Sermon for Easter Day
|Text: Mark 16:8
So they (the women) went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid
What happened next?
Have you ever read a book or been to a movie and you've reached the point when you are ready for an ending that will bring all the loose ends together so that you can close the book or leave the theatre with a satisfied and happy feeling? But it doesn’t happen.
The story brings you to a certain point and then the screen goes black and the credits start rolling. For a while a feeling of frustration overwhelms us as we stare at the screen in disbelief at what just happened. We say “What! Tell us what happens next! Don’t stop now! We want to know.”
We want to know if there is a happy ending.
We want to know what happens next.
Does the main character survive; is there a reconciliation; is there a tragic or happy ending?
We want at least some writing on the screen that tells us what happened to the people in the story in the end. But there is nothing. That can be so annoying.
Is it possible that the writer didn’t know how to finish the story? We know that writers often write several endings to their stories but in end the publisher or movie-maker didn’t like any of them so finished off with what seems an incomplete story.
After we have been involved in a story like that, what happens next is interesting and it was probably was the intention of the writer of the story to leave us hanging. We start to think about how the story might have continued. We discuss possible endings with others. Did this happen? Did he do that or did she survive? If it’s a true story, we will “Google” it and find out what happened.
Did it strike you as strange that the resurrection account from Mark’s Gospel today ended with these words, “So they (the women) went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid”. That’s a most unsatisfying end to such a marvellous story.
Why does Mark stop so abruptly?
There could be a number of reasons.
Maybe it’s something simple like the last page of his Gospel account was lost
or that Mark was a victim of persecution and didn’t finish writing.
Or it could be that Mark wanted to leave the story open ended.
The women are told by an angel that Jesus has been raised to life. He is not in the tomb where they had seen the disciples place him. He had been crucified; he was dead and buried in the tomb and now they are invited to have a look at where they last saw Jesus. The angel tells them that to tell the disciples that they will see Jesus in person in Galilee.
None of this should come as a surprise because this is just as Jesus had told them. And then the Gospel writer gives us this surprising end – the women rush out of the tomb distressed and terrified.
It could be that Mark doesn’t want a nice well rounded conclusion to his story but instead wants his readers to talk about what happened next, to discover through others who had seen and heard the excitement of the disciples that first Easter.
We know that amongst Mark’s readers were people who were there in Jerusalem or had contact with eye-witnesses to the events of Easter. For example, he mentions Rufus and Alexander, the sons of Simon of Cyrene who had carried Jesus’ cross to Golgotha. And I would suppose there were others who could testify to the excitement of the first Easter.
There is nothing like a personal testimony to convince others that Jesus was truly alive and that right now he is the living Lord who rules with power and authority. He is Lord of the Church which was still in a fledgling state and under persecution, but his Church will stand for all time.
He is King of kings and mightier than a Roman emperor who can take their life but can’t take away the eternal life won for them by the One who is the Resurrection and Life.
So maybe it's Mark’s deliberate
intention to give his readers the opportunity to discover for themselves through
listening to other first-hand witnesses about their fear and lack of faith after Jesus’ death and then their boldness and strength of faith after seeing the risen Lord,
witnessing their excitement as they talked about the first time they heard the news “He’s alive”,
listening to the descriptions of Jesus’ many appearances to the disciples and his command to go into the world to baptise and teach.
Each of these eye-witness accounts would have had a powerful impact on a church that was being persecuted. Like the disciples, those early Christians knew fear and doubt, and yet what confidence and boldness they received when they heard the news about their risen Saviour who promised, “I will be with you always throughout the ages”.
Mark didn’t have to write it all down in his Gospel account, but he sure gave his readers the opportunity to discover the meaning and excitement of Easter as they “Googled” in their own first century way what the resurrection of Jesus meant. They were drawn into the story and they discovered that it does have a happy ending. They discovered what we already know from the other Gospel writers that Jesus is triumphant over the grave and that he really is alive.
As we celebrate Easter again this year, we are separated by time and space from the actual empty grave and physical presence of the risen Jesus. Hearing the story again is not just simply retelling a story from history but it actually draws us in because this is our story. The story of Jesus rising from the dead is something that involves each one of us.
It’s a story about
life and death,
fear and courage,
despair and hope,
sadness and joy,
doubt and faith,
and each one of these are a part of our lives and affect us as much as they affected the disciples 2,000 years.
It doesn’t matter who we are, at some time we are confronted with the horrible side of life in this world. We wish that everything would be fine and dandy and that trouble would never come our way but as much as we try to avoid it, inevitably sadness, bad news, discouragement, sickness, broken dreams and bad choices catch up with us.
In fact, if we are truthful, some
of these make up every day. There
are days when we despair about the future.
There is a mountain of distressing and terrifying events in front of us
and can’t see any way around them.
We worry about future generations when we see so much that is terribly wrong in our world.
We wonder how we will be able to cope with so much darkness.
How is it possible to deal with so much sadness, and sorrow, and suffering, and uncertainty?
And then there is death. Now there’s something that’s scary! Some people don’t think about it but others stress about the end of their journey here on this earth and it’s all too much to contemplate.
Someone once said that we are like smooth stones – the kind you pick up and skip across a lake or dam. The stone would bounce once, twice, maybe three times or more across the surface of the water, but then it drops silently beneath the surface, gone forever. Is that how you describe life – a momentary skipping across the surface only to drop below the surface at the end and never be thought of again? Unfortunately that’s how some people see life but to me that’s not what God has planned for us. That kind of dead end thinking is terribly depressing, distressing and terrifying.
If we, who are distressed and terrified, follow those distressed and terrified women who ran from the tomb, we will discover with them that Jesus is alive today and that his presence changes everything. It is no longer a matter of us standing alone against all that terrifies us but it is the living Jesus who is right beside us who stands with us and in us.
Just as Mary Magdalene was sad, confused and overwhelmed by all that had happened and wept at the open tomb, immediately she heard Jesus speak her name, everything changed. That’s all she needed. He simply said her name, “Mary”, and his love and presence overcame all her despair and confusion.
The apostle Paul would say it again and again, “In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again” (2 Cor 4:9) or he would say something like, “I am being battered by all kinds of strife and trouble but I’m OK, because the power of Christ enables me to endure all these things” (Phil 4:12-13).
Christ, the living, all-powerful, overcoming, overwhelming Christ, enables us to endure anything that comes our way. That doesn’t mean that these bad things won’t happen or they will magically disappear, but it does mean that Christ gives us the ability, the faith and hope, to see these things through and one day to see them through to the point when we enter our eternal home in heaven. Then there will be no more trouble and pain.
In short, we are living in the presence of the risen Christ who has declared his eternal love for us and his eternal presence in our lives. “I am for you”, he says. “I am always with you. I am your resurrection and life. Live and believe in me and you will live a life today that is confident, bold and courageous and you will have the joy of eternal life”.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
5th April 2015