Sunday Pages – Feast of the Resurrection

Sunday Pages

Easter Sunday – April 5, 2015

Mark 16:1-8

A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.

Here we are together on this beautiful Easter morning to share God’s joy and to sing our “Alleluias!” once again… for God has done a great thing. In the resurrection of Christ all has been made new. Death has not had the last work and we share in the gift of this splendid newness for all people and for all creation.. We are invited to enter the beauty, and depth of this radical act that in which death has not had the last work. So let us shout once again shout:

“Alleluia, Christ is risen!”     “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Of the four gospel accounts of the resurrection we are given Mark’s record on this Sunday. Mark’s is believed to be the first of the four gospels to be written and it is the most minimalist in style. In his account of the events the first Easter morning it appears as though Mark is not interested in proving that Jesus has been raised from the dead. We simply hear the news. We don’t actually encounter a resurrected Jesus. It is a spare account of resurrection morning marked by absence… there is no body, no earthquake, no angel, no drama, unless you consider the stunned women who, having gone to the cold tomb in sorrow expecting to find the tortured, dead body of their beloved Jesus… Instead they find a strange young man, dressed in white robe, sitting where the body should have been. The women are shocked, stunned, alarmed. Jesus is not there… he is gone… This is not at all what they had expected.   There is no body. They don’t understand… Where has the body gone??? The young man tells them that Jesus has been raised. What? What does that mean? Next they hear that they are to go tell the disciples that… Jesus is not in the tomb, he has been raised… and oh, yes, he will meet you in Galilee. There you will see him. But not right now. Not today. The news this morning is simply that Jesus is not here he has been raised from the dead.

If we open the Bible to examine the ending of Mark’s gospel, we will find that there are actually two additional endings. If one reads on it seems fairly clear that the style and tone of the two additional endings are very different from the one we heard today. It may well have been that some early Christian writers felt that Mark’s account was incomplete, unfinished, uncomfortable. Maybe they felt the need for a better sense of closure. So a further ending was added, and then another. The version that scholars believe to be the original ending… leaves us simply with the news that Jesus has risen, and we are left with an empty tomb. In this version of the resurrection we do not need to be concerned about what actual form of resurrection takes. We do not need to scan the scene in search of a dead carpenter whose body has come back to life and be perplexed about how this might be.   The resurrection is wider and grander than baffling questions.

The stunned women who have heard that Jesus is risen run away in terror and amazement…. The Greek words are even more gripping as the women run away with “trauma” and “ecstasy.” They were shocked beyond their expectations of meeting the cold stillness of death. What is felt is a jolt, a profound sensation that all has changed. …and in this new moment there is no form, no shape, no content to provide comfort… the meaning is wide open… Mark ends his account with the women seized with “terror and amazement”… and, though they are told to go and tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead, for now they are stunned into silence… and they flee the scene. Clearly the disciples will be getting the news… just not right now.

As I was thinking about the meaning of Mark’s minimalist account of an empty tomb a book by the writer, conservationist and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams came to mind. Her book When Women Were Birds is a series of 54 reflections on voice… reflections that were inspired by the many journals that her mother left for her. In an interview Terry described her mother bequest.

She recounts, “When my mother was dying, I was in bed with her, rubbing her back and she said, ‘Terry, I’m leaving you my journals.’ …I didn’t know she kept them. [Mother] said, ‘But you must promise me one thing: that you won’t look at them until after I am gone.’” Terry gave her word. Her mother died and a month went by. One day when Terry was cleaning the house and her father and brothers were out, she thought, “Today is a good day to find my mother’s journals.” She said, “I found them exactly where [mother] had said they would be, hidden in the closet. Three selves were filled with journals, each one handpicked, each one bound in cloth, gingham, denim, flowered, and so forth. And I took a deep breath. My mother was such a private person… and I thought, ‘Finally, I will be able to know what she was thinking, where she was…. And I opened the first journal and it was blank. I opened the second journal… it was blank. As was the third. All of my mother’s journals were empty.”[1]

The discovery of the blank journals was both perplexing and intriguing. This legacy was an invitation for Terry to explore and examine the meaning of her mother’s gift of blank journals. Terry reflected on them from 54 different perspectives. The blank journals, the empty pages, held mystery, beauty and meaning that Terry explored thoughtfully and carefully as if viewing the luminous play of light within a precious hand cut diamond with many facets.

Here are a few of Terry’s observations about her mother’s blank journals:

Mother’s journal are clean

                        …they are “glaring truth”

                                    … they smell desire …they touch eternity

            The journals are a white tablecloth that is not yet set.

                        They are “Treasures of Truth”

                                    They tell me nothing, they tell me everything

                                                They ask me to turn the page

            They have adopted me, they surprise me, they ask “how shall we live?”

                                                                        They are an act of faith, they are choice.

The empty journals are an invitation not to linger in the past… the invitation is to live into a future that is, as yet, unwritten.

We live in a time filled with increasing challenges, troubles, worries and fears. We struggle with fatigue and paralysis. We wonder how humanity is going to make its way forward. On this day we are shaken awake. We are not to sit in mourning and despair. This is a new day, a day of resurrection that is filled with all possibility, all hope that God is calling us all back to life.   But it is not as though a wand has been waved and all has been put into order and set right. If that were the case the story would be finished, complete, full stop. If that were the case it would mean that were are merely passive bystanders and recipients of Gods work of resurrection. We are called to participate, to be an Easter people… to be changed and to live a better, more splendid way… to walk in the light of new life…. We know, too, that the only person who likes change is a wet baby…

We are being asked to step over the threshold into a new way of being. We are being called to step beyond the comfort of what we know, beyond ingrained habits, beyond empty loyalties…   We are being called to step into the light of the resurrection and to follow its path as we seek to love God back by loving one another, and all of creation, as Christ has loved us and continues to love us.  To quote Walter Wink:

The Christian hope holds out the promise of a healed imagination – the vision of a world in which there doesn’t have to be winners and losers. The world defines itself over and over again in terms of victory and defeat. [In Christ] the world is defined as communion.[2]

Wink says that “Jesus Christ is ‘God’s rash gamble’ that humanity might become more humane.’” … and more compassionate, and more patient, and more sharing, and more serving… that we may know God in quiet places, in meeting the poor, the stranger, the enemy… by meeting our true ourselves in the light of God’s love for us… that we may live our faith in harmony with God’s loving intentions for all of creation… that has been from the very beginning and will be forever.

The tomb is empty… and the story is far from over… and we are invited to come together as a people of God in the light of new life and possibility. We have known the depths of sorrow. Our hearts have been cracked wide open, our minds have been shocked into a new reality. We have heard that Jesus is alive… and we are told to go back and start again. This time we walk in the light of new life as an Easter people. The pages of this new epoch are inviting us to live into God’s grand story through which the power of LIFE has broken the stronghold of death.

So what do we make of an empty tomb? Jesus is not there… we will not encounter him in Mark’s account of Easter Sunday. We are told to go back to Galilee where Jesus first gathered his disciples and, in this return, we will begin again, this time as a people who know more fully… the depths of God’s power and the love through which he invites us to meet and follow the risen Christ who is to be, forever, our compass and strength as we live and serve into a wide open future… infused with all possibility for healing and harmony and fullness of life for all.

This day is about the “explosion of the radically New.” This tired, divided and hurting world is being called to feel the awe and the splendor of this new day, of this new time. God is in love with us and wants us to come home. We have been told to go and tell the others the astonishing news… and then we are all to head to Galilee to meet our risen Christ… But first let us recover from the trauma and ecstasy of this morning and sit with the mystery of God’s inexhaustible love that is calling us back to life… in the simple news of and empty tomb. …and then let us meet Christ in the breaking of the bread… and then let us start anew… because all is changed.

                              Alleluia Christ is risen!

[1] From Krista Tippet’s interview with Terry Tempest Williams “The Vitality of Struggle, On Being podscast, July 19, 2012.

[2] Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect with your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2005, pg. 225