Radical Optimism

Radical Optimism

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 4, 2021

Easter Sunday

1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

 

Let us pause to savor this moment. For over a year, we have been the church from many dwelling places but this morning, by the grace of God, we are the church here in this beautiful sanctuary, as well as the church from many dwelling places. Let us relish this moment because this morning we gather—not for the funeral of Jesus—but for his resurrection. Because of Christ, hope abounds, and because of Christ, we have every reason for radical optimism. On this day, in a host of different languages, a greeting resounds around the world: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Easter marks the beginning of Christianity. Without Easter, there would be no Gospel, no Good News to proclaim. Without Easter there would be no reason for us to be here in this church; there would be no church.

 

No doubt, all seems lost that first Easter morn, when Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome head out to tend to the body of their Lord. These same women, along with others, look on from a distance that Good Friday that seems anything but good. They watch while all their hopes and dreams of new life are nailed to a cross!  In 1st Century Palestine, it naturally fell to women to care for the bodies of the deceased. So, after the Sabbath, they rise with the sun, to perform the natural—only to be met with the supernatural. Imagine their distress, when they enter the tomb and are greeted by a young man, dressed in white, who says 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. 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.”

 

The women flee from the tomb in terror and amazement, and they say nothing to anyone. Nothing at all. What a strange way to end a gospel that has throughout reminded those impacted by it to “Tell no one.” Now, the instruction is crystal clear: Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. But their response is just as clear: Out of fear, they tell no one!

 

Wait a minute! Surely there’s more to the story. Surely Mark does not mean to leave us hanging with a resurrection scene minus Jesus, minus the disciples, minus Peter. If we look carefully at our Bibles, we notice that two additional endings are provided. No doubt, it is a strange ending—so strange that it likely causes one monk, and then, later, another to add a little something to explain what happens next. The women do tell someone—otherwise how would we know what happens next—and something does, indeed, happen next! Though the topic has been long debated, verse 8 is widely accepted as the original ending: “So 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.” Maybe, if we allow this conclusion to stand on its own, we will find that instead of an incomplete ending, it provides the perfect beginning.

 

In her commentary on Mark, Kimberly Clayton Richter points out two major themes woven throughout this gospel.[i]  First is the person of Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus preaches, teaches, heals, and loves people. He embodies the authority and power of his Abba Father. Jesus embodies that which the powers of the world will stop at nothing to silence! God’s love is a dangerous love in the eyes of the world!

 

The second theme concerns the disciples. As Richter notes:

At first, they act like models of faithfulness, dropping everything to follow Jesus. But repeatedly, they’re portrayed as fellows who just don’t get it. They misunderstand; they doubt; they are filled with fear. And even though Jesus speaks of suffering and of being last and least, they want to know which of them is the greatest, and who will sit on his right and his left in glory. They fall asleep when he needs them most. By the end of the gospel, one of them has betrayed Jesus, one has denied him, and all have fallen away.

 

Surprisingly, in Mark’s telling, it’s the women who are portrayed as “getting it” more times than not. Yet, it’s the women who witness the empty tomb only to run away in fear and tell no one! How out of character. So why this strange turn of events? Why the cliffhanger? Personally, I attribute it to the genius of the writer of Mark’s gospel. For now, the dilemma is this: Who will go and who will tell? Only the reader is left! Thus, Mark’s ending sends us back to the beginning of Mark to re-read Jesus’ words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”[ii] WE are left to share the good news and continue the mission of Christ in the world. Along the way, like the disciples, we may doubt. We may fear taking up our cross and following Jesus. Too often, we may prefer glory to suffering. Instead of watching and praying, we may fall asleep. Nevertheless, it falls upon our shoulders to receive and believe Jesus’ resurrection promise: “He is going ahead of us. We will see him.”[iii]

 

During Lent we have explored “Isms” that threaten to undo us—Isms such as Individualism, Ageism, Domestic Terrorism, Consumerism, Christian Nationalism, and Racism. While there is much going on in the world that is cause for concern, as Christians we do not lose heart because there is every reason for optimism—even radical optimism. Why? Because of the radical nature of God’s love. That’s what the salvation story is all about, after all. God so loved the world that God entered the world as Emmanuel, God with us. In the person of Jesus, God’s love heals the sick and gives sight to the blind. God’s love turns tax collectors into generous disciples. God’s love feeds the hungry and embraces the outsider. Unable to accept God’s love, the powers of evil join forces to kill Love. They bind Love, they beat Love, they humiliate Love, and then, when that is not enough, they hang Love on a cross and kill Love. But God’s Love is too strong. So, in three days, God’s Love bursts forth from the tomb! And God’s Love is still on the loose!

 

As we continue the mission of taking Christ’s love into the world, there is no need to fear and there is every reason to be hopeful, to be optimistic. Because no matter where we go and no matter what is going on in the world, Jesus is already there—in Galilee, in Philippi, in Egypt, in Rome, in America, in Tennessee, in Georgia. Christ has gone ahead of us and he is here! Bread of heaven, Light of the world, Hallelujah! God’s Resurrected Love is risen! He is risen, indeed!

 

[i] Commentary for Mark, The Life with God Bible, NRSV, Kimberly Clayton Richter, 62-63.

[ii] Mark 1:15

[iii] Ibid, Richter.

*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt; used by permission