It is good to see you all here today. You all got the invitation, and you have arrived in time for the celebration; we were counting on you – it wouldn’t be a party without you!
“What invitation?” you may be saying; “No one invited me to come to this service this morning, it’s just what I do every year at Easter;” OR “It was a beautiful spring morning and I just felt like getting out of the house, and decided that it might be interesting to go to church this morning;” OR “Well, a friend did invite me and suggested that I might want to check out that pretty stone church at the top of the hill, but I’m not really sure why I am here;” OR “The worship in this community of faith is the center and the touchstone of my life, and I am here whenever I am able to be.”
You may find yourself identifying with one or more of those statements – or with none of them - but the truth is, God invited you here –
each and every one of you – to come and celebrate the most important event and spiritual reality in Christian faith. Whatever moved you or motivated you to come today was God’s way of inviting you to come to the party that celebrates the victory of life over death –
the resurrection of Jesus from death to new life.
Do any of you like surprise parties? They’re always a bit tricky, aren’t they? You never know if you are going to pull it off: getting all the guests to arrive early and hide in a back room or a closet, keeping the party a surprise from the guest of honor, sometimes tying yourself up in knots trying to create a reason for the person to be out of the house while the party is being set up or stopping by
a venue they don’t usually go to.
Sometimes surprise parties work well, and are lots of fun, but sometimes they don’t work so well. My siblings and I gave my parents a surprise party for their fortieth wedding anniversary; they were truly surprised, but my mother was so taken aback she couldn’t get her breath for a minute or two, and we were afraid that our happy surprise might turn into a trip to the emergency room!
And then there are people who hate surprises; they want to be able to plan and prepare for as much of life as possible; or maybe large groups of people are hard for them to deal with and surprise parties are just not their idea of fun.
Surprises can be tricky, precisely because they come out of the blue, and they catch you unaware, and unready. That’s what happened to the women who went early Sunday morning to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial – they were surprised. They had been at the Crucifixion; they had seen with their own eyes the torture, suffering and death of their friend and rabbi
at the efficient hands of the Roman army.
They had helped place Jesus’ body in the tomb, the burial cave hastily offered by Jesus’ follower Joseph of Arimathea; they had watched as the soldiers rolled the stone across the entrance to the tomb, but then hurried on their way, anxious to get home before the sundown beginning of the Sabbath, on which day no work could be done – not even anointing the dead for burial.
All of these events were a surprise to the women, and to the rest of Jesus’ friends and disciples. The idea that their friend and teacher, the one they were sure was the Messiah, God’s representative on earth, the one on whom they had pinned all their hopes and dreams was now dead was a shocking, horrible surprise.
How could it have all gone so wrong? How could they have gotten it all so wrong? But life is sometimes like that, isn’t it? In fact, life is often like that; the hopes and dreams we have, the plans we make, the desires of our hearts can turn to dust – in an instant or over a life time, leaving us saying: “What happened?”
That’s where the women were – emotionally and spiritually – on that Sunday morning; feeling like their world had come to an end,
and the best they could do was finish what had been left over from Friday, so they went to the tomb to add the embalming spices to Jesus’ burial cloths.
Once they got there they were even more shocked and surprised: the stone sealing the entrance to the tomb had been moved,
and as they looked inside a figure appearing as a young man dressed in white (an angel perhaps) spoke to them, telling them not to be alarmed or astonished that Jesus was not there. He had been raised – “Go ahead, see for yourselves, the tomb is empty. But there is a message for you: Jesus will meet you in Galilee, just as he promised you; you will see him there. Take this message to the other disciples.”
This was a shock and a surprise, indeed - and the women were frightened and fled from the tomb, and said nothing to anyone.They got so caught up in the surprise of the moment that the actual message was pushed aside – a confusing mix of fear, shock, self-doubt about what they had seen and heard and felt, like having the wind knocked out of them, the experience at the empty tomb took their breath away.
Well, that not the way we usually think of the end of the story; in the other three versions of the Gospel – in Matthew, Luke and John – Jesus appears to the women; to the Twelve (his core leadership team); to other disciples, as well. But not here in Mark; the best scholarship says that the next bit of the account is missing, the end of the scroll in the most ancient manuscript having been worn away, broken off, and that later scribes tried to write two brief summations of their understanding of Jesus’ resurrection.
But we have the story as it stands, and the surprise and shock of it registers with us, still – if we listen with the ears of our hearts.
The tomb is empty, Jesus is not here, he is going ahead of you to Galilee and will see you there. Galilee was the place it all began for the disciples – it’s where they first met Jesus, where he gathered them together – calling them from their homes and their jobs to take on a new way of life, to consider a new possibility of God’s meaning and purpose; it’s where Jesus launched his public ministry
and mission, and now they were being sent back to where they had started, but with a difference.
Jesus was raised from the dead; the events of Good Friday, and everything that had led up to it, had been undone; the power of God’s life had trumped the power of death; from here on out everything would be different. Going back to Galilee was not starting over, not going back in defeat, but taking the message home and knowing that the Risen Christ would meet them there, that in the places they lived and worked Jesus and the power of resurrection would be there.
That is an astonishing thing – the power of death has been broken; God has entered human life in the person of Jesus and has taken on all of our human experience, including death and sin and failure, and left it in the grave.
God has raised Jesus to new life, the life that he was trying to explain to the disciples all along, the life that they and we caught glimpses of in his teaching and healing and deeds of power. This new life – this resurrection life, this Easter life which began that early Sunday morning when Jesus rose – means that death is not the end; there is more to the story of human life and our lives than death and sadness and brokenness.
We have been made by God, part of his creation that he blessed and called good, made for the purpose and intent of life and relationship with God, here in this life and for all eternity. God’s loving purpose for us and for all creation is that we shall not be lost or destroyed, but that in God we shall find our deepest life, our greatest meaning, the fulfillment of our humanity and the blessing of God’s own divine life within us. Jesus went to the Cross and the grave ahead of us, breaking the bonds of death, paving the way, opening the door into God’s new life for us.
There is much to be said about resurrection, the Risen Christ, the love of God that never fails for each one of us – but maybe it is best that Mark’s Gospel breaks off where it does; it gives us the opportunity for each one of us to tell the end of the story as we know and experience it, to write the account of Jesus’ resurrection in each one of our lives, to proclaim the Gospel according to you.
And isn’t that a surprise? That God would call you and me into partnership with him, into his inner circle to write the last chapter of the Gospel, of the Good News? But that is exactly what God does, because each one of us here this morning is loved and cherished by God and is invited by him to discover and learn God’s purposesand gifts in this new life for yourselves – for yourselves and for the sake of the world around you.
Jesus has shown the way; he is risen and bids you to meet him in the midst of your own life, in Galilee, to live the power and presence and life-giving love of God each and every day. That is a life and a love worth celebrating! Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Easter Day: The Sunday of the Resurrection
April 8, 2012