ACTS 10: 34-43; 1 CORINTHIANS 15: 1-11; MARK 16: 1-8
THE REV. PORTIA SWEET
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! We sing this joyous music and gather among all this springtime beauty to listen to a tale of great mystery. I think most of us like a mystery. There are certainly an overabundance of them on TV, in novels, and in real life. Whodunit? Que paso? Where is Sherlock when you need him?
As Christians, we make no attempt to disguise the fact that our faith involves mystery. Holy Mystery. Although human beings have evolved physically and mentally over the centuries, we are still human, and we have not conquered the world of the divine. Easter is one of those mysteries.
What is not a mystery is whether Jesus died on that cross. Pilate, who condemned him to die asked his own witnesses if indeed Jesus was dead before he, Pilate, agreed to release the body for burial .And his own men testified that Jesus was indeed dead. In most cases, crucified bodies remained on public view on their crosses as a deterrent to further testing of empirical authority by the public. Christ's dead body was taken down, wrapped in a cloth and placed in a new tomb, which was then closed by a large stone. Since by this time, it was very near the beginning of the Sabbath when all Jews had to be off the streets and no activities were to be carried out, The proper rituals of anointing were left for later.
It is the following day then, when the mystery begins to unfold. The women who had followed Jesus throughout his ministry on earth went to perform those rituals. They worried a bit about how they were going to get that heavy stone out of the way. So, when they arrived and discovered that someone had already removed the stone, they had to be surprised, stunned, perhaps frightened? Well certainly all of the above when they then saw a young man dressed in dazzling white clothes sitting nearby and no body was in the tomb. This mysterious messenger informed the shocked women that Jesus has gone and will meet up with them and the men in Galilee, just as he said he would do. Jesus had work to do and was not going to hang around.
In all the Gospel stories and other writings we do not have any account of what happened inside that tomb. We do not know the precise details. However the resurrection happened, it is a mystery. It was an Act of God. It was the fulfillment of a promise Jesus, God Incarnate, made before his death. But it did happen. I find it interesting that Mark ends this Gospel by saying the women told no one. Yet they had to tell or we would not have, as Paul Harvey used to say, "The rest of the story." There are various scholarly theories as to why this gospel ends this way and whether it actually does end here, But all that is another sermon. Important for us today is that the event was told, and told and told again.
How do I know it happened? And how can I be sure if I do not know how it happened? Do I not have an inquiring mind? Well, we have two additional readings of Scripture this morning, from two other sources, which testify to the fact of the Resurrection. And neither of these sources were in the tomb with Jesus.
He will meet them in Galilee as he told them. Why Galilee? Well, Jesus' ministry began with his baptism, near Galilee. Many of his acts of healing, times of teaching and acts of feeding the crowds occurred in Galilee. At least some of his closest followers were from Galilee. So what could be a more fitting place to gather than in Galilee and to live into the next chapter?
Jesus did meet his frightened band of followers. In all, he appeared several times and in several situations to them and others in the next six weeks. Luke records in the Book of Acts that Peter states "God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. The risen Lord appeared to Paul later in yet another mysterious event on the Road to Damascus. Paul was so transformed by the encounter that he believed and proclaimed the resurrection to all whom he met. Both Peter and Paul believed so completely in the Resurrection of Jesus, they died for their faith.
The message Mark brings us is that Jesus is not buried in a national cemetery. Jesus had work to do immediately - a word famously associated with the writer of this Gospel. Jesus was on yet another mission, and he has sent us also on a mission. We are not to look for Jesus in museums, cemeteries, old books, or in TV scripts. We are to be in the world, among God's people, and among people who do not know God but who are loved by him nonetheless. We are commanded to carry the faith of Peter, Paul, and all the martyrs as our shield and spread the Good News. Jesus came into this world to forgive our sin and reconcile us to God, our Creator. His life and death and Resurrection were not simply one time events in the history books to be memorized then forgotten, my friends, for Our Redeemer Lives - today - now - here - in the hearts and bodies of each one who claims him.
As we shout our Alleluias and proclaim the resurrection of our Lord, we are to step beyond the tombs of our own making and get to work, as Jesus did. We are to meet our neighbors who hunger for some good news and thirst for the salvation we know. We are to show them through the way we conduct our lives what it is to be a follower of this Jesus. We will be hearing more about Jesus' Resurrection appearances in the next few weeks. We are to invite them in to hear a good mystery story, and more - to be a part of the mystery itself. For as we share bread and wine at this altar in a few minutes, we do become part of the mystery. Go! Tell. Do not be afraid. Alleluia! Christ is Risen. Amen.