Easter Meditation – April 4, 2021
St. Paul’s Congregational Church
Mark 16: 1-8
On my first Easter Sunday in Middlebury – the first Easter Sunday I was leading worship as an ordained minister – I had what I thought was a great children’s sermon. It was the first time I’d worn my butterfly stole, handmade by a dear friend, from seminary – you’ve all seen that it - and I was going to tell about butterflies and why they are symbols of Easter. So I sat down on the stairs and was surrounded by children of all ages. Right next to me was a 3 year old boy – he decided he wanted to sit on the stairs next to me and that was great. But while I was telling about the butterflies he began to get a little restless – he was quiet but he began to wiggle. When that had happened before I’d given the child my bulletin to look at it and it usually worked to give them something to do until the children’s moment was done. And they felt great that they’d been able to help me by holding my paper.
So I gave Colten my bulletin and hoped for the best. Now, there was a picture on the cover of it – it showed the empty tomb, the rock next to the hole in the stone. There were flowers all around it – it was quite colorful and pretty and Colten looked carefully at the picture for a few minutes. Phew, I thought – it worked. And on I went talking about butterflies.
But all of a sudden Colten held up the bulletin and said to me, really very quietly, “Jesus died you know. But he’s not dead any more. This is Easter.”
What did I do? I told him, “That’s right Colten” and went on with the butterflies.
What do I wish I had thought of and done? I wish I’d handed him the microphone and invited him to say it again for everyone to share – I was the only person who had heard that profound statement – then instead of continuing, I’d have stopped, said my prayer and dismissed the children back to their seats. He knew why we were there that day – the butterflies were cool but the story was much more important. That wonderful little boy taught me volumes that day – both about being open to the unexpected in worship because it can be awesome! And about getting back to the basics – the story is the center of our celebration.
The entire Easter morning story is told in just 8 verses here in Mark’s gospel - there’s no resurrection appearance – there’s no joy and celebration. There’s only alarm, terror, amazement – fear. Put yourself in their places – how would you react?
The women came to the tomb thinking the story had ended – they wondered how they would able to move by themselves the huge stone that had been placed at the grave. Many of us, I think, would recognize what they were thinking and feeling as they made their way to the grave.
Following a death there is both nothing to do and at the same time, there’s so much to do. There is nothing to do: nobody goes to work, nobody goes to school - nobody is hungry, nobody has much to say. But there is so much to do: legal matters need attention, details of the funeral need to be worked out, flowers ordered, phone calls, so many little things. The details of a funeral help, I think – the rituals help us to begin to come to terms with a devastating loss. And, sad to say, we are all aware of how much we miss those rituals after this year.
So it was for Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome. What a painful journey for these women. They make their way to the tomb, bringing with them the oil, the spices, used to anoint the body of their beloved Jesus. They’d watched the crucifixion from a distance. Now the three would care for Jesus for the last time – not from a distance but with him in the tomb. So they walked, talking about the stone – how would they manage to do what they needed to do.
They arrive at the tomb, thankful to Joseph of Arimathea for giving them the space, for taking Jesus’ body there himself. They’d seen him do that on that terrible afternoon but further ritual had to wait until the Sabbath was over. Now, here they are and find that the stone had been already moved. Maybe, they thought, Joseph had been back, knowing they would return for the burial anointing.
So they went inside the tomb but instead of seeing Jesus’ body wrapped in the linen cloth, they see a young man in white – maybe an angel? The women are alarmed – what’s happened here? What else can go wrong? Isn’t it enough that our beloved Jesus is dead? How much worse can this be?
The young man speaks, “Don’t be alarmed. Don’t be afraid. You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here. He has been raised. Go and tell the disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of him to Galilee; in Galilee they will see him.
Filled with amazement, fear, terror – they turn and run. They say nothing to anyone. Breathtaking story isn’t it. And, if all we have, if all we know, is Mark’s account of this time, it’s even more breathtaking. We’re left speechless as are these women.
Let’s imagine ourselves with them as they try to make sense out of what has just happened. They run away from this strange and bizarre encounter – when they stop and catch their breath, they say something like, “What just happened there? Did you see what I saw? Did you hear what I heard? I can’t believe any of this! It’s just too strange. I’ve never been so scared in my life! Go and tell? Nobody would believe what we just saw. Why couldn’t Jesus just rest in peace? It’s over now. All those wonderful words – all those good times – they’re finished. He’s dead.”
Maybe in a few minutes one of them said, “Wait a minute, though. He’s been telling us, been telling the disciples, that this would happen – that he’d be killed, that those in power would try to silence him.”
And then perhaps one of them remembers when Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. And to give his life as ransom for many.”
Or – “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
Or the time that Jesus taught them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, be killed, and after 3 days rise again.
When the women are able to speak again, they remember and tell the story. They hear the story. They remember Jesus’ miracles. The teachings. The healings. The promise. And maybe they look at each other and say, “Maybe this is true. Everything else Jesus predicted has come to pass. Maybe it is true.”
The power of the story. The power of remembrance. Mark doesn’t need a resurrection appearance to affirm his faith in the resurrection. His faith is expressed in the power of memory, of looking back, of reliving the story. Colten had it right, didn’t he. The power of the story.
And there’s more good news packed in these 8 short verses: the women remember what Jesus had said. They are told to go and tell the disciples who had all fled ; tell the same Peter who had boasted that he would never deny Jesus – that he would die with him before he would deny him. To these people, Jesus said, “I will go before you to Galilee – to Galilee where we began together; in Galilee where we will begin anew.”
Imagine how these women feel when the truth of what they’d experienced begins to really sink in: there’s probably more silence between them as they are lost in their own thoughts. But then come the breathless whispers, “It’s true. It is true. All things are new. He is Risen! We must go and tell!”
Somehow it’s clear to them, it’s not all over. The world is not the same any more – it wasn’t that Jesus was dead but that he wasn’t dead any more! All those things Jesus said would happen, have happened. Unbelievable as it seems, it is true! God has the last word! God is making all things new! Christ has risen! Alleluia.
Park Renshaw writes, “In raising Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, God showed us the world according to God. In Jesus Christ the world is now a new world. It is a world where the meek do inherit the earth, even when they don’t have a deed for it recorded in the courthouse. It is a world where the poor in spirit have the only riches, and among the poor the bread is blessed and broken and everyone has enough. It’s where everyone knows that enough is a feast. In the new world of the resurrection, those who mourn are more than comforted; they dance before the Lord with their dead – often while they are still grieving. It is a world where the peacemakers know themselves, and everyone else, as children of God, and the merciful know what mercy does: it turns our enemies into sisters and brothers and causes weapons to rust and corrode or be transformed into tools.”
And somehow this becomes clear to us too. The world is not the same – it’s not the same because of this incredible good news: Christ is Risen!
We know the women found their voices after this extraordinary, breathtaking, terrifying experience at the empty tomb. We know they did “go and tell” – that’s how we celebrate this wondrous, awesome Easter story!
Now it’s up to us: Mark gives us all room to ponder this extraordinary event in our hearts and minds. Gives us all room to remember the story. That same Jesus who so amazed, confused, challenged, judged the disciples and us – that same Jesus has come back to us! And challenges us to remember the story, to live the story, and to tell the story.
I don’t know about you, but I thirst for that good news, that hope that the world may be made new. With all the news of violence, of war, of strange new diseases rampant around the world, with the news of continuing mass shootings, the death of Capitol Police officer, William Evans on Friday, – all the overwhelming news of sadness, sickness, death, and destruction we all hear – I too need to be reminded that God is with us, will always be with us – that we’re not left to our own devices. I need to know the forgiveness, the hope expressed in this awesome story and take the time to take it to myself and make it my own: to realize as did the women that this is true! There is good news amid the overwhelming sorrows and fears of the world. This story brings us such comfort and hope along with such challenge – and we have the tools to respond! Just as those women did.
So may we all do the same as these women as we too are met by a living, free Lord! We too must go! We too must tell! We too must live! Let us celebrate that good news: Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!
Let us pray: Lord, we say we want life, but when we get it, we hardly know what to do with it.
Lord, we say we are craving hope, but when something hopeful breaks in upon us, we realize how really comfortable is our despair.
Lord, we claim we want you close to us, but when you come toward us and are present to us, it occurs to us how free we felt when we thought you were absent from us.
Lord, we pray to you as if meeting you face-to-face on the road of life would be the most wonderful thing that could happen to us, and then, when you come out to meet us, the main thing we feel is fear.
Lord of Life, come to us, meet us, defeat our despair, lead us to life and that more abundantly. Easter in us. Amen.