First Congregational Church of Anchorage: 1 April 2018
If you catch a whiff of a campfire in the air, you are smelling the remnants of our Sunrise Service. Many of us, including a visiting moose, crowded around the fire ring downstairs and sang of the early morning surprise. May the surprise of this day linger a little bit longer in the air.
They fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. It makes one wonder how we got this story. It makes me wonder how the author of Mark knew the story if Mary and Mary told no one. Of course, years after Mark’s account was written, in the next century, when Christians began to need a better explanation for what happened after Jesus’ death so that the story of their God rising from death was more convincing, someone added this later ending:
“They promptly reported all of the young man’s instructions to those who were with Peter. Afterward, through the work of his disciples, Jesus sent out, from East to West, the sacred and undying message of eternal salvation. Amen.”
There is also a third ending that is even longer. But why? Wasn’t the first one good enough? I suppose it depends. Luke and Matthew, written later, and taking much of Mark’s story as the basis for their own account, had stories of Jesus appearing to people for days and walking around with the disciples. Matthew sends Jesus back to Galilea, while Luke has Jesus remaining in Jerusalem.
If the communities that claimed Mark as their gospel text were going to compete with the communities claiming Matthew and Luke, then I suppose they had better improve their ending.
But obviously the two Marys that went to the tomb told someone, or maybe someone unmentioned told people. I guess obviously. What if the story is true just how it is. What if, as the young man in white says, Jesus went back to be with the people.
This is why strict literal readings of the Bible so often fall short. When there must be proof and factual continuity in order for the story to be believable, then if you can’t make sense of the story, you have to make excuses for it or change it to fit your needs.
Why not leave it just as it is and deal with it. Don’t add what isn’t there. Don’t read other gospel stories when Mark seems to leave a blank. Hear the story and be changed. Hear the story and deal with the unsettled wonder of this morning.
See the resurrection of Jesus when there is no explanation for how it happened, of what happened, what happened next, or even if it happened as you have been told over and over again by people and preachers that feel the need to convince you of exactly what it means.
They left, silent because they were afraid. Afraid of what?
Let’s back up for a short moment. In case you missed Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Jesus was executed by crucifixion alongside many other people during the season of Passover, which was a busy season for execution in Roman-occupied Jerusalem.
Jesus was killed for many reasons, but maybe really because he told people to love each other, and there was a deadly disagreement over what that sort of love looked like. Who says that love is just a delightful feeling? It is apparently quite dangerous for some.
Perhaps it draws into question what this love of God proclaimed by Jesus meant in light of the society he and his followers lived within. It should challenge what the love of Jesus looks like for us. It becomes a radical sort of love.
Jesus and his followers lived in a society which claimed their beings as subject to Rome, to be dealt with through whatever violent means necessary to keep the peace of Rome. Notice what kind of peace that must have been for most people. A deadly peace for Jesus and many others.
This whole peace and love thing seems to be getting quite complicated. They were fear-inducing for sure. Enough fear to want to keep your mouth shut with certain stories. Just ask Mary or Mary.
So what was Jesus’ death for? Many Christians claim that this event 2000 years ago was all for something otherworldly, that God orchestrated this whole death and resurrection from way up in the sky for purposes removed from the actual situation that scared the two Marys.
This kind of ending serves a utilitarian purpose for salvation, one where we are saved by believing and don’t ask too many questions.
In this reading, all of the people in the story are simply conduits for our understanding now, pawns in the future they were creating, with little to do with their lived experience.
But the people in the story were real people just like us. This resurrection we gather to celebrate is a sign of a new realm coming to pass, one where God is forever connected to the lived reality, suffering, and death we experience.
However, those who experienced the Spirit of Christ overcoming even death, showing back up among the people, maybe even as the people themselves, carried forth what they had hoped for, what they heard Jesus say and what he did, what they felt, everything they had experienced. Even if they eventually met similar fates as Jesus, they would never be silenced by death.
All of this because Jesus told people to love one another without exception, even when it seems too risky, if people are too different, or when people don’t seem to deserve it. Whatever excuse we might think of, it doesn’t count anymore.
Maybe it really was a deadly disagreement over what that love looked like. History is full of such disagreements. Unbounded love is never acted on without some level of personal risk or sacrifice.
Yet unbounded love sees a way that defies execution, that defies death itself. It defies systems of control that seem inevitable. It questions the frameworks that seek to define all of the things we declare as proper or correct structures within society.
Everything that we believe can be gone in an instant of trauma or disillusionment, becoming unrecognizable, dead, but the love of God remains. It stands not as proof that we were right or are now right. Instead, the love of God stands as witness. Jesus stands as witness to this love, so much so that death lost its final meaning and became just another part of God, forever revealing a love that transcends what we have seen and what remains unseen; what we can believe by experiencing and what requires unbound imagination grounded in the saving love of God.
salvation might look different to different people. It might be the release of guilt born for decades, claiming redemption and knowing God accepts us and transforms us just as we have arrived regardless of what yesterday told us.
Others may see salvation as a sense of connection in a world that can be a very disconnecting place. You have a place. You are part of making a place for others, and even if you don’t always feel like it, you are part of the working of Jesus, and nothing can separate you from that place of belonging.
Still, others see salvation as liberation from very real bonds of abuse, or addiction. Maybe deep racism or the lingering impacts of colonialism and economic exploitation. Freedom may not be realized how we want in the time we want, but liberation remains as a striving for a reimagined world ever more transforming to the realm of God found in Jesus.
How do you hear the claim: “God is with you?” How do we exist as if God is with us? Regardless of how we answer that question, what the resurrection says is that what we once saw as limited and bound within the tomb has burst forth never to be contained and limited again.
After the resurrection, Jesus is headed back to the people, back to Galilee. He is not bound by the confines of religious power, or public piety, but returns to the struggle for love unbound. He rose within the people and lived on, un-contained by the tomb, living on through the centuries as the body of Christ, living within us, daring us to believe that death cannot contain the love of God come to save the world.
The thing is, no prescribed meaning that I announce can explain what is meant by such a story as Easter. I, nor anyone else can explain away what grabs you, what puts the hair on your neck on edge and calls you to declare that what you once thought was dead and powerless is now alive and moving across the earth as the fragrance of flowers carried on the breeze in early Spring, or smoke from a fire of vigil.
O, but the resurrection is calling you to live knowing that all the of the limits we place, all of the excuses we make, born out of fear of failure and of imaginations that have been conditioned to be small, safe, and sensible. None of these are as real as they seem. The Rising of Christ dares you to see what most people are too afraid to see.
God is present in deep suffering and even death. God is present in the calls of injustice and among those forced to margins, and this presence calls us to create life in the midst of discomfort, not in the avoidance of it.
What that looks like for you this morning, I could not dare claim to know. What it might mean for you next week may even be a mystery to you. But I do know that together we will rise to whatever it is. No forces of death and no dealers of violence can overcome our refusal to remain silent, and the grounding of our lives lived on in the unbounded love of Jesus.
Rise this day from slumber and cry out that Christ has risen!
Christ has risen indeed!