The Risen Son
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 1, 2018
Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8
Without a doubt, the most challenging sermon to preach in the entire Christian year is the one preached Easter Sunday. For one thing, because the message is critical to our Christian story, there is a lot of pressure to tell it rightly. For another, Easter tends to draw all sorts of people into the church—those who have heard the story a thousand times; those who have seldom heard it; even those who have never heard it. Yes, this is an important day in the life of God’s people. With so much hanging in the balance, maybe the best approach is the KISS method—you know, “Keep it Simple, Silly.” Using the KISS method, then, it seems to me the pressure is off because the simplest and the most important words have already been spoken: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” With these words still hanging in the air, then, I guess my work is done. Happy Easter! (With hands raised in blessing, start to leave the pulpit.)
Isn’t it bizarre that Easter falls on April Fool’s Day this year? On the other hand, maybe there is no better pairing. After all, the joke is on Satan, the joke is on Evil, the joke is on Death. In her book, Wearing God, Lauren Winner writes:
Jesus’ crucifixion was layered with…irony—calling Him king, clothing Him in mock-royal garb. But if Jesus’ elevation was mocked by the Roman [authorities], that very mocking was in turn undone by the resurrection. It was not the Romans who had the last laugh.[i]
It was not the Romans who had the last laugh. It was not the religious leaders who had the last laugh. It was God! For with the rising of God’s Son, Christ was victorious and through him, abundant life is available to all of us for all time! Therefore, in a host of different languages, today the 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 this morning in this church—there would be no church—and all would be lost.
All seemed lost that first Easter morn, when Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome headed out to tend to the body of their Lord. These same women, along with others, had looked on from a distance that Friday that seemed anything but good. They had watched while all their hopes and dreams of new life were 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 rose with the sun, to perform the natural only to be met with the supernatural.
Imagine their distress, when they entered the tomb and were greeted by a young man, dressed in white, who 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. 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.” 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.” The End!
The End? What’s this? Another April Fool’s joke? Surely there’s more to the story. Surely Mark doesn’t mean to leave us hanging with a resurrection scene minus Jesus, minus the disciples, minus Peter. Well, if we look carefully at our Bibles, we notice that not one, but two additional endings have been supplied—a shorter one and a longer one. How strange—we have choices!
Do you remember the children’s book series “Choose Your Own Adventure”? My children loved them. They were more than books—they were games. The books were designed to allow the reader to select different actions for the characters. For example, if the reader wanted to go in one direction, he might have the option to leave page 7 and resume the story on page 11. If another action was preferred, page 19 might be the better place to continue. The creator of the book series came up with the idea while telling bedtime stories to his daughters about this character named Pete, who had wild and fun adventures. But one night, the father ran out of ideas, so he asked his daughters, “What should happen next?” With enthusiasm, they came up with different paths for the story to take…and thus, “Choose Your Own Adventure,” was born.[ii]
I wonder if that’s what happened with the ending of Mark. Maybe one monk, and then, later, another, encountered the ending and thought it to be a terrible way for the adventure to conclude—with no resurrected Jesus, no disciples, no Peter… Surely the REAL ending was lost, surely the REAL ending went a little like this…. Regardless of how it transpired, Mark 16:8 is widely considered to be the end of Mark’s gospel: “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.”
If we allow this conclusion to stand on its own, we may 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.[iii] First is the person of Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of God, who preaches, teaches, heals, and loves all 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!
The second major theme relates to the disciples. At first, they act like models of faithfulness, dropping everything to follow Jesus. But repeatedly, they are portrayed as fellows who just do not get it. They misunderstand; they doubt; they are filled with fear. And even though Jesus speaks of suffering and of being last and least, his disciples 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 is the women who are portrayed as “getting it” more times than not. Yet, the women witness the empty tomb only to run away in fear and tell no one! So, 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 the story to re-read Jesus’ words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”
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. Often, we will 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.”[iv]
Where do we expect to see Jesus, the Risen Son? At home, at work, at school? Do we expect to see Jesus in the faces of loved ones AND strangers? Do we expect to find Jesus in the baptismal waters; in the spiritual food provided at the Table he has set for us all? Where do we expect to see Jesus? If we look, we will see him. For no matter where we go, Jesus is already there. He has gone ahead of us!
On that first Easter morning, the women knew that the sun God placed in the sky had risen; they knew because of the light it provided for their trek to the tomb. They would soon learn that God’s only begotten Son had also risen—risen to be Light for the world! Hallelujah! The Son is risen and on this day around the world, in a host of different languages, the greeting rises from the midst of God’s people—Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
[i] Lauren Winner, Wearing God, 198.
[iii] Mark Commentary, The Life with God Bible, NRSV, Kimberly Clayton Richter, 62-63.
[iv] Ibid, Richter.
*Cover Art “Christ is Risen” ©Stushie Art; Subscription