Mark 16:1-8 April 12, 2020
Rev. David J. Clark
John’s gospel says the journey to the tomb began while it was still dark. Like those women who went to the tomb, we stand at a point in history when we cannot see very far down the path in front of us—of the twists and turns and dangers on this pandemic road. There is so much we don’t know about what will happen to us and people we care about and our care providers. We carry concerns about full hospitals and empty cupboards. Parents stress over simultaneously trying to be teachers and work-from home employees. We come to the tomb this morning while the way ahead is still dark.
The women going to the tomb carried the heavy weight of grief. We can name that for ourselves. We grieve over the lives and jobs lost, the disruption in everyone’s lives, including our own.
Although we don’t know all the twists and turns of this road, we know where it leads—to the empty tomb. A symbol of transformation, of new learnings, new strength, refocusing of our priorities and finding new life. The thing about Easter is that it isn’t so much about what happened to Jesus’ body way back when. Easter is about what happens to us—the transformation in our lives when we go through something awful. We start in darkness but believe we end in Easter light. We will find ways to be better people, more faithful. More loving. Alleluia!
Like those women who did not have a clue as to how roll away that stone in front of the tomb, we come to Easter without a clue as to how the obstacles in front of us will be overcome. When the women arrive at the tomb, they discover that the stone had already been moved. May it be so for us. But in case they aren’t miraculously removed, Jesus showed us how to get things moving. It’s all right there in his teaching and example.
Obstacles are overcome through the power of us coming together and helping each other. Instead of focusing on our individual problems and worries, we think of others. We practice kindness and make sure people have what they need. We encourage. We give people the benefit of the doubt. We make sacrifices in service to a common good. We love. That is how the great obstacles to human advancement have always been overcome. Let us be about that now.
When the women arrive at the tomb, a man dressed in white proclaims that Christ is risen.
As it’s my job to speak to you about that proclamation this morning, I must admit it is weird to do it by looking into a camera instead of your eyes. As we’ve recorded these services, I like to imagine you here with me. Look it’s the Sams family up there in the balcony with all the other balconites. It’s the Satarino family right up close, the choir behind me. The Dixons over there. Somebody make sure Lars and Sven are where they’re supposed to be. Pohorsky, too. Here comes the Keisler’s. It’s almost as if I can feel your presence with me and you are in my heart every week. Even now, especially, now.
We are recording this on Thursday morning. When you watch this on Easter morning our sanctuary will be empty–as empty as Jesus’s tomb. And that’s as it should be. Because the resurrection is about life. And this year our dedication to life is predicated on the need not to gather in large groups. Our sanctuary is empty so that hospital beds may be empty, so that the curve may be flattened, so that we can one day we can be clear of the worries that fill our heads and keep us up at night.
In Mark’s account Jesus is not at the tomb, he has already moved on. The man in the white robe says, “Go and tell Peter and the disciples he is not here, he has risen, and he has gone on to Galilee where he will meet them.” Galilee is their home. He will meet them at home, he will be with them in their living out the faith.
For us, the focus is not on the empty sanctuary but trust that Jesus meets us in our homes and through our acts of loving service thereby giving us the love and peace we need.
Today’s headline is not about an empty sanctuary. It is about how we are deployed to serve a world that is hurting. We have been deployed to bring light and connection to anyone we can reach–whether it is through our phones, or letters or our social media platforms. This includes Zoom meetings—weather you can figure out how to mute yourself or not. We are commissioned to be people of hope, of grace, and ease the great anxiety gripping our world. Make sure you share our service on your pages so others can benefit.
In your history books you will learn the church went from being kind of a marginal sect with very few followers into the biggest religious movement of all time. The big transformation came because during a time of great famine and disease Christians sacrificed themselves to help strangers. They put themselves at risk to care for the sick and the despondent. They took orphans into their own homes. Others saw that great love, that great commitment and said, “Maybe there is something to this whole thing.” It was a time of great hope and inspiration for people. It was a time of the greatest growth for the church and people discovered a healing presence, a sense of peace and purpose that connected them to God and transformed their lives.
When the history books are written about this moment of history, let them say that again the people of the church answered the call to dedicate themselves to healing and wholeness and looking out for people and doing what we can to make life better. Easter people are bearers of hope that when the world has done its worst there is still something God can do.
Right now, people are looking for hope and answers. Many have never faced a real crisis in their lives, and they are freaking out. Many who have faced plenty of crises are freaking out, too.
They want to know if we have something that helps make sense of suffering and pain. We have the cross at the center–a cross that reminds us that innocent suffering and pain and death are real. That believing in God doesn’t mean you will never suffer. But Easter faith says suffering never has the last word. Injustice and disease and loss and betrayal are real, sometimes it rips our guts out. BUT, we live with hope that God is always working to bring something good out of the worst situations.
We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. Tony Campolo tells about a preacher who had this way of saying it. When something awful, tragic and senseless happens, instead of letting it crush them, he’d just say, what’s happening right now is the stuff of Good Friday; yeah, it’s bad, but it’s only Friday. Sunday’s coming. When circumstances of life, or other people try to trample you down you can say “It’s only Friday, Sunday’s coming.” You’ve had a bad diagnosis–it’s only Friday: Sunday’s coming. You are going through a rough spot right now? It’s only Friday, Sunday’s coming! You’ve lost your way for a while. It’s only Friday.
We have an Easter hope in a Good Friday world—especially now.
Rev. Jill Kirchner-Rose wrote about this guy who was at the end of his rope. He had been very successful, a child prodigy who was at the top of the world when by the time he turned 20. Everyone loved his stuff. But over time he lost popularity and fame. Blew all his money, declared bankruptcy. Suffered from a stroke or palsy that left one this musician’s hands gnarled. He stress ate. He threw in the towel on his career and went to a very dark place.
Although most people thought he was all washed up, his best days far behind him, someone still believed in him and asked if he could write some music to go along with an Easter script he had written about Jesus. It told about the whole life of Jesus that began with prophecies about him and stretched all the way through his resurrection.
The musician looked at the script and fixated on a passage from Isaiah. “Comfort, ye, comfort ye, my people.” The verse kept turning over in his head. He needed comfort in his despair. And it came to him and a melody came to him.
He was so taken with this, that he took on the project. Pretty much self-isolated for three weeks, working feverishly, composing a score sheet nearly 250 pages long. By the time he re-emerged his faith, his outlook on life was transformed. In the glorious chorus he felt as if he could almost see and feel the presence of God in it. It’s a great story of darkness turning to Easter joy.
I can identify. There have been times that I like him, have just wanted to say I can’t deal with it. I want to hide ‘neath my covers and study my pain. But this Easter song reminds us that God has the final say and God is still working, relentlessly and we should never, ever give up.
The artist’s name: George Handel. The composition: The Messiah. The big chorus is the Alleluia chorus. Tradition has it that when King George II heard it in an auditorium, he stood up. Don’t know if it was because he was so moved or some other reason. Nevertheless, it’s a tradition to stand when it’s sung.
So, here is what I want you to do. I want to you rise to your feet, right now. I know you are sitting in front of a computer screen and you’ll feel silly. I don’t care. You’re at home, who do you have to impress? Stand up. Stand up believers and scoffers and sinners and saints, one and all. Let your body and heart rise up. Come on rise up. For we proclaim a faith that says death and darkness, hate and disease and hardship and fear do not have the last word. Alleluia.
If others are with you pull them up, too. Don’t let them just sit there. Now, grab their hands and give a gentle squeeze, pouring all the love you have into that connection. And if you are alone—reach out with your heart to someone—living in this life or the next—and pour your love into them and let it flow back into your heart, your soul. Because that’s what we have—love. That’s what this is all about.
We’ll get through this. It’s only Friday. Easter’s coming! And it’s already here. Alleluia! Amen