A Sermon for Easter; Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8
Which is it?
Speaking of surprises, I grew up with surprises. My earliest is when to our mom’s dismay our grandmother brought out his enormous plate full of chocolate balls with cotton centers; we were surprised.
One Sunday lunch a fabulous a carrot frosting cake came to the table, everyone was excited; only my grandmother couldn’t cut the cake pan beneath the frosting; we didn’t see that coming.
One Christmas morning, after the appointed hour we all rushed down the stairs into the family room; it was gone! the tree, the stockings, the mountain of presents, the plate of cookies, the glass of milk all were gone, Christmas was gone! We had not been Grinched everything had been quietly moved to the living room still, we were really surprised.
For her 40th birthday, 40 individual small happy birthday cards were taped to our back door, all from mom’s best friend to her complete astonishment. Not to be outdone, 40 individual thank you cards were clipped to the bush by the friend’s back door, who was flabbergasted.
One Tuesday, when one of mom’s best friends was coming over for coffee all three sets of 12 settings of china/dishware were missing; they could find a cup to drink anything out of, they couldn’t believe it.
One day after school I got to the school parking lot, my blue Chevrolet Impala was missing, I was completely shocked; I caught a ride home when I got there ~ there it sat; for a second time, I was completely shocked.
A dozen rose stems were to be delivered for mothers’ day, she wasn’t home, she never expected them, but wasn’t in near as much shock as the prim and proper neighbor who had to deliver them.
At midnight one April 1st a gruesome groaning emerged from the 20-foot-high atrium in my parents’ front entry; while investigating they came upon a 12-foot-tall knight; my folks were astounded.
We enjoyed April Fools day, no matter what date someone decided it may be on. All the surprises were followed by uproarious laughter, and we still enjoy reliving the stories. The only criteria limiting our imagination was trying to gauge the response of the person to be surprised. I grew up with surprises This morning’s gospel continues the Gospel surprises.
Jesus giving a loud cry and breathing his last (Mark 15:37) was a surprise. All his followers, hiding in the dark corners still expected the Messiah to prevail, no one sees Jesus’ death coming. The Centurion overseeing the soldiers, completely used to crucifying Rome’s troublesome people, is so taken aback he says Truly this man was God’s Son! (Mark 15:39). The Temple authorities and priests, cleaning up after Jesus tirade, are smug in their knowledge that the upstart rabbi will die and would no longer disrupt their carefully crafted ways. The darkness covering the land catches their attention, the moment of deepest darkness, when the earth shakes so hard that rocks shatter, and tombs spill their dead startles them. The wondrously embroidered great curtain of the Temple being torn, ripped in two, from top to bottom, completely shocks them (Mark 15:38, Matthew 27:51, Luke 23:44).
Early morning of the day following next Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to Jesus’ tomb to anoint him. Joseph of Arimathea had gotten Jesus’ body from Pilate, wrapped in a linen cloth, and placed in a rock hewn tomb; but he had not anointed Jesus (Mark 15:43). They were determined to give Jesus a proper burial anointing. They know the door of the tomb is sealed with a great stone and wonder who will move it for them. The women are astonished when on their second look they see that the stone has already been moved; yes, this is unexpected; but now they wonder what other surprise awaits them (Logue)? Entering the tomb, surprise! the women meet a white clad angel who reassures them saying
… 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. … 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.” (Mark 16:6-7).
His words stagger them. They are amazed and terrified. They flee. They say nothing to anyone. Here ends the Gospel.
Really, here is where Mark’s Gospel ends. Yes, when you look in you in your bible, you will see “The shorter ending” and “The Longer ending” that includes appearances, and a commissioning. But, they are not in the earliest copies of Mark’s Gospel. They have been added at some later date. Apparently, someone believed it is not right to end the gospel with us hanging in surprise. But why not? The empty tomb is a surprise.
Pontius Pilate, governor of the Roman Empire, representative of the empire and all of its power, the personification of politics is surprised. King Herod, who presided at one of Jesus’ trials, representative of a culture economic self-interest is astonished. The Chief Priest, representative of religious aristocracies is amazed. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the teachers and lawyers who rigidly guide daily life didn’t see that coming (Curry). I suspect they would walk through their memories, and may be their records, of Jesus to look for clues that explains this surprisingly empty tomb.
And that is exactly what Mark invites us to do. The angel tells the women to tell the disciples, specifically, Peter, to go to Galilee and Jesus will meet them there. After introducing us to John the Baptist, in verse 9 of chapter 1 Mark writes In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee (Mark 1:9). By the angel’s words, Mark invites us to go back to the beginning and re-read the Gospel story, knowing the ending, and look for the clues that reveal what’s happening (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner; Black; Hoezee).
The disciples lack of faith during the storms at sea, Peter’s inappropriate response to the transfiguration, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denials, the disciples’ desertion, all are driven by fear, isolate them from Jesus (Perkins).
Reading these, and all the gospel stories through the wisdom of the empty tombs reveals that
fear does not have the last word
hatred does not have the last word
violence does not have the last word
bigotry does not have the last word
greed does not have the last word
sin and evil do not have the last word
even death does not have the last word;
the last word is God, and God is love (Curry).
Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb teaches us that the Resurrection matters (Lewis), and that there are no resurrection-free zones or times (Epperly).
Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb confirms the truth of the curtain laying shredded on the Temple floor. The barriers between God and humanity are ripped asunder; the spirit of God is on the loose (Ruge-Jones); God’s love is no longer contained in a temple;
[God’s love] can go anywhere and reach anyone.
Even those who are different from us.
Even those who don’t deserve it.
Even those who don’t believe.
God’s love now permeates the whole universe and continually pulls us from death into life, with each breath we take, from the beginning of time until the end (Cox).
Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb confirms that resurrection is not limited to our future but invades our daily lives right now (Lewis).
Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb highlights God’s shattering all human expectations, all of our expectations (Black).
Reading the Gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb, reminds us that no matter how different tonight is, that no matter how dark the abyss, no matter how stripped of all worth we may feel, we are always more than dust and breath, we are God’s creation lovingly made in God’s image.
Reading the Gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb assures us that more than waiting for you, God/Jesus is with you right here, right now and always will be, even when, especially when, you are terrified, and dare not speak to anyone.
Reading the Gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb draws the Hallelujah from our hearts (Cohen).
Hallelujah He IS risen!
(congregation)The Lord is risen indeed, Halleluiah!
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Townes, Miles. “When Easter Sunday falls on April Fools’ Day.” 21 2 2018. christiancentury.org. <https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/when-easter-sunday-falls-april-fools-day>.