of what reality really is.
Jesus lives. God says yes to Jesus. Resurrection says that this is our world and that it is good.
Jesus lives. God says no to all the powers that attempt to dominate and the sin that destroys. And we remember that everything that is wrong, twisted, broken, destructive, flawed, and failed everything about it whether it may hurt and whether it may be something like cancer that is real or systems of injustice that weigh down the soul or the oppression that divides because of gender, race and lifestyle
whatever it is
however real it is
and however much it breaks our hearts
it is, in the end, in some really, really hard way to describe
That in fact, there is a new creation bursting forth
right here in the middle of this one
and there is a new heaven and a new earth coming together (excerpt from Rob Bell’ Sunday, Garden Liturgy)
Jesus lives. God says yes to Jesus. And that means that God says yes to us.
Yes to newness of life.
Yes to fresh starts.
Yes to forgiveness.
Yes to being reborn.
Yes to life eternal.
Yes to life lived right now–with all the love, all the unity, all the spirit.
Jesus lives. And when God says yes to Jesus, God makes Jesus lord. And if Jesus is lord, then that means the lords of this world are not. Those who dominate others, those who inflict mass injustice, even the lords of sickness–like cancer and dependence that wreak havoc on our very bodies and minds…do not have the final say. God does. Jesus lives. We live also.