We only know what real hope is when we have hit rock bottom; when someone we love dies; when we face our own mortality. And thanks be to God that God has given us something real to hope for in Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead.
Easter, Year B, April 8, 2012
Isaiah 25.6-9; Acts 10.34-43; Mark 16.1-8
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who has swallowed up death forever, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“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.” Well…Happy Easter everyone! Nothing says Easter like terror and silence. Or how about a different way of putting it…nothing says ‘resurrection of someone who has been dead’ like terror and silence. Perhaps the women who witness the extra-ordinary that first Easter morning, have something to teach us.
Let’s journey together this morning with the women to Jesus’ grave. Before we do, keep in mind the purpose for their grief-ridden walk to the tomb. When a Jewish person, like Jesus, dies, “a small group know as chevra kadisha prepares the body for burial. First the body is reverently undressed, and any wounds on it are carefully cleansed…The body is bathed and purified by water, then wrapped in a white sheet and perhaps a prayer cloth and tied with a sash secured by a sacred symbol.” Then “it is ready to meet the living God (Stripped Bare, by Richard Lischer. Christian Century, March 21, 2012, p. 11).”
Mary, Mary, and Salome, when the sun rises on Sunday morning, pack up their spices, oils, and cloths. They remember well were Jesus’ body was laid. Witnessing the brutality of Jesus’ flogging and crucifixion, they have images of a battered and bloodied, life-less body as Jesus is taken down from the cross.
Their hearts are aching because they are unable to care for him in the traditional way because it is the Sabbath. Also, being seen with Jesus, whether he is dead or not, would have the makings for their own deaths in being associated with one who has been crucified as a criminal. So they watch from a distance and mark the place where Jesus is laid, painfully passing the hours until the sun would rise…until they could give Jesus a proper burial and care.
“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” they say to one another as they walk…an impossible achievement for them. They go anyway because their love for Jesus and need to care for his body compels them. I imagine other questions and conversation as they grieve and journey:
“What if someone sees us? Shhh…did you hear something?”
“It doesn’t matter now. If they catch us, they catch us.”
“Our hope is lost. I thought he was the one to redeem us all.”
“I will miss his laugh and the ways he reached out to people.”
“I don’t know if I can stand to see his wounds again.”
“Do not worry, we will do this together.”
They journey the rest of the way with heavy hearts in silence until they reach the tomb. And then they see it. The tomb. And the stone is rolled away. Horrified and bewildered they think: someone has stolen his body!
They carefully and hesitantly enter the tomb, not knowing what they will find or what will happen to them. There they find a young man where Jesus’ body is supposed to be. Does he mean us harm? Do we run, they think, as they exchange glances with their eyes. Then the young man speaks:
“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.”
Up to this point, what do you think you would say or do if you were among the women who went to the tomb that early morning? Perhaps terror, amazement, and silence are appropriate here. Rising from the dead defies all earthly law and physics. It isn’t normal or expected. The women expected a body of someone they deeply loved and cherished, with no life in it. Instead they find a stranger who tells them of something impossible, and that the one they love is no longer dead, but alive.
In the Gospel according to Mark, we have no sighting of the risen Christ; we have no rejoicing. We just have the certainty that Jesus was killed, the evidence of an empty tomb, and finally a Word of promise.
I have compassion for the women at the tomb and their response. In a small way, I understand it. The Easter morning and because it is Easter morning, I am going to share a story with you that is deeply personal; a story that bears witness to a Word of promise.
Some of you know that my husband Ben was killed in the Haiti earthquake in January 2010. I have been back to Haiti twice since the earthquake. It is both joyful and terrifying for me to travel to Haiti. My last trip there was 3 months ago for the second anniversary of the earthquake.
On one of the days of the trip I went to the heart of Port-au-Prince and walked the streets filled with people, tents, and still, ½ crumbled buildings. Members of my family and I were walking to see the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Cathedral, both of which collapsed in the earthquake and killed those who were inside. My spirit was very heavy and filled with grief, as I wondered about God’s presence in the whole mess.
As I was walking, a young Haitian man began to walk along side of me. He kept walking with me until we entered into the courtyard of the ruins of the Episcopal Church. We stopped and he turned towards me and said two things. First he said compassionately, “You know that we will be together again with all of those who have died.” Shocked, I looked at him and wanted to say, My husband died here. But, I could not speak, (and I felt like he already knew this).
Then, he threw open his arms wide and said joyfully and confidently, “Isn’t it wonderful that we will all be together again in the resurrection, in eternal life!” He then took my hand and kissed it, then took my mother’s hand and kissed hers, turned and walked away.
As I watched him walk away, I stood in shock, that a perfect stranger would come up to me in a foreign land and speak the good news to me in my own language. I could hardly have been more vulnerable and terrified, or more in need of hearing the promises of God at that moment. Walking into the collapsed ruins of the houses of worship, that became the tomb for so many two years prior, the last thing I expected was a proclamation of life in the midst of death from a stranger.
I was so taken-back with the unexpectedness and the words of the Haitian young man…so much so, that I was unable to talk about what happened until many hours later at the end of devotions that night before bed with members of my family. We spoke together about the words of the young man, and we knew and felt them to be true because of Scripture’s witness to the resurrection of Jesus. “He has been raised,” Mark writes.
Sometimes it takes awhile or a life-time for the good news of the resurrection to sink in. Clearly, the women did eventually share what happened to them at the tomb that morning because we have the story. It just took them awhile to share something they knew was impossible.
If it is true that somehow our soul continues on and our body remains, then the women would have found Jesus body and simply said, “He’s in a better place.” But they didn’t. Jesus’ body was raised.
Do I know what the resurrection means? No. Do I understand it? No. I just know what is promised. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5).” We trust God that this is true, and that it’s true for you and for me. And despite our failures to witness to the resurrection and our unbelief, God has done it.
There is no resurrection without death. We only know what real hope is when we have hit rock bottom; when someone we love dies; when we face our own mortality. And thanks be to God that God has given us something real to hope for in Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead.
I read a poem this week called, Easter People by Jo Gross. I found it to be very true and a creative way to encompass all of Holy Week. Jo writes:
We are an Easter people.
Easter people are made up of Maundy Thursday people,
who sometimes betray the people they love,
who sometimes deny their Lord and their friends,
who sometimes strike out in anger,
who understand what it means to fall.
We are an Easter people.
Easter people are made up of Good Friday people,
who helplessly watch a loved one die,
who sometimes feel their world crumble,
who now and then feel lost and lonely,
who once in a while know despair,
who have known pain and fear.
We are an Easter people.
Easter people are Resurrection people,
who see the butterfly in a caterpillar,
who recognize life in the midst of darkness,
who live for peace in a world of war,
who know beyond reason or articulation
that death is swallowed up in victory,
finally, once and for all.
Therefore, in the face of failure, fear and pain, we are an Easter people.
We are people of hope.
It is a very special day today in the life of our congregation. In just a little bit, Hannah Wanyce Nesheim will be baptized. Baptism holds a promise for Hannah and for us, that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever, and that we too will rise from the dead as Christ did. Death does not have the final word and we know this because of the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb. God will swallow up death forever with life.
Our response this morning to the empty tomb and proclamation of Jesus being raised from the dead is not one of terror and silence. We have had a while for the promise of the resurrection to sink in and give us hope. Therefore, our response this morning is in song, giving thanks and praise to God, who raised Jesus from the dead.
Hymn of the Day – "My Life Flows On In Endless Song" OR "How Can I Keep From Singing?"