Sermon for B Easter 1 Sunday of the Resurrection – April 4, 2021
Based on Mark 16:1-8
Duane H. Larson, Senior Pastor
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Greetings to you in the name of the Raised Crucified Lord!
Here we are. It is wonderful that many of us can gather safely together. We do not like that it is another Easter under COVID conditions. But thanks to the promise of faithful lives and good science, we can see the light from here. We must not spike the ball before we cross the goal line (parson the mixed metaphor). We sense a coming freedom that we have not felt in some 14 months. We can see the light from here. And there is a greater light yet. Indeed, we see the light of Easter from here.
But let us note the irony of our human condition. Our Gospel lesson today form Mark is frank about it. We want a full and meaningful life. Yet when the promise of real life stares us squarely in the face, we may rather flee than face forward. You heard how it goes. An angel tells three women to share the news that Jesus was raised from the dead, as he said would happen, and that they all should go home to Galilee where he would meet them. Instead, the women fled in fear. The literal translation is “trauma and ecstasy had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Why Mark’s abrupt end?
Well, we know something about trauma. Traumatic ecstasy, being traumatized out of our heads, is not a positive thing. Has humanity been traumatized for so long that we are almost unable to be in our right minds? Are we so negatively conditioned that when faced with good news we not only have difficulty receiving it, but must also censor it? It seems that good news for everybody is always bad news for somebody.
But we are here! It is Easter! We know that Mark’s end marked a new beginning. There’s so much more to come! It is as if Mark meant to take on Al Pacino’s voice to say “I’m just getting started!” So let’s consider what else Mark means to proclaim to us here and now.
First, Mark’s abrupt ending signals one answer before and above all others. Life is now definitively different. The resurrection of Christ is the real deal. In no way does it mimic the myth of eternal return. In no way is it meant as a mere metaphor for springtime, like freakily frozen Houston fauna now thawed and green again or like millions of cicadas returning to life bursting from the earth. They were not actually dead, after all. Jesus was.
Now Jesus was raised. It was as he said before his passion and death how it would be, fully trusting that God would do something never done before so to show God’s faithfulness to Jesus and all humanity. Neither history nor science could anticipate this before the fact nor explain it after the fact. However it was, it was so. Today even renowned scientists like the recently deceased physicist John Polkinghorne and scores of others affirm that science is impotent to deny the singularity of Christ’s resurrection. They embrace John Updike’s poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter two verses of which I quote again now. “Make no mistake: if He rose at all/it was as His body;/if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, /the molecules reknit,/ the amino acids rekindle, /the Church will fall. //Let us not mock God with metaphor, /analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;/making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the/faded credulity of earlier ages:/let us walk through the door.”
Don’t flee! Walk through the door! Christ’s resurrection changed the future for Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome at the empty tomb. The question is closed as to whether Easter “really happened.” It did. What is not closed is your own future. Easter means that your future is God’s future and it is wide open, even beyond death.
The women went to the tomb to pay their customary final respects. Then they discovered that nothing is final! That evoked fear. It is one kind of fear when health and life are threatened. Another kind of fear arises when a brand-new future is open to us, if only we trust, if only we let go of the normalcy we otherwise prefer. Too often we go with the devil we know rather than the God we do not. We fear stepping into an equitable life of freedom, justice, and purpose more than remaining in the oppression to which we are so accustomed and would rather wield. We fear heaven when all we’ve known is hell.
Indeed, humanity tried to stifle the eruption of God’s love in Christ into history. Humanity murdered that love because it would disrupt all the favored familiarity that sin stands for. So what happens when human stubbornness cannot stop God? When God’s promised faithful love is signed with an empty tomb and angelic word? What would you do when you hear from an angel’s word that means mass shootings will not be the last word? That racism and homophobia and transphobia and just plain old phobia will not be the last word? That the trampling anywhere of basic human rights will not be the last word? That when Jesus said to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven would mean that yes, God would bring God’s kingdom and rule to earth already in the raised person of Jesus whose own breath was cut off under humanity’s evil knee? What would you do when love wins?
Given our history, when love that conquers the sting of death becomes so personally possible, it is not surprising that we find it hard to trust. But Mark’s final word does not mean to judge us. It means above all else that God keeps God’s promises no matter what we do, and that even if we run, (as Anne Lamott says) God is like the track coach for slow people and God will train us aright.
These past months have been so slow and painful. I’m thinking now of all the things that we personally and communally have suffered: natural disasters, over 550,000 US and 2.8 million global pandemic deaths criminality, joblessness, anonymity, homelessness, loneliness, physical and mental illness (including student depression), Alzheimer’s, ALS. Easter joy is not the shallow stuff stirred by a cheerleader. It is confidence in God within us who fuses Easter with the tears that still and will fall. You know and I know just how personal it has all become; grief compounded! And it all happens at the home to which we’ve mostly been confined. Yet it is precisely at home, our Galilees, where God promises to meet us. It is at home, not just in our wildernesses, though that is true also, where God meets us; not just temporarily worshipping “in the weeds” as the pandemically weary might complain, though God is here in our weeds and complaints too. At “home” God keeps God’s promise to be with you no matter the daily challenge! In the utter quotidian banality of our lives of sleepless nights, overworked days, despairing news, and even weariness with Netflix. In such dailiness God gives the to meet God’s the open days to come starting now, the days when we with God can enact God’s rule on earth as in heaven!
Fear not. God’s communion with us now means our courage to be resurrection for the world. How else would we respond to this actual life-changing news? For in the great words of St. John Chrysostom (400 AD), “Hell took a body, and discovered God. /It took earth, and encountered Heaven. /It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. //O death, where is thy sting? /O Hell, where is thy victory? //Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated! /Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! /Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! /Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!”
To the Risen Christ be the power and the glory forever and ever! Amen!