Easter Sermon Year B

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Acts 10:34-43; Ps. 118: 14-29; Col. 3:1-4; Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

It’s here the Feast of the Resurrection: Easter Day! And what’s the Good News that the Gospel of Mark proclaims to us to celebrate the most joyous event of the Christian faith? Well, Mark tells us that when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome discovered the empty tomb on that first Easter morning, they, “fled . . . for terror and amazement had seized them and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Period. The Message Bible translation is even more blunt. It has the women, “[getting] out [of the tomb] as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.”

Fear, trembling, stunned, heads swimming, silence!

Is this any way to celebrate the resurrection? I had a friend once who used to describe a rather morose and negative mutual acquaintance of ours as, “someone who could take the bubbles out of champagne.” Well, that seems to pretty much sum up Mark’s story of the resurrection: taking the bubbles out of the champagne of the greatest event in human history.

And by-the-way, where’s Jesus? I mean it’s his resurrection, shouldn’t he at least make an appearance?

What’s going on with Mark? It’s a question that readers of this Gospel have asked for centuries.

Some people speculate that this can’t possibly be the ending of Mark - no joy and no Jesus: that the real ending has been lost. Maybe. Other’s believe that Mark intended to write more about the resurrection - that he was writing installments - a kind of literary, “stayed tuned for next weeks exciting conclusion.” But then for some reason he was prevented from doing so. Again, maybe.

Early Christians were so disappointed, not only by the apparent lack of joy, but by the lack of Jesus in Mark’s resurrection story, that they took matters into their own hands. These folks wanted forensic evidence of the resurrection, so they added not one, but two other endings, to provide a more joyful story with Jesus appearing in both of them!

Well, that’s all very interesting, but these add-ons are clearly not Mark’s writing and so are not likely authentic. And I am grateful for that, because the truth be told, if picking up venomous snakes and drinking poison becomes proof positive of my belief in the resurrection - which the second ending posits - I will need to rethink this vocation of mine!

Anyway, the decision to add these endings was based on the wisdom that a) we all like indisputable evidence for our miracles and b) we all like a story with a happy ending. The folly in doing this, was to not see the incredible, resurrection hope and joy in the original ending as it was written by Mark.

So what is the incredible hope and joy in the awe, fear, heads swimming, stunned, trembling ending of Mark? Well, if it’s forensic evidence that is needed to validate Jesus’ resurrection in the original story, there is plenty of it there. Right in front of our collective noses actually. What we need is some assistance in seeing it. Imagine for a moment that this is a case of a disputed resurrection. What do we do? Well, we call in Jerusalem: C.S.I.

When we read scripture we often need to use the methods that C.S.I. units use in approaching an unsolved crime scene. Like them, we need to look beyond the first glance - the surface of things - to see the evidence of the truth of what has happened. Truth that is right in front us.

So let’s reexamine the scene as Mark reports it and see the evidence there.

Defense Exhibit A: As the women walk toward the tomb that early Easter morning to embalm Jesus’ body, they realize that there was a significant obstacle that would confront them: The huge stone sealing the grave. “Who will role away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” they wondered out loud. It certainly would take several strong men and maybe a beast of burden, to budge that stone. A task which certainly would have beyond these three women. Yet they go to tomb anyway, prepared to carry out their task. Subconsciously they are confident that this stone will get moved. And not by them.

Is God urging them onward? Clearly so. By the women’s determination Mark indicates that the huge stone will not remain an obstacle for long.

God’s hand is at work here. God calls the women forward, despite the obstacle before them. God’s providence is indisputably evident in the women’s confidence.

God is the great stone mover. Only God can move the enormous stones that imprison us in graves of death: allowing us to experience resurrected life. God released Jesus from deaths grip by rolling way the stone of his tomb and raising him from the dead. That moved stone was God’s fingerprint at the tomb. It is clear evidence of the resurrection.

Who wouldn’t have stood there speechless in front of that huge rock and that open tomb, in fear and awe, their minds struggling to comprehend the life shattering ramifications of Jesus Christ dead and now alive?!

Defense Exhibit B: All four Gospel’s report that women discover the empty tomb that first Easter. All four! This may seem like an insignificant detail to us now in the year 2006. After all women have spent almost a century working to achieve parity with men in our society. But this was not the case in Jesus’ time. Among other liabilities that women suffered in those days because of their sex, was that according to the law a women’s testimony was not valid. Ever. And yet in the Gospels, God chooses women to be the first eye witnesses of the resurrection. That’s no coincidence. That’s God’s intentional, affirmative, exclamation point on the resurrection! An exclamation point placed on the respect, dignity and self-worth that Jesus gave to women during his earthly ministry. That God chooses those considered invalid witnesses, to witness and validate His resurrection, proclaims the radical love of Jesus Christ toward women and all people. Having women discover the empty tomb is irrefutable evidence of resurrected life!

No wonder the women were terrified. In witnessing the empty tomb they simultaneously witnessed the fullness of the resurrected presence of Christ in their own lives. His resurrection put them on the threshold of new life. A life they had never experienced except with him. They thought that this life had died with Jesus on the cross. And now suddenly they had it back again! Who wouldn’t tremble? Whose mind wouldn’t swim and be stunned in that awesome moment of realizing that not only was Jesus alive, but that they were too?!

Defense Exhibit C: And then of course there is that angel sitting in the tomb, who clearly tells the women that Jesus is alive. “Do not be alarmed ,you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here,” the angel tells them. Now this is the kind of evidence that all C.S.I. investigators love: a material witness. Why that wasn’t good enough evidence of Jesus’ resurrection for those early readers of Mark remains a mystery.

This encounter with the angelic messenger of God is a classic encounter. An angel makes an appearance to a human or humans. His appearance is so overwhelming that the humans become terrified. The angel tells the human to not be afraid, and then he delivers awe-inspiring news from God. This is about as formulaic as it gets in the scriptures. Weren’t those early Christians familiar with the pattern of God’s presence though angelic appearances? The very fact that these creatures induce awe and fear is always proof of God’s presence. And without fail God’s message delivered by an angel is always authentic. Why should this angel be seen as different from any other? The angelic presence proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection is God’s star witness in Mark.

Who wouldn’t have been afraid and stunned encountering this angel? It was the only reaction possible.

The reality is that God often conveys incredible good news by revealing God’s hand in the world in ways where the only reaction possible is to be stunned, silent, afraid, our heads swimming. Where we are just plain beside ourselves.

When we fall in love for the first time. When we fall in love a second time, after being hurt. Procreating and birthing a child. Contemplating the vast expanse of the cosmos, galaxies, suns, stars, the planets in their courses, this fragile earth, our island home. Hearing Bishop Gene Robinson admit to his addiction to alcohol and enter a recovery program. Watching two people who have been at enmity, reconcile. Seeing the Berlin Wall come down. Listening to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. Peering into the Grand Canyon. Watching Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter clasp hands at the Camp David Accord. Coming over the rise by Wonton’s on Route 16 north and seeing the snow-capped White Mountains. Watching police, fire and rescue personnel run into the inferno of the World Trade Center to save those in need. Holding a persons hand as they die. Hearing Jeremy’s powerful and moving Good Friday homily. Sitting by the sea shore at dawn. Helping a special needs child learn to read. Holding baby Gavin last night at the Vigil as he was baptized.

Each of these things convey the sacred, and just like the three women at the empty tomb they leave you in awe - somewhat stunned, silent and even a little afraid - by what you have seen and heard. Each bears the indisputable forensic evidence of the hand of God proclaiming resurrected life.

The ending of Mark’s Gospel is not incomplete: it is full of the presence and glory of God. It proclaims Christ’s resurrection boldly, and with it the unfathomable love of God for all creation.

Love that rolls away stones enclosing us in tombs of death. Love that lifts us up from the depths of despair and gives us dignity and self-worth. Love that sends angels to appear in our lives, proclaiming the good news of our eternal salvation.

Experiencing these events in our lives what other response could we possibly have but to be stunned, standing in awe and wonder . . . and gratefulness.

Alleluia. Christ is Risen.

The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

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