Sermon for April 4th, 2021
Mark 16:1-8 (NT p.54)
1 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. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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. And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.
Out of the Darkness & Into the Light
Today's sermon is about coming out of the darkness and into the light. After the past 12 months, I think it's something we can all relate to. Last Easter, we were all (myself included) looking at each other through a screen, and wondering if the world could possibly get any more dark. And yet, even in the darkness, somehow, some way, that shining light of humor known as the "Dad joke" still managed to thrive. Here are my top ten favorites:
10. Why do they call it the novel coronavirus? Well, It’s a long story...
9. You never thought the comment “I wouldn’t touch that person with a six-foot pole” would become a national policy, but here we are!
8. For those of you who had children during the pandemic, what will you call them 13 years from now? Quaranteens!
7. My spouse purchased a world map and then gave me a dart and said, “Throw this and wherever it lands—that's where I’m taking you when this pandemic ends.” Turns out, we’re spending two weeks behind the refrigerator.
6. Midway through the pandemic, The World Health Organization announced that dogs cannot contract COVID-19. Dogs previously held in quarantine were released. To be clear, WHO let the dogs out.
5. Speaking of dogs, a few months into the pandemic, our dogs were looking at us like, "See? This is why I chew the furniture!"
4. (For literature enthusiasts) What’s the difference between COVID-19 and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? One’s a coronavirus and the other is a Verona crisis.
3. (For fans of the British rock group Dire Straits) If you used your stimulus check to buy baby chickens, then you got the money for nothing and your chicks for free.
2. Never in our lives would we have imagined a season in which our hands consumed more alcohol than our mouths.
1. After years of wanting to thoroughly clean our houses but lacking the time, we finally discovered... that wasn’t really the reason.
Today's scripture passage from Mark is, out of all the gospels, the oldest and earliest version of the resurrection story. And in the very oldest manuscripts, the story ends right there at verse eight. There are no actual appearances of Jesus to the disciples, no great commission, no ascension into heaven. Just an empty tomb, and the slight glimmer of hope that maybe...maybe, the story of Jesus has not, in fact, come to an abrupt and tragic end.
I think this is exactly the moment we find ourselves in today. In the past year, we have experienced death and devastation--for some the loss of loved ones and a way of life, for others the loss of faith in government institutions or even human decency. We have often felt isolated and enclosed in darkness, sealed away from human interaction and contact, hoping for some kind of resurrection, some kind of return to the life we knew before.
With the arrival of a vaccine, and the lessening of some restrictions, there is a small glimmer of hope. And yet, there is still so much fear and uncertainty. Is it safe to come out? Or is this just another false promise, destined to end in disappointment and more darkness?
I think there is hope and light in our scripture story today, although (as is often the case in the scriptures) perhaps not exactly in the way we might wish or expect.
Verse 1: "When the sabbath was over..." Sabbath, in Jewish thought, is a time of rest and reflection. It is not always a time of peace or happiness. We might easily read, "When the quarantine was over..."
"Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him."
These three women, despite great risk to their own lives (because Jesus and all his followers had been declared an enemy of the Roman Empire) decided to GO and anoint him. They decided that their commitment and love for Jesus outweighed the risk to their own personal safety. Was that a good decision? Was it the right decision? I don't know. These kinds of decisions are highly personal, and the Bible certainly doesn't fault Peter and the other disciples who decided it was NOT yet safe to go.
But Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome WENT. Thanks be to God for those who venture out first, despite the risk that entails.
Verses 3 and 4: 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."
I love the recognition on the part of these three women that they are utterly incapable of accomplishing, on their own, a critical step in their plan. I also love that it doesn't stop them from doing what they feel is the right thing to do.
Likewise, when we make the decision to honor our Lord and savior above all others, I believe that God (even today!) rolls away the obstacles to our plans...and then changes our plans entirely. These women never accomplished what they set out to do, which was to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. But in their brave and and steadfast devotion, they were caught up in God's larger plan, which was not at all what they expected. As you venture out into the light, be bold in your plans...BUT hold on to those plans lightly!
Verse 5: "As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed."
In the Greek language of the New Testament, "young man" is νεανίσκος (neaniskos)--not only someone who is young, but usually a servant, an "errand boy" if you will. Now, in Middle Eastern (and Greek) culture, women are (unfortunately) near the bottom of the social hierarchy. A neaniskos, a servant boy, is just about the only kind of person who would be even lower. I think the "alarm" of the women in this case is not so much fear, but confusion and doubt. This is not exactly an authoritative, believable person.
Verse 6: "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.'"
In the era of Covid 19, we all have our trusted, reliable sources of information. That's great. Listen to them. But sometimes God speaks to us through unlikely sources, or even complete strangers. We shouldn't ever accept blindly (and the women in our story clearly do not), but we should always listen carefully to other voices. The young man says "Look, there is the place they laid him."
Don't discard valid evidence just because it comes from an unusual place. Use the mind God gave you, but always keep your mind open to other perspectives. Herd immunity is good. But herd mentality can often lead us over a cliff.
Verse 8: "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. And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation."
Two things here: First, "they fled from the tomb" in "terror and amazement." Terror and amazement. These are indeed two sides of the same coin. When we have lived in the darkness for so long, the light can be a terrifying and amazing thing. I wish I could tell you today that coming out into the light is a simple and easy thing. Just do it. But I know that it's not. Terror and amazement. Sometimes it's good to hold these two things in balance...and balance means not letting one overwhelm the other.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome fled from the tomb, and they didn't say anything to anyone until they were in the presence of their faith community, people who shared their love for Jesus, and people they knew cared about each other, and about the work Jesus had called them to do. What is your sacred community? I hope it's this one, but even more, I hope that you actually have one, whatever it is--a community of people who share (and challenge!) your values, your thought processes, your reason for existing.
Finally, we read that when all of that community--Peter and the rest of the followers of Jesus--had gotten on the same page, that "Jesus himself sent out THROUGH them (that's important. Jesus didn't do it himself, but THROUGH them) from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation."
I want to leave you with this thought: Where do you put your trust for salvation? In political parties and leaders? In journalism? In conspiracy theories? In medical science? In religion? Because ALL of these things have something in common, no matter how compelling they seem...they have all frequently been wrong, throughout history. They have all reversed course, over and over again, and they are all creations of fallible, finite human beings.
The pandemic will end. I wish I knew when, but I don't. And when it does, all of the problems and challenges that plagued us will still be here.
BUT...The way I read the gospel of Mark, the ONLY thing that is truly imperishable, the only thing that can ultimately save us from ourselves, from each other, and from whatever crisis we face...the only thing that can lead us out of the darkness and into the light...is the gospel, the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ, who taught us to love each other, to take care of each other, and to give of ourselves the same way Jesus gave himself for us.
The stone has been rolled away, and the tomb is empty. We are afraid. And we are amazed. But the Son has risen and a new day is dawning. Will you come into the light?