Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter - B

Two Sermons this week... The first I wrote but did not preach, the second I did...

On To Galilee

This Easter I would like to begin with a question. Where do you live most of your life? Not physically, but more metaphorically… because we certainly don’t live most of the time like this. Not here… not in Easter, with its fanfare, and chocolate, and family, and feasting… this is not the real world – this is the exception.

I want to offer an image for this: Easter is the world of Jerusalem. The real world is out there in Galilee. Jerusalem is a world of drama, and dreams. It is a world of pain and wonder… it is the mountaintop experience. But Galilee, the little towns by the lakeshore, that is where the real living gets worked out.

It was in Galilee that Jesus grew up, that he first called the disciples by the seashore, that he began his ministry… His parents and friends were all Galileans and this was the place he knew and loved. It was were he first met Mary and Martha, where the crowds first followed him – this was where he lived his everyday life.

But the last few days of Jesus’ life were not so peaceful an calm – the journey to Jerusalem had catapulted out of control and caught everyone off guard. Just think all that had happened in a few brief hours – the arrest, trial, desertion, and crucifixion. Just think of what the Disciples must feel like after this weekend. I know you have all had experiences like this… a few days that seem completely out of control? A time when someone you loved has died? A time when all of a sudden everything has gone wrong and you have no idea what to do next.

This is how the women felt when they made their way to the tomb on Easter Morning. The went on auto pilot They carried the things they would need and left in the early morning out of love and devotion… but they walked in a haze of emotions – they were uncertain what it all meant and what would happen next. So it was with terror and amazement that they stood before the empty tomb. And this… this is where the Gospel of Mark ends… dumbstruck before the empty tomb… with this one closing bit of instruction:

“…Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee: there you will see him…”

Now – and this is important – the woman, the disciples, the lost and frightened; they do not find resurrection at the tomb in Jerusalem. They find resurrection on their way back to Galilee.

It is back in the real world that they come to understand that something new has happened. We hear the stories each year after Easter, of the disciples walking home along the road to Emmaus and encountering a stranger – of the disciples fishing back on the sea of Galilee and not having any luck until that stranger tells them to throw their nets on the other side – of frightened followers locked away for fear of their lives and the risen lord being there with them. These are stories of resurrection in the real world.

These are stories that bring home what our faith is all about. What do you have to face next week? Where are you going to find yourself in the ordinary moments of your life? Most of us will find that it is the same old same old – day in, day out struggle to make ends meet, to find the time to do the things we wish we could – to face an uncertain future for whatever reason… And what if… what if what you found in the midst of this instead was a renewed sense of wonder? What if you encountered love that changed the way you felt? What if something changed and brought new life and energy to you as you faced the world… That is what Resurrection is all about.

I want to let you in on a little secret – the Gospel of Mark ends with a lie. When someone first sat down and wrote out a life of Jesus – and Mark was the first to do it… he ended Easter in this way: “ 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.”

But it didn’t end like that, did it? If that was true – none of us would have heard the story! And this is the gospel – this is the Good News! Terror and Amazement may come with the night, as the Psalmist once wrote, but Joy comes in the morning! It doesn’t’ end with the fear and pain – it ends with the realization of new life, of Joy, of resurrection.

I don’t’ know if it took hours, days, weeks or even months… Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome did finally tell, not just someone, but the world, that God is alive – alive in the real world where we live… he has gone on to Galilee…

We stand here this morning before the empty tomb – and part of us realizes that it is not here this morning that things are going to change. This is not where new life begins - this is where the story starts. Now we have the choice, now we go back to our own Galilee… and what do you think you will find there? I invite you to be open to the possibility that what you find is new beginnings, new faith, and new life.

This is where we encounter Jesus. This is where resurrection becomes reality. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Following Along the Way

I will have to admit that our gospel reading this morning, Mark 16:1-8, is an awkward Easter ending. "They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid". It is hardly a shout of victory over death. There is no appearance of the risen Christ to the women or anyone else.

Following a death, there is nothing to do, and there is much to do. There is nothing to do: nobody goes to work, nobody goes to school, nobody is hungry, nobody has anything to say. Helpers are helpless, and in the way. There is much to do: legal matters need attention, the body must be prepared for burial, a tomb must be located. Fortunately for the family and friends of Jesus, a nearby tomb has been provided by one Joseph of Arimathea who himself placed the corpse in the tomb and rolled a stone against the door. Mark does not indicate that the body was prepared with spices since the burial was in haste, the Sabbath day being very near. However, two Galilean women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, saw what Joseph did, and after the Sabbath came, along with Salome, to anoint the body.

What happened at the tomb is told in five verses. The stone has been rolled away, a young man in white (an angel?) is seated inside on the right, and as would be expected when experiencing a divine revelation, the women are alarmed. The Easter message they receive is brief: do not be afraid; Jesus was crucified; he was placed here; he is not here now because he has been raised. Then they receive an Easter commission: go, tell his disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee; in Galilee they will see him. This is the message Jesus had told them earlier. The response of the women is to run in terror, amazement, fear and silence.

Is this any way to run a resurrection? Is this enough to persuade, to stir new life in the followers of Jesus? First, let it be said that none of the Gospels provides an unambiguous, totally convincing account. Matthew says the disciples worshiped
Jesus but some doubted; Luke says that in their joy they were disbelieving; and John says one of the Twelve refused to believe until he touched and felt. Faith is not coerced, even on Easter. In the New Testament, faith – saying you pledge your life to Christ Jesus - is a response to a divine revelation, and Mark provides that from the mouth of the young man in the tomb.

Still Mark's brief Easter account is full of Good News. To disciples who had abandoned him and to Peter who denied him, Jesus' word was, "I will meet you in Galilee. There we began together; there we will begin anew." The story does not end at the tomb; using a literary tool the words propel us, the reader on into the future, on to Galilee, on to new beginnings and new life and ministry, away from the place of death, back to the beginning of their journey with Jesus.

And finally, of the women, afraid and silent: what can be said? As readers of this text, this version of the Easter story, we have heard Jesus tell the disciples that he will return that they will not be abandoned in sharing the good news. WE know that after the transfiguration Jesus told the disciples to wait to tell what they had seen and heard until after the resurrection. But we don’t get to hear any of that in Mark’s version. Why would that be?? Why leave a story ending in silence and fear?

I believe it is because, Mark sees us, the reader as a part of the story. The gospel has not just been written for us to sit back and observe but rather, we are constantly being invited into the story of Jesus life and death. The author of Mark has made it so that we are a part of Easter morning with the women. We are some of the characters in the story and therefore if some are afraid to tell then it is up to us. WE have a part to play in the narrative; we must share the good news of Christ’s resurrection.

We know the women found their voices and shared to good news – became powerful witnesses! But this Easter, hearing Mark’s version, the challenge is for us to find our voices. Find our voices in 2009 and be bold enough to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection and new life in the midst of our world today.

How will you do that?? What will it mean for you to talk about Christ resurrection and what it means for your life?? How would you define it? For me it means that Jesus is Lord and the powers of this world are not. Jesus Christ is alive in our midst and enables us to live our lives free from all that can bind us, if we accept that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the way, the path to new life. Today I invite you to live your life renewed in your commitment to follow Jesus and accept his way of life in our world.

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