Happy Easter! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Each year the Easter story comes from one of the four gospels. Each gospel writer has a bit different take of the events of that first Easter morning when the disciples (both men and women) got the surprise of their lives.
They went early in the morning to anoint Jesus a dead man – but the dead man wasn’t there. And in the hours and days that followed, reports began to come in that Jesus who had died was alive. And this small band of confused and scattered disciples became the vanguard for a movement that changed lives, indeed changed the world. That is an historic fact! That is why we are here today to rejoice and celebrate.
But of the four gospels, I love Mark’s account most of all. For his is the earliest text. Did anyone notice anything about the Easter story read today?
YES, it ends with that extraordinary verse 8: “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.” Later scribes worked on Mark’s narrative and added a variety of endings (you can see them in most bibles) – but the best text we have – closest to the original, written 30 years after the event – ends right at verse 8…. Terror, amazement, they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
I am going to keep it real, here–keep it 100 – and admit that is a strange way to end the Easter story. Matthew, Luke and John all have somebody meeting Jesus – in their own ways offering “proof” that this resurrection was no fluke.
But not Mark. It is as if he wants you to be there on the first Easter morning, standing dumbfounded before the empty grave, terrified and speechless, wondering “What just happened here?!”
Bodily, poetically, metaphorically, philosophically, scientifically, musically, artistically – oh, there are a lot of ways to attempt to get our heads around something this startling. And of course, for the skeptic, there is always the possibility that is was all made up – because you and I have never seen anyone die and then get up again. (Except on TV – and that is the most horrifying thing of all.)
But here is what I love about Mark’s Easter story: it names without flinching the dilemma of every age and every life,whether you are a believer or not. And that dilemma is: What do you do about death and fear? The reality of death, of all our lives, that we all share, that is often just a gossamer thin barrier between you and your worst nightmare? If faith cannot speak to fear and death – it’s useless.
I can’t stop from thinking about the plane that went down in the Alps and the grieving parents and family members. What is this Easter like for them? Every time my child goes on a plane, I have to tamp down the fear because I feel it rising.
I wonder what Easter is like for Christians in Syria or Iraq today – those who have been driven out of their homes by ISIS and threatened with decapitation because they celebrate Easter.
And closer to home, for the kids who didn’t get into the college of their dreams who now have to figure out what to say and what to do now. And for those who have lost jobs and those who face their own death?
Mark leaves you at the tomb – holding on to hope, living on a prayer, pinned to a promise – but with an invitation to move beyond fear to faith and to find your voice.
An invitation to take that leap from fear to faith – that most risky of jumps that hints that there is something more going on here than meets the eye; death isn’t the final note on the score.
Easter faith is not living life in denial. It is looking at the suffering, fear and death all around and pointing beyond it, doing something about it – because that is where you will find Jesus.
That is Easter. A precocious and preposterous invitation to see God as the—what? The poet of possibility; the still, small voice that says “Go for it! Really, what is the worst that can happen?”
Today my friends I invite you, urge you to follow your yearnings, to plant your stake in the ground of hope, to arise and do what you, in your hearts knows needs to be done, to live the Easter faith even if you are confused about the details, because it matters. It changes lives. It changes the world.
That is one of the things that I love about Christians. Not the ones who give into the fear of the other, not the ones who peddle fear, not those who judge, not the naïve.
No, the ones I love are the ones who hold on to hope, the ones who are creating a new world, the ones who were abolitionists and suffragettes and civil rights marchers and feminists – using their imagination to catch a glimpse of the possible and move towards it, the ones who put others before self, and follow Jesus.
The artists and poets and musicians and dreamers, who still lean forward and break on through, trying to hear and see something more. The inventors and scientists who stand in constant awe and amazement at the universe.
Or as the Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves writes: the ones who have the “presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks!”
People of Easter faith are peculiar for they sense something beyond the present reality – and they name it – hope!
And in this day and age, we need more people like that. You and I, who are made in the image and likeness of God, need to use our image-ination, our imagination, and dare to dream and do!
Because there is a lot of fear out there. And some commentators, even Christian commentators, think we are “slouching towards Armageddon.” Fear is what we are fed on the nightly news: hoodies, immigrants, big government, global warming, jihad. And it is messing us up! It causes good people to run away and hide and build walls and live in the fantasy of denial.
But Easter faith always calls us forward, always!
Andrea Levy, in the Sunday, March 29 Plain Dealer wrote a poem entitled “Blank Canvas” about the challenge of keeping a reporter’s objectivity in the face of mind-numbing news. About how one just wants to see another video of a cat playing with string – anything to dull the senses.
Bombings. Kidnappings. Plane crashes.
Or a kitten wrestling a string?
There’s no contest.
I have to pace myself with real-life horror.
Even the single still image announcing a beheading video
floods me with panic.
We all feel it…
just not enough.
More cat videos please.
A week ago, I watched scenes from a suspected ISIS bombing.
Three minutes, 11 seconds of bodies and blood.
What’s my human homework?
And so there you have it.
Terror is teaching us to fear.
Then to hate?
Hatred loves company.
Hope is an art we dare not behead.
A daily discipline of,
the dove is colorful revenge.
Peace is a blank canvas bravely waiting.
“Peace is the blank canvas bravely waiting….”
So too the empty grave. So too an empty grave. And that’s where Mark leaves you and me.
Christ is bravely waiting for you and for me to make Easter more than a yearly remembrance. To make Easter a daily leap from fear to faith, to write upon that blank canvas a new life.
That is what God wants! That is why Jesus died! That is why the tomb is empty and Jesus lives. Our hearts yearn to believe what our mind can’t fathom.
So trust your heart. Run away from the tomb if you have to. You’ll be back!
Don’t say anything just yet, but stay open, stay open. The Lord will find you. You will have words soon enough!
From fear to faith! The new day comes. Christ is risen!
He has risen indeed!