Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter sermon (abridged)

Love this picture! It's apparently a bar in Chapel Hill, NC.
Did this gospel take you by surprise this morning? How many of you were going, “Wait! Isn’t Jesus going to show up along in here?” How many of you were waiting for the part where Mary thinks he’s the gardener. Great story, but it’s not here. Like Jesus’ corpse, there’s a lot that appears to be missing, including any explanation of what on earth happened.

I love the ending. Love it.

“and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” 

The end.

Well, clearly the story leaked somewhere or we wouldn’t be here today.

But the thing that’s so wonderful to me about this version in the gospel of Mark is that it captures the confusion of that morning of the resurrection in a way that to me, at least, brings it home.

So often I think we get blasé about the resurrection. We know too much about it. We hear the story every year and are reminded of it in every Eucharistic prayer. We know how the story is going to turn out and we are not taken by surprise. It’s no shock when Jesus is missing because he’s supposed to be.

But he wasn’t supposed to be missing. He was supposed to be there, where the women had seen him last, placed in a tomb with a big old rock in front of it. What they found instead shocked and surprised them so much that they couldn’t even talk about it, at least at first.

The first surprise was that the stone was moved back.  Who did it? How did it happen? Was this a good sign or a bad one? What did it mean?

So they enter into the first chamber of the tomb where they expect to see some shrouds, perhaps bones in the niches along the walls, and certainly Jesus' corpse resting on one of the shelves along the walls and instead, they get their second surprise: a man dressed in white.

Who is this guy? Is he an angel? Mark doesn't say.  He's just a man dressed in white. There's no other explanation whatsoever.  But he does have something to tell them:

“Do not be alarmed [good luck with that!]; 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.”

And that's surprise number three:

Jesus isn’t there, and the only explanation they get is “He has been raised.”  

None of them know what that means. There’s no creed with a tidy summary statement about what Jesus has done and what it signifies. There are no theological treatises on the resurrection; they haven’t even used the word. They went to the tomb expecting to find a body and the body wasn’t there—not because it had been moved, or stolen, or desecrated, but because (they were told) the person they loved whom they had seen shamefully executed had been “raised.”

Whatever that might mean.

You can imagine that for these women—for all of us, actually—one fixed point in the world is that the dead are dead. That’s it. Done. But to show up and discover that dead may not be dead after all? You can see why this would turn a person’s world upside-down.

We really don’t expect the dead to be raised. For Jesus, though, we’re willing to make an exception. Of course, we’ve had a couple of millennia, give or take, to get used to the idea of Jesus rising from the dead. We put it on our calendars and send out flyers to let everyone know when to expect it. It is so hard to imagine how confusing this was in the moment, how completely unexpected and completely unexplained.

And so I’m not going to say anything about what the resurrection is or what it means or what it does or how you should remember it. My hope for you this Easter day is that you leave here confused. At least slightly confused. My hope for you today is that you leave here this morning wondering what happened, what on earth went on in that tomb? What does it mean? If he’s not in the tomb, where is he? Where will he appear? Will he ever be seen again, or will he just vanish? And if he does appear, what will he say or do? And where is Jesus now?

I hope you’ll leave here a little on edge, wondering if Jesus is going to show up around every corner, wondering what you ought to say to people about it, what this means for you. Easter is 50 days long and we’ll have time to mull this over and try to make sense of it. But today, on this first day of the week, I invite you to have no idea what happened and what this means, to be bewildered and astonished at the news. He has been raised; he is not here. Where on earth is he?

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