Thursday, April 23, 2009

Easter Sermon

Easter 1 year B 4/12/09
Mark 16:1-8
We Met the Resurrected Christ and He is Us.
By Rich Gamble

The Gospel of Mark is the oldest and in my mind the best of the Gospels. Yes the others add some nice stories and sayings but Mark has a way of moving directly to the challenge offered to the world in the life and death of Jesus. And nowhere is that challenge more powerful than in this final scene in the Gospel.

The ending of Mark’s Gospel was so disorienting, that later editors felt the need to add more to the ending. Today’s reading is how Mark wanted his Gospel to end.

The passage begins with the women. In Mark’s gospel the male disciples consistently get it wrong. They don’t understand what Jesus is saying, they don’t understand the lessons to be found in Jesus’ actions. They are filled with false bravado about how they will never desert Jesus, but when the police come to arrest Jesus, they run for their lives.

While the men are vying for positions of power over others, the women are quietly serving, embodying Jesus’ call for his followers to be servants of one another. When Jesus was crucified it was the women who were there as witnesses to his death, the men were hiding. And it was the women who went to care for Jesus’ body that Sunday morning.

They don’t know how they are going to move the stone which seals the tomb of Jesus but they go nonetheless. When they get there they discover that the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is open. When they peer in they don’t see the dead body of Jesus but the living body of a young man dressed in a white robe seated on the right side.

There are also parts of this story which have more power if we know more about the rest of Mark’s Gospel. First and foremost, Mark is spare in his use of language. He never uses two words where one will do. So when we find some piece of a story that seems to be an unnecessary addition it puts us on alert that there is a reason that addition is there.

There is only one other place where Mark uses the phrase “young man” and that is in an odd little addition to the story of Jesus’ arrest:” 14:51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

It seems odd for Mark who works so hard to keep the story focused on the essential details, to include this little story about a nameless follower of Jesus. Odd at least until we discover the only other time a nameless “young man” is mentioned.

The young man when he is nearly apprehended is wearing only a linen cloth which he loses in his escape. The only other time the word “linen” is used is in talking about what the naked body of Jesus is wrapped in. The young man in the tomb is wearing a white robe. This brings to mind the only other time the word white is used in Mark and that is in the description of the transfigured Jesus.

So when Jesus is arrested a nameless “young man” wearing a linen cloth runs off but loses his linen cloth and so has the double shame of being naked and a coward. Jesus is wrapped in linen when he dies. Then the women meet the “young man” who is not running, who is not naked but instead is the messenger of Jesus wearing the clothes that remind us of transcendence and not shame.

In the “young man” we see the redemption of those who have turned their backs on the path of Jesus. The linen which was a reminder of the young man’s shame was buried with Jesus. On Easter, the tomb is empty, the shame is gone, and the young man is now a messenger of the good news, which he imparts to the women and charges them to be the first bearers of the good news or using the Greek word, evangelists.

In Mark’s Gospel, not only is death overcome but also the byproducts of death: fear and shame. As the tomb is corpse-less it is also fearless and without shame. The Powers that Be are left stripped of their primary tool: the fear of death.

The power of the Gospel of Mark is found in the utter lack of the resurrected Jesus. We do not experience him in the story. Like the people of Mark’s day, all we have are transformed people who witness to the power of God to overcome shame and fear. Transformed lives are the only proofs we have of the power of God.

We humans want more. We want to add to the story. We want more proof. We want signs and wonders. We want miracles and guarantees of heaven. We want to lock the wonder of God down to post-death sightings of Jesus, with lots of witnesses. We want the wonder to be a past event that when accepted literally becomes the key to our own future life in heaven.

We want the church to be an empty tomb memorializing the life and sacrifice of one man, whose death frees us from the costs of being like him.

Mark doesn’t let us bury our faith with a post-dead savior experienced in the past. He leaves a transformed coward in the tomb to boldly announce that Jesus is back where the story began and if we want to experience life as transformed people we too must begin our stories back at the beginning.
Mark’s Gospel is circular. We follow Jesus from the Jordan to Jerusalem and then are called to make the trek again. This time others will experience the resurrected Christ, when we like that “young man” shine forth in our transformation as we journey from the places of suffering to the centers of power.

No matter how shamefully we have run from the path of Christ, no matter how we have hidden from those in need, turned our backs on the suffering of others, ignored opportunities to get involved in the cause of justice, this story allows us to bury our fears with Jesus and begin a new life in the empty tomb of our fear and shame.

The call of Mark is not to linger at the tomb of past events but to begin our own journey of faith in the ever present now of our lives. Not to demand that people believe in a miraculous resurrection, but to embody a life of fearless love shown in acts of compassion and justice as a sign to others of the possibility of a resurrected life. The call of Mark is not to memorialize the miracle of Easter but to be the miracle.

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