A Resurrection Story for the Real World

So, it’s Easter. And this year we look at Mark’s version of the resurrection narrative. By anyone’s reckoning, Mark’s version is the most anticlimactic and downbeat of all the Gospel accounts. There is no encounter with Jesus, no breathless disciples running to see the risen Lord. There is little drama, save for an empty tomb and a cryptic statement from an angel. And, for the women at the tomb, who were expecting to anoint Jesus’ body, there is no joy over the announcement that Christ has been raised. Only fear…and silence.

Now, there is great irony in this telling of the resurrection. In Mark, Jesus kept telling his disciples and others to tell no one about his miraculous deeds, presumably because it wasn’t time yet. Not until Jesus’ story was complete. Well, here we are, Jesus has been crucified and raised from the dead, so the angel instructs the women to tell Peter and the disciples that they can meet Jesus in Galilee! Finally, no more secrets. It’s time to get the word out!

And the women say nothing to anyone. So, there you have it: proof that Lutherans existed even at the time of Christ!

But seriously, we get the letdown of Mark’s gospel this year, of all years? Aren’t things depressing enough these days.

On the contrary, I would suggest that this is exactly the right year for Mark’s gospel and his uniquely downbeat telling of the resurrection. Not only is this the original resurrection account the others are based on, it’s also a little more calibrated emotionally to where we are right now. It says the women at the tomb experienced alarm and fear, two emotions not in short supply these days.

Think about it. We find ourselves daily checking the death toll and finding our mask. We shelter in place. We fear we may never find toilet paper again. Indeed, the fears go deep! We’ve become more primitive, like modern day hunter gatherers roaming the computer landscape to find food and supplies, only venturing out physically when we have to take the risk and enter a store.

We’re watching movies like “Contagion” in record numbers, a fictional movie about a global pandemic made 6 years ago. Why watch such grim fare? Because people can identify with it. It’s not just fiction anymore. We struggle for handles on how to understand what we’re going through.

And in the department of gallows humor, many are watching the movie Groundhog Day, sometimes holding watch parties. We can relate to it: every day is the same as before. You’re not goin’ anywhere, so you look at and talk to your screen, go for walks, and have game night or movie night for the 25th time.

So, maybe, just maybe, we can identify a little bit with these three Debbie Downers from Mark’s gospel – with their weariness, their disorientation, their fear.

When these three women came to the tomb that morning, they were worried about one thing: removing the stone to honor their friend and teacher by anointing his body. What they found was one surprise after another. For starters, the stone was already rolled away and there was no body. Now, to us the empty tomb means, “yay, Christ is risen!” But to the women, their first thought was probably skullduggery – someone has stolen his body! Or, demons have conspired to upset his tomb. There would be no resting in peace for Jesus.

And who is the young man in a white robe and why should we trust him? What do you mean Jesus will be in Galilee? He’s dead! What is going on here? Is it any wonder they were terrified and confused?

Then consider what they’ve just come through. The world they knew so well just didn’t produce endings like the resurrection of a good man! Not with the Romans around. These women were mourning the loss of someone who had inspired great hope in them, only to see this all dashed in the worst way possible. The world rejected him – even their own people – and now maybe they just wanted to move on with their lives in the world they were used to.

Their feelings are perhaps an echo of a brief poem by Edna St Vincent Millay:

            Life must go on,
            Though good men die;
            Anne, eat your breakfast;
            Dan, take your medicine;
            Life must go on;
            I forget just why. (Lament)

And then God completely messes with their reality, pronouncing good news of a new and incomprehensible reality. Jesus has been raised from the dead, so meet him in Galilee and go on from there. Is this good news? In some ways, the old news they were familiar with was better news. It may be sad, but it’s predictable. They understand it, they can manage it. They know what to do about death, but what do you do with this?!

At this point, we should be reminded that even though these three women lacked faith at this point, they were the last ones at the cross, they did not flee like the other disciples, and they were the first ones to the resurrection. This passage is about the most faithful of the faithful! But this world can cripple the faith and vision of the best of us. What had happened to Jesus had reduced these women to fearful silence. They were partly dead inside, I think.

The 13th century Persian poet Rumi wrote this brief, but really interesting dialogue. The women at the tomb – and all of us at times – are like the person being summoned:

“The mystics are gathering on the street. Come out!”

“Leave me alone. I’m sick.”

“I don’t care if you’re dead! Jesus is here, and he wants to resurrect somebody!”

Jesus wants to resurrect somebody. Mary and Salome. You! Me. Resurrection is the freedom of Jesus to come to us how, when and where he chooses. So, instead of the peaceful certainty of death, and the predictability of a misguided world, resurrection reframes the future as wide open, unknown, but pregnant with possibilities. God is calling us to a life “much bigger than the one we carve out for ourselves.” And not necessarily what we would choose. Meet Jesus in Galilee? Then what? This message may change my life!

For instance, the first message of this new creation in Christ is reconciliation: Go and tell his disciples and Peter – did you catch that? Tell Peter, because he denied Christ three times. Tell Peter, because he’s forgiven and it’s time to get to work. And because we’re reconciled with God, we are reconciled with each other, too. So, get to work!

And just as God forgave Peter, God would bring forth faith again from within those frightened women. However imperfect our faith is and however many times we are afraid or remain silent when we should tell others about Jesus, we can always return to the Lord.

The resurrection tells us the future belongs to God, life wins, so we are free to live today. The question is, what will we do with our freedom, with the gift of the resurrection?

There once were two town bullies who decided that they could embarrass the wise old man of the village and prove that he wasn’t so smart. They would catch a small bird. Then one boy would hold the bird tightly in his hand and ask, “Wise old man, what do I have in my hand?” They figured that the old geezer would probably be smart enough to figure out the answer. But the second question would be a trap. “Old man, tell me is the bird dead or alive?” Now, if he answered “dead” they could open their hand and let the bird fly away. If he answered “alive,” well just a small, quick squeeze would kill the bird so that when the hand was opened it would reveal the dead bird.

Well, they went ahead and caught the bird.

Indeed, the Wise Old Man did figure out that it was a bird being held. But the rest of the plan didn’t work so well. To the second question, the old sage responded, “Well, my son, whether the bird is alive or dead – that is up to you…the fate of the bird is in your hands.”

And the fate of Easter is in your hands. Whether the good news of life surging up victorious in midst of death lives or dies in you is up to you. Do we receive and announce good news in our lives or crush it?

In a world seemingly obsessed with bad news, John Krasinski is announcing good news. He started this little show online called “Some Good News,” to highlight the good that is happening and can happen in the world in the midst of the pandemic. On his second show his guest was 9-year old Aubrey, who was heartbroken that her tickets to Hamilton had been cancelled because of the pandemic. Aubrey’s mom had already tweeted to Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, about how disappointed Aubrey was. Well, Krasinski and his wife, Emily Blunt, reassured Aubrey that when the pandemic lifted, they would get her tickets to another showing of Hamilton. It was then that good news really happened. With Aubrey live on the show, Miranda himself Zoom bombed the show, saying he could do better than that. And then, one by one, courtesy of Zoom, cast members from the Broadway show of Hamilton began to appear and sing together Aubrey’s favorite song from Hamilton.

You think Aubrey will soon forget that?

We already know about the bad news with people who bomb Zoom meetings. Well, here’s the good news!

And lastly, on a much smaller scale, but probably more important. On Friday, a team from Mt Carmel was getting ready hand out boxes of food to families from our neighborhood who are food insecure in this time. Right before we began, one of the teachers of our childcare center told us, “Wait! The kids wanted to make a sign for the people who drive up, so they’ve been working on it this morning. Can we put it out there?”

Of course, I said! So here it is. And everyone who came by not only received food and a prayer. They received good news from our pre-school kids.

What will you do with the good news of the resurrection?

Christ is risen!

Amen.

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Pastor John is Mt. Carmel’s Senior Pastor.

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