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Mark Leaves Easter Up to You

I've kinda been thinking of the homilies I preached on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday as a series. Of course, these events are thought of as a whole in the gospels, too, and we call that "Holy Week." I tied them together in my mind with one-word titles. On Palm Sunday, it was "Irony," capturing the fact that the crowd who cries "Hallelujah" on Sunday will be the same ones that cry "Crucify him!" on Friday. That's us--the ironic, fallen crowd. On Friday, the homily was "Scandal." Scandal is the same word as "Stumbling block" as used by Paul. Jesus gets in the way and trips up our self-righteousness; he is an innocent person convicted and executed to satisfy the crowd's need for a scapegoat. His righteousness exposes our sinfulness and need for forgiveness; that's the scandal of Good Friday. Easter Sunday was "Astonishment." The women finding the tomb empty are astonished--"terrified and amazed," the gospel of Mark says. The thing about this astonishment is that Jesus' resurrection is too amazing to be believed--God said "no" to our judgement and Jesus' death. I thought about the sun reflecting off panes of glass as in Richard Wilbur's poem, "Lying." Just as such a flash can blind you and make you pause, the brightness of the good news can cause you to be paralyzed. That leaves a problem. The women, though they were told to "go" and "tell," told no one. Mark's original ending doesn't even show us Jesus after the resurrection. The closest we get is in the tomb when the young man dressed in white tells them that "He has been raised; he is not here." There is no story of Jesus passing through locked doors or teleporting to or from Emmaus. The promised meeting with the disciples in Galilee is not shown. There is no footrace to the tomb and no mistaking him for the gardener. There is no beach-side charcoal fire. In Matthew the women leave with "fear and great joy," but in Mark they leave "terrified and amazed," and they tell no one. What are we to do with that?

Well, "What are we to do with that?" may be exactly the question we should be asking. Mark and the people he was expecting to read his gospel knew that the story did not end there. Maybe the women's silence was temporary; just for that Sunday. Maybe the disciples wouldn't have listened to them even if they had spoken up, so the disciples missed out because of their silence. Eventually, maybe, the disciples DID go to Galilee and meet the living Lord as promised. Maybe, the women lived the rest of their lives with lush green gardens sprouting up everywhere they went because of their secret knowledge and encounter with the angel. Maybe the Markan community was under threat of persecution and being forced into silence themselves. The fact that they knew the good news got out whether from the women or from other, later witnesses could either have given them the courage to speak up or could have given them the hope that they didn't have to.

The power of the narrative form here is that we can ask ourselves how WE would finish the story. All of a sudden, we're faced with working out what Easter means to us both individually and as a community. In Mark, more than any of the other Gospels, it is Jesus' death that is emphasized. What does it mean for us as individuals that Jesus died? Somehow, the debt is paid for our sin. Somehow, Jesus is the lamb whose blood signifies that death will pass over us. Somehow, Jesus teaches US how to live and how to die. What does Jesus' death mean to our community--our closest friends and family? our congregation? Pauls Valley? our nation? our denomination? the Church universal? the world? Somehow, it convicts us of the same mob mentality that overtook the crowds. Somehow it teaches us to care for the least in our communities. Somehow it causes us grief and gives us comfort at the same time.

The story does not end at Jesus' death; it ends at the empty tomb. If Jesus' death means that one died for all, the empty tomb means that one died for all for all time. If Jesus' death means that we can learn from him how to die, then the empty tomb means that we can learn from him how to expect new life. If Jesus death convicts us of our collective fallenness, then the empty tomb acquits us. If Jesus' death gives us both grief and comfort, then the empty tomb gives us hope.

Finally, based on whatever interpretation or interpretations you give to Jesus' death and the empty tomb or whatever interpretation or interpretations we give them, the next question is what are we going to do about it? If Lent was the time to think about our fallenness and need, and if Jesus' death and the empty tomb satisfy those needs, then the Easter season is the time for figuring out how we're going to live changed lives because of God's great love for us. Do we feel "terrified and amazed" or "fear and great joy"? Do we remain silent? Do we gather in an old place, like Galilee? Do we carry the good news into all the world? Do we work for peace and justice and unity? Do we live like each relationship is lush greenery sprouting from our footsteps? Do we feed Christ's sheep? May we know the blessings God showers upon us and live accordingly this Easter season.



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