Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8
Pr. Scott Kramer
And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Some wise guy once said that this verse is the Lutheran approach to evangelism! Let us pray…
But seriously, what do you think? Silence and fear. The Easter story we just read has no empty tomb, no angels, and no happy ending. What kind of an Easter story is that? Welcome to Mark’s gospel!
These women at the tomb had just lost a teacher, a beloved friend, and the one in whom they had placed all their hopes. Not only did he disappoint their hopes. He was dead. Their expectations as they approached the tomb that morning had been reduced to zero. Not too long ago I got an e-mail from someone who is giving up on Christian faith. Too many disappointments. Where is God? I told them, “Sounds like something Jesus would say.” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Maybe you also have come to worship this morning with disappointment. Or, maybe skepticism at the whole story. You know the score. You come with low expectations.
Sometimes we just go through the motions. We follow our routines of thought and behavior, and those routines can be a godsend, getting us from day to day. Maybe you come to worship week after month after year after decade. You’ve heard the story dozens of times; you know how it turns out. You may not be a skeptic. You may be a “true believer,” but you, too, come to this story, expecting nothing new.
Or, maybe, not really wanting something new! Following a routine, tending to practical considerations, having low expectations, holding on to tradition—these things may not be exciting or transformative but at least they offer us the comfort of familiarity and predictability. That first Easter morning those women returning to the tomb at least had the comfort of knowing what to expect. They would find a dead body. Their most pressing question wasn’t one of profound spiritual insight; it was a practical one: Who would roll away that heavy stone?
But to their surprise, when they arrived at the tomb this practical consideration had already been addressed. The stone had already been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb! But this was small comfort because there was no dead body. What now? Grave robbers? Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, it got way worse.
There was no dead body, but the tomb was not empty! Somebody was already there. Those of us who have heard this story a thousand times were expecting an angel. But Mark’s version of the Easter story is the earliest and he doesn’t say anything about an angel. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side…and they were alarmed!
This young man, whoever he is, seems to have it all figured out. He explains what has happened, he tells them clearly what they need to do, but they don’t hear any of it because their routine is disrupted, their expectations are shattered. 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. Sometimes, even if it’s good news, we don’t hear good news when we’re overwhelmed by fear.
This past Friday was Passover for Jews around the world. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an article yesterday, titled, “Conquering Fear,” in which he describes the power of the Passover story over thousands of years to enable Jews to cope with fear. Brooks writes that in the Exodus story “the Israelites are afraid of the pharaoh and his soldiers. They are afraid of death but also afraid of really living. The fear makes people apathetic, torpid, and skeptical. The Israelites are unable to absorb words of hope…Language had lost its power because the people were rendered stone-deaf by fear.”
The young man at the tomb had offered the women words of hope and direction. But they were rendered stone-deaf by fear. Whether it’s apathy, or skepticism, or raw emotion, fear can paralyze us and render us unable to see and hear power and hope, even when it’s right under our noses.
Who was that man at the tomb in the white robe? Could it have been Jesus himself? That’s what happens in the other Easter stories. Jesus shows up and nobody recognizes him, not even his followers—at least, not right away. When our convictions and expectations are shaken, fear can blind us to the risen Christ right under our noses.
Maybe you’re a skeptic. Maybe a true believer. But whatever your beliefs and expectations about Christian faith and about this Easter story, they are almost surely out of date. The same is true for me! That man at the tomb said, He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you. The risen Christ is always with us, and at the same time, always out ahead of us, exceeding and turning upside down our expectations. And he’s heading to Galilee, which to those early disciples could only mean, he’s going home.
I don’t know what resurrection might look like for you personally. My prayer is that even now you can see signs of the risen Christ in your own life. But even if you can’t, dear friends, you are even now part of a resurrection story right here.
Maybe you saw the news item a couple of days ago that the number of Christians in our nation is declining and expected to continue that decline into the future, giving way to an increasingly secular culture. Likewise, in a few decades Christians worldwide will be a minority faith. Those are the kinds of statistics that make many Christians fearful and lead some to either try to recover the past or to enforce their particular belief system on others.
But friends, does hunkering down and wishing things were different ever work? The tomb is empty. Jesus is not there. And, he may be right under our noses, pointing us to a hope-filled future we didn’t expect.
You are part of a resurrection story. Even if you are here for only this one hour all year, you are part of our resurrection story, because we at Lakeridge Lutheran are single, widowed; we are traditional nuclear families, single with kids, married with no kids, blended families, parents with adopted and foster children. We are black and brown and yellow and white. We are people with special needs. We are first generation and umpteenth generation residents of this nation, from many lands. We are gay and straight and different gender identities. We bring deep and rich spiritual traditions, including Roman Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Mormon, Orthodox, Buddhist, and Muslim. In recent years, seminary students and pastors and their households have found their way here, adding their gifts of teaching and leadership. This evidently is important to folks because some of us will drive more than 30 miles one-way to be here each Sunday. All of this, not to mention the wonderful ministries that you have embraced among our own and for neighbors in need! One of those signs is the baptism of Nicole Lynch this morning!
When we are afraid, we may fail to see the risen Christ, even when he’s right under our noses. But so many good things have been happening among us here at Lakeridge Lutheran, even in the midst of our routines, distractions, worries and fears. When we thought we knew what to expect about what a church is, all of this has been going on, turning upside down our expectations of who Christ is and what the church is. Who knows where it will lead!
We saw it tragically once again this past week in Kenya: In a rapidly changing world millions of people are tempted to take sides, to hunker down, to wage war. What an incredible thing to be part of a community here that represents not death but new life–the risen Christ for all the world to see!
For me, Mark’s Easter story is the best Easter story! It’s not wrapped up in a nice bow. It’s not “happily ever after.” Mark leaves us to finish the story with the stories of our lives, and, our life together. The story can, if we allow it, end in silence and fear. We can, if we let it, see only what we expect to see.
Or, we can open our eyes to see what is right under our noses, and to hear these words of hope: He has been raised. He is not here. He’s gone ahead of you, just as he told you. Alleluia!