Easter 2018

“Tomorrow They’ll Be More of Us,” Susan Ryder

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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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. 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.’ 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.

For Lent we’ve been considering the question of who Jesus was – how do we understand his activity and message. During the preceding six weeks we’ve looked at Jesus as a spirit person, social prophet, healer, barrier breaker/movement founder, a wisdom teacher, and finally on Palm Sunday as a revolutionary who risked his life confronting injustice and oppression. As we conclude our series this Easter morning, we acknowledge that the historical person we have come to know was all of those things and more. Our portrait of Jesus can never be complete – all we have are fragmentary glimpses into the life of this 1st Century Jewish peasant through the interpretation of others, but we know enough to understand that his ministry was utterly compelling, and that it continues to influence humanity 2000 years later.

Now it’s Easter Sunday – so it’s time to consider how resurrection fits in with who we say that Jesus is. As you listen to my thoughts, I invite you to reflect on a time you experienced resurrection – something from which you thought you couldn’t possibly recover, couldn’t possibly move on, only to find that at some point you came out the other side with new life. What brought you back from the brink of seemingly hopeless circumstance to reach up and rise again?

There’s a meme going around that says, “Without women preachers, we would have no knowledge of the resurrection.” In all four Gospel accounts, it is the women who first find the empty tomb. In Matthew, Luke, and John, they run and tell the men what they have found. In Mark it appears they do not, as most scholars agree that this earliest of the New Testament gospels originally ended at verse 8, with resurrection appearances added later. I prefer Mark’s original version, which ends with the women running away and not telling anyone. We know that the women eventually told others, otherwise we, as readers, nor Mark, as the writer, wouldn’t know about it. Mark employs a writing technique that lets us, as readers, in on the story, makes us part of the plotline. “He is not here,” the women, and we, are told by the stranger dressed in white. “He has gone on ahead of you to Galilee.” Like the women, we are left to wonder – what did that mean?

Certainly Jesus’ message means different things to different people, and has been coopted and even altered to serve the purposes of various groups throughout human history. Beginning with gospel writers, each had their own view of who Jesus was and what he was about, and included in their writings those things that were important to their belief system or agenda, and left other things out. Every Christian has done the same ever since, including us, creating a Jesus in our own image that suits our purposes. For Mark, it was about going back to the beginning, to the roots of Jesus’ mission and ministry in Galilee. Not spending too much time mourning Jesus’ death but taking up his cross and continuing his work. Galilee was where it all started, it was the place a revolution was born – and Mark’s gospel invited Jesus followers back to Galilee to pick up where things were left off. It began in Galilee with healing and teaching and calling people to follow him; it lead to questioning the authority of the Pharisees and putting people over the law. Jesus’ death did not mean that work was over – in fact, the work was just beginning. That was, for Mark, the true resurrection experience. The work continues.

Let that sink in – it is powerful. Death does not mean the end of things – it is the beginning. “So go,” said the stranger dressed in white. “Don’t just stand there and mourn – get back to the work at hand, it’s not over!” Rev. Mark Sandlin writes, “We live in a world where things that are dead stay dead. But that couldn’t be further from the message of Easter. The Easter story teaches us that where there is Love… there are no endings. Death is never final. Hope is never lost. There is always a new way, a new path, a new life. It teaches us that the oppressive systems of this world do not stand a chance against Love. It teaches us that you cannot nail Love down – we tried that once and it did not work. We need to see that while it IS a story from way back, it is ALSO a story that is possible in every moment of our lives.” As Bob said last week, Palm Sunday happened, Palm Sunday always happens. The same can be said of Easter. Sandlin continues, “Easter should remind us that we are called to live resurrected lives. Easter is not just about Jesus; it’s about us; Easter is not about death; it’s about life. Easter is not about the past; it’s about the future. It is not just about the story of a Resurrection that happened then; it is about the resurrections that are happening now. Ultimately, Easter is about how hope breaks into a world that can seem overwhelming and oppressing. It is about how hope can and will overcome death – and not only actual death but the metaphorical deaths that confront us every day. It is about how those deaths aren’t the end of things but the beginning. With Love, death is never final; hope is never lost; there is always a new way, a new path, a new life.”

THAT is the message of Easter. Love overcomes hatred, and even death cannot stop it.  We live, we love, we suffer, we heal, we continue to love. That’s the resurrection that inspires me, much more than the notion that Jesus death and resuscitation frees me from the power of sin. It’s a message we need to hear, over and over again. For many of us, depression and anger have become mainstays of our emotional diets of late. We are barraged with images and sound bites of people saying and doing horrible things to one another, and to the rest of creation. We need to find our bearings, and Easter helps us do that by resurrecting our hope and our passion and our commitment to be the good we want to contribute to world, to be the change, the love.

The most recent example of resurrection comes to us courtesy of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Looking in from the outside, we all viewed the February 14 shooting that killed 17 fellow human beings as a horrible tragedy – we were, as we always are, heartbroken by the losses of life – those of the students whose lives were just beginning, and those of the teachers who shielded them. We were devastated, just as we were when it happened in Columbine, Newtown, San Bernardino, Orlando, Charleston, Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs. Even as the students from Parkland began to rise up, most of us expected things to stay the same. We’d lament the lost lives, argue about whether or not it was a gun issue or a mental health issue or if our video games were too violent, and then the next mass shooting would happen, and we’d start it up all over again. But then … there was a worldwide school walk out, and then there was a march for their lives. Determination for change took its place next to the mourning of losses, and that resolve didn’t ebb away after the first few days, weeks, as it usually does. Adults who mocked those kids were called out – some lost their jobs. Adults who support those kids stood back and let them loose, and then joined them, inspired by their passion. Emma Gonzalez and her friends are rising up, and it is just the beginning. They remind us “there is always a new way, a new path, a new life.”

I’ll close my words with a song. Though I’ve not seen “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hansen,” I am familiar enough with the stories behind them and some of their music that when I heard Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt were doing a mash-up of two of their songs – “You Have Been Found” and “The Story of Tonight,” I bought it immediately on iTunes. Proceeds from sales of the song go to support the March for our Lives initiative, so you ought to buy it too. I have listened to the song, titled “Found / Tonight,” and watched the YouTube video – dozens of times. It is a resurrection experience.



Tomorrow they’ll be more of us …gets me every time.

When have you experienced resurrection – an experience from which you thought you couldn’t possibly recover, couldn’t possibly move on, only to find that at some point you came out the other side with new life? What brought you back from the brink of seemingly hopeless circumstance to reach up and rise again?