Neither Questions nor Fear

This sermon was preached on April 4, 2021 (Easter 1B). The text of the day was Mark 16:1-8.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

But the women wouldn’t have known that. Both Marys and Salome wouldn’t have expected it. Dead people stay dead. It was that way before that first Easter morning and it’s been that way ever since. Reminds me of a scene from the recent Pixar movie “Soul.” Terry, the “villain” (if there is one) and accountant tasked with counting all the souls in “the great beyond”, notices a soul is missing. He runs to tell one of the beings in charge. “we’ve got a problem; the count is off!” Jerry responds flippantly, “I seriously doubt that; the count hasn’t been off in centuries.”

The women had no reason to skip along singing jubilantly. They couldn’t have imagined a scenario where they’d decked out to the nines (or forced to wear a tie by their mom.) There wasn’t an Egg Hunt or an Easter Dinner to plan and make happen.

No, they were going to that tomb because the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion was a rush job. With little time to process the loss, grief, and disappointment Jesus’ death meant, the women watched as a wealthy and influential guy they knew went by the name of Joe (they knew he had secret sympathies toward Jesus and his message about a topsy-turvey kingdom) was able to negotiate with Pilate for Jesus’ body. They saw Joe put Jesus into a tomb-like cave, using all his considerable might to roll a stone over the opening.

It wasn’t done right. It wasn’t done with the care and love Jesus deserved. It wasn’t done with the honor his (proclaimed) status required. And so as soon as the sun went down on Saturday they went to buy some good-smelling spices to shower upon the body before it got too smelly. They wanted to do for Jesus what he had done for them: show honor, respect, and love. But because it was already night when they hatched their plan, they didn’t have time to work out all the details.

You know how it is, you know you need to get something done but you don’t think things through. How am I going to pay for the kids’ new travel baseball team? How am I going to fix the car to get to work? How am I going to show her I do love her?

The women know they need to go there, but they don’t stop and think about how they are actually going to get that stone out of the way. They enter what becomes Easter morning with their heads full of questions: “how are we going to get that stone out of the way?” This wasn’t Mumford and Sons singing “Roll away your stone and I’ll roll away mine.” These women couldn’t do it and they made no plan, so Easter morning comes and they are full of questions.

But that’s no different from you or me. We come to Easter morning, especially this Easter after not being able to gather last year, full of questions. And I’m not just talking about questions like “Is the sermon going to be so boring I fall asleep?” even though that’s always a good one. I mean the nagging questions that might keep you up on Holy Saturday: “Can I really sing the beloved hymns with all my being when I still can’t get over the disappointment and grief brought on by the miscarriage?” “How can I hear about the resurrection when Grandma just died earlier this year?” “What good news am I going to hear when I just heard another news story about another mass shooting?” “Why should I even go and hear about the restoration of all things when my marriage is falling apart and divorce seems likely?”

Our questions hang like a millstone around our necks, dragging our eyes down so we miss what’s going on. It happens to us and it happened to the women. It wasn’t until they look up, until their “sight” is partially restored that they catch a glimpse of what is going on. The stone has already been rolled back. The tomb is open. Unbeknownst to them and despite their heads filled with questions, the resurrection has already taken place. It didn’t rely on their strength, plans, or achievement—it never does.

They see the stone rolled back and they’re curious. They go in. I don’t know what they expect, but it’s probably not an angelic-looking young man just hanging out in there. He speaks with a tone as if he’s been waiting for them for a bit, you know that tone you take when you’ve been waiting for someone at the restaurant past when you agreed you’d be there. It’s a mixture of exasperation and relief because now you can get those nachos you’ve been craving. They probably don’t hear the tone because they’re too “alarmed” by his mere presence.

Anyway, he’s been given a message for them to hear and to share with all the rest of Jesus’ disciples, so he does. “Don’t be afraid [yeah, okay!]; you’re looking for Jesus from up the road in Nazareth. You know the Crucified One. God raised him. I know! He’s not here. You can see for yourself if you don’t believe me. Look over there. See, he’s not where they put him. Either way, go tell his friends, yes including Peter (even though he doesn’t deserve it), that he’s going back to his home state of Galilee before y’all. Go there and you’ll see him, just like he told y’all before all this.”

Let’s hit the pause button for a moment on this replay. There are a couple of things of utmost importance in how we understand God, Jesus, and the nature of the Christian faith here in this young man’s speech. #1) While telling the women about Jesus’ resurrection (there’s no narration here or in any of the other gospels of the event itself), the young man refers to Jesus as The Crucified One. He says it like it’s a title. The resurrection doesn’t cancel the crucifixion; it confirms its work. The Risen One is the Crucified One. “The Risen One, the Christ and Son of God, the Son of man…is not to be separated from the career of the crucified man of Nazareth.[1]

And related #2) This is God’s doing, through and through. God raises the Crucified One. Whereas in Wandavision it was Agatha all along, it was God all along. If there was any doubt to God’s hand in the Cross, the resurrection corroborates the goods—it’s God’s action. Jesus was handed over to death for our sins and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25) As Craddock tells us, “Easter did not eradicate but vindicated Good Friday. And if [any] do not experience Jesus as dead, they can hardly experience him as resurrected.[2]” God was not absent in the Cross, it was God’s own doing defeating death and rising to new life.

But the women didn’t give this much thought. They high-tail it out of there. They were expecting to close one chapter of their life, not start a new one. They thought their going to the tomb was the end of a story, but it can’t stop won’t stop, God won’t let it. And it terrifies them. They knew what this power meant; they knew what resurrection means. It means nothing is safe anymore. It means no part of our lives can stay the same. It means the forgiveness conferred upon us on the Cross is paired with true freedom. It means grace.

After the resurrection, there is no going back to normal because normal doesn’t even begin to describe when the new life in Jesus encroaches upon our lives. When the dead parts of our lives, those places we don’t want to show anyone, those places we cling to even though we know they aren’t good for us, those places that keep us up in the middle of the night, when those are touched by God’s grace, it feels like the heavy stone that’s been weighing you down has finally been rolled away and you can breathe. It sounds lovely, but in reality, it’s terrifying.

We are afraid to let our little self-actualization projects go. We are afraid we will have to let go of those dreams we’ve always had. We’re afraid the life we planned out for ourselves (or those we love) will have to change.

I heard a story from another pastor. A mother came to him devastated because her high-achieving, incredibly talented, and upward-climbing son was throwing it all away. Through tears, she told the pastor that the son had decided to leave school to go to Afghanistan to work with and help the refugees there. They needed help, they needed service, they needed love. When she asked her son “why?” he told her that he was just trying to do what Jesus was calling him to do; that because he’d experienced the love of God in the Cross, he felt compelled to go share it with those refugees. The mother complained to the pastor, “If I knew he was going to do THAT, I wouldn’t have brought him to church!”

The women run away afraid, keeping their mouths shut (at least for the moment) about the whole thing. They came to the tomb full of questions and they run away full of fear. But something had to of changed because you’re here. The power of the resurrection worked its way into their lives and they couldn’t help but tell people. They couldn’t help but share what happened to them. Jesus went out ahead of them, and they couldn’t help but try and go to where he is, do what he does, love how he loves (a love shown and given on the Cross).

That’s the thing about Christ’s resurrection, neither our questions nor our fears are more powerful than Jesus’ new life. Indeed, Christ resurrects us despite ourselves, not because of anything we do, say, or think. The story may end in a cliffhanger here, but God continues to write his resurrection story in you for it is just as true as it was for those first women at the tomb: Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!

Amen.


[1] Eugene Boring, Mark, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006) p. 445

[2] Fred Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year – B, p. 225

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