Isaiah 25:6-9 † Psalm 118 † 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 † Mark 16:1-8
A video version of this sermon can be found here.
When I was young, we’d often go to the Saturday night races at the Tri-Cities raceway. We’d have a big group from the church that would gather in the stands of the unique 3-corner half-mile, high-bank track that would come roaring to life those summer evenings.
Every now and then the late-model NASCAR circuit would come to town, with their powerful cars and big sponsors. You could tell the difference between them and the local racers that raced most Saturdays because they had those wide, sticky racing tires all around the car. The local racers, on the other hand, only had one of the big tires—on the front, right wheel, the outside wheel as the cars were always turning left around the track. You could tell the difference because of the tire, and the chaos that was much more common with these local racers.
Now, this was especially true when, on some nights, the raceway held a special heat, just for the mechanics. This was the only time the mechanics would replace the regular drivers behind the wheel, and that was probably for the best.
The mechanic heats were, well, chaos. Pandemonium. They were all over the track, and off the track. The bumps and scrapes and spin outs that often occurred with the aggressive driving on those nights was multiplied exponentially when the mechanics got behind the wheel.
You might have thought it would have been just the opposite—that these mechanics who spent all their time fixing these vehicles would be the most careful, but, let me assure you, this was not the case! Not in the least.
Did I use the word pandemonium already? How about chaos? Bedlam?
Well, I’ve developed a theory about this that I think plays out in other areas of life as well. Let’s see what you think.
I suspect that these mechanics were just, plain and simple, terrible drivers. I mean terrible—at least compared to the racers who rightly belonged behind the wheel. But that’s not the part of the theory I wanted to run by you.
This is the part:
I suspect these mechanics behind the wheel were more comfortable wrecking the cars because they knew how to fix them. They were more comfortable with a wrench in their hands than a steering wheel--much, much, much more comfortable. Did I use the word bedlam already? But they were also less afraid to make a mistake, to break something, because when it broke they could fix it. This they knew how to do.
And I think this insight plays out in other areas of life as well. I remember when I first began work on a writing project. This was a little different than I was used to, with a specific set of rules, and I was anxious and uncertain. I finally realized I thought I had to do everything perfectly, that there was only one right way. As I dove in more deeply, I began to realize there was all sorts of room for me to be creative, to bring my voice, my full self to it while being true to the guidelines.
Think about technology. Maybe you’ve found yourself afraid of doing something because you won’t know how to get out of it. You’re afraid that if you break it, you won’t be able to recover. Programmers who design the programs, who are able to look under the hood seem, at least in my experience, to be far more willing to experiment, to test the limits, to risk something, because they know how the code works; they know how to fix it.
Just look at us here today, gathered together on a technology platform that most of us had never experienced just one year ago. And in this, our second time around Easter, still apart from one another, we’ve found ways to connect—multiple ways!—we would have never tried before.
I think there is also an important parallel here to this day, of all days, at the end of Holy Week and the beginning of the promise of something new.
I admit to being a little uncomfortable with Easter Sunday and the task of saying something to you on this day especially. It is too easy for us to be trite. It is too easy for us to gloss over all that is wrong in our rush to the simple claim that somehow this day and this story and this God magically fixes everything. And I think there’s something about our reality, and our social location that inclines us not to dig too deep because we’re more like those racecar drivers and computer users in that we are afraid that if we take too much of a chance, if we look too closely or give ourselves to too much honesty that we will see how badly things are broken. And that just may break us.
It is easy to meet the Easter story without spending much time on what happens earlier in the story of the passion. Maundy Thursday and our denial. Good Friday and its invitation to look deeply at what is broken in our world, truly broken, is not something we want to give a lot of time to, because we just don’t know what to do with it, with the shock and the sorrow and the shame of the dark side of our history. We are afraid it will break us.
This pandemic has compelled me to look more closely at the story of white supremacy in our country—at our original sin, and the devastation it has and continues to wreck on our world, but especially on black and brown people. And as I have given myself to more honesty about it, to the study of our true history in the United States, I have been broken by what I have chosen not to see for so long. The story—the story of us—is devastating: death and loss, suffering that is not shared equally, systems that prop me up at the expense of others in continuation with our long history.
White supremacy has been built around a mythology of the moral goodness of white people, especially the paragon of whiteness, which is the white male. As a result, the need to understand ourselves as good is so deeply ingrained that we will do just about anything to maintain the lie. If we break the silence, if we admit the truth, it can gut us. It is too much to bear. Or so we think.
Call it mediocrity. Call it fragility. Call it a life of quiet desperation. It is at root the same thing. But look around. It is clear that we will do just about anything, tell ourselves just about any lie, push laws to solve problems that don’t exist, so twisting reality to avoid an honest reckoning with our story, with our sin, because the truth brings with it so much grief, and we fear the damage is beyond repair.
So forget Maundy Thursday. Forget Good Friday. We rush to Easter and its quick fix. And in our own story of white supremacy we hear the echoes: we remain ignorant of its inner workings, we avoid the study of it, because we fear what will happen if we do.
That’s why I love this telling of the Resurrection in Mark’s gospel. Most of us know by now that the real ending of the story is what we read today—without testimony of additional sightings or the like. It ends with no sight of the risen Lord. It ends with fear. Literally, it ends with “for”--gar in the Greek, literally “they were afraid, for…” Dot. Dot. Dot.
Still Christ rises from the dead. The tomb is empty for this future-tense God Moses knew as “I will be what I will be.” He has gone ahead of you to Galilee, back to the beginning, literally back to the beginning of Mark where we encounter this: “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” To the mourners at his tomb and to we who are responsible for so much suffering the youth in the white robe says Christ is ahead of you, not just stuck in your memories.
This is no end. It is a beginning. It is future.
And this year especially, after a year of bottomless grief of this pandemic story, I find myself grateful for this small detail: “Go tell the disciples…and Peter…! Make sure Peter knows.
Well, if anyone broke it, he did. Peter who proclaimed his loyalty above all on Maundy Thursday, who careened off the track and into the mud in his denial on Good Friday would have given anything to gloss over the details that lie between Palm Sunday and Easter. I do not know the man. I do not know the man. I don’t know him.
And yet from the tomb we hear this: “Go tell the disciples.” Go tell Peter. He is alive. Repair is at the heart of this eponymous mechanic, the superlative programmer, the creative writer of the narrative of humanity whose grace careens all over the cosmos.
The reformer Martin Luther suggested that if there were a third sacrament beyond baptism and the Eucharist, it should be confession—that practice of looking honestly, deeply, and clearly at what’s wrong in its excruciating, devastating detail, at diagnosing what is rather than what we would prefer to believe in order to see what is right, what is possible, in order to see the true power of grace.
It’s what leads Peter to speak up at the house of Cornelius with such astonishment and gratitude in Acts: I truly understand God shows no partiality. God’s love, God’s salvation is available to all[i]--even me, we might imagine Peter quietly adding to himself.
It’s what leads Isaiah to exclaim, “God will swallow up death forever…” and take away the disgrace of God’s people from the earth.[ii] And why Paul could say in Corinthians, by the grace of God, I am what I am.[iii]
And it is the same hope that invites us into the work of reconciling our own pasts with the astonishing hope of the God whose fix is reckless love.
The hope of Easter in Mark is the for, the what remains to be written, the return to the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Jan Dittmar named it on Maundy Thursday—it is love and service. Jill Jones could smell that whiff of spring in the brutal honesty of Good Friday. Julie Kae could already see the example of those women at the tomb.
Grace abounds beloved. And as W. H. Auden said, “I know nothing, except what everyone knows—if there when Grace dances, I should dance.”
Thanks be to God.
[i] Acts 10:34.
[ii] Isaiah 25:8.
[iii] 1 Corinthians 15:10.
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