Martha M. Shiverick
April 8, 2012: Easter Sunday

Mark 16:1-8

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he 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 where 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 Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Eight years ago, a dear friend of mine died of lung cancer. Greg had been my children’s skating coach and in the hours that we spent together with my children engaged in pairs figure skating, we developed a strong bond between our family and him. We traveled together to skating competitions and enjoyed each other’s companionship as my children practiced day in and day out at the local ice rinks. During the last summer of his life, he seemed to have a chest cold and a lingering cough which lasted for months. His energy was not as high as it usually was and he began to lose weight and muscle mass. By the time Greg’s cancer was diagnosed it was already in stage four. Tumors had developed throughout his body. Perhaps the years of being a professional athlete, did not allow him to see or feel signs of the cancer spreading throughout his organs. But, whatever the reason, by the time he was diagnosed, we knew that his life was going to be cut very short.

As Greg got sicker, I would leave work and visit him every day to give a break to his friend Brian who had taken a leave from his job and his family to be the primary caregiver so that Greg was able to stay at his home with Hospice Care. While I visited, Greg would tell me, ‘that after he died, he was going to return, somehow, to tell me what happens after death’. I would laugh, reassure him that I had faith and knowledge where he was going to be and he would answer that he was serious about letting me know. He told me that he wanted me to know that if there as something after death, he would make every possible attempt to let me know.

And he died. I did his memorial service and helped his family and friends with their grief. And after six weeks my life had had begun to turn back to the normal it was before Greg’s illness. Then one night, while I was sleeping, Greg did contact me. He looked wonderful, no longer, emaciated and hollowed out from the cancer, but muscular, with great coloring, and a big smile on his face. He wanted me to know that he was happy, he was very happy…. ;that things were wonderful where he was. And he wanted me to give a message to the people that had helped him throughout his illness and let them know how truly grateful he was to them for their love and care. “Grateful” was definitely the word he used.

I woke up feeling happy about Greg. Whatever grief I had felt was now gone. I was so thankful for the dream I had about him but also very nervous about the message. If I was to take it seriously, he wanted me to admit to his friends that I thought he spoke to me while I was sleeping. Greg sent a message to me from the grave! I felt embarrassed at the thought. Certainly they would be nice and patronize me as Greg’s friend the minster and then laugh at me for being a little ‘off’ behind my back.

I think about this story every time I read the Resurrection story in the Gospel of Mark. You see the thing that differentiates this Easter story in Mark from the other Gospel accounts besides the embellishments told by the other Gospel writers to Mark’s crisp, short, and factual retelling of the resurrection is that of the response of the women. As you know Mark is the briefest of the narratives. Mark tells how the women were going to the tomb to anoint the body and while they are walking they are wondering who will move that heavy, heavy stone. I love that we get to hear that conversation as it draws us into the intimacy of their task and helps us to experience the rest of the story as very real. Wouldn’t we too worry who would help us roll away a huge stone? Of course, their worry is irrelevant because once they get there they see that the stone has already been rolled away. They walk in and instead of seeing Jesus’s body there is a young man, the other Gospels call him an angel, who is sitting there and tells them not to be alarmed, that the body is not there because Jesus has been raised from the grave. He then commissions the women to go and tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee, and then the women leave…. It says they leave frightened and amazed. You can almost feel them back pedaling to get out of there and flee from this experience that makes no sense to them! In the Gospel of Mark, the story ends right there, abruptly without the appearance stories in the other gospels of the risen Christ. Several centuries later, writers added on to Mark’s gospel, but the original ending was what we read. The women flee the tomb. THE END. Mark is the only Gospel who has this part of the story and we don’t know from Mark if they ever did spread the news about Jesus’ resurrection. bUt I have to tell you that whereas parts of the resurrection story are believed on faith, this is the totally understandable and totally believable part in the resurrection story to me. I understand why those women fled. The women ran from the empty grave and did not share the story because it is so outside of their reality and what they expected. They were indeed amazed and in terror. I know because I know how hard my story was to share as well.

My guess is that if Mark had continued his story and lengthened it a bit, he would have described that how after the women fled the tomb, and after they fled, they collected their breath and sat and talked for hours, verifying that what they saw the others saw as well. ‘DID YOU SEE WHAT I SAW!!!!’ To tell such an unbelievable story would take courage. You would want to get it verified. To share something like that would only happen after you had sat down and checked that all had experienced the same thing. And because of that, it makes the Mark resurrection story that much more believable to me.

And what is it that we believe? Something wonderful and out of the ordinary happened that first Easter morning! Whether or not you get hung up on the discrepancies in the Gospel stories on whether there were two angels or young men in the tomb or one, whether the risen Christ was first seen in Jerusalem or Galilee, even this shortened version of the Easter story we have in Mark screams the good news of the day. THE TOMB WAS EMPTY! Death was not and is not the final message. God did something to Jesus that transformed him and allowed his followers to see, to hear, and to touch him after his death. We sing out on Easter morning each year in great joy, Jesus Christ has risen. Jesus Christ has risen indeed!

To the person who grew up in our Christian tradition, this makes sense. And, although can’t exactly tell you how Jesus was resurrected, I know without a doubt that he was. And his resurrection is important to our faith as it affirms God’s power over all things, even over death. However, from people outside our religion, Easter is a huge stumbling block. What we see as the pinnacle of our religion becomes a point of skepticism for them. Those people should not so much worry about the exact how’s and when’s of the Easter Story, but they should listen to the story receive good news from its meaning.

So, let’s again go over what we know from the Gospel narrative about what happened that first Easter. We know that Jesus was sealed in a tomb, but that the tomb could not hold him. We know that on Easter, the stone had been rolled away and that Jesus was not among the dead, but that he had somehow been raised from the dead. And there was a promise that his followers were going to see him. From these facts in the Easter story, we can glean several meanings which are indeed good news for Jesus’ disciples as they are for us today. First is the affirmation that Jesus lives! Jesus Lives! Just as Jesus was experienced after his death in a new way to his apostles, he can still be experienced by us today. Jesus was not just a historical figure but can be a living presence in our lives as well. Because Jesus lives we have faith that death is not the final story, but that Jesus’ promise of eternal life is a reality. Second, the Easter story tells us without a doubt who is in control. Yes, Jesus died, but God raised him from the grave. No person in the world, power in the world, no government in the world, not even the power of death can control God. God has the final authority. God is the final power. Some of you who are struggling with illness might thing that it is the power in your life, some of you who have financial worries might think that they own in your life. Some of you might think that unjust societies with tyrannical rulers or areas of our planet where children die of disease and starvation are too powerful to change. But we are wrong. In all that, we underestimate the power of our God. We underestimate the power of God’s love and control. God is the ultimate and final power. Just as we say in our Lord’s Prayer each week; God’s will be done!

And because of that, the meaning of Easter truly becomes our good news. The meaning of Easter is what allows us to live life with confidence. Because of Easter we are not burdened with a fear of death, so we can live life to its fullest. Because of Easter we are not burdened with fear due to life’s circumstances, as we know that in all things on earth and in heaven God is in total control. Because of Easter, we know that in God all things are possible. So on Easter we shout with Joy: Christ has risen, Christ has risen indeed! Amen.