April 1, 2018 The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Easter Day

 

Acts 10:34–42, Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24, 1 Corinthians 15:1–11, Mark 16:1–8

The Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+

 Alleluia! Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

When my mom died in 2014, there was grief aplenty, abundant and overwhelming, to go around. She was an amazing woman, known for her kindness, generosity of spirit, and depth of faith. When she died, we were all devastated, and there still isn’t a day that goes by when something brings her memory to the forefront of our thoughts. She was greatly loved, and she is greatly missed.

But, in truth, a second feeling coexists with the grief and sense of loss: a feeling of relief. For four years, my mother battled cancer. Back and forth she went between periods in which the cancer seemed to be kept at bay through rigorous (and energy draining) treatments of chemotherapy, and periods in which the cancer came back with a vengeance, slowly advancing from the site of the initial diagnosis to invade other organs in her body, finally settling in her lungs. At that point, the only thing that could keep her alive (for a few more months) and alleviate the persistent cough that had settled in was more chemotherapy treatments; and at that point, she decided that the cost was not worth it. She did not want to spend what remaining time she had left so drained of energy that she could not function in any way approaching normal. So, she decided to go on hospice, which kept her comfortable and able to enjoy her remaining few months with a clear mind and a good bit of energy.

But, for the last couple of weeks, she became unresponsive, first simply sleeping constantly, roused periodically to eat what she could and then drifting back to sleep; but eventually slipping deeper into a coma and closer to death. My dad was by her side constantly in those last days—administering her medications, fixing her food, caring for the household, sitting by her bedside waiting and watching, until finally, she quietly stopped breathing and was taken into the loving arms of God. Later, it was my dad who, upon reflection of this experience, said to me, “I never want to go through that again.” Grief, yes, but grief mixed with a sense of profound relief. It was all over.

I would imagine that relief was a persistent feeling that accompanied the women to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus for burial on that first Easter Day as well. Yes, there was profound grief, to be sure; these women had, after all, been the constant companions of Jesus throughout his ministry. One of them, Mary Magdalene, was likely a woman of means, using her financial resources to support Jesus and his followers. All the women, as was customary for the day, likely provided meals and other services necessary for the well-being of Jesus and the disciples. Further, they heard and were transformed by Jesus’ message of love in a world of fear, of peace in a world of war, foreign occupation, and domination, of abundance in a world marked by a great disparity between rich and poor, of acceptance in a world in which religious purity and ritual cleanliness mattered more than the people who were to be served by religion.

Yet, while being immersed in the way of Jesus day in and day out, the reality is that Jesus’ way is different from the way of the world, and the way of the world often takes precedence over the way of Jesus because it is the way that’s known and familiar. As a result, throughout the Gospel of Mark, not only do the religious and secular authorities misunderstand and thus oppose Jesus, but even his closest followers misunderstand and must constantly be corrected; and in the end, when Jesus is arrested, put on trial, and condemned to death, it is his closest followers who betrayed him to the authorities, denied him, and ultimately abandoned him. Only a Roman centurion—a Gentile, not of the people of faith—understood who Jesus was in the end; and only the women were left among Jesus’ followers who, from a safe distance, saw where Joseph of Arimathea entombed the body of Jesus.

On that first Easter Day, the women returned to the tomb, carrying spices meant to drive the stench of death away—a task that was likely, by that time three days later, a lost cause. Still, in their grief and out of love for Jesus, they needed to perform this one last task for him, and for them—to begin the process of letting go of him and getting on with their lives, and of letting go the dreams he likely ignited in them of a better world, a more just and equitable world, a world more infused with God’s vision for it. As they went on the way, they fretted about who would roll the large stone away so they could perform their loving task, but when they arrived at the tomb, they were met with a surprise: the stone was already rolled back, and inside was a young man in a white robe—an angel, I suppose—with an astonishing message: Jesus of Nazareth, whom they were looking for to anoint for burial, was not there. Rather, he had been raised and was going ahead of them to meet them and the rest of the disciples in Galilee, as he had told them before (though, I doubt, given their track record, they even remembered). Now here is the most astonishing thing about Mark’s story of the resurrection: the reaction of the women. The Gospel writer says that “terror and amazement had seized them” “so they went out and fled from the tomb.” Further, says Mark, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” They were charged to proclaim Christ’s resurrection to Peter and the rest of the disciples who had abandoned Jesus and who were, presumably, holed-up in a room somewhere for fear, but they said nothing; and in saying “nothing to anyone” how did the good news of the resurrection get out?

I have a theory. I think the fear and amazement of the women, indeed of all the disciples, is an outgrowth of their consistent misunderstanding of Jesus throughout their time with him. In truth, I wonder if the misunderstanding of Jesus’ followers was not so much misunderstanding as full understanding of the implications of following Jesus? I wonder if the disciples knew only too well that being agents of love in a world that peddles in fear would place them in a vulnerable and dangerous position; that insisting on peace and resisting force in a world that delights in war, foreign occupation, and domination, could get them killed; that preaching about the abundance of God for all and insisting that all share in that abundance in a world marked by a great disparity between rich and poor would put them at odds with people who seek their own financial security to the detriment of others; that insisting that all be accepted and valued no matter who they are because all are lovingly created by God in a world in which religious purity and ritual cleanliness matter would put them at odds with religious leaders and threaten to push them to the margins of their religion. Hence the feeling of relief at Jesus’ death—now life could go back to the way it was and the challenge that Jesus presented to the status quo, the hope that the vision of God for the creation would break through and break asunder the way of the world, would die with Jesus on the cross.

But then comes the young man in white with his announcement: “He has been raised!” With these words, the hope of the inbreaking of God into the world is still alive! With these words, the power of sin, death, and evil has been destroyed! With these words, the women (and the rest of the disciples) understood that the upside down life of Jesus—living a life of love instead of fear; living a life of peace instead of warfare; living a live of abundance and generosity instead of scarcity; living a life of magnanimous welcome, embracing all and rejecting none rather than shutting people out—is still a life to which they are called, for their Lord and Master is alive and bidding them come. No wonder the women were seized with fear and amazement and were struck dumb. In that simple sentence—“He has been raised!”—their feeling of relief vanished along with their grief, but fear of their lives turned upside down in the service of God in the world seized them, and it was too much for them. They ran away, not saying anything to anyone.

I love the ending of Mark because it presents a challenge to us as disciples of Jesus. If the women don’t proclaim the resurrection of Jesus—the hope of the inbreaking of God’s vision in the world—nor the disciples (holed-up in a room for fear), then who will proclaim? The answer? We must. We are tasked with the call to go out proclaiming love in a world of fear, living peacefully in a world of war and domination, seeking abundance for all in a world marked by great disparity between rich and poor, declaring generous acceptance in a world in which both secular and religious leaders wish to wall people off and keep them out. But in so doing, we will need to overcome our fear of living an upside down life in a world that sees things differently, or we, like the women, may be rendered mute by our fear and amazement; and to do this, we may need to change some of our beliefs, passions, and assumptions, which in truth are likely more rooted in the world’s way of seeing things that in God’s vision, in order to fulfill the call we have been given.

The world is waiting for a word of hope. If the women cannot speak for fear and amazement, we must speak—we must shout from the mountaintops:

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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