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April 04, 2021
Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day
The very first Easter sermon I preached was while I was on internship at a community sunrise service in that town. It was an annual event held in the chapel of one of the cemeteries there.
And I remember it like it was yesterday. As I faced the congregation, there was a large window to my right that looked out on some of the graves. And that morning, everything was picture-perfect.
The light outside was still soft because it was early. There was dew on the grass. And there were rabbits and deer moving among the headstones. It was calm and peaceful and quiet. For me, it was the ideal setting to tell the Easter story. And I can’t help but hold my experience of that day in contrast to Mark’s account of the first Easter.
Mark’s gospel tells us that the women went to the tomb early that morning, just after sunrise. So things were probably still quiet in those moments. Their minds were on caring for Jesus’ body, and the things that needed to be done after a person dies. Pretty mundane, right?
But everything about what they expected to happen that day was disrupted when they got to the tomb and discovered it was empty. Instead of a corpse, there was a young person there telling them to not be afraid, that Jesus had risen, and they needed to go and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus was on his way to Galilee, and they’d see him there.
And scared out of their minds, the women ran away without telling anyone what they’d seen. And that’s where Mark’s story ends. As abruptly as it begins. No resolution, no appearances of the risen Christ, no conversations with him. Just fear and bewilderment. Not an ideal setting at all, but it’s as honest as it gets.
And within that honesty, there was the promise that they would see Jesus – the women, the disciples, and Peter. There was the promise of reconciliation and hope. There was the promise that what seemed to be an end was actually a new beginning. Because there was the promise that Christ had risen.
When Mark recorded his story of Jesus, he knew that most of the people who were going to read it or hear it were already believers. They hadn’t seen Jesus in their lifetime or heard him speak, but they didn’t need to be convinced about the reality of his resurrection because they already believed it.
But they were living under the reign of Emperor Nero, who was one of the most ruthless persecutors of Christians that ever lived. Peter and Paul were both executed under his reign; and many of the people in Mark’s community were facing the same possibility.
So they were genuinely wondering whether to stay together and keep practicing their faith, or to disband and walk away from it for their own survival. Mark recognized their dilemma.
He knew they needed to be reminded that Jesus not only went ahead of them through the trials and sufferings and death, but also that Jesus was right there with them as they continued to follow him in the midst of what they were facing.
And to be reminded that Jesus was already in Galilee waiting for them assured them that they were right to continue to hold onto their faith and follow him. Even as the world told them otherwise.
Galilee was the place where Jesus’ ministry started and people first began to take notice of him. So for Mark’s community, and for the disciples on the first Easter, “going to Galilee” meant…
…going back to the places where Jesus ministered to feed the hungry, and drive out the demons that torment people, and speak words of hope to the broken-hearted; to heal people who are in distress and break down the barriers that separate people.
Going to the places where peoples’ expectations about life had been disrupted, and seeing Jesus there.
For those early believers, “going to Galilee” meant knowing that Jesus would meet them wherever they continued his work. Having that assurance gave them the courage to continue doing what Jesus called them to, so that they didn’t just tell the story about the resurrection but actually live it.
Because Christ’s resurrection is a story of hope that’s lived in the midst of fear, and transformation in the midst of oppression. It’s a story of people living in a new way, without letting fear or hatred take over their lives. It’s a story about the power of God leading people to the places of life.
When we think about what this story means for us today, I think for many of us it has taken on a deeper meaning because of the pandemic and the fact that we’re still living under restrictions because of it.
This last year has been difficult – our expectations of life have been disrupted in almost every way possible. The hardest part for most of us has been that we haven’t been able to gather in-person for pretty much anything and it’s taking its toll. And the promise of life after this seems to be just out of our reach.
But as Christians, the promise of life we hold onto isn’t one that we as humans created, but rather the promise of life God gives to us in Jesus. The promise made visible in Christ’s resurrection.
That’s the promise that empowers us to stay together as a congregation, and to keep moving forward and making new friendships and connections with people. It’s the promise that opens our hearts to the places and people who need healing. It’s the promise that leads us through our disrupted expectations, and into the places where life abounds – giving us the courage to tell others about our source of hope.
The story of Christ’s resurrection isn’t one that’s told by attending worship on Easter and shouting, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” and then going home. It’s a story that’s told by embodying the hope of its promise in the midst of fear and trusting that God leads us to places of life.
God leads us to those places when life falls completely apart and we have to start over; and God leads us to them through people’s stories that become part of our own.
God leads us to those places when we continue Christ’s work; and God leads us to them through the people who help us when we ourselves are suffering and need it the most.
Christ’s resurrection doesn’t take away the things in this world that disrupt our expectations, or bewilder us and paralyze us with fear. But it does remind us of the power of God to lead us to places of life. That’s the story we tell when we leave here today. Because it’s the story of the promise that Christ is risen. Alleluia! Amen.