Sermon: Their Story Became Our Story

April 1, 2018
Easter Sunday
Mark 16:1-8

“…And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

That’s the end of Mark’s gospel in the oldest copies that have survived the nineteen hundred and forty years or so since he wrote it. It is widely viewed as, shall we say, a disappointing ending. The most amazing thing to happen in the history of the world, the event that launched a religion, the wonder that inspired Mark himself to adopt this faith and eventually to write this book: it gets ten sentences.

In the Greek Mark wrote in, 135 words.

Mark used 257 words to describe Jesus’ crucifixion, and another 143 to describe his burial. He really gave more attention, at least more words, to Jesus’ burial than to his resurrection.

What was Mark thinking?

Incidentally, if you’re impressed that I spent so much time counting words in preparation for this sermon, you needn’t be. Modern word processors have this lovely ability to count words… but what was Mark thinking?

I think it’s actually easier to get into the women’s thinking than Mark’s. Their actions make complete sense to me. They’ve found the tomb disturbed. Does anybody really want to know that? Will anyone thank them for bringing that news?

They’ve also been told that Jesus has been raised: that he lives and breathes and wants his friends to meet him back where their journey began, in Galilee. Well, that’s a whole range of trouble right there.

First, they’ve got no first-hand evidence that Jesus lives. It’s all very second-hand. They don’t know who this young man is sitting in the tomb. He could be the grave robber himself, couldn’t he?

Even if he’s to be relied upon, his message is only barely reassuring. “Do not be alarmed,” he says, before telling them alarming things as if it was nothing out of the usual. Lance Pape writes, “The ‘young man dressed in a white robe’ (angelic messenger) delivers the good tidings of Easter morning like an administrative assistant explaining why you can’t have a quick word with the boss: ‘You’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.’”

I also wouldn’t have wanted to bring that message to Peter and the disciples. They had not been a cohesive and reliable group at the best of times, and the last few days had been the worst. When the police and soldiers appeared to arrest Jesus, they fled. Peter, the one who always seemed closest to Jesus, denied knowing him when challenged. And one of the inner circle, one of the Twelve, had not merely denied Jesus but betrayed him.

Could any of them be trusted?

Even if they could, would they be believed? In the first century in Judea, some women did have great power. They were highly respected in the noble houses of Rome. But they weren’t trusted with public office or civic leadership. Jesus had been remarkable for his willingness to take women seriously. But would his terrified, demoralized disciples?

Probably the greatest reason for their fright, however, is the obvious one. I doubt they seriously considered that the messenger who greeted them was an ordinary human being for very long. They had just encountered an angel, an emissary of God, as close to a vision of the Divine as humans ever receive.

God has spoken to you! What do you do?

Gasp. Hide your face. Wonder. Feel the legitimate fear of the human being confronting something greater than oneself.

Run off and tell someone else? That would take another miracle.

“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Except… that they did.

They had to. Because they were told to, yes, and by an angel, yes, and because the story was too good to keep silent, yes. They had to.

But we know they had to because they told someone, and someone told someone else, and someone told someone else, and someone told Mark.

How would we know this story at all if at least one of the women hadn’t, eventually, summoned her courage and her faith and her kuleana and told someone: “Jesus has been raised.”

She told someone. Perhaps they all told someone. Perhaps they got to Peter, or James, or John, or one of the other inner circle. Whoever told what to who, the word got to Mark, so he could end his gospel, “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Afraid on Sunday morning, anyway. By Monday – yes, let’s call it Monday – it had changed.

Melissa Bane Sevier writes, “Fear isn’t the last word. Though ‘they were afraid’ are the last words of Mark’s gospel story, this isn’t the end of God’s story, it isn’t the end of the women’s story, and it isn’t the end of our story.”

Their story became our story.

Look at the parallels. Unlike the Apostle Paul, we do not claim to be eyewitnesses to the resurrection, not even at some year’s remove and in an experience that nearly humbled the oh-so-confident Paul of Tarsus. The women got their information from an angelic messenger, and we have to rely on the reports handed down over decades, and the texts re-copied over centuries, to hear it. As Richard Swanson notes, we face the prospect of proclaiming resurrection in a world where everyone dies – where the fear of death influences the homes we build and the cars we buy, the medical care we require and the food we will eat, the government services we demand and the people we elect.

And where to tell people to find the risen Jesus? The women got a location – but where should we send anyone?

Melissa Bane Sevier again: “Once the tomb has been opened, there is no telling where the story might go from there. There is no stopping the places Jesus might show up. At your dinner table. In the middle of an argument. In the unemployment office. On the battlefield. In the hospital. At the workplace. In the funeral home.”

Yes. Their story became our story, and their message becomes our message. Jesus is risen. Go seek him, because he may be found anywhere and everywhere you look.

Karoline Lewis writes, “The resurrection was never the end of the story. Jesus goes ahead of us, goes first, preparing the way for us to march for our lives. To anticipate resurrection when the world sees only death. To insist on resurrection when death has appeared to have won the day.”

“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That’s Sunday morning for you. Who wants to go spreading troublesome messages on a Sunday morning?

But they told somebody on Monday. Maybe it was Tuesday. Perhaps even Wednesday. But let’s say Monday. They told their story on Monday.

And their story became our story. Our story. For us to tell.

It’s Sunday. I know you’re still stunned. The empty tomb – the angel’s words – the appearance of the risen Christ to Peter and the twelve and the five hundred and James and even to the Apostle Paul – this is strange and powerful stuff. Of course you’re stunned. We’ve had nearly two thousand years to make this seem like business as usual and it still rocks us, shakes us, subdues us.

So take the day. You’re entitled. Christ is risen, and whether you need to work through the wonder of it, or bask in the glow of it, or make your way through the fear of it, take the day. It’s yours.

But their story became our story. Our story to tell. And tomorrow is Monday.

When you see someone lost in hopelessness, tell them how much they are loved: loved by you, loved by God. When you see someone working hard but never quite making it, give them encouragement, and give them support. Help them over the hump if, working together, you can identify it. Advocate for them when others deprive them of what is due.

When someone asks you about your hope, tell them about a crucified and risen Savior. Don’t tell them it makes sense. Don’t tell them it’s obvious. Tell them it is the surprising truth. Tell them it shows love, love great enough to embrace the universe.

Do it because Jesus lives, and because the women heard the news, and because they overcame their fear and told.

Rejoice today in Jesus’ life. Sing and praise and let your fears subside.

Tomorrow: their story is our story. Tell it.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Written and recorded by Eric Anderson – thus, don’t count on them being exactly the same.

The image is Charles Ricketts’ 1910 painting “The Holy Women and the Angel of the Resurrection.” This painting’s weirdly frightening depiction of the angel seems appropriate to the fear it prompted.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on April 1, 2018

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