Sermons
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April 5, 2015, 12:00 AM

Easter Sunday Sermon 2015

Easter Sunday

2015 - Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    Sermon writing is a bit like story telling. You start with a thought or an insight that you’d like to share—that’s the middle of your sermon. So, you try to find a hook that will tease your audience into actually listening to your sermon—that’s your beginning; and finally, you try and wrap it up and find some way to relate what is the good news of what’s going on in the Bible to how we ought to approach our lives here in the 21st century—that’s how a sermon ends. Sermons are just like any good story in that they have a beginning, a middle, and an end.    

    Now when Mark sat down close to two thousand years ago to write his Gospel, he did so because he wanted to tell the story of Jesus and his disciples. And, like any good story, it begins at the beginning. Mark opens his gospel with the following: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark follows that up with a brief introduction of John the Baptist preparing people for God’s Messiah, and as soon as Jesus is baptized we’re off to the races. Immediately we are in the thick of Mark’s gospel: Jesus is healing the sick and exorcising demons, and before long he has recruited disciples and is preaching and teaching throughout Galilee. Jesus continues his public ministry through working miracles, healing the sick, and teaching many in parables. Eventually, Mark’s story comes to a close as we trace through the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

    But there’s a problem with Mark’s gospel…there isn’t really an ending at the conclusion of Mark’s gospel. Let’s take another look at Mark’s telling of Easter Morning. Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of James and Salome go to the tomb in the garden to anoint the body of Christ. But on the way they are worried that they will not be strong enough to roll away the heavy stone which seals the entrance to the tomb. But when they arrive, just after dawn, they find, to their astonishment, that the huge stone has already been moved aside.

    Not knowing what they will find, they quietly enter the tomb, and are confronted by a young man, dressed all in white robes, he was probably an angel, who tells them. "Do not be afraid; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here, see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you."

    But then what happens? Do the women run back to the disciples to share the great news with them? Do they shout from the roof tops that Jesus is raised from the dead? No, nothing of the kind. Marks only says that "they went out and fled from the tomb; for fear and trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone. 

    And that is where the real Gospel of Mark concludes. Right there. This ending was so abrupt, so confusing in its lack of resolution, that later Christians added a two separate endings to the story with accounts of Jesus' appearance in Galilee, but as far as the experts can tell, the oldest and original version of the Gospel of Mark ends right there. No appearances of the Risen Christ, no words of encouragement, no great commission, just this: "They went out and fled the tomb; for fear and trembling and astonishment had come upon them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” If you can believe it, the conclusion of Mark’s gospel is even more abrupt in the original Greek. Translating literally, The Gospel of Mark actually ends “they said nothing to no one, they were afraid because……”

    

    Now, from a narrative perspective, Mark fails to give us a satisfying ending. But that is exactly were Mark’s literary genius is revealed. For I believe that Mark understood that when he reports that the “women told no one because they were afraid,” that this is the end of the Mark’s written story, but that it is not the end of Christ’s Gospel. 

    What Mark understood better than most, is that no written account could ever capture the total story of the gospel. More than that, Mark knew that the the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning, does not, and will not end. 

    What Mark’s audience, both two thousand years ago and today, knew, is that Mark wasn’t telling the whole story. How do we know this? Well..simple…we’re here, aren’t we?

    The church, we here today, are all proof that the women did not, and could not, stay silenced in terror. Eventually they found the courage to report what the angel had told them: that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and he awaits them back in Galilee. The women, as the angel commanded them, told Peter and the rest of the Disciples the amazing news. Peter and the disciples, in turn, responded to witnessing the resurrected Christ by bolding proclaiming the Gospel in all corners of the world and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

    What Mark knew, what I believe Mark was trying to tell us is that quite literally, God will always have the last word. 

    Mark’s account of Good Friday is perhaps the most bleak of any of the four gospels. As Jesus himself predicted, the shepherd was struck, and the sheep were scattered. Jesus dies a total failure in Mark’s gospel. Abandoned by his disciples, feeling abandoned by God, Jesus is only recognized and proclaimed as the Son of God in the moments after his death. Worse than that, despite being told several times that Jesus would be persecuted and killed, but raised back to life on the third day, when these women actually witness the reality of these predictions, they run away, their terror preventing them from proclaiming the glad tidings of Easter Morning. 

    Mark’s written gospel ends in total, absolute, and abject failure. But Mark wouldn’t write the last word. God would. God will not allow the story to end poorly. Medieval Christian Mystic Julian of Norwich described it this way:“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” John Lennon put it another way: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.”

    And that’s what we have in Mark’s Gospel: proof that despite the apparent failures and devastations of this world, the knowledge, the Good News that God will, in time, transform our brokenness into the fullness of God’s undying love and protection. In Mark’s Gospel, we have the beginning and the middle of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but the end of the gospel, the end of all stories, belongs not to Mark, neither to Matthew, Luke or John, but to God alone. 

 

    I could end my sermon there. But if you would indulge me, I’d like to make one final point because I believe that Mark was a genius, and I think that his every nuance should be carefully considered. 

    We know that Mark doesn’t give us the whole story. Somewhere, some how, the women, together with the disciples, transform from scared and confused blockheads into the very pillars of the Church. Now, a lot of us would like to know how that happened—we want to see that transformation take hold. But on that point, Mark remains steadfastly silent. And, interestingly enough, the only clue which Mark gives us, does not answer the question of “how” but “where.”

    Remember the only words which the angel spoke to the two women, the very last words which that angel spoke for God to his people. "Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee, there you will see him as he told you."

    "Go to Galilee", why what's there? What is so important about Galilee that the disciples must go there to find the Risen Lord? What is in Galilee, what did that mean to the disciples? What does Galilee represent for our modern ears?

    Well, simply, Galilee is where it all began. By the shores of Galilee Jesus first called Peter and the others to be his disciples. Galilee that is where all of this started. It is where they first became disciples and where they first learned who Jesus was and what he was about to do. Galilee is where it all began, but more than that, for the disciples, Galilee was home. It is where they would now return to pick up the pieces of their beautifully shattered lives. Galilee was where they lived their lives before Jesus turned their lives upside down, Galilee is where they would try to put things back together, now he was no longer with them.

    Jesus is risen from the dead, that was a fact which Mark and all those who read or heard his Gospel knew. But that momentous fact takes life, that event only becomes real when its consequences are lived out in the ordinary events of everyday life back in Galilee. 

    You can’t comprehend Easter in the abstract. The Good News of Christ’s resurrection can only be understood in the context of our average, ordinary, everyday lives. Many people come to Church, whether it is on Easter Sunday or any other day, hoping very sincerely, with open minds and hearts to find something which they some how feel is lacking in their lives. You could call it faith, or assurance, or peace of mind, whatever you call, there is something very deep and essential which we are hoping to find in Church on Easter. And maybe it is here, maybe they, maybe you will find it this morning, but Mark is trying to tell you that this is not the only place to look.

    For in his Gospel, the disciples do not find Jesus, they do not find faith worshipping at the now empty tomb. That tomb is the symbol of Christ's victory, but he is not confined to that place. In the other Gospel's the Risen Lord is indeed encountered at the tomb, as you may well find him here today. But for Mark, if the disciples want to find Jesus, and wanted to be found by him, the tomb was not the place. Galilee, back in their own everyday lives, back as normal people living normal lives, doing the things people do to make it from day to day, that is where they will find Jesus. That is where they can find faith, and assurance and peace of mind. That is where there lives are lived and that is where Christ will be with them. What Mark is saying Mark is saying to those first Christians, what his Gospel is saying to us today, is the place where we are most likely to find the Risen Lord is right in the midst of our everyday lives. That is where he now lives. And that he has given us power to live our lives in light of his ultimate victory over sin and death. More than that, we are invited to contribute to the centuries long story of the gospel. We are able to continue the gospel in our own lives…to, like the disciples, find the courage to contribute our verse to the story of salvation. 

    Mark’s Gospel then has three parts: Beginning, Middle, and Re-Beginning. 

    Go back, Mark entreats us. Go back to your lives knowing that God is with you. Go back knowing that God has suffered human pain and now comforts us in our own afflictions. Go back to the beginning and start fresh again knowing that Christ is Lord. Go back, literally, to the beginning of Mark’s own gospel, and rest assured that despite their near constant failures, this ragtag bunch of men and women will eventually get it right. Rest easy that even in failure, you’re in good company with the saints of God. Return home knowing that God loves you, until ultimately, God calls you home to his everlasting love. 

Amen.

    

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