Alleluia, Christ is risen! (He is risen, indeed, alleluia!)
Will you pause to pray with me? Good and gracious God, Majestic and Mysterious God, Magnificent and Munificent God, come near now. Bend low. We bid you enter the secret and sacred chambers of our hearts. Come close to us that we may come close to you. Amen.
The way Mark ends his story of Jesus, well, frankly, it’s disconcerting. He ends his story by reporting that the women, fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Afraid. That’s the last word, the final word in Mark’s story of Jesus. And I want say, Gee, Mark,
thanks a bunch. Big help. I’ve got a church full of people here and this is what you give them: terror and fear?
Across the span of two millennia I imagine Mark nodding his head. I imagine Mark nodding and saying to me, to us: Yes, this ending is absolutely deliberate. Because that’s the way it went down that day. The women were terrified.
Mark wants you know that he knows, and God knows something elemental about what it is to be human. To be human is to know fear and terror; it is to experience panic, to be seized with dread.
We are quite often afraid. Afraid for our children; terrified something will happen to them. Afraid of growing old, of losing faculties; we fear the diminishment of our minds and our bodies. Afraid of being alone forever. Afraid of a distressing diagnosis that changes everything or brings the far horizon of mortality right in front of your nose. Afraid of terrorists and active shooters. Afraid of the unhinged one who turns a vehicle (a plane, a car, a truck) into a weapon. Afraid that a warming planet – with its glaciers in catastrophic retreat, with the death last month of the last male northern white rhino – afraid that we can’t stop what we have set in motion.
Afraid is a state, a condition that comes naturally to us, instinctively. We’re wired for it. We’re wired to fear the Woolly Mammoth, the Saber-Toothed Tiger, and the neighboring tribe with whom our ancestors vied for limited resources.
So, yes, on the morning of Easter day, the women fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. They fled and they were afraid because something untoward had happened, something that defies sense. It was confusing and disconcerting and threatening. They didn’t have words for it, or the concept of it. They didn’t know what to do with it.
But here’s the thing: they didn’t stay afraid. Instead, in the days and weeks that followed the death of Jesus, in the days and weeks that followed the disappearance of his body from the tomb, (the vanishing, the evaporation of his body from the tomb), in those days and weeks, he who had died, appeared. Jesus appeared. He made surprise appearances; here and there, to this and these and those of his followers. These post-death appearances start off few and far between, but they start to add up. More and more people experience them. There’s one report that he once appeared to over 500 hundred people. And when he appeared, he did what they knew him to do before his death: he taught and blessed them; he comforted them, he cooked meals for them and he helped them fish. He unfolded the scriptures and gave them instruction.
At first, those who are present for these appearances are afraid to tell others; they are afraid to tell others for fear of being thought an idiot, a chump, a sucker, a rube. (By the way: add that to the list of what we are afraid of. We are afraid of shame, afraid of being thought a fool, afraid of being a laughing stock, afraid of being the one with egg on our faces.) But, slowly, surely, these groups of people who experience Jesus start sharing notes. Slowly, with hesitation at first, then with more and more courage and conviction they start telling and sharing their stories, their experiences: what they saw and heard; what Jesus said and did. They share the this and that of their stories, the how and when and what of their stories. The stories begin to add up and up and up to something quite large and real and formidable, something undeniable, something substantial, something with heft and import and impetus.
Finally, over time, what they add up to is a movement. That’s why you’re here today, it’s how you know the story today. Those who experienced post-resurrection appearances of Jesus became a movement; a movement of quite ordinary people – (and, remarkably, rather an array of people: powerful and powerless people, women and men, Jew and Gentile, the enslaved and the free, people on the top of the heap and those on the bottom … you see, the movement that arose and congealed in the wake of Easter is a movement that defies the ancient Middle Eastern conventions of class and gender, of religion and nationality). Finally, they add up to a movement of ordinary people who, though they are still subject to fears – still afraid something will happen to their child; still afraid that old age will distort and diminish them, that a diagnosis will forever change them, that a tiger or a terrorist will take them out – though they still know fear, they have acquired something else, something new. They have acquired a knowledge, a deep-in-the-marrow-of-their-bones knowledge, that death is not the end, that God has made a way through death. That, while we shall yet lose our share of battles, the war is won.
And with this knowledge, the followers of Jesus assume and acquire a brashness and a boldness, a courage and a daring, a kind of defiance, a rebelliousness and non-conformity they had not before known or dared. They become actors on the world stage. In Jesus name, they become actors, players and contenders. They undertake to activate God’s love in a loveless world. They undertake to activate God’s justice in a manifestly unjust world. They undertake to activate God’s mercy in a merciless world. They undertake to activate the peace of God in a brutish and violent world. The followers of Jesus become activists. Armed with the script Jesus had taught them, they become actors on the world stage.
That’s why you are here today. That’s why churches around the world are full today: because those where present when the resurrected Jesus appeared, were forever changed. And, they could not keep silent. And they could not keep still.
I believe that is what God hopes from us, hopes for us, asks of us in the wake of Easter. I believe it is precisely this that is the legacy and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr, the 50th anniversary of whose assassination we will observe on Wednesday. In Christ’s name and for his sake, Reverend King activated God’s love…he tapped into it and let it loose upon the land.
If Easter has any meaning, if the death of death has any meaning, let it be this: trusting that God has your back, trusting that death is not the end, that you (for God’s sake, for Christ’s sake) become an activist: activating God’s love in this loveless world, activating God’s justice in a manifestly unjust world, activating God’s mercy in a merciless world, activating God’s peace in a violent world.
God knows you’ll need courage for this. You’ll need a level of daring, an ounce of rebelliousness, a touch of non-conformity; you’ll need to acquire some brashness and boldness, some cheek and nerve to take up this work. That is the import of Easter: the death of death is the gift and the provision of courage.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! (He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!)