Sermons That Work

The Easter Text from St. Mark…, Easter Day (B) – 2000

April 23, 2000

The Easter text from St. Mark’s Gospel is remarkable for several reasons. First, some scholars do no think that it was originally part of St. Mark’s Gospel at all. They think that it was a “free floating” Resurrection story, not originally attached to any of the Gospels. But it had such power and authenticity the compilers of Scripture felt that it had to be saved. And so this story was saved by attaching it to the body of St. Mark’s Gospel.

What is it that makes this Gospel account so powerful? Well, first it has the image of the three women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus. They were pious women. They waited until the Sabbath was over before they went to anoint the corpse. The laws governing the Sabbath were more important to them than anointing the corpse of Jesus. Next, they had no expectation of Jesus’ Resurrection. In this they were like the rest of Jesus’ followers. It seems that they all were astounded by the reality of the Resurrection, even though Jesus had told them what would happen by showing them the texts in Scripture that foretold it. When they came to the empty tomb and saw the angel who told them what was happening, they were afraid. As always happens when angels show up with a message, the people receiving it were afraid. And the angel first said what angels always say first, “Don’t be afraid.” The angel was not successful in quieting their fears. The text says that they did not say anything to anyone because they were afraid.

In short, this story sounds very, very real. There is a sense in which this story is everyone’s story. A young woman was describing what she thought might be her conversion experience. She said, “at the time it seemed so real, now I’m not sure it was real. I am equally afraid that it isn’t real and that is real. I’ve lived for some while now as if it weren’t real, but I hope that it is. I would have to do a lot of things differently if it is real. It’s not that I am a bad person right now, but I would have to have a different focus for my life.”

A lot of us are in the same place that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and the young women occupied. Afraid.

The Scriptures say that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”

The reason we fear God is because “God is love.” Anyone who has ever loved anyone knows the vulnerability that love brings. When we love, we can be hurt. Anyone who has ever been loved knows how the experience of being loved constrains, guides and shatters the illusion of personal autonomy. What is even more fear provoking is that the submission or surrender to another’s love is done, not because we have to, but because we want to.

Ultimately, loving and being loved is the riskiest activity there is. By loving, we surrender the meaning of our lives to someone else. By being loved, we surrender control of our lives to someone else.

As one long and joyfully married man said in describing what the marriage was like, “I am responsible for everything and in control of nothing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The Resurrection is God’s ultimate gift of love to humankind. When we enter it, we give up our illusions of being in control of our lives; we give up our duty to death. We give up living for ourselves. The Resurrection restores us to Eden, a place where we were in relation with God and joyfully loved and cared for all of the creation. A place without sin and death.

A young man who was baptized last year was asked, “Do you feel different now that you are baptized and a Christian?” He said, “Yes.” He was asked, ” How would you describe the change? ” He replied, ” I went from believing nothing to believing everything sort of vaguely. I hope God will make things clearer to me as I continue on this journey.”

That hope is the hope of all who confess belief in Jesus’ Resurrection, however vague that belief may be.

Easter is a time to nurture the faith that is in us. None of us is perfect. We are all sinners. Our faith is not perfect. Our faith based behavior is not perfect.

But God did not raise Jesus from the dead because we are perfect or likely to become perfect in this life; God raised Jesus from the dead as an act of love for us.

Even if you are so afraid that you can’t even speak of Resurrection, remember, that never the less it is a gift of love from God for you. Remember that the very fear that immobilizes you can be the beginning of wisdom; loving and being loved is a lot of trouble. God went to a lot of trouble to love us. We go to a lot of trouble to love God. There is only one thing worse, the vulnerability that love brings. When we love.

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Christopher Sikkema