Readings for Easter Sunday:
Isaiah 25:6-9 | Psalm 118 | 1 Cor. 15:1-11 | Mark 16:1-8
We look for the miracle. I mean, why wouldn’t we? We see so much that needs the miracle. Few of us here today, I suspect, give our government high marks—unless you represent the 18% of the population who approves of the way Congress is handling its job. That’s better, I guess than the single digits reached near the end of 2013, but it’s not really a vote of confidence.[i] The executive and now, even the judicial branches, don’t fare much better, of course.
And if you don’t want to dwell on politics, it doesn’t take much to note what else is wrong. On Good Friday we heard of the most recent heartbreaking massacre—this one in Kenya—147 people gunned down.[ii] This was an attack on Christians by Muslims, but we don’t have to look far to find the reverse.
There are a lot of us who are noticing the comparisons between this era and those of alarming chaos and unrest that happen about every 500 years or so, most recently in the 16th century, which saw all sorts of religious violence, and social upheaval—and, by the way, tremendous technological advances, new opportunities and social transformation. If we are realistic, we should expect an uptick in the struggle before it eases.
If history isn’t your thing, you can look a little closer to home and the disappearance of the middle class. According to the estimates of Gene Balk, the Seattle Times’ “FYI Guy,” nearly all the recent growth in King County—95% of new households—were either rich or poor[iii] I can’t imagine that anyone sees that as good news. And yet, people are seeing it, which is not nothing.
And if you don’t really want to talk about economics, we can come even closer to look at our personal lives and our families and our own stories of struggle and doubt and fear and addiction and PTSD and mental illness and broken lives. Does anyone see that? Do you have someone who shares this with you, who walks with you through what you face?
Take your pick, but we don’t have to look far to see what Isaiah sees: the “shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations.”[iv]
So, anyway, where are my manners? Happy Easter!
When we take the time to look into the tomb, there is plenty of death. So it is really tempting to go looking for the miracle. We want Isaiah’s feast of rich food to magically appear before us. We want God to swallow up death forever in a single gulp, and wipe away every tear with a single motion. We want the fix. We want to be able to just say the word, and have everything be better. And if this particular day in the life of Christianity is about anything, it is about a fix. It is about a bold claim that there is a fix, and God is in the midst of it, and the word is resurrection. Shouldn’t we just be able to take this home with us and expect everything to be better?
But that’s what I love about Mark’s Easter story. It’s right there, in fact, in the way it shows up on the page in our bibles. If you were reading along, you might have noticed what I’m talking about: there are a couple of alternate endings to Mark.
So let me come clean, and get to something that I think this Christian story is all about, and it is this: sometimes the good news is in the telling of what isn’t as much as what is. Good news cannot hide from truth and still be good news.
And Mark, and even the way Mark appears in our Bibles seems to tell us that. Here’s what I mean: There are two “so-called” alternate endings to Mark. They are titled the longer and the shorter endings. But here’s the thing. We know they aren’t original. We know they were added later. If you’re looking for certainty today, that’s something you can be certain about.
The shorter ending adds something about Jesus himself sending out the disciples to proclaim the good news. The longer ending has Jesus appearing to Mary and then later to the disciples, then being taken up into heaven before their eyes.
These are great additions, comforting additions. But any serious Biblical scholar will tell you they are later additions; there is essentially no debate: the original text is the one that we read this morning—the one that ends with terror and amazement and silence and fear.
If you’re looking for the certain miracle, if you’re looking to put your hands on his wounds, don’t look here. The young man with the white robe sitting in the tomb in that strange scene says as much. He’s not here.
Oh, and while we are on it. He’s a young man. He’s not an angel. At least that’s what Mark tells us.
So that’s the truth. If you want Jesus in the scene, mistaken for the gardener, appearing to the disciples, rising up into the sky, if you want angels guarding the tomb or rolling stones away, you’ll need to go to one of the other gospels. Mark has none of that—just this young man in a robe, sitting quietly, giving direction, and remarkably enough, filled with hope.
If we came looking for the quick fix this morning, this isn’t it. It certainly doesn’t seem to help the disciples either who, Mark tells us, are “seized by terror and amazement.” They sound like us as we read the paper and every now and then at least, assess life honestly. All we have are these words from this young man in a robe in a place where death once was. And if anything, these words are marching orders. Go tell the others. Go to Galilee. Jesus will meet you there. That’s doesn’t seem like much, does it?
Here’s one little thing that probably won’t help you at all. Galilee is where the whole story began. Mark chapter 1: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee…”[v] So, in terms of the story of Mark as a story, as a piece of literature, the writer is telling us, if you want to see Jesus, go back to the beginning. Again, not the quick fix.
But here’s the other thing I think we need to know today. There is a fix. There is a promise here. Jesus and his salvation does show up—again and again, in fact. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians: Christ died and was raised. He appeared to Peter and then to the twelve, and then to 500 more and then to Paul. And I’m here to tell you he appeared to me. Many times.
One of the most memorable times was when my dad was dying from cancer. I was 17, and this wasn’t the plan, but it’s what was happening. Mom called and told my brother and me that we needed to come to the hospital. And so we did.
We walked into a hospital room that was as much a tomb as anything else, holding my dad’s final, labored breaths that seemed to go on and on for an eternity. But there was something that happened in that hospital tomb when I found myself looking around and noticing all these people there, friends of my mother and brother, the dearest people in the world to us, standing with us. If they tried to tell me it was ok, I don’t remember. Maybe I’ve chosen to forget. How could they possibly be so presumptuous?
But it’s also true they didn’t need to. Their presence there said it all. You see, Jesus was there in that room, in that hospital tomb. He was there in the dying man I called my father, suffering with him. And he was there in these people who were my church—testifying to a hope that had a life more powerful than the death I saw in front of me.
Jesus appeared to me as I peered into a tomb and realized there was a congregation of people surrounding me, speaking good news of comfort. I didn’t doubt that God was present that day. I didn’t doubt that God exists. Because love was alive there in a way that refuses to let me go. I have seen Jesus. He was lying on that bed. He was standing all around it. He was raised to life in that room as my dad was dying. You see, on that day the people from my church were that young man—telling me of hope and salvation by the generosity and fidelity of their own lives. He was alive then, and I can testify to many other times when I have seen him. I saw him last night at our Vigil for sure.
And I’d like to think there have been other days when I’ve been that for someone else.
Of course there have been other days when I have doubted. Deep doubts. That’s why I come back, that’s why I’m here. I need to remember. I need these stories and your stories. I need a cloud of witnesses. I need the grace of God in you. It is, I think, the way Hope is told.
You see, Easter isn’t about certainty. It is about learning to live in hope when the future is unknown and may worsen before it improves. It is about learning to live a life that is durable enough to weather the ups and downs that are a part of every life. It is about finding a way to hold onto those most important truths that are so fragile. Hope is something we live at each and every moment with each choice, with every breath. And then the miracle happens. Christ is risen in our midst. It’s not our doing; it is a gift of God. But we are a part of it.
Maybe you can find what you need to do that alone. I just know I can’t. I need others. I need the story that reminds me of what is true as well as what is not. I need to see Jesus. And I have. Have you? If so, go and tell the others. Amen.
[i] See recent Gallup results at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/1600/Congress-Public.aspx.
[ii] See the recent New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/04/world/africa/kenyan-students-describe-shabab-attack-on-garissa-university-college.html?hp&action=click&pg&module=photo-spot-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0.
[iii] See the Seattle Times article online: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/mapping-king-countys-disappearing-middle-class/.
[iv] Isaiah 25:7.
[v] Mark 1:9a.
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