Texts: Isaiah 25: 6-9, Mark 16: 1-8
This sermon was originally preached Easter Sunday April 6, 2015 at the First Baptist Church of Hyattsville, Maryland. Below is the audio recording of the entire sermon including scripture readings followed by a transcript.
Terror, amazement, silence. These aren’t qualities we associate with Easter, but maybe we should, in context. I’d like to sketch out for you three aspects of Easter Mark’s narrative captures a little better than the other three gospels. First, Mark’s Easter story conveys the scope and the scale of what has taken place with a brusk honesty. When we declare that “Christ is risen, he has risen indeed!” that ought to blow our minds. When dead men start walking out of their graves, if our first inclination is to contemplate new clothes and chocolate goodies, we haven’t grasped the news of what this day is about.
Let’s be clear: the Romans didn’t just execute Jesus, they crucified him. They crucified him. They nailed him to a cross. They drove spikes through his hands and feet and hung him up like a scarecrow for all to see. When you crucify someone you are not just ending their life, you are making a statement through their death. “Don’t do what this guy did, because if you do, you will find yourself right where he is.” From 9 o’clock in the morning until 3 o’ clock in the afternoon Jesus was out there, nailed to that cross, exposed to the elements. The sun, burning his skin the heat sapping the strength and the moisture from his body. And all the while the weight of his body would have been tearing and aggravating his wounds. It would have been difficult for him to breathe… and just for good measure they came up and speared him in the side leaving a deep, flowing, open wound.
“When you crucify someone you are not just ending their life, you are making a statement through their death.”
This is the man, this is the man who on good Friday two days ago was humiliated tortured broken. Who cried out “God my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the man who was crucified by the military who perfected crucifixion. No body did it the way the Romans did it. This is the man whose body 3 women went to the tomb early that Sunday morning with their spices and their ointments to anoint his corpse. When they get there, they’re asking themselves, who’s going to roll the stone away for us so we can have access to do the thing we’re going there to do? When they get there they find it’s already been rolled away for them.
And there’s this mysterious young man sitting there dressed in white robes and he’s sitting inside the tomb and he says to them, “Jesus, whom you have come here to seek, he is not here. He has been raised from the dead. Just as he said he would be. See right over there is the place where he was lying. You can see, he’s not there anymore.”
Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest with myself, if this is what I had discovered early Sunday morning, especially before I’d had my coffee, I am doing exactly what these three women do, I am hightailing out of there and running like heck. This is scary stuff. This is mind blowing stuff. The events of that first Easter morning 2,000 years ago completely turned heaven and earth upside down and inside out. Nothing, nothing, can be or will be the same again because of what those three women discovered. Our God is a mighty God and the resurrection of Jesus is His mightiest deed. And even after all this time, this great span of time and space that has interceded this mightiest of God’s mighty deeds ought to make us stand in awe. And if it doesn’t, we are not fully comprehending what we are here today to contemplate and celebrate. Easter is no small thing. It’s not even a grand thing. Easter is everything.
The second point that I’d like to point out is that the silence of these three women in Mark’s gospel is powerful. At first blush it may seem odd. Why wouldn’t they tell anybody? The man in white instructs them to tell Peter and the disciples, “Go tell them Jesus is risen just like he said he would be. In fact he’s going ahead of you to Galilee.” Why wouldn’t they say something? Well, no doubt eventually they did. But in the content of Mark’s gospel narrative their silence isn’t as jarring as it may seem to be at first. Because this is not the first time, not by a long shot, this is not the first time that fear and amazement have seized Jesus’ disciples. In fact there are several occasions in Mark’s gospel where Jesus casts out a demon, he heals somebody and he tells them specifically “Do not tell anybody about what I have done, about your experience.” In Mark’s gospel, words are not commodities of primary value. Actions are.
So I believe that Mark’s gospel bears witness to us in a very real and fundamental way: Easter is something we have to experience. It is something we have to experience more than hear about or talk about. The other gospels bear that out too. When Peter and the others hear what has happened they rush to the tomb to see for themselves. And later that same day, later on that same week, Jesus personally and directly appears to them and others who were not among the twelve. He appears to them even though they are in rooms with locked doors, he appears to them even though they’re leaving town thinking, “This is hopeless, it’s done. We thought this was the guy, the Messiah. Turns out we were wrong”, And Jesus shows up personally to tell them “No, he was right because he is standing right here with you.”
“Jesus called his first disciples, not to teach them but to empower them. He called them to ministry not just to learning.”
Easter is a new reality, and realities have to be experienced. And this really shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus called his first disciples, not to teach them but to empower them. He called them to ministry not just to learning. He sent them out two by two. He sent them out to heal, to cast out, to do all the things that he himself was doing. And he promised them the day would come when they would do things even greater than what he was doing with his own hands. And what was it that Jesus did? He confronted and cast out unholy powers that possessed people’s lives. He confronted disease and illness in all their forms. He confronted self-righteousness. When Jesus showed up he made a difference wherever he happened to be and with whomever he happened to be with. Jesus was a transformative and restorative presence because he came not to be served, but to serve. And if we are his disciples he calls us to do likewise and he seeks to summon us to empower us to do the same things that he empowered those early disciples to do.
And this brings me to my third and final point. When we put these two observations about Mark’s account of the resurrection together, we arrive at a declaration that Easter is something that we as the people of Jesus have to live. We have to live out the story of this day. And we must live it out my brothers and sisters because Easter is a call. It’s a summons to come and see. To come and see this great, impossible paradigm shifting thing that God in Christ has done. But if we see, if we look into that tomb and truly see what those women saw, if we truly see what those disciples saw If we experience what they experienced we will be changed, we will never be the same again. Once we go to the empty tomb and find it as the man in white described it, we will never be the same. Which means that Easter is a call to something higher and deeper. Something higher and deeper than we’ve ever thought possible before today. Which means we are called to be people of the high and the deep.
“Easter is a call. It’s a summons to come and see. To come and see this great, impossible paradigm shifting thing that God in Christ has done…Which means that Easter is a call to something higher and deeper.”
A friend of mine this week, who self identifies as an agnostic, posted on her Facebook page this quote from Pope Francis, “It’s not necessary to believe in God to be a good person, one can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money, for many nature can be the church. Some of the best people in history do not and have not believed in God while some of the worst deeds have been done in His name.” And she was celebrating this quote. “I love this quote,” she said.
Well, it turns out like a lot of the things on the internet, he didn’t say it. But you know what, I wish he had. I really wish he had, because it’s true. And I think if Jesus were hear with us today I think he would say it’s true. No you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person, because that’s not what I’m calling you to. I’m not calling you to be a good person. I’m not calling you First Baptist Church to be good people, I’m calling you to be Jesus people. And being Jesus people is a whole different dimension than being good people.
Because if you think about it, when we describe something as good, “Oh that’s a good person, “ we’re speaking and seeing and defining and describing them through the lens of our culture. We’re defining them through the lens of this world. And this is something I think a lot of the women present today will understand more than the men perhaps. So guys if you don’t think what I’m saying is true, ask a woman that you are close to about what it means when people say “Be a good girl.” What we really mean is conform to the standards society has set for you female person. If you conform, you’re good, if you don’t then you’re not.
Jesus has not called us here this morning to conform. He called us here to confront. He has called us to confront the new reality of the empty tomb. He has called us here to see the wounds in his hands, the wounds in his side. He has called us here to bear witness to this great paradigm shifting impossible thing that God has done. And he has called us here to empower us send us out to be the people who not just tell the story of this day, but who live out the story of this day. Who follow him not just to the tomb, but through it to abundant life, to everlasting life, to the life that really is life. And that’s a whole different dimension of existence.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be a good person. We of all people should seek to be good people. But there are times if we are true to Christ, if we are true to our faith, if we are true to the story of this day, that our faith will lead us into what John Lewis has called, “the right kind of trouble.” Because we too like Jesus live in a dark world. We live in a world of powers like the Romans who seek to gain their control and maintain their control through coercion. We live in a world that is full of unholy powers who still get control of people’s lives. We live in a world that is still filled with all kinds of prejudice and self-righteousness. And often we look out at the world and we say to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be nice if God did something?”
“Easter is what God calls His people to, so that we might be the ones who do something about all that is wrong in our world. So that we too might be a transformative and restorative presence…”
God has done something. Easter is what God has done. And Easter is what God calls His people to, so that we might be the ones who do something about all that is wrong in our world. So that we too might be a transformative and restorative presence with whomever we happen to be in His name and for His sake. So yes, let’s celebrate today. Let’s go out there with the kids and find all those eggs, let’s enjoy the beauty of this day. But before we leave, when you get home, later today, tomorrow, the next day, peer deeply into that empty tomb. Peer deeply into the new reality that Jesus has brought about through his death and his resurrection. Hear his call to something higher and deeper than simply being a good person. Hear him calling you to be his people, to be Jesus people. Because you are his beloved children, you are his brother and his sister. He has gifted you and he calls you to be empowered to go forth, and to be his living hands and feet and his presence in this world. Let’s not just celebrate Easter, let’s seek to live Easter–today, tomorrow and all the days that God allows us to see. Thanks be to God.