Sunday, April 5th, 2015 – Easter Sermon on Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8
1 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. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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 us pray. Spirit of the Risen Christ, break through the tombs of our hearts and free us from fear. Resurrect our hope and enliven our love for one another. Raise up within each of us here the desire to be your faithful friends forever. Amen.

But the young man dressed in white 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. 7 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.

Not exactly the ending that most of us were looking for. No cheers of “Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” No, trumpet’s sounding, no joyful celebrations of this amazing event of Jesus’ resurrection.

But that’s the gospel of Mark for you. At least in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke and John, the resurrected Jesus shows up again – so they know it’s true. But in Mark’s gospel – we don’t get to see the resurrected Jesus. All we get is a promise from the young man sitting in the tomb – 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.

And then the women leave the tomb, in terror and amazement, and they didn’t say a word to anyone, because they were afraid.

No, not exactly the ending we’ve been looking for. Or the ending we’ve been hoping for.

And the ending of story, I mean, that’s the most crucial part, right? Whenever a long-standing and popular television show begins it’s final season, everyone is a buzz – how’s it going to end? How are they going to close out this story? Because the way a story ends is often what makes or breaks the whole thing. And in the end, we all want a story that ends well. We want things to be resolved and not left open ended.

We want the team to win. The hero to live. The relationship to succeed. The crime to be solved.

But then there are those other endings. Those other stories that don’t resolve everything or don’t answer every last question. I think of the final episode of the Sopranos, where they are in the middle of a scene, and the screen just goes black. I mean the whole world thought their cable went out. And were so disappointed when they realized that that was the end.

Or when Bob Newhart wakes up in bed with his wife from a previous show, many years earlier, and you learn that the whole show of Newhart was just a dream.

Those blindside endings – they can be exciting but they can also be so disappointing. Because so often we just want the story to end well. But you know, as I’ve been thinking about it, the stories, the shows with the neat and tidy endings might be the most satisfying at the time, but they rarely transform us. They rarely cause us to stop and reflect and put some thought into what the ending could have been. It’s only the stories with no ending or an unclear one that actually invite you into finishing the story for yourself.

And that’s what we have in Mark. A disappointing ending. An unfinished story. A promise of Jesus’ resurrection that ends in fear and alleluias. But maybe that’s the point. No easy answers here, Mark says. But rather an ending that invites you to finish the story. To wrestle and wonder. Why’d they leave afraid? Whatever happened to those women?

So why this ending? Why have the women leave the tomb in terror and amazement, but then never say anything because they were afraid? Maybe it’s because Mark knows the truth about us – that our lives are so often lived in moments just like that. Moments of terror and amazement. Moments of fear and hope. Everyday, we live on this line between hope and fear. And every day it is a gamble on what kind of day it’s gonna be – fear or hope.[1]

And, man, when it’s between fear and hope, fear seems to win out. Doesn’t it?

When you hear about a friend who was cancer free and now – bam! – it’s all over his body.

When 200 Nigerian school girls are taken from their school (their school!), and now, a year later, we still don’t know where they are.

When Christians are singled out and gunned down by radical Muslims at a University in Kenya, and 147 are killed.

Or when co-pilots crash airplanes.

So often, fear wins the day. And I don’t know about you, when I become afraid, I’m tempted to crawl into my own tomb and just hide from it all.

I don’t know if you heard, but there was a shepherd in the mountains who actually witnessed the Germanwings airplane crash. And when they interviewed him, he said, “I’ll never fly on a plane again.”

And who can blame him? Seeing something like that changes you. We hear of these horrible and frightening things and we will do everything we can to protect ourselves from them.

So who can blame the women in this story who walk away in fear? They were the only ones who stayed until the end. They watched from the hillside as Jesus was crucified. And seeing something like that changes you. And seeing that, I can imagine them saying, “I’m never standing up to Rome ever again. I’m never following Jesus. Look what happens! You get crucified.” And then to see that the tomb is empty and that Jesus is alive and that he will meet them in Galilee. That they’re supposed to go follow him again now? Of course they’re scared. It’s like asking that shepherd to step on an airplane after seeing what he saw. You’ve got to be kidding me!

I’ll never fly again. Of course he feels that way. Who wouldn’t?

The thing is, fear like can become kind of like a death for us. Fear can immobilize us and numb us. Sometimes living in that kind of fear can become like a tomb around us.

But if Jesus won’t stay in the tomb, then neither can we.

In fact, through Jesus’ messenger, Jesus won’t allow these women to stay in this tomb. Remember the angel said to the women – 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.

I’ll meet you in Galilee, Jesus says. What’s he mean? Well, Galilee is back where it all began. Back where the disciples lived their everyday lives. Jesus says, Go, I’ll meet you back in Galilee. I’ll meet you back in your ordinary lives!

In CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, you might remember the four children that travel from London to that strange world of Narnia through a wardrobe and they meet Aslan the Lion. In the stories, Aslan is a symbol for Jesus. In the first book, with Aslan’s help, the four children help defeat the White Witch who held the land of Narnia in a perpetual winter. In the second book, they help Prince Caspian return to his rightful throne. By the third book, the children have grown to love Narnia and Aslan. But Aslan tells them it is there last trip to Narnia. They can’t come back anymore. Lucy, the youngest of the children and the one closest to Aslan, is heart broken and distraught at the idea of not seeing him again. But Aslan tells Lucy that she will see him again. Back in London. In her ordinary life. That, in fact, that was the point of her coming to Narnia. For her to get to know Aslan so well that she might be able to recognize him more easily in the rest of her life. Aslan tells Lucy – you cannot stay here. But where you are going, I will meet you there.

The angel said to the women at the tomb – Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. Jesus is speaking to them through the angel saying, “I could not stay here in this tomb and neither can you. But where you are going, I have already gone ahead of you and I will meet you there.”

In the gospel of Mark’s incomplete, open-ended, and somewhat un-Easter-like ending, all we get is an empty tomb and frightened disciples. But we also get a promise.

That Jesus will meet us in Galilee. In this life. In this life that exists between moments of great fear and moments of great hope. If Jesus is alive, then we cannot stay in the tomb of fear and hopelessness. We must return to Galilee, to our everyday lives, trusting that the story, God’s story, isn’t over yet.

Because your life is the resurrection. Because in your life is where the resurrected Jesus promises to meet you. God will not stay in the grave. This love for you and for the world will not be buried. But God will go before you in love. Which means that wherever you go, God has already been there.

If you enter an MRI machine, Jesus has gone ahead of you and will meet you there. If you have to walk to a graveside and bury a loved one, Jesus has gone ahead of you and will meet you there. If you have to walk into chemotherapy, if you have to walk into the divorce lawyer’s office, if you have to walk into a therapist’s office because life is simply crushing you, Jesus has already gone ahead of you, and will meet you there.

That is Jesus’ promise for us today. That we will see him in this life.

So let me tell you where I have seen the resurrected Jesus just in the past week alone. Jesus is alive when a United Airlines flight holds a plane at the gate just so that a man rushing home to say goodbye to his dying mother won’t miss his connecting flight home.

Jesus is alive when members of our church give up their whole day to prepare a meal for the hungry and then when that meal runs out, they rush to make more food so that no one is turned away hungry.

Jesus is alive in friends of ours who learned of their miscarriage and their cousin’s suicide on the same day, and yet continue to seek a life of hope as they support others who live through such tragedy.

Jesus is alive when one of our confirmation students talks to me about my leaving and he says, “Well, I hope we get a new pastor soon. Because I think we have a lot to offer.”

The angel said to the women, 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. That’s the Easter promise. That Jesus will meet us here. And when we see Jesus in our life here and now, then we will know that what Jesus proclaimed all along was true. The kingdom of God has come near.[2] Amen.

[1] Matthew Skinner, http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/daring-to-hope-in-the-stress-of-uncertainty-mark-161-8/

[2] Ibid.

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