Sermon: “Finding the Place of Our Resurrection” (EASTER –Mark 16) [April 1, 2018]

 

A reading from Mark:  When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought perfumed oils so that they could anoint Jesus.  Very early, just after sunrise on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.

            They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  When they looked, they found that the huge stone had been rolled back.

            On entering the tomb, they saw a young person sitting at the right, dressed in a white robe.  They were very frightened, but the youth reassured them:  “Do not be amazed!  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the One who was crucified.  He has risen; he is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  Now go and tell the disciples and Peter, ‘Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him just as he told you.’”

            They made their way out and fled from the tomb bewildered and trembling; they said nothing to anyone, because they were so afraid.  If you respond to these words, then for you they have become the word of the living God.

 

April Fool!  Here’s the ending that was added later:

 

            And immediately they reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions.  After this, through them, Jesus sent forth the holy and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.  If you respond to these words…

 

April Fool!  Here’s another ending that was added even later:

 

            Jesus rose from the dead early on the first day of the week, appearing first to Mary of Magdala, out of whom the savior had cast seven devils.  She went and reported it to Jesus’ companions, who were grieving and weeping.  But when they heard that Jesus was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.

            Later on, as two of them were walking along on their way to the country, Jesus appeared to them in a different form.  These two went back and told the others, who did not believe them either.

            Finally, the risen Christ appeared to the Eleven themselves while they were at table, and scolded them for their disbelief and their stubbornness, since they had put no faith in those who had seen Jesus after the resurrection.

            Then Jesus told them, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation.  The one who believes it and is baptized will be saved; the one who refuses to believe it will be condemned.  Signs such as these will accompany those who have professed their faith:  in my name they will expel demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will be able to handle poisonous snakes; if they drink anything deadly, it will not harm them; and the sick upon whom they lay their hands will recover.”

            Then, after speaking to them, the savior was taken up into heaven and was seated at God’s right hand.  The disciples went forth and preached everywhere.  Christ worked with them and confirmed their message through the signs which accompanied them.  If you respond to these words, then for you they have become the word of the living God.  Thanks be to God!

Don’t you love that whoever compiled the Gospel of Mark couldn’t decide on an ending?  Don’t you love even more that Mark’s version of the Easter story is the one we get the year Easter falls on April Fools?  Man.  You can’t make this stuff up.  J

So, why three endings?  Which one is right?  I mean, this is the most important story of our faith!  Surely, there’s got to be one right answer, right?

As you might guess, scholars don’t agree about why Mark has so many endings and why the editors let all those endings stay in the final version.  Some suspect the original ending got lopped off somewhere along the way.  Others think it’s fine like it is.

But, let’s face it.  They fled from the tomb bewildered and trembling, saying nothing to anyone, because they were so afraid” isn’t an ending that fills you with confidence.  Neither does it seem likely to start a world-wide religious movement.

Mark is the earliest of the Gospels; it was written in the 50s, the time closest to the events described.  In the two alternate endings, we hear echoes from the endings of the other three Gospels…Jesus’ appearance to the disciples; their commissioning; Jesus’ ascension.  Snake-handling.  Maybe later editors were embarrassed by the original “meh” ending and decided to spiffy it up with other accounts about Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection.

As interesting as all of this is, I do have one question:  Does it really matter?  Does knowing precisely what happened three days after Jesus’ death nearly 2,000 years ago really make a difference for how we live our faith now?

I kind of like that editors left in all three endings of Mark.  Wait a minute!  Maybe once there were even more endings but the editors whittled them down to just three.  Now that would be interesting…say, if there originally were 10 endings, or 100!  Then each of us could choose our own interpretation of the story of Jesus’ resurrection and go on our merry ways.

In recounting the journeys of early Celtic pilgrims, Welsh spiritual writer, Esther de Waal, describes the goal of those journeys as “finding the place of one’s resurrection.”  When pilgrims set out, they didn’t have a destination in mind.  Their intent was to stay open to God’s leading as they journeyed and–along the way– to find their “place of resurrection.”

One means of transportation for these pilgrimages was the coracle, a small boat made of willow branches and skins.  A board across the center of the boat served as the seat.  Attached to that board was a strap that made transporting the boat on land easier–the boater simply threw the coracle over the shoulder and carried it along.  Coracles were navigated using a single oar.  Some pilgrims—so set were they on relinquishing control and going wherever God might lead them–went oar-less.  Tiny one-seater boat, Atlantic Ocean, no oar…Sometimes it worked out.

Image result for coracle picture

The idea of allowing ourselves to navigate our worlds, completely open to wherever the journey leads, seeking in every step, in every lap of water on the skin of our coracle, the presence and intention of God, seeking the place of our resurrection–the place at which we come fully alive, the place where we “get” Jesus’ resurrection, where God’s presence becomes most palpably real…it’s a helpful image on this Easter Sunday in 2018.

Imagine with me all of us in our tiny coracles sailing through the final chapter of Mark’s Gospel… Let’s paddle up to that first ending where the women are terrified… Some of us might linger there.  Perhaps we’ll find in the awkwardness of that ending the place of our resurrection.

Others of us might feel called to paddle past the first ending, drawn to the simplicity and finality of the second ending.  If that’s your place of resurrection, feel free to linger.  The rest of us might feel drawn to the third ending, the one that adds other resurrection stories we’ve heard.  And snake-handling.  Once arriving there, you might like to settle in and make that the place of your resurrection.

Of course, this being First Congregational, I feel certain some of us would sail on past that last ending to some other ending none of us have heard of yet.  Who am I kidding?  That’s probably where we’d all be…an entire flotilla of coracles sailing past everything we’ve previously understood about the story of Jesus’ resurrection.  Some of you probably already have attached an outboard motor to your coracle.  Vroom!  Vroom!  J

As intriguing as it might be to speculate on various possible endings to the story of Jesus’ resurrection, I invite us to turn our coracles around—it might take a minute.  That’s fine.  Take your time.  We’ll wait.  If you’ve attached an outboard motor, turn it off for now.  Let’s go back to that first original ending and see if we might find there a place for our resurrection.

Let’s hear it one more time.  Carla?

A reading from Mark.  When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought perfumed oils so they could anoint Jesus.  Very early, just after sunrise on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.

            They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  When they looked, they found that the huge stone had been rolled back.

            On entering the tomb, they saw a young person sitting at the right, dressed in a white robe.  (Wait a minute!  Read that sentence again.)  On entering the tomb, they saw a young person sitting at the right, dressed in a white robe.  (A young person?  Carla:  Yes, Kim.  A young person.  May I continue?)  The women were very frightened, but the youth reassured them:  (The YOUTH reassured them?  Carla:  Yes, Kim.  The YOUTH reassured them.  May I?)  They were very frightened, but the youth reassured them:  “Do not be amazed!  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the One who was crucified.  He has risen; he is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  Now go and tell the disciples and Peter, ‘Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him just as he told you.’”

            They made their way out and fled from the tomb bewildered and trembling; they said nothing to anyone, because they were so afraid.  If you respond…(That’s good.  Thanks.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Mark’s version of the Easter story.  This year, though, was the first time I’d ever noticed that the being who appeared to the women at the tomb Easter morning was described as a “young person,” that it was “the youth” who reassured the fearful women, that it was a young person who showed the women the way to go.

In preparing for this week’s bulletin, I sent Nadine, our Office Administrator, the pictures on the front and back covers.  Once everything was put together, there was an empty space on one of the pages.  She said, “I’m thinking about putting an Easter picture there.”  Y’all need to know, Nadine does a terrific job of following me…even when it’s not clear where I’m going.  So, when she said she wanted to put an Easter picture in the blank spot, and I said, “But these ARE Easter pictures!” she didn’t bat an eye.  She asked what this coracle thing was.  I told her.  She suggested another picture of a coracle…which I provided.

We’ve talked about coracles…but what does the picture on the front say about Easter?  It’s not a great mystery, right?  Where’s the picture from?  Yes.  It’s a photo of the crowd at the March for Our Lives last weekend in Washington, DC.  What must it have been like to be part of that crowd of, according to one estimate, 800,000?  Why did all those people show up?  Why did 6,000 show up here in Asheville?  Why did people in cities across the globe march last weekend?

People fill Pennsylvania Avenue during the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in Washington, DC. [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

Why did we do it?  We did it because the young people—passionate, articulate young people—told us too.  We did it because we’re wise enough only to follow people with an expansive vision of the future, a steadfast moral clarity, and a dogged commitment to acting the world into wellbeing.  We did it because the youth have reassured us and are showing us the way we must go.

Do you get what I’m trying to say?  What I’m trying to say is–we marched last weekend because we believe in resurrection!  That picture on the front of your bulletin?  THAT is the place of our resurrection!  Do you understand?  Do you get it?  Jesus died because the political and religious systems of the time could not bear the transformations Jesus was calling them to make.  Threatened by the upheaval of the status quo which kept them all in power, political and religious leaders could do nothing else but take out the threat to that power.  It was either that or give up their power…and that’s something they just couldn’t do.

And the good news is:  it didn’t matter.  It didn’t matter that they killed the threat to their power… Even after his death, Jesus’ vision of the world as God hoped it would be took hold.  Jesus’ vision for God’s kindom, a place where power is shared, where the least of these are cared for, where we all seek only to act each other into wellbeing…a place where every single life matters—especially the lives of our children and youth—a place where lives matter more than political power, money, or guns.

Here’s the fun thing about the original ending of Mark.  Even though the author leaves us with this vision of the women fearful and voiceless, the fact that the account exists at all means that at some point they must have talked.  If they hadn’t said something sometime, the story wouldn’t exist.  But the story does exist…which means at some point, those women preached!

And because they found their voices, the world was transformed.  Because they heeded the word of the young person at Jesus’ empty tomb, change came.  Because those wise women allowed themselves to be reassured by the youth, they were able to find a place of resurrection—for themselves and for the world.  May the same be true of us.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2018

 

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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