Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 1, 2018

2018.04.01 “The Courage of a New Beginning” – Mark 16: 1 – 8

Central United Methodist Church
The Courage of a New Beginning
Mark 16: 1 – 8
Easter Sunday
April 1st, 2018

The Risen Christ

And when the sabbath was past, 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 they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back — it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.” Mark 16: 1 – 8, the New Revised Standard Version

It is always a joy to welcome each other to church on Easter, even on years like this one, where apparently Mother Nature did not get the memo, that Easter should be accompanied by warm temperatures and budding trees and blooming flowers. It reminds me of the little boy who got his holidays mixed up and, when asked, “What is Easter?” said: “That’s when Jesus came out of the tomb, saw his shadow, and now there’s six more weeks of winter.” This year, not far from the truth.

I expect you also come to Easter worship service, fearful today. Not only because a Chinese spacecraft the size of a school bus might fall on us (What better place to be than in church)? But also because today is also April Fool’s Day, so perhaps you came to church this morning fearful that that you would find no one here, or that the ushers would jump out and scare you, or that I might show up dressed as the Easter bunny. You need not fear; that is not going to happen. However, when we are ready for the Easter Alleluia, we are going to turn on the electric current we have wired through the pews.

In many ways, April Fool’s Day is an appropriate day to hear this year’s version of the Easter story, from Mark’s Gospel. Because as you read Mark’s version of what happened when the women returned to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning, time and again it seems someone is about to jump up and yell to them: April Fool!

It began as they walked and talked, worried about who would roll away the stone, which you would think they would have thought about before they left home. When they get there, they discover the stone IS rolled away. As they enter the tomb, they find – not Jesus’ body – but a young man dressed in white. The Easter message they receive is not “April Fool!” but “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He is not here, he has risen.” Barely believing what they have heard, they receive an Easter commission: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goes ahead of them to Galilee; there they will see him.”

I doubt anyone remembers this, but in 2012, when I preached Easter from Mark’s Gospel, at this point I asked a rhetorical question: “Ready for the big finale, the happy ending, when shouts of Alleluia fill the air?” In the silence, a little girl in the back of the congregation yelled out, “YES!” But in Mark’s Gospel, it never happens. What happens is the women run from the tomb in terror, amazement, and in silence. There, Mark’s Gospel ends. Is this any way to run a resurrection?

Is it any wonder that, from early on, Christians found this an unsatisfactory conclusion? And thus, from early on, additional, more satisfactory endings were added. While no Gospel provides an unambiguous, totally convincing account, at least in Matthew and Luke and John – all written after and drawing upon Mark’s Gospel – what happens after Jesus’ resurrection is expanded and elaborated on, with Jesus appearing to his disciples and giving them the Great Commission, to go into all the earth and make disciples.

And yet, when all is said I done, I like the way Mark ends his Gospel, and am even thankful this is the version of the Easter story that I get to preach, in this, my last Easter sermon.

Why? Because I find it true to life. Doesn’t the women’s experience – fear and astonishment, followed by silence – sound right to you? Fear! Let’s face it, we all know something about fear. If you have ever spoken in public, for example, you know what fear is; fear of mispronouncing, fear of choking, fear of losing your voice, fear of falling down, fear of everything, which makes it even harder to talk. Astonishment: in the presence of God, who calls into being things that are not and gives life to the dead, who would not be astonished beyond words? Silence: At times of fear and astonishment, who’s chatty and glib; we can hardly talk? And anyhow, who’s going to believe them? Are they going to walk into the coffee shop, where the men are, and announce Jesus body is not where they left it, but BTW an angel WAS there, announcing Jesus risen? “Did you hear what those women said?” “Yeah, they probably went to the wrong tomb.” I mean, since when have men not believed women? [Fred Craddock, “And They Said Nothing to Anyone,” The Collected Sermons of Fred Craddock, 2011]

For this reason, the more we think about it, the more we may decide we like Mark’s ending, because it’s not neat, and doesn’t try to explain the inexplicable. Mark doesn’t show up with a tape measure and a seismograph and a video camera and explain or prove what happened, he simply announces it; make of it what you will. Mark doesn’t try to summarize what it means, as St. Paul did in his First Letter to the Corinthians, written before Mark’s Gospel, where it takes Paul 58 verses to try and explain it, not even mentioning an empty tomb. Nor does Mark get into the heavy lifting of WHAT Jesus’ resurrection means, whether that we all get to go to heaven and live with Jesus, the most popular though not necessarily the correct interpretation; whether the resurrection was God’s vindication of Jesus’ message, of right over wrong, love over violence, and life over death; or finally, whether Jesus’ resurrection means that a new age has begun for all humanity. Mark leaves that up to us, to decide for ourselves.

Rather, the simple, intriguing way Mark puts it is this: “Jesus isn’t here in a tomb where you expect him; tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” Back to Galilee, back to where it all began, back to where they live, have families, raise children, and work and play. It was nothing less than a new beginning.

What an intriguing promise for us as well: that Jesus isn’t in a tomb, off in the past, but out there ahead of us, where we will meet him. Not in the places we might expect, in the rituals and institutions we have made to hold him, but out there, where we live, have families, raise children, work and play, and eventually die. Wherever we go, whatever we go through, he goes before, and will meet us there.

Where Jesus is leading us is into the Kingdom of God, a place beyond prejudice and poverty and politics. Kingdom life is a life that needs not be defined by death or grief or loss, even though they are still with us. In this week in which we remember the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, we remember what also what Dr. King told us, that Jesus is calling us into the kingdom of God, a kingdom of peace and love, truth and justice, reconciliation and restoration. [Nathan Kirkpatrick, “Tell It Again,” Faith and Leadership, March 22, 2016]

In the play by John Masefield, “The Trial of Jesus,” the centurion who oversaw Jesus’ crucifixion reports back to Pilate. Pilate’s wife asks the centurion to tell her about Jesus’ death. After hearing his description, she asks, “Do you think he’s dead?” “No, my lady, he replies. “He’s been let loose in the world where neither Roman nor Jew can stop his truth.”

No wonder we come to church on Easter Sunday to hear this story again – even braving a spacecraft falling on our heads or the ushers who might jump out to scare us. Because no matter who we are, no matter how great our fears are, in life or in death, Christ is risen and goes ahead of us, making not only this day but every day into the possibility of new beginning.

John O'DonohueJust recently I discovered the Irish poet, philosopher, and former priest, John O’Donohue. O’Donohue, who was born and lived most of his life in solitude on the rugged west coast of Ireland, believed that it is within our power to transform our fear of death so that we need fear little else life brings. It is cruelly ironic and tragic that he died unexpectedly in his sleep in January 2008 at the age of 52, robbing the world of a genuinely original religious mind who – as much a surprise to himself as anybody – became a bestselling writer and public speaker whose popularity only increases with the passing of time. [You may learn more about John O’Donohue at his website, www.johnodonohue.com]

From the early 1990’s, O’Donohue led a dawn Easter mass at the ruins of the ancient Corcomroe Abbey. In one of those masses he said this (I only wish I could say it in his broad Irish accent):

“On this Easter morning, let us look again at the lives we have been so generously given and let us let fall away the useless baggage that we carry – old pains, old habits, old ways of seeing and feeling – and let us have the courage to begin again. Life is very short, and we are no sooner here than it is time to depart again, and we should use to the full the time that we still have.

We don’t realize all the good we can do. A kind, encouraging word or helping hand can bring many a person through dark valleys in their lives. We weren’t put here to make money or to acquire status or reputation. We were sent here to search for the light of Easter in our hearts, and when we find it we are meant to give it away generously.

The dawn that is rising this Easter morning is a gift to our hearts and we are meant to celebrate it and to carry away from this holy, ancient place the gifts of healing and light and the courage of a new beginning.” [John O’Donohue, Dawn Mass Reflections at Corcomroe Abbey, from Walking on the Pastures of Wonder: John O’Donohue in conversation with John Quinn]

On this Easter Sunday morning – and for the rest of your life – I leave you with the morning prayer O’Donohue wrote for himself:

“May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.”

Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed. Amen.

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