Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Message

With the usual caveat that these are notes, not a manuscript:

I want to read for you this morning the most curious of the resurrection stories from our biblical gospels. Mark 16:

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. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But 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. 7But 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.” 8So 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.

They fled the tomb and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. That is how the writer of Mark ends his gospel. It is such an unsatisfactory ending that later at least two and maybe three different and more satisfactory endings were appended onto Mark, borrowing from satisfactory resurrection stories of the other gospels where Jesus appears to the women and the disciples.

Why, I have always wondered, would Mark leave it this way? I think it may be that for this writer and his community the meaning of Jesus' life and death was still in flux. There was still to much pain. There was still too much tragedy unfolding all around them. If biblical scholars are correct that Mark is the first gospel written and it was penned just after the destruction of the temple then for Jewish and gentile followers of Jesus, the world is making absolutely no sense. What in God's name is going on? We lose him. The tomb is empty. He is alive? What does it mean? The city of Jerusalem is in ruins. How does this fit? The whole gospel of Mark is full of this uncertainty. And it ends in the same way.

I don't think this is too surprising given their reality. It is all so clear now looking back through the history of a triumphant Christian culture. Of course he rose from the dead. Of course it is all true. We won. But it wasn't so clear then. Just look at the resurrection accounts. Sit them sided by side. All of the gospels have resurrection accounts. Paul talks about his own resurrection vision of Jesus. But all the accounts are different. And they are private. There is no appearance before thousands of worshippers in the temple. There is no appearance before religious authorities, but to the a handful of women who came to the tomb to tend to the body or to a handful of disciples hiding from those religious authorities.

They didn't all see the same thing, or at least they didn't all talk about it in the same way... And yet there was something that happened that made them talk about Jesus as living once again. Walter Wink, a biblical scholar, wrote in a recent article that what happened to the disciples is that they each came to realize that the most essential aspect of Jesus as remaining with them after his death. While he was alive they had seen him heal, preach, and cast out demons, but had localized these powers in him. Though the powers had always been in them as well, while Jesus was alive they tended to project these latent, God-given powers onto him. They had only known those powers in him. But his death unleashed those same powers in themselves, as if Jesus himself had taken residence in their hearts and in their midst.

The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation myth that speaks to this moment of transformation. He in not dead; he is alive. In us. With us. And each of the resurrection stories has a commissioning. The mantle is passed from Jesus to the followers.

Wink makes another important observation about the meaning of the resurrection. Not only did something happen to the disciples, but something happened to God. For the followers of Jesus who experienced his continuing presence, they would never again be able to think about God without being able to think about Jesus. What Jesus did with his life and the way he died became for them the core of their definition of God. He ate with sinners; he touched lepers; he welcomed outcasts and women into his community; in the name of justice he challenged the powers, religious and political. This is who God is; this is what God does; this is what God wants us to do. The living Jesus showed them what the living God looked like.

And maybe most importantly, Jesus suffered and died. And when Jesus was hung on that cross, God was hung on the cross; when Jesus suffered and cried out in pain, God suffered and cried out in pain; when Jesus died, God died. And there was no power in this world or outside this world who could stop that from happening. For those who were there with him and who had their lives marked by this event, they would never be able to think about God again without thinking about the suffering and death of Jesus.

This is how Jesus became God in the Christian imagination and in Christian theology, of course. But it is just as important to realize that this is how God became human. In his suffering and death, it was revealed to Jesus' followers that this is who God is; this is where God is; and if we want to find God, this is where we look: where ever there is suffering and dying; there is God is present and there God is suffering and dying with us all over again.

This was not all immediately stunningly clear to those first followers. It is Mark helps us to see that. And it is still not all clear to us either all the time. Despite the triumph of Christian culture in the west, we wonder sometimes where it has gotten us after 2000 years. Is he alive or is he dead and gone? Does it matter? For there still, after 2000 years has been no triumphant return of Jesus, or even any earth-shattering appearance, at the Super Bowl. There are plenty of Christian who are pinning their hopes on that kind of outcome.

I think the resurrection is still very much a personal matter. I think it is still true that if we want evidence about whether Jesus is alive or not, we need only look inside and look at our lives. If we are doing what he was doing, then he is alive in us. The living Jesus is found where ever God's community is being created. Where peacemaking is being lived; where ever everyone of God's people is being welcomed. I look around right here in this room and see evidence that Jesus lives in us. I may not think about it in the same way as some of my brothers and sisters but I can say with them that Christ is risen.

1 comment:

ProgressiveChurchlady said...

Thank you for posting!