Easter: Resurrection Hope

Easter Sunday

8 April 2012

St. John United Church of Christ

St. Clair, MO

 

Eternal Resurrection Hope

Based on St. Mark 16: 1-8

By Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

            Christ is risen! Alleluia!

It is the women we are told that do not desert Jesus at the cross. And it is the women, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome who return to the tomb where Jesus has been laid to rest to anoint his body. They could not perform their burial rites the day before because it was the Sabbath. So at sunrise, two days after Jesus was crucified they go to the tomb. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther said of them,

The great longing and love of the women for the Lord must also be particularly noted here, so that unadvised and alone they go early to the grave, not thinking of the great stone which was rolled before the tomb. But they go on their way without even thinking of the most necessary things. They do not even think of the watchers who were clad in armor, nor of the wrath of Pilate and the Jews, but boldly they freely risk it and alone they venture on their way. What urged these good women to hazard life and body? It was nothing but the great love they bore to the Lord, which had sunk so deeply into their hearts that for his sake they would have risked a thousand lives. Such courage they had not of themselves, but here the power of the resurrection of Christ was revealed, whose Spirit makes these women, so bold and courageous that they venture to do things which might – have daunted a man.[1]

I especially like that last phrase – “they venture to do things which might have daunted a man.” Peter had denied and deserted Jesus. James is nowhere to be found. Even John who stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus, does not come with the women. We find out later that the twelve had locked themselves in a room out of fear and desperation and confusion. After all, despite Jesus’ warnings they didn’t think it would end in his death – and did not understand Jesus’ alluding to his own resurrection. So it is the women who bravely come to the tomb as soon as the Sabbath is over to tend to the body of their teacher, rabbi and friend. Their only fear on their way to the tomb is how they will roll away the stone. They do not worry about armed guards or Pilate’s henchmen. But when they get there the stone is already rolled away! They are understandably concerned. The women enter the tomb and the body of Jesus is not there, but a young man in a white robe startles them. He says to the two Marys and Salome, “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. 7But 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.” They are shocked and confused. The women we are told “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That is the end of the Gospel of St. Mark. It ends with the women running from the tomb in terror and fear, telling no one what they have seen and heard. If you look in your Bibles after this passage you’ll see two headings, for ‘The Shorter Ending of Mark’ and ‘The Longer Ending of Mark.’ The footnotes tell us that “The most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8, One authority concludes with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending, then continue with the longer ending…some authorities mark the longer ending as being doubtful.”[2] Simply this all means that the oldest versions of the Gospel of St. Mark end where this morning’s passage does – the longer ending which shows Jesus greeting the disciples was added later. So we are left, at least in this gospel with the women not telling anyone. The other gospels do continue and tell the story of Jesus presenting himself risen to the disciples. But why this ending? Why would Mark tell his story this way?

            I don’t think we can know precisely what the gospel author intended by this, but I do have a few ideas. First, note that we actually have this gospel. What I mean is that, even though we are told that the women told no one…they eventually must have, because we have this story and others that tell us about the empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Christ to his disciples and others. If they kept it a secret for all eternity, we wouldn’t have these gospel accounts themselves. Further, we should be easy on the two Marys and Salome for running in fear and trembling and keeping quiet a bit. Wouldn’t we have the same response? A dear friend and teacher, let alone the savior of the world, has died, and they are griefstricken and just want to tend to their beloved’s body and anoint him. But he is gone and a strange man is telling them that he is not there but risen?! I think we’d all be feeling a whole range of emotions if we heard that. It is no wonder they run away. But perhaps, just perhaps, after awhile they begin to remember that Jesus told them that this would happen. Before, they didn’t have ears to hear it…they couldn’t understand what he meant. But now, maybe, it makes sense. Maybe they didn’t even hear the man say “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you,” they are so shocked. But they do later see Jesus as they return to Galilee, and these women and the disciples will share this amazing, Good News with the world around them.

            You see, I think Mark leaves the gospel where he does, prior to the women telling, prior to even seeing – because then it is up to us to share the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lutheran professor Rev. Dr. David Lose comments that, “Mark writes this open-ended gospel that threatens to end in failure, you see, precisely to place the burden of responsibility for telling the good news squarely on our shoulders. Mark invites us into the story, to pick up where these women left off and, indeed, go and tell that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised, and is going ahead to meet us, just as he promised.” The onus is on each of us. The gospel gives a real, human reaction. Like those holy women sometimes our first response is fear and disbelief and amazement. But, if the story is to be told, we have to overcome those initial responses, to draw on all the courage God gave us to share the news that there is a power stronger than death, a power stronger than hate, a power stronger than fear, a power stronger than rage, a power stronger than disbelief, a power stronger than sin and the all evil that the world can muster. That power is love, and its name is Jesus Christ. Lose reminds us that “God meets us precisely at the point where things seem the worst, not merely to fix things, but to redeem them — and us! — turning what looks like an ending into a new beginning and taking what looks like a failure and offering it back to us an opportunity.”[3] This is the message of the cross and resurrection, indeed the whole message of Jesus Christ – where there is a period God puts a comma, where there is death God brings life, where there is hate God shows love, where there is fear God gives courage, where there is rage God shows compassion, where there is disbelief God gives belief, where there is sin and evil God shows righteousness. When you are discounted, God counts you in. When society locks you out, the doors to God’s house are open wide for you. The resurrection is the ultimate comma. The powers that be thought they were putting a period on Jesus’ ministry of love and compassion when they stripped, flogged, whipped, and crucified Jesus onto the cross. But God is more powerful than any Roman centurion, than Pilate, than any Pharisee—and God said no to violence and death, he placed a period on evil. God said yes to grace and mercy, love and hope, and placed a comma on Jesus’s ministry of healing and reconciliation, he placed a comma in each one of our lives. Jim Mitulski, campus pastor of the Pacific School of Religion reminds us, “If you are alive, then resurrection is possible. Don’t give up, don’t settle for too little too soon, don’t resign yourself to what may seem inevitable. Engage the world around you, love recklessly, take risks, and engage in a life of solidarity with others who refuse to give into the finality of crucifixion.”[4]  God says to us this day, death is not the end. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Protestant martyr who resisted the Third Reich until he was killed by the Nazis in the waning days of the war, his last words before being hung were, “This is the end, for me, the beginning of life.”  God takes upon the cross all ‘our sins and griefs to bear’, and there on the cross they have their end. They are forgiven. And God does not let death have the last word. God will always have the last word, and in the resurrection not only calls us out of a way of death, into a way of life, and gives the gift of eternal life.

            The Resurrection is more than merely about life in the great by-and-by. The resurrection tells us that no matter how bleak a situation looks there is always hope, no matter how hateful the world around us can be there is always love, no matter how dead it seems, there is always life. You see, if God can raise Jesus Christ back to life, there is enough life, love and hope for our lives. God does not just raise Jesus, but God raises us too – freeing us from the bondage of sin and death, welcoming us into new and abundant life lived in hope and love. So where do you need some resurrection today? Where do you need new life? Whether it is a broken relationship, a broken heart, or a broken spirit – God can breathe life into you the same way God breathed life into us the moment we were born and the same way God breathed life the very moment God raised Christ to life and us with him. The resurrection is our assurance that we always have hope, that God can make our ending a beginning, our dying a rising, in this life and the next. We stand on eternal resurrection hope.

            So go share that hope that Easter gives, that the empty tomb gives, that the risen Christ gives us this day. It’s up to us – the story can only continue with us. The world is waiting, the world is eager for a word of hope and of life – so when we leave this place today, may we share the very Word made flesh, the crucified and risen One, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was dead and has been raised.

 

To God be the Glory. Amen.


[1] A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil, mid-1520’s, http://www.lectionarycentral.com/easter/LutherGospel.html

 

[2] NRSV, New Testament, p. 55.

[3] David Lose, “Just the Beginning,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=574.

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