Brea Congregational United Church of Christ
Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018
Following Jesus Into Life
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. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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.
If you were following along in those nifty green bibles in the pews, you will notice that we didn’t read to the end of Mark Chapter 16. Verses 9 to 20 were added by some conscientious editors, because you can’t have the end of the Gospel be: they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid, right? You have to prove the risen Christ is real, right?
The stories of the risen Christ in the Gospels are confusing, to say the least. Four contradictory scenarios. Who was at the tomb? Who ran away? Not being recognized by people who knew him. Entering locked rooms, yet eating and being touched. Disappearing in an instant. Hanging around, or not, in Jerusalem, or Galilee; for forty days and ascending into the clouds, or not. Call me skeptical. I appreciate that Mark didn’t bother trying to show us the risen Christ.
Mark wants us to enter the Easter story, and make it our own. Otherwise, what good is it? He wants us to see the first followers of Jesus in all their cluelessness and fear, running away to hide from the shocking gift of the risen Christ. Hopefully so we can have a good laugh, because we know better. But maybe so we can be easy on ourselves when we run away or hide from the transformative presence of God. Mark doesn’t give us the end of the story, because the story isn’t finished yet: the risen Christ is at work in us and among us, bringing hope and new life. Mark expects us to tell our own stories of the risen Christ, not borrow someone else’s.
The story of Good Friday was vivid, pretty consistent in all four versions, and all too literally real. I wish that almost twenty-one centuries later people weren’t still being arrested in the dark of night, tortured, executed unjustly, and all the other horrors and indignities that people do to people. Good Friday is still real.
I wish God had just settled the whole deal on Easter. A skeptic who is very dear to me once said, “Your God did not get the job done on Easter.” I think he’s right. Easter is not a done deal. Easter is an ongoing process. God is at work, patiently and lovingly bringing new life out of death. Far more patiently than me! How does God do this? Here’s how I explain it. In Christian Process Theology, we say there are three crucial things to know about God: presence, power and love.
First, God’s Presence: God is in and through everything. Things just appear ordinary. If we allow ourselves to shift perception, wonder and glory are all around us. We don’t need to wait for heavenly choirs to start celebrating. Your body? A walking miracle. Treasure it, and give thanks. Every living thing: a dance of wonder. This is one place where science and religion agree. And, Good Friday tells us, God is also present in the midst of horror and pain. How can we respond to God’s presence in and through all things? Pay attention! Enjoy. Notice the sacred, the wonder, the beauty, and let it fill you with joy, and hope and gratitude and celebration.
Second, God’s Power. In Process thinking, God does not control everything; things are not all planned in advance. And we don’t control things either, but we can sure make a mess when we try! God’s power is not power over. It’s power with, and power for.
Like a great jazz conductor, God is leading, inviting, creating, riffing off of what we do, sometimes cajoling us, to create a work of art that is our lives together, that works for the good of all of us.
God’s power does not override our freedom. Our freedom made Good Friday. We might wish for a bit less freedom, but here we are. Because of our freedom, bad things happen to good people. But God’s power is at work to bring good out of evil, hope out of tragedy, a way out of no way. If we don’t give up, and follow God’s lead!
And God’s power seems occasionally to pull off some amazing transformations, just not on our schedule or at our command. How does that work? I have no idea. But I know that transformation happens more often when we are willing partners. When we give up, God doesn’t have much to work with. When we trust, and hope, and pray and love, surprising things can happen. So, be ready for Easter….every morning.
Third, God’s Love. God’s love follows from the way God is at work in the world, inviting us into our best future. But that’s a bit abstract. Most of us like our love with skin on. So we have Jesus, to show us what love looks like, person to person. Listening well; stopping to make human connections. Going to parties. Telling stories. Standing up for justice and showing mercy; seeing in every face a child of God. And sometimes making sacrifices. After Easter, Jesus got a lot harder to hug, but he’s no longer limited by time and space and human exhaustion. How do people know they’re loved unless someone shows them? If we follow Jesus, this is our job: to take in God’s love for us, and to make love real for those around us. What a great job.
I do trust that love wins in the end. I rely on it. I trust that beyond death, we have a life in God. And I like to imagine what it might be like, but I really have no idea. Well, besides that Jesus will be there.
I don’t know much about life beyond death, but I know this: we are invited to practice living that life now. To discover and celebrate the sacred that already surrounds us, lives in us, now. To nurture and create in collaboration with God, now. To stand up for justice and show mercy, now. To find what is precious in the midst of pain and death, now. And to take refuge in a love so powerful that nothing, not even death, can stop it. Now, not later.
Remember who the women found at the tomb? A young man dressed in white. I suspect Mark intends that fellow to be the reader of the gospel: the newly baptized follower of Jesus, who has died and risen with his Lord. Thus the shiny white clothes, like an angel. Humans can be angels, you know. An angel is just a messenger, a messenger from God. So be an angel. Shine. Share the message of the risen Christ; his power, and his presence, and his love.
May Easter break forth in your life.
May your gardens bloom wildly in the light of God’s love.
May Christ guide you from the bondage of fear, trusting that whatever happens, God goes with you.
May Christ guide you from bigotry and hatred, whether you dish it out or are on the receiving end. In Christ is neither black nor white, rich nor poor, gay nor straight, alien nor citizen.
May Christ free you from guilt. Make your amends, but then give to Christ the burden of perfection you cannot carry.
May Christ free you from resentment and bitterness. In him, be made whole and practice the power of forgiveness.
May Christ free you from the illusion of inadequacy, so you can join your Lord’s team and take up that good work that only you can do.
May Christ free you from loneliness. His love knits the whole universe together. How did you ever imagine that you were alone?
Easter is the beginning of new life in Christ. Just the beginning. We are human, and we will keep messing things up. But the secret is out. The presence, the power, and the love of God is at work in us, and through us, bring new life to a broken world. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia, and amen.