Below is my sermon from Easter Sunday, April 1. Early Christians sometimes played small jokes on each other on Easter, as a way of remembering the joke God played on death by resurrecting Jesus. How fitting, then, that our Easter this year fell on April Fools’. Alas, I was unable to craft any really good jokes for this sermon, but let me know what you think anyway. It’s focused on Mark’s account of the resurrection.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The women are tired. Exhausted, really. Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome. Of course they’re tired, no one could blame them for that. It’s been quite a year. Back home in Galilee, this young man Jesus started preaching and teaching and healing. He had said that God’s kingdom was here, that things were going to be changing. There was talk amongst the people about whether this one, this Jesus, could be the Messiah. Whether he would finally overthrow the Roman government that oppressing them.
You couldn’t go into the village without hearing about the latest thing Jesus had said or done. Mary’s son James even became one of his closest followers. Mary Magdalene experienced his power first-hand, when he healed her of the demon that had been in control of her life.
And so these women supported him, did all they could to help his ministry. They cooked for and fed Jesus and his disciples. They opened their homes. They told the stories. And they followed Jesus on his travels, on the long road that brought them here to Jerusalem. They were there when the crowds waved adoring branches and welcomed him in as a hero.
And they were there, too, when everything changed. So quickly. Some of the things that Jesus was saying were angering the religious leaders. He even had the audacity to say that God wasn’t just found in the temple, or in church, but out among the people. The Romans began to think he was a threat, too. That he was creating unrest and discontent. That there might be a revolution.
The women watched, as one by one the men who had been following Jesus deserted him. Denied him. Betrayed him. The women were there when he was lifted up on the cross, watching from a distance to be sure they knew where the body was taken. It was already dark when Jesus was buried—the women weren’t even able to care properly for his body, because it was the Sabbath.
And so here they come, now, to the tomb early in the morning. Weary and hopeless. The man they believed in, hoped in, was dead. And with him died their hopes and dreams for a different way of life. For the arrival of God’s kingdom.
And as they approach the tomb, the weariness begins to give way to something else: wonder, questioning—the stone is rolled back—who would have done that? The curiosity turns into shock and amazement—alarm—when they see a young man sitting, alive, in the tomb.
“Don’t be afraid,” he says. “Jesus is risen and has gone to Galilee just as he promised. Go and tell the other disciples.” Well this is just too much for the women to take. They cannot comprehend what is being said to them, but they know that this is not right. This is not the way things are supposed to be. And so, as the gospel tells us, they fled in terror, and said nothing to anyone. The end.
What a disheartening, perplexing ending to this story. It’s how Mark’s entire gospel ends. It’s so unsettling, that through the centuries people have tried to fix it. There are a couple of different endings to Mark, codas added by people or communities who just couldn’t let the story end on this confusing, disappointing note.
So why does it? Why do these women, who have been following Jesus for a while, why do they flee at the good news of his resurrection? Shouldn’t their response be a shout of Alleluia!? But when I stop to think about, these women might have the most rational response to the news of the resurrection that there is: run the other way.
The resurrection is good news, but it’s certainly not easy news. Transformation is scary. Change is scary. And this is one heck of a change. It would mean that everything they believed, everything they trusted, has been turned on its head.
We often cling to broken ways that don’t work, to broken things that are no good for us, even though we know that they don’t work, or that they’re not good for us. Addiction—of many different kinds—broken relationships, hurtful ways of thinking about ourselves and others. What we know—even if it’s not good—is often easier than the uncertain possibility of something different, something better.
That’s one of the hard things about resurrection. It doesn’t just come after death, or in spite of death, but resurrection comes through death. Without death, without loss, without change, resurrection and new life are impossible.
One of the details I love in this story of Jesus’ resurrection is how the women think they’ll be the first ones to the tomb. It’s early in the morning, after all. They’re concerned that there won’t be anyone there to roll away the stone for them. Part of their amazement is at the fact that someone beat them to it. God was there even earlier than they were, bringing about resurrection, bringing about new life and hope and change.
God’s work doesn’t begin when we’re ready for it. God’s work doesn’t begin after we’ve got it all figured out and have adjusted to this new way of thinking. God’s work starts in the dark. In the midst of the pain, of the brokenness, of the fear. In the midst of death. God’s work starts in the dark. New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, or a baby in a womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark. It’s one of the most beautiful things about the resurrection. It happens whether we’re ready or not.
God is at work in this world, in our community, in your life, whether you’re ready or not. Whether we’re ready or not. And honestly, thank God for that! Because if God had to wait until we got ourselves ready, and organized, and willing, we’d still be sitting in the dark of the tomb. Resurrection is God’s promise that begins right here in this life: all of us have stones that cover the tombs inside us. Anxiety, fear, anger, hurt. But God will roll those stones back, and God promises that new life will emerge.
Resurrection is scary. There’s no way around that. It means letting go of things. Letting things die. But it also means a beautiful world of new things. Of God’s kingdom which Jesus proclaimed to the women way back in Galilee. New ways of loving our neighbors and ourselves. Of new ways of creating community and casting out fear.
“Do not fear,” the young man says, “You are looking for Jesus but he is not here. He has been raised and is going ahead of you to Galilee.” Jesus goes ahead of us, to lead the way into a new, resurrected life. Jesus promises to meet us, always making all things new. Thanks be to God. Alleluia!