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.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
Do you like Easter? I know you’re sitting here this morning, but do you really like Easter? If you do, which parts? For many of us Easter evokes strong memories and good traditions, (like bunnies, egg hunts, flowers, and more). For others Easter may be a more painful and discombobulating day, one that remains unsettled and unresolved. After all, the dead are supposed to stay dead. That’s why we have funerals and bury them. The world works according to certain principles; dead people just don’t, as a rule, get up and walk.
The reason for my question is to help us see that each of us comes to Easter, the wonder of Jesus’s resurrection, from different places in our faith.
- “Sure, I’ve believed in the truth of resurrection since I was a child,” you may say.
- Others of you may listen to my sermon and still say, “I’m just not sure. I don’t really believe that I believe.”
- Some of you may come to this joyful morning full of joy and happiness. Easter Sunday is your favorite Sunday of the church year. You have been rehearsing the music or looking forward with great anticipation to this Sunday for a long time.
- Others of you may be in gloom rather than in light. You have just lost someone whom you love. Things are not going well for you at work. And, therefore, there may be part of you that finds all this joy and triumphant gladness to be too much at the moment.
And if any of that accurately describes you—believing, not quite believing, full of joy or depressed in grief—then what a better story to hear today then the story of the you just heard of the first Easter.
A reason I resonate with Mark’s gospel account and original ending, at verse 8 is…it just seems honest and raw and true. Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and 21st century prophet, describes the life of faith as moving from order to disorder and then to reorder. It’s not an easy or particularly linear process, but he has a lot to say about how we who follow Jesus understand and live our faith.
So when we hear that a dead person actually rose 3 days later that’s when logic unravels, when disorder prevails, and when the world doesn’t behave in ways we’ve come to expect. Exactly here, in a place of disorder, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome find themselves. They have just watched their ordered lives fall apart with the horrible death of their beloved rabbi, the one they had believed with all their hearts to be the Messiah.
They had hoped and assumed that he would restore the throne of David to power, overthrowing the oppression of Rome and the replacing the religious leadership with a new faith community. Can you imagine what they were thinking and feeling during the Passover observance? They must have been devastated. Yet doing what women are so good at doing they pick themselves up, dust off their hopes and dreams, and prepare to do one last act of necessary and extravagant love for Jesus.
Now he is gone, and these three women come bearing burial spices and worry about how they will move the massive stone from the front of the tomb. Things fall apart when they realize the tomb is already open. Therein they encounter a young man dressed in white who tells them to no. What should be good news is instead mind-boggling. It challenges everything they know about the way the world works.
Of course, as women they realized that reporting this news would get them laughed at or dismissed as crazy. They would not be taken seriously by the other disciples, men who were still clinging to order even as they slide into disorder.
I can only imagine how traumatized the three women must have been that morning. They had seen Jesus, the one they had followed, loved and in whom they had placed their hope cruelly tortured to death. With this wound still raw and fresh, they arrive at his tomb to find it torn open. The body of Jesus is gone and one could only imagine where it might be, what Jesus’ enemies might have done to it and what condition it might be in now. Small wonder the women ran from the tomb filled with terror without saying anything to anyone.
They remained silent for the same reason sexual assault victims so often say nothing to anyone of their trauma. When you have been so deeply and intimately hurt, the last thing you want to do is open up the wound to further injury.
All of us have shared the women’s experience in some measure this year. We have seen a lot of death over the last several months. And like the women, we have been robbed of the faith practices that assist us in grieving, getting closure and moving toward healing.
But here’s the thing. True, the gospel tells us that the women ran from the tomb in terror and told nobody anything of what they had seen and heard. Yet we know that could not have been the end of the story. If it were, I would not have written this sermon and Easter Sunday (and every other Sunday for that matter) would be just another day. So we are left with the question:
- How did these women finally overcome their trauma and their paralyzing fear?
- How did they manage to discern the dawn of a new age in the midst of what seemed to be the ultimate desecration?
- How were they “forced outside” themselves?
- How did they manage to find their voices, speak the good news of Jesus’ Resurrection and persuade their fellow disciples to return to the mountain in Galilee where they encountered the resurrected Lord?
Thankfully, as we know some 2,000 years later, this is not the end of the story. We do not have to remain in the comfortable womb of order, nor do we have to flail and fear in a state of disorder. By the grace of God and the amazing love of the Christ, we are freed to move ever onward into reorder. The women did. We know they eventually find the courage to share their news. Some of Jesus’ closest disciples get it, too. Friends, it is not easy to move from disorder into reorder. It’s much more comforting and easier to retreat to the first state of faith order.
But this sort of move (back to order) is not Jesus’ desire for us, and it will not strengthen or grow our faith.
Easter, with all of its uncertainty, terror, and amazement, once again invites us to go into the world proclaiming the good news for all people. Easter invites us to go deeper and risk disorder so that we may emerge with Christ followers across the ages into a reorder that is all about healing the world and accepting our status as beloved children of God. Yes, Easter invites us to take a chance and listen to the Christ and the divine claim on all of creation. Christ is risen! Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed! May we embrace this beautiful truth as we move forward into a new era of being church together for the sake of the world.
The resurrection appearances make it clear that the resurrected Jesus was not just a resuscitated corpse, as people often imagine and find incredulous. The resurrected Jesus appears and disappears. He walks through walls. His disciples walk with him on the road to Emmaus and don’t even recognize him. There is much more to say about the evangelists and Paul’s understanding of the resurrection than can be said in this one post, or in one sermon. There is more to be said about ministry in a post-COVID world than can be said in one post or sermon. So let us ponder these things as we wander through the sprouting blossoms of Eastertide, new life and new beginnings.
During this second pandemic Easter season, I am thinking a lot about the post-passion, post-crucifixion resurrections appearances of Jesus.
As the vaccine becomes more and more available, I hope we are approaching the finish line.
- What does a new beginning look like to for us?
- What does it look like for the church? The world?
- What did ministry look like for the followers of Jesus after the events of the Garden and Golgotha?
- How did discipleship shift from following the earthly Jesus to following the transcendent Christ?
- How might following Jesus after the resurrection look different post-pandemic?