The Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
Church of the Annunciation Oradell
April 4, 2021 - 10:30am Service
1st Reading - Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
2nd Reading - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel - Mark 16:1-8
May God’s words be spoken, may God’s words be heard. Amen.
Every time I hear this version of the Easter story – the one found in the Gospel of Mark, I just have to say two things. First - “that is no way to run a resurrection!” The Gospel of Mark is famous for a lot of things – the Messianic Secret (Shhh! Don’t tell anybody who I am, says Jesus), disciples who can’t get out of their own way, but demons who know who Jesus is, and then it has this really strange ending about the resurrection: “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.” Just to clarify though – the Greek really is better translated as the women disciples having been surprised and amazed.
So that’s it? They told no one? It is almost as if the author of Mark had suddenly run off to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks and forgot to finish the story when he got back to his desk. This caffeine run would almost make sense, given that this gospel is also filled with a lot of urgency – using the word immediately eleven times. Immediately this happened, immediately that happened. This author definitely needed a thesaurus, and a detox off the caffeine.
Most of us, I think, don’t like untidy endings... we want things to be wrapped up appropriately – and with a good end too. So it shouldn’t be surprising that others felt the need to add a new ending to this gospel – really two. See, what we heard today is what scholars have determined to be the original ending. The other verses that follow were added on later by others. They are called the “Shorter Ending of Mark” (really, you mean that last ending isn’t short?) and, with all their academic creativity the scholars call the other one the “Longer Ending of Mark.” Genius. Seriously. You can look it up in your bibles at home.
And there are reasons – obvious ones – why editors would want to clean up the story line a bit, because, as I said before, this really is no way to run a resurrection – if they told no one...how does this author know about it? Or for that matter, how do we know about it? If they told no one – what would stores do with all those peeps and chocolate bunnies? Well, they could bring them over to my house. The thing is, we know from the other gospel accounts that the women disciples did tell the others, but the boys just wouldn’t listen.
But short or long ending, the basic story is this: Mary, Mary, and Salome (not the name of a girl band – to be clear) – anyway, the two Marys and Salome are wondering who will roll away the stone so they can anoint Jesus’ body, and then the young man (presumably a messenger of God, or Angel) dressed in white tells them: “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. 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, just as he told you."
Now, that brings up the second thing I always think about, when it comes to this gospel - that bit about Peter. Was it “Go tell his disciples....and Peter,” like in Peter, maybe the chief of these scattered minions? Or, if we remember Peter as the one who denied him three times (and frequently seemed to trip up left and right as a disciple)... “Go tell the disciples and oh by the way, I want to see Peter.” You have to wonder how this was originally voiced, right?
But whichever way the gospel was originally told in its oral form, we need to pay attention today to those two things: The question of “who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” and the angel telling them that “He has been raised. He is not here…He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
Remember that we know the full story – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome did not! These women disciples had not yet put it all together – had not yet fully understood everything Jesus had told them (for that matter, neither did the men as we will see next week, and they even had the benefit of having heard this story from the three women).
The disciples were in a state of fear and grief – filled with disappointment and despair because all they had hoped for seemed to have been killed on the cross. When the women disciples went to the tomb that morning, they were trying to figure out how to get the stone removed from the tomb because they planned to anoint the body of a very dead Jesus. They were not expecting any part of what happened. They were walking in deep mourning, not joyful expectancy. They were in the between time – they just didn’t know it yet.
We may think it is hard for us now, knowing the full story, to truly understand their despair, but we certainly have experienced their range of emotions on that day, because many times in our life we live in the between time – between wondering how to roll away the heavy stone of our broken hearts and the healing joy of resurrection.
And this year has truly been a between time for us all. We wonder when or how the stone of pandemic will be rolled away for us, when we might begin to apply the balm of healing that will offer some closure to this long journey in the wilderness, when will the new life, the new normal, start? Our hearts have been breaking as we see people murdered because of their race, others gunned down because of our national addiction to guns, and poverty, oppression, addiction, and hate on the rise. Where is the hope? Or, as one friend asked me recently, “Where is Easter?”
So perhaps, if we really think about it, we actually do understand some of what it must have felt like that first Easter. For many have in this difficult time felt what the women likely did that morning, what Peter and the other disciples, huddled in fear, felt too. Pain of grief, despair, heartache, and uncertainty about the future. We, like they, long for the presence of Jesus.
The thing is though – where are we looking for him?
You know, for a long time, the church, we – the followers of Jesus – located him here. We invited people into our churches to experience Christ in the context of our worship services – in the Great Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, where we know we can and do receive him. And that is a good thing, or nearly so.
Yet during this long time of pandemic, many across Christendom have sometimes not only wondered how that stone we carefully rolled against our doors when the pandemic began will be removed, but demanding it! For like those disciples on that first Easter morning, they have forgotten what our savior Jesus taught us. They have located Jesus in one place – “their” church – and by “their” – they mean one specific worship space, at one specific preferred worship time, with one specific liturgical custom. They placed Jesus there, and they want to get back there to see and experience him again!
Now, I am deeply grateful that the people of this parish have truly understood what I am about to say, what the gospel is telling us right now, and it is this…
The tomb couldn’t contain Jesus, and neither can the church.
Jesus is on the loose!
Jesus is on the loose and has been since that first Easter morning.
We may try to box him in, but dang it – he just won’t stay there! Or really, thank God he doesn’t stay there!
The stone has been rolled away!
If we are only looking for him here – in this sacred space – in the Eucharist – we do not fully understand the meaning of the resurrection, and the hope and joy found in the empty tomb.
Look, it is undeniable that Easter sounds different to us all this year and last. We proclaim resurrection, joy, and hope amidst separation, fear, and disappointment. But that is the very truth of this morning… that no pandemic – either of COVID, or hate, or violence, or any other part of the evil humanity can bring about – has ever had the last word. And one would think, given all we have been through across time, that we would know that by now. It doesn’t take going back centuries, just go back a few decades.
Fifty-two years ago this very day, an assassin’s bullet struck down the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. As our nation mourned the loss of this servant of Christ, did we really know then what we know now? The prophetic witness of Dr. King was not killed on that fateful day. His words, his life, his ministry didn’t die on that balcony, but lives on in each of us! If true for this prophet, how much more then for the Jesus he bore witness to – even unto death? King’s legacy lives on, but Jesus – he is alive!
The tomb is empty – He is risen – And he is on the move!
The stones we placed over our churches to protect us from disease will one day be rolled away – but Jesus was never contained behind them. Jesus is going ahead of us – in our hearts and in the world, just as he has always been from the beginning - and if that doesn’t leave us all a bit surprised and amazed then perhaps we never understood the power of this moment – the awe inspiring truth of the resurrection.
The tomb is empty – Christ is risen!
And because Christ is alive – we have hope amidst despair.
Because Christ is alive – we have promise amidst disappointment.
Because Christ is alive – we have life amidst death.
That is why we can live in the between time we are in at this moment, because by Christ’s death and resurrection we know the awesome power of our God, who loves us beyond measure, and whose light is stronger than any darkness of our world.
“You, who are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here! …He is going ahead of you…you will see him, just as he told you.”
He is not here – he is going ahead of you!
Go and meet him and rejoice!
For the Lord is Risen [He is risen indeed]!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!