April 5, 2015 – Easter

Easter Sunday   April 5, 2015   Psalm 98, Mark 16:1-8, John 20:1-10, 11-18

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In our first hearing of the Easter story, from Mark’s gospel – those who show up first at the tomb of Jesus look up – and see the large, heavy stone they’d expected to see blocking the entrance – rolled away. As they enter the tomb, a man (an angel) tells them ‘don’t be alarmed – you’re looking for Jesus, who was crucified. (Come – Look where they laid him.) He’s not here. He’s been raised from the dead. Go, tell his disciples – including Peter (who denied three times, two nights ago, that he was a disciple – tell Peter also) – Jesus is going ahead of you – back to Galilee (where you first met him). You will see him there. Just as he told you.’

Great beginning for a joyful Easter – celebration to follow, right?

But – these first visitors to the empty tomb are so alarmed by the news of Jesus risen – that they flee – trembling, bewildered, afraid. Telling no one…

What a strange way to end a gospel. Gospel, remember, means Good News. And Mark’s gospel doesn’t unpack this first encounter with resurrection at all. The gospel only says what it says… (In fact, in it’s original Greek language, Mark ends right in the middle of a sentence – )

Leaving us dangling – and wondering – why these women – described, just a chapter earlier, as faithful followers – women who’ve been with Jesus all the way from Galilee – women who didn’t flee, the night he was betrayed, when all the male disciples fled – why, now, are these first witnesses to the resurrection running from the tomb – Not sharing the good news the angel said to share?

Time won’t permit a full exploration of all the possible reasons – but –

Maybe there was something in the angel’s speech or appearance that rendered them speechless and caused them to flee in fear?

Maybe they were afraid because they knew their story wasn’t going to be believed. Women weren’t considered legally valid witnesses in those days. (Which should make us wonder why God chose only women to be the first resurrection witnesses, according to all four gospels.)

Maybe these first followers of Jesus were simply astounded and alarmed beyond all words… Because suddenly they realized – (OMG!) – there goes all my plans for the rest of my life! If he’s risen – I’ve got to run on and try to catch up and keep following him… Oh my Lord! Am I ready for all that…?

I hope we’ll all make time to continue contemplating this story in days to come…

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Now… let’s consider also our reading(s) from St John’s gospel, where we see Mary Magdalene, who has come to the tomb, early, while it’s still dark…. (In John’s remembrance the day started even earlier than in Mark’s remembering.) Others may have been there with her, but John wants to keep the spotlight on Mary. When she sees the stone rolled away she runs and tells Peter and another (beloved) disciple, not named (who is probably the gospel writer). The two men Mary calls have then come and seen – the stone, rolled away – the empty tomb and the empty grave clothes – they’ve come and seen – and then gone home… But Mary stays by the tomb…

And even alone in dim light near the tomb… Mary Magdalene doesn’t appear at all afraid – not of angels – nor of Jesus – whom she doesn’t recognize at first – thinking he’s the gardener… (He is the Gardener, but that’s for unpacking another day.) She talks with angels and Jesus with no apparent fear. Her grief at the loss of Jesus is so immense…Now for her, it seems, nothing else matters…

Then, when she does recognize Jesus – as he calls her name – we can only imagine the rush of joy… As she hastens to tell disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Telling them ‘he is alive!’ Just as Jesus said to do.

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Two different stories? Or two sides of the same story, viewed from different angles?

Two different accounts? Mark’s telling of an empty grave with no sign of Jesus, just an angel in bright white saying ‘he’s alive, and risen from the dead.’

And John’s telling of Jesus, up-close, very alive, back from the dead – talking with us, close-enough-to-touch. (We also see two angels in John, not just the one we hear of in Mark – and Mary in John is described as if alone, whether or not others are there – she does speak in the plural “we” at one point.) Leaving us again to ponder –

Two stories – or one? And even if we haven’t had enough coffee yet this morning to be sure of all we’re hearing… For sure we can tell –

Here we have two very different responses to the Lord: as we see –

In Mark, disciples fleeing from the empty tomb in fear…

In John, Mary going to tell the good news, gladly…

What do you think? Two different stories – Or two views of the same story?

For my part… I’ve come to believe, by grace…It’s all one story – because God is One.           And the story’s told in many parts because (God knows) – no two disciples experience Jesus exactly the same way.

We believe in the one risen Lord. If we have met him. (Sometimes even if we haven’t encountered Jesus yet, we may already have a hope that borders on faith.)

We share in one faith in Jesus Christ – Son of God, Son of Man, Incarnate Word, whom God has sent to reveal what God looks like in human flesh. God has sent us Jesus, who has died, and is risen, and is with us, and will come again in glory… Jesus who calls us to live together in the bonds of peace as the one body of Christ, the church he founded with his body and blood – telling us to love one another as he has loved us. Do for one another as he’s done for us…

And yes, the four gospels tell the resurrection story differently. Rather differently in some of the details. (For instance there’s two resurrection scenes narrated in Matthew’s gospel, only one in Mark. There’s at least five resurrection scenes each in Luke, and in John, with some more in Acts and Paul’s letters.)

The details of each telling of the gospel differ. Which shouldn’t surprise us if we’ve ever ever channel-surfed during the news hour. People have always heard and reported the same events differently. We all hear selectively… We all see partially… And since God communicates through humans, the specifics of what we notice most in the Jesus story will often differ…

Yet for one and for all and however it happens – encountering Jesus, resurrected is always highly destabilizing. If Jesus risen from the dead doesn’t shock us out of our socks – doesn’t alarm us into new life – we’re not paying full attention yet…And yes, we’re still all going to remember details differently. Most of us listen most of the time to try to hear what speaks most directly to our condition – our perceived needs, our deepest hopes, greatest fears….most pressing questions…

So some of us today especially need to hear Mark’s ending of the gospel. Need this strange, unfinished ending – to let us know we’re not the only ones whose faith feels incomplete… Not the only ones still yearning for a richer, deeper, fuller encounter with the risen Lord…

Others among us need Mark’s ending because we need to be challenged by God’s call to come, share more intentionally in Jesus. His call to be his faithful witnesses. His call to let our lives testify more boldly to Jesus…Alive in our lives.

Some of need to hear John’s gospel today, to remind us – even the most faithful followers of Jesus sometimes have a hard time noticing the presence of Jesus… When grief or loss cloud our hearts, like Mary, we may not always recognize God’s presence. God’s word for us, spoken by people of God or by angel messengers, spoken even by Jesus himself, may go unheard… Till something somehow shifts… as with Mary this morning… Now we see and hear…differently.

And some of us need to hear John’s gospel to remind us – we really have met the risen Lord. We’ve heard him speak our names. Whisper in our hearts. Sometimes virtually shouting, “Here I am! Pay attention!” Heard him calling us, as he called Mary, to tell the good news..Yet..

Some of us may still be fearful of publically sharing the news of Jesus – because we’re thinking – naming ourselves as his followers openly may just, well, really complicate life. People might start asking us – “What’s up with you? I’m noticing a difference.” We’d have to answer… and don’t feel ready or willing…

Which is yet-another reason why we do this gathering together in Jesus’ name every week. Sometimes more than once a day. Comparing notes on what we’re hearing in the word; what we’re feeling, as the Holy Spirit leads…

Because now we do know – none of us ever has the whole story… None of us ever sees the whole picture… Only together are we the body of Christ. Made able, by his Spirit’s presence, to really be who Jesus calls us to be – and do together what we can’t do alone…

Starting with sharing our faith in the risen Jesus – every day –

even now, today –

Telling the story the whole world still needs to hear:

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed!

Alleluia!

Amen.

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Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “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. But 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.” 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.

John 20:1-10

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

John 20:11-18

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.