April 1, 2018
A good “April Fool” joke is some false claim that is presented so convincingly, you think it’s true. And just when you surrender to the claim, the joker yells “April Fool!” If you came here this morning expecting me to tell a bunch of jokes, “April Fool!” – I’m not going to do that. The Good News I have to share with you this morning might have felt like a practical joke to the disciples who first heard it, but they quickly realized the truth, and the truth was way more amazing than they could have imagined.
When Jesus was laid in the tomb on Friday night, Satan thought he had won – Jesus was really dead. But just when Satan starts congratulating himself, God has the biggest surprise of all time ready for him. Hear the Good News!
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)
I need your help to preach this sermon today. Some of you are sitting near baskets holding some plastic Easter Eggs that have a sign taped to them. It says, “do not open until asked to do so.” When I call out the color of your egg, I’d like you to stand up and share – in a really loud voice – the “yolk” that’s inside. But be careful. The words you are about to hear may not be what you expect. Ready?
BLUE Egg Yolk: Anxiety
You would think that Mark would end his story of the “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1) with a satisfying resolution, a “They lived happily ever after” kind of ending. But he doesn’t.
Anxiety rises after Jesus has been laid in the tomb. It has been growing all through the quiet of the Sabbath. The women are so eager to get back to the tomb with their spices and ointments, they can barely wait for sunrise.
On their way, they wonder who will move the stone for them. In all their preparations and planning, they seem to have forgotten this very important detail. The women apparently didn’t know the tomb was sealed and guarded, or they might have expected the guards to help them move the stone. It’s big, and they know they can’t move it themselves. The anxiety builds.
When they arrive at the garden tomb, they are surprised to find the stone already removed, but this does not bring them comfort. It only raises their concern. Who would have done such a thing? How would they have done it?
The heavy, custom-cut stone had rolled down a sloped trough to its destination over the door of the cave. Pushing it back up the slope would mean working against the law of gravity. Moving that stone would take a miracle.
The women step into the tomb. If it’s like the one we saw at the end of our trip to the Holy Land, there are two small rooms, carved out of the rock hillside near Golgotha. There is a small chamber just inside the entrance, and it opens into the place where a body would be laid.
There would be places for two or three bodies to occupy the tomb at one time. Jesus must have been laid in the place on the left, because a young man dressed in white is occupying the place on the right.
According to the other gospels, this is an angel. He certainly speaks with more authority than a human would. And he knows things the women don’t know. The anxiety meter rises again.
What is raising your anxiety meter these days? What is making you uncertain of the future, or even of the present? What details, like how many spices and who is going to move the stone out of the way, are occupying your mind, and preventing you from seeing the miracle of love that God is laying out in front of you?
Are you ready for another “Yolk”?
ORANGE Egg Yolk: Fear
Now the women are experiencing more than concern about possible vandals or thieves. They begin to recognize that what they are seeing is evidence of something beyond human knowledge. They realize that they are listening to a messenger from God, and any encounter with the living God is cause for fear and trembling.
Maybe you have experienced this yourself. Maybe you have been afraid of God. When God’s power is made evident to you in a deeply personal way, it’s overwhelming. It changes you. You need some assurance that you won’t be destroyed by this encounter.
This messenger tells the women five things:
- “Do not be alarmed – It can also be translated as “Stop being afraid.”
- You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified – you’re in the right tomb, this is the place.
- He has been raised; – apparently, this needed clarification. The body hasn’t been stolen, it didn’t vaporize
- he is not here; stating the obvious, right? and finally, to convince them,
- Look, there is the place they laid him!
Even as they stare at the empty space where a body should be, these poor women can barely process so much information before the messenger gives them an order. “Go,” he says. “Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
And then the women run away, frightened beyond belief. If this is some kind of practical joke, it isn’t very funny. But why does Mark choose to let the story end at this point, with the women running away, too afraid to speak?
We need another “Yolk” – YELLOW!
YELLOW Egg Yolk: Questions
There’s a lot of speculation among New Testament scholars about the ending of Mark’s gospel. These eight verses are the only ones we can be certain belong to the original manuscript. Somewhere along the way, some copyist decided this was not a satisfactory ending. It’s too abrupt. It doesn’t include any post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. There isn’t any joyful realization that he is truly alive, just as he said he would be. So, over time, different endings were tacked onto Mark’s story, to make it more complete.
Maybe Mark intended to write more. Maybe he actually did, and that ending disappeared before there were any copies made from it. But most scholars think Mark knew exactly what he was doing. And if Mark wanted to shock his readers with an abrupt ending, wouldn’t it have been great for the story to have stopped right after verse seven, at the announcement of the resurrection?
Yet, it doesn’t. Mark gives us one more verse. He tells us that the women are terrified, and they run away, telling no one anything of what they have just seen. And that’s the end of the story, according to Mark. Or is it?
What if Mark wrote an incomplete ending on purpose? What if he left the story hanging on fear and failure for a reason? Maybe Mark knew that no story about death and resurrection can have a tidy “The End” bound up in ribbons and bows. There have to be questions.
Maybe you have questions, too. Maybe you aren’t sure this story is true. Maybe you’ve heard it so many times, it’s just a nice familiar fairy tale to you. But if it is true, the big question is this: why does it matter? And why should it matter to you?
The GREEN Egg Yolk will help here.
GREEN Egg Yolk: Beginning
Maybe Mark wanted to make the point that this story isn’t over yet. The title he gave the whole book, after all, is “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (1:1) Maybe Mark leaves the ending open so that we can pick it up and continue the story.
There’s an alternating pattern that runs through Mark’s gospel, and it reaches a climax here in the resurrection story. The first element in this pattern is that those who are closest to Jesus often don’t get that he is the Son of God. Even when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, he doesn’t understand what that means.
The other part of the pattern is that those who do understand who Jesus is aren’t reliable witnesses. Demons recognize him, but you can’t really count on a demon to give a good testimony. The Centurion at the crucifixion realizes that Jesus is the Son of God, but who’s going to trust a Roman in first century Palestine?
By the end of Mark’s gospel, we should be prepared for the disciples, even the women who have been most faithful, to follow the pattern, to miss the point. They run away, too afraid to tell anyone the good news.
But who are the unreliable witnesses who do get it and who do share the story that Jesus is alive? Well, that would be you and me, the least reliable witnesses of all. It’s our place to tell the rest of the story, because that story doesn’t end at the empty tomb. It’s just getting started.
And that brings us to the final “Yolk” of the day – PURPLE!
PURPLE Egg Yolk: What do you get when death is dead?
Well, what do you get when death is dead? Life. And not just every day run-of-the-mill life. Eternal life. Abundant life. Life in Christ. Friends, this is why Christ died for you, so that you could experience the kind of life that puts anxiety to rest, the kind of life that casts out fear, the kind of life that gets you asking the right questions. It’s the life that begins now, and never dies. Eternal life. Abundant life. Life in Christ.
St. John Chrysostom was Archbishop of Constantinople and a great preacher of the Church in the Fourth Century. His name translates “John the Golden Throated One.” In many churches, John’s homily for Easter Vigil is repeated every year, either during the Saturday night vigil, or at the earliest service on Easter morning.
The tradition in the Eastern Church for this meditation is that, at the mention of word “DEATH (!),” people stomp their feet with joy because Christ’s DEATH (!) has trampled DEATH (!). In some churches, people also ring bells whenever heaven * is mentioned, or whenever you hear Christ’s name spoken, as in “Christ * is alive!”
This message from one of the early church fathers is so full of hope and joy, it serves as a wonderful answer to Mark’s gospel ending. Mark invites us to pick up the challenge of bearing witness to the resurrection, no matter how unworthy we feel, no matter how “unreliable” we may see ourselves as proclaimers of the Good News.
So, get ready to stomp your foot when you hear the word “death.” If you don’t have a bell near you, you can jingle your keys when you hear the words “heaven” or “Christ.” When I get to the part that says “Christ is risen” I invite you to repeat that phrase after me each time I say it. This is an interactive sermon, and you get to help preach it. Are you ready?
Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful, bright Festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary from fasting? Let them taste their reward!
If you’ve labored from the first hour, come to the Festival now!
You who came after the third hour, with gratitude join the Feast!
Those who lingered until the sixth hour, do not doubt. You will not be short-changed!
If you tarried until the ninth hour, don’t be sad or hesitate. Come now!
Those who showed up only at the eleventh hour, let them not be afraid by reason of their delay!
For the Lord is gracious and gives rest to those who came last in the same way as to those who came first.
To one and all God gives generously. The Master accepts the offering of every work: those who labored and those who wanted to labor. Our Lord honors the deed, and commends the intention. All of you enter into the joy of Christ!
First and last receive your reward.
Wealthy and poor, rejoice with one another.
Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day.
Those who have kept the fast and those who have not,
Be glad for this day the table is bountifully spread!
Feast royally for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry or offended.
Partake all of the banquet of faith!
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s goodness.
Let none be sad about their poverty
For the universal reign of God has been revealed!
Let no one mourn about failing again and again,
For forgiveness has burst with light from the grave!
Let no one fear DEATH (!)
For the DEATH (!) of Jesus has freed us all!
Embraced by DEATH (!) God subdued DEATH (!).
Having descended into hell, he took hell captive.
Christ put hell in turmoil when it tasted of his flesh!
Isaiah prophesied: “Hell was in trouble having met You in the underworld.”
DEATH (!) was in mourning for hell was eclipsed.
DEATH (!) was embarrassed for hell was mocked.
DEATH (!) was shamed for hell was toppled over.
DEATH (!) was destroyed for hell was made captive.
DEATH (!) grasped a corpse and met God
DEATH (!) seized earth and found heaven *.
DEATH (!) took what it saw and stumbled into what it could not see!
Oh DEATH (!), where is your sting?
Oh hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and hell suffered the coup d’etat!
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and the demons have fallen!
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and life is set free!
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and there are no more dead in the grave!
For Christ, having risen from DEATH (!),
Has become the first-born of those who have fallen asleep!
To Christ be glory now and for ever! Amen!
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!*
We stand as witnesses to this truth, and as such witnesses, knowing our reliability does not depend on who we are, but on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord now invites us to his heavenly banquet.
Alleluia! Let us keep the feast!