Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
“Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?” It’s Easter morning and we heard these hauntingly beautiful words sung at our 8:00 am service this morning – words that echo those sung on Good Friday when we ended with Jesus being sealed in the tomb. But now Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! It’s time to be filled with joy. It’s time to rejoice. It’s time to celebrate. It’s time to ……run away? If you’re reading the gospel of Mark, that’s exactly how he describes what happened at the resurrection. Unlike the other gospel writers, who end with post-resurrection appearances by Jesus, Mark ends with people running away in terror. Not the kind of resurrection story you’d expect. In fact if you look in your Bibles, early Christians added shorter and longer versions to the end of Mark’s gospel thinking that he must have intended different endings. But scholars agree that Mark’s gospel – the earliest of the gospels – did in fact end this abruptly with fear, terror, and amazement. Unlike the other gospels accounts, perhaps this is why Mark’s gospel speaks to us most personally today.
We all know what it’s like to go and get something we’ve put away only to find it’s not there. We remember putting it there. We remember seeing it. But now it’s gone, and we have to find it. Panic starts to set. Where did it go? Where could it be? We want it back. It’s important to us. That’s the same thing that happened on that first Easter morning. The disciples knew that Jesus was sealed in the tomb, and yet when the women went to anoint Jesus’ body, which was the custom, he was gone. Where was he? Who took his body? Panic and fear set in.
There’s a lot of fear going around these days. We hear it on the news and wonder what horrible thing is going to happen next. People are worried for their children, parents, the health of those we love, and finances. Every one of you here today has experienced worry or may be worried about something right now. We are afraid of a great many things and it’s hard to live in that kind of fear every day. It’s not the way God intended for us to live. It leads us to feel alone and isolated. Jesus knew that feeling of isolation.
At Jesus’ crucifixion all his friends left him. Peter denied him, the disciples ran away and hid in fear, but the women stayed. The women stayed and experienced the agony of watching the one they loved die. We hear today that three days later in the dark early morning hours, they went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body with oil and spices as was the customary practice. This was their last act of love and caring for the person they had loved. This act alone shows that they did not believe that Jesus was resurrected as he had promised. How could they? They watched him die. They were still stricken with deep grief and sorrow. The one they had come to love and follow was gone and they were beside themselves in grief.
For those of who came to the Good Friday service here just a couple of days ago, you know the feeling. We prayed and meditated on Jesus’ death on the cross. Many of us left with tears in our eyes, because this pain is real. God became truly human in Jesus and actually died a horrible tragic death. It leaves one feeling like the women did as they went to the tomb that morning – filled with sorrow and grief. It’s natural to feel that way when someone you love dies.
Members of this congregation have experienced significant losses this year. Death is a hard part of life. I learned this myself from an early age as I grieved the loss of all my grandparents. Before I was even a teenager I grieved the loss of others in my family – beloved aunts, uncles, and friends. While still in my early twenties my best friend suddenly died. Later, I would grieve the sudden and tragic loss of my nephew, then my father, and most recently my sister. At times I wished I didn’t love people so much because then I wouldn’t experience the deep pain of their loss. I know many of you have felt and feel the same way. Love is a costly thing. Yet the pain is even more severe if you stop loving because then you miss out on all the joy. Love is a costly thing. God knows – it cost him a son. Jesus knows; it cost him his life.
So why do we talk about death on this joyous Easter morning. Many people purposely avoid Good Friday services so they can avoid thinking about death, but death has everything to do with Easter. Jesus was human. He ate, he slept, he was tired, he wept, and he died. Mark makes that plain. But he also really was raised from the dead. Easter is the celebration of how God overcame death and the grave. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, he broke the chains of death’s hold on us. Our earthly bodies will die, but they will be resurrected again on the last day. Jesus has promised this to us. And Jesus does not go back on his promises. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection death will no longer hold us prisoner. It’s only temporary. The stone has been rolled away. Jesus is not there. He is risen. Jesus is on the loose!
That’s what terrified the women that first Easter Sunday. Jesus was on the loose! He really was raised like he said he would be. Of course it terrified them! They could not deny the power of God. They were speechless. They were in awe. God had done the unthinkable. God had undone the power of death. Wouldn’t you run?
Wouldn’t you run if you were there? And don’t we as disciples today still want to run on hearing the truth of these words? The resurrection changes everything! There is nothing God cannot do! And when we find ourselves lost, and grieving, and afraid, we no longer grieve like those who have no hope because we know that God is more powerful than even death itself.
Mark ends his gospel without the resurrection occurrences because Jesus is on the loose! It leaves us wondering in awe and amazement. Where is he? Is he in my house? At my school? Where I work? On the highway? In the grocery store? In our neighborhoods? Our communities? In the face of the stranger? The face of the person I don’t get along with? The person sitting right next to me? And the answer is yes! Yes! Jesus is everywhere! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! This really happened! It’s not just a story we tell once a year. This is what we as Christians believe. This is the foundation of our faith. We are Easter people, living in the resurrection of God’s amazing grace. This is why we are here this morning, to hear once again that Jesus is risen and is on the loose. We don’t know where we are going to bump into him next. And this should give us reason to be excited and a little afraid at the same time. We don’t know where Jesus will show up next. That means we have to be ready. We have to love one another as Jesus commanded us to do.
There’s a lot of things that could cause us to be afraid, but we have bigger news to report. Jesus is alive! Each and every day – everywhere we go – Jesus is right here with us. And once the women who were the first to witness the empty tomb understood this they did go and tell everyone. How else would the news have spread? Once they got over the initial shock, they couldn’t stop telling people and neither can we. Jesus is alive! He is with us and in us and the world is waiting to encounter Jesus through us. Jesus is on the loose. Spread this Good News wherever you go! Live in the joy of the resurrection. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!