A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Easter – Resurrection Day

Stations of the Resurrections No. 1 by Laura James

Easter 2024
Rev. Dr. Les Martin
Mark 16:1-8

In the name of the living God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

They were afraid.

It doesn’t sound like much of an Easter message. The Gospel we have today is the traditional reading for Easter in the old western lectionary. But honestly, it just doesn’t seem to have much of an Easter feel. Mark reports that the women at the tomb are alarmed, full of terror and bewilderment. And then they were afraid.

Despite the messenger’s announcement of good news, despite his attempted reassurance of them, that they have nothing to be afraid of the sight of the empty tomb does not fill them with joy, but rather fear. Why were they afraid? Some 2000 years later, it seems strange to us. So much so that this seems an awkward Gospel reading, for the celebration of the resurrection. But we need to remember that we have the benefit of hindsight that we know the story. And actually, that’s pretty good advice.

When thinking about the gospel narratives for almost the entire Easter season, we will see again and again the disciples expressing shock, disbelief, sadness, or as today, fear. For whereas we may see in the empty tomb, a sign of hope. The reality is all they saw at first was the absence of the body of their Lord. I mean, think about it. For most of Jesus’s followers, hope would have vanished somewhere between the end of the last supper, and his last breath on the cross. The thoughts of a great vindication, a last-minute miracle, the deliverance of their teacher and fit friend would have simply dissolved with that last breath. Nothing to do now, but to observe the Burial Rites and customs, pay final respects, and go on home, try to make a life all over again, crushed by the fact that Rome and the Sanhedrin and the priests had won.

The powerful always do, to go home and grieve this great rabbi whom they had hoped was so much more. And, to realize that all those hopes and dreams that things could be different for them, had died with him up on that hill. Because think about it, when you discover an empty tomb, I imagine in that frame of mind, your first response is probably not to proclaim a miracle. Rather, it is likely that you will be asking yourself, “Why?” This strange young man’s words notwithstanding, as Mary Magdalene alludes to in the Gospel of John Chapter 20. I think the first response of his followers would have been “Who took him,” “Which one of the various authorities involved has snatched Jesus body to prevent the development of a shrine, the cult of a martyr?” And even if they were inclined to believe there was a resurrection, they had seen several resurrections after all: the synagogue leader’s daughter, the widow of Nain sun and Jesus’ friend, Lazarus.

Even if there was a resurrection, the question would mean. Well, where is he? Why isn’t he here? Just what is going on? Again, the young messenger addresses this, and we’ll think about that in a bit. However, for those at that the tomb, I can’t imagine that anything he says, could matter nearly as much as the manifest lack of Jesus, either alive or dead. The other Gospel accounts address some of these questions. But Mark chooses to leave us today with fear, uncertainty, and despair, those things that remain in the empty tomb.

After the traumatic three days that the disciples have endured, this liturgical year we will have to wait until next week, to hear of Jesus in the flesh, to receive His peace, and to understand the mission he commits to his disciples. For now, we are left with the two Marys in those first moments at the tomb, seen it empty, seeing the absence of Jesus, and the absence of hope. While an empty grave might contain with some tremendous possibilities, if you’re an optimist, it can also just be empty. The mere fact of an empty tomb can fall flat.

Our modern culture both forever trying to explain away the miraculous and attempting to give us something more accessible fills this season with images of rebirth. The caterpillar becoming a butterfly, chicks coming out of eggs, prolific rabbits, flowers and trees coming into bloom. But those symbols are talking about something different: cycles of rebirth and renewal.

That’s not much help to dead Jesus, post Good Friday. And it won’t be much help to you or me when it comes our time to be lowered into the ground. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need caterpillars changing, sap rising in trees, or animals mating. I need Jesus to be who he said he was. I need him alive and active. And that is why the messenger’s words are so important. If the women at the tomb had been able to digest them amid their shock, the story might have turned out differently. He has risen, the messenger said, but they either didn’t hear it or couldn’t process it. But not only is he risen, he is on the move.

Theologian Stephen Paulson refers to him as the free-range Jesus, the actual message to be carried to the disciples, if you look closely, is not that Jesus is risen per se, but rather that he is going ahead of them into Galilee. Jesus isn’t dead, he is very much alive. And his absence is explained by the fact that he’s going ahead of his people yet again, even as he went to the Red Sea and in the Wilderness of Sin, to secure a future a promised land for them. In John 14:2, Jesus tells His disciples, I go to prepare a place for you. And I think it can be helpful to invite to view the entire ministry of Jesus and thus his resurrection.

Through this lens, I go to prepare a place for you. On the cross Jesus had accomplished atonement for our sins, there is literally and “at-one-ment” between God and man. But having effected that reconciliation, having affected that atonement does not end Jesus’ preparation of a place for us. He dies descends to hell and rises again. Which means that whatever future we have in store whatever our fate is, there is no place that you and I can go from here on out that Jesus hasn’t already been. He sends the Spirit to create a tabernacle of Word and Sacrament, a temporary shelter in this world for those who are drawn to Him in baptism, until such time as the fullness of the kingdom will come. And he doesn’t stop there.

Our first reading from Isaiah 25 has a different flavor to me. It is read at many prayerbook funerals as a hospice chaplain. When I sometimes think I now know it by heart, it tells of the day when the Lord will prepare high on a mountain the last best feast for all the peoples. He will gather rich food, aged wine. But more profoundly, it tells of a time when our reading says the covering. But that’s not good Greek. It tells of the time when the shroud is removed. It is  clearly burial shroud.

The shroud that has plagued us since the garden will be destroyed. More precisely, it says that death will be eaten. This is how great God’s love for us is at the end of all things. While we are consuming a feast, we did not merit we will see a new that it is because of God’s loving action through Jesus consuming death for us. So Isaiah reminds us, He will remove all our disgrace. Whatever yours and mine may be, He will wipe away every last tear from our eyes. And we will feast in a life that knows no ending. That is the place that Jesus is ultimately preparing.

If you’re like me, however great your faith, there may be times when you are as uncertain and afraid as the women at the tomb. Or, like Peter, you may be someone who struggles at times, with a weak faith, far too mindful of your betrayals of the way Jesus would ask us to live of the way you want to live. At those times, the absence of Jesus can seem overwhelming. And that empty tomb may fall flat as a source of hope. Beloved, the message of Easter today and always is nothing so small, so insignificant, as a mere empty tomb. More than that, it is that Jesus is alive and is ever going ahead of us. He is still preparing to place, blazing a trail, and where he goes we necessarily follow for our lives are hidden in Christ. Notice that the messenger specifically asks that Peter get the message. What does that mean? It means that wherever we find ourselves in our lives, headstrong, confused, even to the point of betraying the Lord we love, we are included. We are in Him. He will in no way cast us out. There is always room for Peter, and for you. And for me.

The glorified Christ theologian Robert Jensen reminds us is our final future. He is alive. And so will we be feasting with all peoples on the glorious grace of God. It has been the way of human history that death swallows us up and we go into the tomb. Christ has swallowed up death. And so now Strangely, the tomb he is and ours becomes a womb we live a new life with death behind us living in Christ now. Do not be afraid!

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