Sermon: Sunday, April 5, 2015: The Resurrection of Our Lord — Easter Day

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9  +  Psalm 118:1-2,14-24  +  Acts 10:34-43  +  Mark 16:1-8

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

6a00d8341bffb053ef0120a6e0b890970b-500wiThat was the question preoccupying the women as they came to the place where Jesus had been lain that first Easter morning. I guess I’d never given it much thought before, how striking it is that scripture makes a point of telling us that after “the sabbath was over Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome the follower of Jesus” came to the tomb prepared to do the heart-breaking work of anointing Jesus’s body for death even though they had no idea how they would get to it because there was a massive stone blocking their entry.

Who does that? Who sets out to do a difficult, a heart-breaking task without a plan for how to even get through the door? Not the men, apparently. It was the women. It was the women who had stayed with Jesus even at the hour of his death. It was Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons, a sign that she’d suffered from a complex, life-threatening condition. It was Mary the mother of James, one of the young men who’d followed Jesus throughout his ministry. It was Salome (not to be confused with dancing Salome, the daughter of Herodias, who’d asked for the baptist’s head), remembered by early tradition as the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who I imagine came so that her sister would be spared the sight and smell of her own son’s dead body. These were the women who came to the tomb without any idea how they would get in, just knowing that their love for the Lord would not allow them to stay away.

A woman grateful to have been given her life back. A den mother to the pack of young people chasing after Jesus. A sister who did what needed to be done. Don’t these women sound familiar to you? Don’t you think they exist in some incarnation in every community? I feel like I’ve met them over and over again in every church I’ve ever belonged to. I know they are members of this church. I suspect if you stick around long enough you may become one of these women.

Before, I’d always heard that line about them not knowing who would roll the stone away as a clue in the text about the size of the stone, the impassability of the barrier, a set up to the miracle of its movement signifying that nothing could contain the risen Christ. But if it’s that, then it is also something else, it’s a clue about the depth of their devotion to the Lord they had known, their unyielding love, a signifier that nothing would keep them from the new life they’d just begun to taste as they followed Jesus. Even if they did not know how they would ever move forward, they knew there was no going back.

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

They came with their spices, prepared for the worst, ready to find someone to help, a gardener perhaps, or some day laborers who would roll the stone away so that they could do their duty in that place, that blessed cavern where they thought they’d find their Lord. Instead, when they arrived that Easter morning they found the stone already moved and inside the tomb a young man, dressed in white, sitting on the right side.  Our minds immediately make the leap from “young man” to “angel” because of the texts in later gospels. Matthew’s gospel calls the greeter at the tomb a “messenger” (the word we often translate as “angel”) and Luke’s gospel describes two men in dazzling white garments, but Mark’s gospel simply says a “young man, dressed in a white robe.” I immediately think about our brother Ryan Coffee who was baptized last night at the Easter Vigil. When he asked me what to do to prepare for his baptism, I told him he might consider wearing something white as a gesture to the ancient tradition of draping those who emerged from baptismal waters in a white robe. So he showed up last night in a crisp white shirt and a blue tie and told me he felt like a waiter. From where I’m standing right now looking out into this vast, cavernous sanctuary he was seated with his family and with Rachel over there, on the right.

I kind of adore this little detail in Mark, “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side.” When the faithful women arrived at the tomb that first Easter morning expecting to find no one, no help, instead they find a young person, and he’s sitting on the right side. I wonder whose seat that was he’d taken. It was such an aggravation that when the gospel writer sat down to turn the oral tradition into a written text it couldn’t be forgotten that the young man was sitting on the right side!

And what a counterpoint this young adult is to the mood of the three women who came when the sabbath was over, ready to perform the appointed rituals. There he sits, as if waiting for them to arrive, as if knowing that they would come because wherever the Lord was, these women would be there too. But also, wherever the Teacher was, this young person would be as well. We don’t know what drew him to the cave that morning, or who sent him there, but he was also there that Easter morning and with a message for the women: “He has been raised. He is not here.”

“He has been raised. He is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But 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.” (Mark 16:6-7)

Galilee by the sea, as it might have appeared during the life of Jesus.

Where was Jesus to be found? Ahead of us, in Galilee, where it all began. In Galilee where Jesus appeared after John the Baptist was arrested, proclaiming the good news of God’s immanent reign. In Galilee, where Jesus had called the disciples away from their nets. In Galilee, where Jesus had preached and healed and drawn a crowd. In Galilee where he’d told them he would be after he was raised up, though they’d not understood what he was saying (14:28). In Galilee, where Rome still ruled but people were rising up. In Galilee, where life was happening, in all it’s painful, messy, uncertain ways. In Galilee, the crossroads of the world, where I’m imagining the risen Lord met this young adult and asked a favor. “Could you go to Jerusalem, where I’ve recently been hanging out, and look for these three women. You’ll find them in a garden, at a tomb. They will come, I know they will. They keep coming, even when everyone else abandoned me, they keep coming because they love me and I love them. They will come with oil to anoint my body, but they’ve forgotten that I was already anointed for death at Simon’s house in Bethany and I have no need of that particular gift any more because I am not dead, but alive. Will you tell them I’ve left this place, but that I wait for them in the future, and will you ask them to share this message with the others, Peter and the rest of the brokenhearted?”

They met at the tomb, the faithful women and the unknown young person. They were there, together, but Jesus was not there with them. Jesus was already back out in the world scattering seeds that would break open settled earth bearing new life.

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

It was God who rolled away the stone. To Mark it doesn’t seem to matter how that happened. Matthew’s gospel says there was an angel and an earthquake, but to Mark and Luke and John it could just as easily have been the grounds crew in the garden. What matters is the barrier is gone, the stone is rolled away, a certain death has given way to a risky, new, uncertain life.

So the faithful women flee, terrified of the future but still amazed at everything God had done in that place, because they were afraid; and we can understand their reaction because who hasn’t felt such fear when they suddenly realize that the rest of their life, no matter how short or how long that span of time may be, will look nothing at all as we’d imagined?

And that’s how Mark’s gospel ends, at least originally. No great commission to go and make disciples, no meet up on the road to Emmaus, no seaside breakfast with the disciples after a hard night of fishing. Just this meeting between the faithful women and the unfamiliar young man, a message delivered, an assurance made, and a fleeing in terror as if to leave the question with us, who hear the story today, to decide what will happen next.

What will happen next?

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