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Archive for April, 2015

mary-magdaleneMark 16:1-8

Terror, amazement, running away. Such words are not those we expect to hear on such a morning—this morning of Easter lilies and flowers. This morning of colorful Easter eggs and the sounds of delighted children. This morning of bells and Alleluias. Yet in Mark’s gospel, this is what we get: terror, amazement, and women who run from a cemetery.

On Friday, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Salome had seen where Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus’ dead body. Because it was the Sabbath, no burial rites could be performed. So now, at dawn, the women slip out of the village to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. They have loved their teacher, so it is the least they can do for him now. At the very least, they can put aromatic spices on his body—if they can figure out how to roll away that huge stone which blocks the front of the tomb. To their amazement, however, the stone is gone from the tomb’s entrance. Someone has moved it aside. Inside the tomb, there is no dead body. Jesus is gone. Near the place where the women had seen Joseph lay the body, there sits a young man dressed in a white robe. This angelic messenger says to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.”

The women react the way you and I would likely have reacted. They stand, rooted to the ground in stunned amazement. Frightened by the sudden sight of an angelic messenger in shimmering white. Confused by the reality of an empty tomb. The line between order and chaos, the line between reality and fantasy, the line between life and death—these lines have suddenly, inexplicably blurred. No human being can take in all that in just a few moments. What in the world has just happened? If this empty tomb and this angel mean that he is alive, then where is Jesus? Trembling and astonished, the women run away, out of the cemetery, away from that empty tomb.

This resurrection story in the gospel of Mark leaves us right here. It leaves us with “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one for , for they were afraid.”

Trembling. Astonishment. Fear. That is how Mark’s gospel ends, and no one has ever been happy about that—especially scholars and preachers who must wrestle with a text for Easter Sunday morning! Yet here it is: this incredible story before us. The other gospels do give us accounts of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and post-resurrection encounters. These other accounts prove that eventually, these faithful women did tell the other disciples. Little by little, the truth dawns on all of them that something mysterious, something bigger than anything in the world, has happened. Christ has risen from the dead. Throughout the centuries, that power and truth has transformed the lives of millions of people.

You and I are rational 21st century human beings. We like a good mystery, a cliff-hanger. But by the end of the movie or book, we want all the loose ends tied up neatly in a conclusion that makes sense. Yet we do not live in a world that always makes sense, do we?

Nearly a year ago, a terrorist group named Boka Haran kidnapped over two hundred Nigerian school girls. We still do not know where these young women are.

In recent days, several states in this country have pushed legislation that would—as one writer has noted—“grant individuals and businesses the right to discriminate against “under-protected groups under some squishy definition of ‘religious freedom.’”[1] Does that make logical sense to you?

A week and a half ago, on March 24, a twenty seven year old co-pilot deliberately crashed a commercial jet into the French Alps, killing himself and 149 innocent people. Does that make logical sense? Of course it does not. And the on-going attempts by media to tie up all the loose strands dangling from such an event would be laughable if the situation were not so tragic.

Our lives often do not make sense. They are not neat and orderly. They are messy and chaotic and filled with dysfunction and fear and illness and pain and grief and dying. This is where Mark leaves us this morning. At the edges of our real lives. I think that the writer of Mark’s gospel knew exactly what he was doing. He deliberately left us to wonder where we would meet Jesus. He forces us to leave the tomb, to go to Galilee—wherever that might be—to find the risen Christ.

We can read every book in the world on the resurrection. We can watch every movie. We can debate, or deny, or even scoff at the resurrection story. Yet even the most brilliant person among us this morning cannot prove whether the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth happened, or how it happened. It seems that God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, did not need us to be there. In one split micro-second of time, somewhere in the middle of the night, that Creator of Heaven and Earth spoke a Word you and I never heard. Energy and light exploded in the darkness. Jesus threw off the linens that wrapped his dead body. Without one human being there to announce it, Jesus has left the building. Where has he gone? Where will we find him? We stand there, shaking our heads, looking around in terror and amazement. What do you do when death is suddenly life?

You knew what to do with the old way of doing things. But when something new confronts you, that is a game-changer. And when that something new is that someone is raised from the dead, that’s a real game-changer, is it not? The angel says, “Go to Galilee.” Stop looking in an empty tomb. He’s gone ahead of us there. But where, exactly, IS Galilee? Where is my Galilee? Where is yours? Where do we need to go to find the Lord of Life in the midst of our messy, chaotic, dysfunctional lives?

empty-tomb-copyIf Jesus is not lying dead in the tomb, that means resurrection power has been set loose on this world, and that leaves you and me in a possible crisis of faith. Jesus’ resurrection and his going ahead of us means that there is hope. There is life. There is some power that has already overcome darkness and evil. Yet Mark is clear about one thing: you and I have to leave that empty tomb. We must move forward to find that power, that light, that joy, that hope. In other words, you and I have something to do to make Jesus’s resurrection a living reality. We can no longer live in a country of hopelessness and despair. We must do something. We must mean something. We must tell others about this possibility of hope and joy.

Every one of you here this morning longs for your life to mean something. We want to know that there is something greater than we as individuals, something that makes sense on some cosmic level, something that transcends terrorism, depression, cruelty, hatred and evil. Yet perhaps what Jesus wants us to do is to move forward. We must leave a place of death and move towards a place of life. We must be willing to go to another place of meaning in order to make a difference in our own lives or the lives of others. Out of our faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to live differently. To go to Galilee. Where is that?

Galilee is wherever you work. Galilee is found in an encounter at Starbucks or the grocery store or a restaurant. Galilee is where you teach your children to say grace at meals or bedtime prayers. Galilee is at Elizabeth House or the Grassroots Day Center where many of you work with our homeless brothers and sisters. Galilee is a hospital room or hospice room, or a funeral home, or any other place where you and I gather as compassionate, hopeful human beings. There is Galilee. There is the risen Christ.

Here is the risen Christ: in the faces and bodies and hopes and fears and amazement and joys of God’s people. We gather in this sacred space, at a holy table this day. In Word and Sacrament, together we proclaim the greatest mystery of all time,  the greatest story of all time. Beyond our fear, trembling and amazement, God is. God is. Jesus has shown us our lives in God can be: Deep. Hopeful. Joyful.

Flowers SmChrist has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. In the meantime, go to Galilee. There you will find the risen Christ. There, he waits, with his arms wide open and his face overflowing with love—for you. Amen.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/daring-to-hope-in-the-stress-of-uncertainty-mark-161-8/ . Accessed at http://www.textweek.com on April 4, 2015.

First two pictures accessed through Google images. Picture of flowers by McJilton

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