Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | April 4, 2021
Easter Sunday | Mark 16: 1-8
The family car trip goes something like this –
“Are we there yet?”
“We just got in the car.”
“When are we going to get there?”
“Not for a long time.”
“How many more miles until we get there?”
“Why don’t you play one of your games?”
“I played all my games.”
“We just ate.”
“There’s nothing to do.”
“Look out the window.”
“There’s nothing to look at.”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Why didn’t you go before we left?”
“I didn’t have to go then.”
“You’ll just have to wait.”
“I can’t wait. Why aren’t we there yet?”
Like many people I ask God how long it will take to get to where we are meant to be because of the resurrection of Jesus. When will we arrive at the kingdom of God Jesus talked about? When will the meek inherit the earth, the peacemakers be called children of God, those who mourn be comforted, etcetera? It’s been going on over 2000 years. Why aren’t there yet?
While the resurrection is the singular event of human history, the wars we wage and the struggles we engage are the same as they have always been. I ask God why that is. If the resurrection of Jesus was this big deal, then when, O Lord, are we going to get there?
It’s hard to know what to do with Easter. In our part of the world it’s associated with springtime and fertility. Bunnies, dyed eggs and butterflies. It’s like we think of Jesus as a perennial that sprouts up in the garden after the winter snow melts.
For the more religiously inclined, Easter can be a kind of consolation prize. We die, but we get to go to heaven. Or for folks who view God as a vindictive deity, it sets the balance right after destroying Jesus with his wrath only a few days before. You paid the price, now everything’s okay. For some folks Easter is like a kind of reincarnation. We’ll all get another chance to come back until we get it right.
The earliest story of Jesus being raised from the dead lacks the kind of detail to which we have become accustomed. The gospel of Mark originally ended at chapter 16, verse 8. Women, who went to the tomb to make the final burial preparations on the body Jesus, found it empty. A young man dressed in white told them Jesus had been raised. He told them to tell the rest of the disciples that Jesus had gone ahead of them to Galilee. The women were terrified and amazed and did not immediately tell anyone. The End.
In time more details were added. People began to experience the reality of the resurrection and more stories emerged. But they do not alter the basic premise of Easter. The tomb is empty. Jesus has been raised from the dead. He has gone on ahead of you. Follow him and you will see him. And so, we do, and we wonder when, where, how and in whom we will see Jesus.
We expect our stories to have a beginning, a middle and an end. The story of Jesus doesn’t fit that mold. His beginning was before the beginning. He checked into a moment in time, lived, died, came back, and then went back to where he came from.
The story of Jesus continues. It continues through you and me. Today holds the exact same promise as the very first day of the resurrection. The only difference between today and first day the tomb was empty is the passage of time.
That makes it a long story. If we would ask God how long it will take to get to where we are meant to be because of the resurrection of Jesus, God answers, “As long as you take.” God is patient. There is no new revelation that will bring us there. No cosmic event that will show us the way. Nothing in God’s plan that should allow us to sit back and wait for a miracle. The day when the reality of Easter comes to bear will take as long as it takes for us to get there.
Jesus once said, “The kingdom is within you. It is among you. You cannot point to it and say, ‘here it is.’ Beware of anyone who tells you so.” The realm that God brings us to in the reality of Easter is the reality of our own heart and soul. It is the change that happens in us. It does not happen unless we choose to make it happen. God will bring us to it, but we have to want to go there. It can happen within each of us. It can happen within our community of faith. And we can take it with us wherever we go.
Easter is about choosing, about making the same choices we face every single day. There is no new message here. It’s the same story that I always tell. The story of us and God and how we choose to live.
Will you live in hope or will you live in fear?
Will you live in freedom or will you live in fear?
Will you live in love or will you live in fear?
We might think that despair is the opposite of hope, bondage the opposite of freedom, hatred the opposite of love. The opposite of everything God brings into being begins with fear. Despair, bondage, hatred and all the other dehumanizing qualities of human life are just the branches growing from the trunk of fear.
Being a Christian does not imply we are never afraid. What it means is that we choose a new reality in spite of how we are afraid. Courage is doing the right thing in spite of fear. The same forces that nailed Jesus to the cross are just as active today as they were back then. The resurrection doesn’t mean that nobody gets destroyed. What it means is that the cross is not the last word. Believing that and trusting God for the outcome should result in our willingness to follow the trail that Jesus blazed. Fearful as that may be.
It’s tempting to accommodate ourselves to the cross rather than to embrace the empty tomb.
The cross is all about the consequences that people deserve because of bad behavior.
The cross is all about state sanctioned death.
The cross is law and order.
It is about keeping the system of checks and balances in good working order.
The cross is about protecting the status quo, not rocking the boat, going along, getting along and protecting your own.
The cross is about changing the system from within, making the necessary compromises in order to get at least some good done.
It’s a fitting symbol of corporate greed and political lies.
The cross stands for turning religion into system of dead rules; it’s about setting up barriers that let some people in while keeping other people out.
It’s about hatred, violence and war.
And if all else fails, it’s a reminder of the terror of what might happen.
The cross is a reminder a reminder of what happened to Jesus. He upset the system that built the cross, so he was nailed to it. It serves as a reminder, every time we enter this place of worship, of the world where we live.
Yet is also reminds us of the choices we face when we leave here. Jesus said to carry it. Carry it, yes as a reminder of what life is. It reminds us of how things really work.
And when you do carry the cross, realize that every step forward, bears the potential of life as God empowers from this side of the resurrection. If you choose to carry the cross, carry it remembering how Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
God didn’t raise Jesus as a consolation for what he suffered. God raised Jesus as vindication for the truth that he lived. The resurrection shows us that what Jesus said and did had meaning. The people who built crosses tried to cancel out that meaning the only way they knew how. God said, “regardless of that, I’ll write the last chapter.”
Easter changed everything. What has it changed for you? That’s where you start living it. May God reveal to you the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the peace that passes all understanding. May the Spirit fill you with love and forgiveness. Today, you are this day living in the reality of your resurrection. Christ is Risen! Hallelujah! Christ is Alive! Amen.