And Then...

Passage: Mark 16:1-8
Date: April 16, 2006
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
Guest Preacher:

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Sermon

"And then what?" I want to ask Mark's gospel. If one translates the Greek directly, that last sentence of the most reliable and ancient Greek texts reads something like this: "...and no one anything they told, they were afraid for..." Remember what happened. On the sixth day of the week, Jesus had been condemned by the religious authorities. Then they convinced the political powers that he was a threat to national security. We know the result: torture, humiliation, and excruciating execution. His most trusted friends betrayed, denied, and abandoned him in his need. Yet, there at those crosses, three women held vigil. They had not fled, not like the men. At his burial, the same three watched, witnessed. Following the Sabbath, they came together with spices to anoint the corpse, a process which normally took place before the tomb was closed. There had been no time. First thing next morning, these deeply grieving women set out, wondering how they would get the tomb open, so that they could perform their last loving service.

When they arrived, they were startled to see that the stone had been moved. Of course they looked in. Wouldn't you? With fear and dread. Would they find the body of their loved one even more desecrated? No body there, but rather a being dressed in white. While our western minds have trouble with this, click in here: heavenly messenger. The vast majority of cultures in our world easily connect with this way of holy messaging. The messenger's first words ring throughout the Bible: "Do not be afraid." Then the shock, even though Jesus had told them it would occur: "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here... 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."

Then, with great joy and amazement, they ran back to the hiding disciples to announce that Jesus had been raised, just as he had said. Well, not exactly. While it is what we expect, and what later writers tried to add to Mark, that is not how this earliest gospel announces the first Easter. Rather: "They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and no one anything they told, they were afraid for..." No glorious triumph here. No "Jesus Christ is risen today!" No, even the most faithful women finally fled, joining all of the others in fearful hiding. Ultimately, there were no heroes among Jesus' followers. The hostility that put Jesus on the cross reduced them all to flight and fearful silence. And then....

I thought about ending my sermon here. Mark did, so I'd be in good company. A couple of thousand years later, this Easter morning we shout: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Obviously, someone told. Someone told and some people went and something happened to them. What convinced them finally that God had raised Jesus from the dead was not the absence of his corpse, or even, finally the word of those women. The Apostle Paul never speaks of the empty tomb. What radically changed their lives was Christ's living presence among them. Jesus, in his beckoning them home to Galilee reinstated all of them, regardless of their cowardice and broken promises and public denials. His invitation was a holy word of grace, not condemnation. He did not trade the losers for new team members. He did not try to sell the franchise to another prophet/teacher. The crucified and risen one simply, profoundly became the focus and center of their lives, the heart beat of God's new community. In Jesus Christ, the existing world order was being overturned. Remember that he was executed and thought eliminated by the Imperial power. It failed. John Dominic Crossan says that the way of the empire is peace through victory. In stark contrast, God's way is peace through justice, substantiated in the death and resurrection of the Beloved. (Journal for Preachers, Easter, 2006, p. 44) This Easter morning, that insight alone should give us pause, as we live in the most powerful nation in the world, a nation at war, and as we proclaim, "Christ is risen."

But, you know, it is not enough for us to remember Easter, to crunch eggs, and to repeat, Christ is risen. It is not enough for us to mouth those words, even to believe them with our minds. Propositions of faith were not what changed the terrified disciples into "persons of interest" for the Roman authorities. Lists of beliefs were not what caused lives to be transformed, ages old boundaries to dissolve, and imperial forces to be challenged. No, it had to do with people's hearts, and with the living Christ in them and through them.

Too often, we sit here on an Easter Sunday without any effect. And then...what? Because we think we already know the story, we find it more boring than the Blazers' next loss. Shame on us. Shame on us for taking God for granted, for domesticating God, for making God so much under our control. Shame on us for believing that Jesus died to make us a bit better than we actually are. Shame on us for believing that the crucified and risen Christ is here so that we can have nicer, more comfortable, less troubled lives. Shame on us for believing that our faith is a private matter between God and me. Shame on us for believing that following Christ and living as productive middle class Americans are synonymous. Shame on us clergy for feeling burdened by Easter sermons rather than realizing the privilege to speak of God's shocking love for people and for this world. Shame on us for believing that we can get to Easter without going through Good Friday. We Protestants in this country seem to have a difficult time with Good Friday. We like our crosses empty. We do not like the burden, the agony, the depression of that day, so we skip it. We prefer the upbeat victory, the joy and color of Easter. How unlike Christians in powerless nations, among victimized peoples, in suffering congregations. Among them, Good Friday means everything. There, the suffering-with-the-people Savior becomes paramount. As one of them, he gives them life, hope. How spiritually separated we are from them, and how impoverished our faith.

And then...what, here, now, among us, in us, through us? In Colombia last summer, we met a mother with four children, displaced people because of the civil war. Under a death threat, they had been forced to leave their small town for the teeming metropolis of Bogota. In the city, their existence was precarious. The attractive eighteen-year-old daughter, Gina, sang a plaintive song to us, a song she wrote embodying her experience, her hope, her faith. It sounds like Easter.
As a girl child that I am, I ask God that this world may be like I one day dreamed it:
That children's laughter may be able to see this world
and the flowers may be able to open every dawn.
But, I weep with sadness and pain at seeing so many children without love,
whose father has been killed, mother kidnaped, or bomb destroyed their home.

No more war, no more dead,
no more kidnaped men,
no more children hurt,
no more weeping, please.

How long must we bear, how long till the evil ones stop?
Tell me, O Lord,
when will you give them what they deserve?
When will we know peace?

Here are the Easter lines:

Sin does not allow those men who are so full of evil to reflect on what they are.
Friends, repent!
It is never too late for Christ
because God our Father wants to forgive us.
We the children want to sing this prayer,

No more war, no more dead,
no more kidnaped men,
no more children hurt,
no more weeping, please.

And then... In the midst of deep darkness, a teenager can write a prayer, a song of Easter hope. In the midst of our confusing and confused world, new members can affirm: "Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, I turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world." In the wake of Good Friday horror, three women can hear, "Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus. He has been raised." The word of Easter, the word from the cross and the tomb. And then...God's reality transforms life itself, even our own lives. May it be so.