Apr3TuePastor Sebastian's first Easter Sermon at St. Matthews April 3, 2018
But the young man said to the women, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But 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." 8So 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. The end.
What a crazy and different ending to the Gospel,
than the ones we’re used to hearing!
It really is short and to the point.
There are no resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ.
it’s just basically the empty tomb and that’s it.
For the women who arrive at the empty tomb,
it is a real Existential moment (it’s as if they exclaim “what the…”)
Jesus Christ is risen, but how,
It would make anybody scared.
There’s no tied-off ending
no tidy dénoument here, it’s all left hanging.
It’s annoyingly open-ended!
We want to fill the gap created by the unexpected ending,
and true enough there are two alternate and longer endings supplied to us,
composed in the first few hundred years after Mark was completed.
People felt uneasy (like we do) at this unfinished ending,
and decided to write endings that were more in harmony
with what we know of from the other Gospels.
But in any case, this is what we have.
The ending of this Gospel reading from Mark
may throw us into desolation and despair,
just like the women were feeling.
(We can remember the final parts of the Passion,
of how the sky darkened,
Jesus crying out “My God, why have you forsaken me?
and all the disciples abandoning Jesus on the cross.)
The morning is characterized by Defeat:
The women come to treat the body with spices, but by the 3rd day,
it would have been a losing battle,
the body odours would have been overpowering.
No spices could have stopped that stench.
The women even anticipate failure,
realizing the stone covering the grave will be too big for them to roll away.
How can they possibly accomplish what they set out to do?
Their mission is doomed.
The Women worry that the body of Jesus is too secure,
but little do they know that Jesus … is already gone!
The problem is not that Jesus is unavailable
because he’s locked away and inaccessible,
the reality is that — he’s raised and away on other business,
he’s got better things to do!
The angel is like an administrative assistant:
“Oh, you want to see the boss?
He’s just away at the moment, you just missed him.
Do not be afraid!
He is not here!”
The angel proclaims.
Well at least, we think he's an angel.
The man is dressed in a white robe
(which suggests he’s of divine origin, a messenger from God).
The man proclaims:
“He is raised. He is not here. There is the place they laid him”
The man doesn’t bother proving the resurrection,
He just points to the fact: look: he’s not here, you’re wasting your time,
go about your business.
And to underscore his point,
the Man confirms earlier predictions:
that Jesus would rise the 3rd day,
and meet his disciples in Galilee.
The women are Afraid.
Why are they scared?
Things are not what they’re supposed to be.
Everything is off kilter.
Now they realize that Jesus really was not just a Rabbi, a teacher.
The stuff that was said about him was confirmed
(all that crazy stuff, like at Jesus’ Baptism where the heavens were ripped open and God’s voice boomed out; “This is my Son the Beloved”. All the words and actions that didn’t quite make sense in the past were starting to come together.)
Furthermore, the women realize in an existential way,
that they can’t control the divine;
God does something completely unexpected that first Easter Sunday,
and it puts them into their place by frightening them.
And it probably puts us in our place too,
when God decides to do something out of the ordinary.
As humans we have a tendency to tidy things up,
neat and nice, we like our order, our predictability.
When it doesn’t happen, it can be frightening,
all of a sudden you’re sitting in tension.
Now it’s up to you!
It’s as if God says “Your move, kid!”
The Women don’t speak.
In a way, the Women join the other disciples who fled the scene after Jesus’ arrest.
We expect the women to start singing and dancing:
“Allelujah, we sing your praises.”
the women are mute, they are silent.
No allelujahs, no shouts of joy.
A bit surprising.
But perhaps it’s not a sad silence,
perhaps they are expressing awe at what God has done,
a frightened wonder and reverent respect at what has just happened.
Sometimes silence is OK, when you realize that God has done something amazing.
Remember, the rules of nature are overturned.
The heavy stone… is rolled away,
the dead are raised,
death is not the end.
By being silent, the women leave room for God.
The story is then not as much about what the women did or saw,
but it’s about what God did!
The focus is on God!
The spotlight is on God’s action!
Silence creates space for the voice of God to resound!
The women’s silence is holy awe at this great mystery,
that is, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Which brings us to that hairy topic,
that inconvenient super-natural occurrence at the heart of Easter,
and no, I’m not talking about how that little Easter bunny manages to hide all those eggs all around the world.
Let’s talk a little about what this resurrection is,
at least as much as we can infer from the Bible.
The heart of Easter really.
What does it mean to say: “He is risen?”
I think it’s important to take a brief look at the earliest documents we have from the resurrection, that is, the early writings of Paul,
written 20-30 years after the events, and some 10-15 years before Mark.
In the first century Greek, the word resurrection meant literally to "get up. “
(Just like when you’re lying down, you then get up).
Paul writes to the Thessalonians about this “Jesus, who was raised by God from the dead.”
He doesn’t go into great detail of what this raising up really was.
Later, when Paul writes to the Galatians (1:16), he mentions that he had received a revelation of Jesus Christ, (he never had met Jesus of Nazareth during his earthly ministry), but he was an eyewitness to the resurrection, in that he had received a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Now for Paul, and for most Jews then and today, the Crucifixion was proof that Jesus was not the Messiah because according to the Old Testament the Messiah was supposed to be victorious, he wasn’t supposed to die a criminal’s death.
But Paul’s experience was one of God revealing to him that Jesus is God’s Son, the anointed.
That despite what people had anticipated the Messiah was going to look like,
well, God had other things in store.
“Hey folks, there’s a new definition of how the world works.
A new definition for the Messiah.
The world is turned upside down.
Previous distinctions of clean and unclean, winner and loser,
powerful and powerless, are all wiped out.
And oh yes, distinctions of death and the finality of death are wiped out too."
Then when Paul writes a while later to the Corinthians, he finally starts to get a little more specific and explicit about what he means by the raising of Jesus.
“So it is” Paul writes, with the resurrection of the dead
What is sown perishable, is raised imperishable…
It is sown a physical (or a natural) body, (v44)
it is raised a spiritual body.”
There we have it.
The bodily resurrection is not physical!
It is Spiritual.
The resurrection is spiritual.
But that isn’t to say it isn’t real, or it is just a psychosomatic disorder.
Now the word for spiritual in the Greek original is literally translated breath, or wind.
So I’d like you to do a little experiment.
Hold your hand up to your mouth
Breathe out through your mouth.
Can you feel it? Yes.
Is it real? Yes.
Is it physical? No!
Can you touch it? No.
Breathing on your hand is not like clapping your hand.
So too, there’s a difference between a physical and a spiritual body, says Paul.
A physical body does not walk through walls.
A physical body doesn’t just disappear.
We’re not talking about a zombie or a resuscitated corpse, or some April Fools prank.
We’re not talking about a ghost either.
We’re talking about something new, never before seen.
A Body that appears,
a spiritual body that reveals itself to Paul and the disciples.
a resurrected body that makes itself known.
Amazing. Words cannot do it justice.
Christ is risen, indeed.
This was the cry of faith of the early church that was passed down to us.
Something we celebrate, with joy and shouts and songs of alleluias,
but also with silent awe, wonderment, and fear,
at a God who destroys previous distinctions,
who conquers death,
and who sets us on a journey, without enough preparation,
to tell our friends, relatives and strangers on the street:
Christ is risen!
I can hardly believe it, but yes.
Christ is risen! Amen.