a sermon on Easter

The Holy Gospel According to Mark 16:1-8

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Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!  What an honor it is to stand with you here, on this side of the story we have been anticipating since Ash Wednesday, after we packed away the Alleluias, after we examined our hearts, reminded ourselves we were dust, and entered into a season of contemplation.  What an honor it is to stand here with you after washing feet on Thursday, adoring the cross on Friday, and proclaiming the very first Alleluia again on Saturday. What a day. What a place to be. What a time to be together.

We read today only one of the accounts of this day of resurrection, the one found in the gospel of Mark.  This is the particular text that for thousands of years has been perplexing readers, scribes, and the faithful.  It has so much that we associate with this day- the stone, someone robed in white, a Jesus that is no longer there.  Women walking to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, early in the morning. These are the faithful women who were there when Jesus died, who knew him in his earthly life, and who head to the tomb to do what friends do, to pay respects to the body of one they loved.  They are wonderfully practical in their action and their dialogue- I imagine them, like many female presenting people through time, wiping the tears from their eyes and heading to the market, first to buy the spices that are needed, because grief has to be set aside when there are practicalities to attend to.  As they walk in the early morning light to the tomb, the only words we hear are the practical questions- who is going to roll the stone away? You know, it is heavy. Can the three of us do it? I imagine one of them saying something like, I really want to get this done today. I don’t want to have to come back just because we forgot to get someone to help us move that stupid stone.

But it isn’t the practical matters that make this passage so difficult.  If you look in most bibles, you will see a longer passage in parentheses following our text for today.  Usually it is called something like, alternative ending to Mark. Because this ending feels pretty incomplete.  Because these wonderfully faithful and practical women, they arrive at the tomb ready to anoint the body of Jesus, and that stone which troubled them, it has been moved, and standing there, where they expected the body of Jesus to be is a young man in a white robe.  He tells them, don’t freak out. Jesus, the one you came looking for, the one who was crucified, he isn’t here! He has been raised from the dead. Look, look where you thought he was, he isn’t there anymore.

So far, this sounds like a story that is going to unfold in a pretty spectacular way.  But, in Mark’s gospel, this is where the action comes to a crashing halt. Because our text tells us that this robed man tells these three women that they should rush back to the disciples and tell them what happened, but these women were afraid.  They were terrified. And so they left, and according to Mark, because they were afraid they just didn’t tell anyone. Not quite the ending we would hope for, right? That’s it. All the resurrection glory, and then end of story. Ever since this gospel was put to paper, scribes copying it have thought, well, that ending doesn’t sound great.  Let’s add a little something extra. Because surely the writer of this gospel couldn’t have wanted it to end this way.

My favorite alternate ending simply tries to erase that last line, adding that instead of being afraid and telling no one, these women went and just super briefly told Peter.  But, here’s the thing, this might not be our favorite ending, but I do think it is the most realistic, because resurrection, when you aren’t expecting to encounter it, well, it’s terrifying.

We often imagine these wonderfully practical women coming to the tomb with heads hanging in defeat.  We imagine them crying, and wishing and aching for the world they had imagined that Jesus was bringing into being.  We remember those who spread their cloaks on the road on Good Friday, and we think that they must have been angry that the Jesus they cried out to save them turned out to not be quite as powerful as they imagined.

But today, I wonder if perhaps there is another way to look at this story, another lens through which we could see it.  Because perhaps these women were not going to the tomb with heads hung low, tears staining their cheeks, but instead with full hearts, with thanksgiving and gratitude for the life Jesus lived.  For having known him. For having been with him while he healed, for having seen him do the work that he called them to do in his name.

Tonight, my family will attend our family Seder with the Jewish part of Josh’s family.  Because we are a modern multi-religious family, we find a way to move things around to celebrate this significant Jewish holy day in the midst of these Christian holy days.

There is a lot about the Passover that moves me, that awakens me, but there is one part that often has me catching my breath as we eat Matzo and raise glasses of wine.  During the service, there is a part, echoing our remembrance of the ten plagues, where we say, and sometimes sing the word Dayenu. Translated, this word means it would have been enough.  We remember all the times that God showed up for the Jews on their fierce and frightening way out of slavery in Egypt, and at each stage, we say Dayenu, thank you God, because it would have been enough.  Had you only led us out of Egypt but never built for us a temple, Dayenu, it would have been enough. Had you built us a temple, but never given us the commandments, Dayenu, it would have been enough. God, it would have been enough.

So I think of these women, women who had likely set table after table for the passover, who had shared food and wine with their loved ones only days before they trudged to the tomb, and I imagine them carrying in their hearts this very word.  Dayenu. It was enough. It was enough that we knew Jesus. It was enough, God, that you lived among us. Dayenu. If you do nothing more, this, this life, this embodied life was enough.

Yet Resurrection shows up, even when death alone would have been enough.  Because through all of time, that is how God has been to us. Like seeds that push through dirt and snow in the Spring, life keeps bubbling up, even when it would have been enough had we only had a bit of the sweetness of this life.

When Josh and I were awaiting the birth of our first baby, Sam, we spent a lot of time wondering and dreaming about the kind of person we were expecting.  We were first time parents, and as I have learned, whenever a baby is about to enter this world, it is basically terrifying. Who are they going to be? Are you up for the challenge?  Sam arrived only a few hours after we celebrated the Seder, saying Dayenu with Josh’s family. We were in the hospital for only an hour after Sam’s birth into this world, and something happened that doctors called the Apneic event.  Even the word seems pale in comparison to how it felt only an hour into our son’s life. Apneic event sounds like a small thing, but what it meant was that, one hour into Sam’s life, he stopped breathing. There was a nurse there who pressed a silent alarm, and suddenly a flurry of doctors and nurses, and the tiniest little breathing bag you have ever seen over the mouth and nose of our newborn baby, and Josh and I just stared as we both watched and believed that our baby may have just died in our arms.  

Now on the other side of one of the most frightening experiences of my life, both Josh and I claim that word, Dayenu, not as a story, but as a promise.  Because as we waited while medical professionals converged on our tiny son, that’s the word, Dayenu. It would have been enough to have known Sam for only one hour.  It would have been enough, and yet, there was more to our story.

We’ve all carried in our lives stories of loss, of pain, of trauma.  We’ve all faced stories where life didn’t continue on how we expected.  We’ve all known disappointment, and pain, sometimes our story is stuck where these women were, at the tomb, and that is just reality.  I want you to hear, that resurrection is real, even when it feels like the story has ended. Our stories continue, even when we feel as if there is no way.  Together, as we recall all the promises of God, from the rainbow in the clouds, to the fiery furnace, to the dry bones, to the prophets, at each step of the way, it would have been enough.  Yet God is still showing up. When the story seems over, God is still with us.

Because it would have been enough if this story, the story of our God had ended on Maundy Thursday.  It would have been enough if Jesus had shared a meal with his friends, taught us what it meant to be a servant.  It would have been enough if it had ended on Good Friday. It would have been enough, had Jesus lived and laid down his life for his friends.  It would have been enough if Jesus had simply taught us how to die well, taught us not to fear what it meant to speak truth to power, taught us that sometimes there is a cost to pay when we challenge the empire.  All of that would have been enough.

But it wasn’t.  There was more to this story.  In all those times, in all those spaces, it would have been enough if that was the end of our story, but there is more.  Death is not the end. Fear is not the end. Life is the end. Seeing resurrection, seeing life bursting forth, it is a spiritual practice, it is a vision we train ourselves for as we hear these promises over and over again.  That is what we do here over these three days, we go deep into the reality of death, into the darkest and the most tragic, and we don’t pretend it isn’t real. We call to mind the scariest moments of our lives, and we tell ourselves, that even here, with this community and God with us, it would have been enough.  We remind ourselves that death and empire, and pain and tragedy are all real. It is not pretend, but that God is with us, God is always with us, when we rejoice and when we feel like we have nothing left. God is with us when we are afraid and when we are filled with joy. God is with us in the rubble and the rebuilding.  God is with us in this community, in the ways you love one another, in the ways you give life to one another.

Dayenu.  It would have been enough.  Easter is this moment, this resurrection moment, when we recall that yes, at every step along that way, it would have been enough, but for God, it wasn’t.  It was not enough until Jesus had gone into the depth and the darkness of the tomb, and rose triumphant from the grave. It was not enough until there was nothing that could separate us from the love of our God.  It was not enough until even when we stand next to our graves we know this is not the end of the story, but only another beginning. Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

 

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