Apr 12th | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Mark 16:1-8
Easter Sunday Celebration Worship recorded live on Facebook.
Click HERE to view or download the Easter bulletin
Let us acknowledge the obvious:
this is not the Easter we were expecting.
We were expecting to be together.
We were expecting the glorious music that we associate with the day.
We were expecting baptisms.
We were expecting to pass the bread and wine to each other.
We were expecting new members and the members of the Confirmation Class uniting with the congregation.
We we’re expecting the display of lilies that Anne
and her helpers always provides.
We were expecting new banners.
We were expecting bow ties and hats.
We were expecting a lot of things.
And here we are, in my living room,
each of us trapped in our houses,
as trapped as a dead man in a tomb.
When I was a child, back in Pittsburgh, we went to bed on the night before Easter, ready for the big day. I had new clothes for Easter - something we did back then. While we slept, a freak springtime snow dumped more than a foot of snow. Even for Pittsburgh of that time, that much snow that late in the season was considered an oddity. The sunrise service - we had those back then, too - went right out the window. By the time the 11:00 a.m. service rolled around, a few faithful gathered at the church.
But it wasn’t nearly the Easter we were expecting. Many of the choir members who showed up were precisely the ones you would have hoped would be snowed in. The best compliment that could be offered was that it was “a joyful noise.”
Easter was always one of those days that was celebrated by the family. At noon, following worship, my mother’s side of the family would gather for a grand meal. Specialties, such as they were, were brought from each family. Ham always seemed to be the main course, though it often took the form of sandwiches, with potato salads, and other more picnic-related foods showing up, along with the ubiquitous variation on a Jello salad or two. It was never really about the food. It was about being together.
Then, for the evening meal, we would head over to my father’s parents house for a more formal ham dinner, with escalloped potatoes, hot vegetables, rolls, and more. One year, my grandmother threatened to have lamb. “You do,” said my father, “and we aren’t coming.” We had ham.
And you wonder why I needed to have gastric bypass surgery.
Easter carries expectations.
The dying of the eggs.
The chocolate bunnies.
The jelly beans.
Singing, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!”
The “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Breakfast between services.
The sinus-breaking power of lilies.
And, this year, those expectations will go largely unmet. I can’t begin to tell you what an amazing service Rob and I had planned. It would have sent you into the seventh heaven.
And what are we left with? An unexpected - and even unwelcome - Easter on Facebook.
Perhaps we can begin to understand a little of what Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome experienced on that first Easter morning. They were expecting to go to a funeral. They had been up early that morning. In all likelihood, they hadn’t had much sleep since Friday. They had seen it all - the brutality, the crucifixion, the body being taken down from the cross, the hasty burial. How do you sleep after seeing something like that?
Saturday was spent doing those tasks that fell - and fall - to women. They went to the market to buy the spices and ointments and cloth needed for burial. The women were preparing for tahara - the cleansing of the body prior to burial. They were the Chevra Kadisha - the burial society - for Jesus.
They also had meals to prepare for the deserter disciples, in hiding for fear of sharing in their Master’s fate. There was shopping and cooking and cleaning up. There was no time to simply sit in grief. There was work to be done.
So, by Sunday morning, red-eyed and exhausted, they made their way to the tomb. Steeling themselves for the task of the morning, very early in the morning, just after dawn, they were on their way. Their pressing concern was simple: who would roll away the stone from the doorway of the tomb?
The expectations were shattered. Nothing was as it was supposed to be. It never would be again.
Arriving at the tomb, they saw that the stone was rolled away. They entered the tomb and encountered a being described as “a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side” of the tomb. He was an unexpected participant.
His message was even more unexpected. “Do no 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 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.” Unexpected and somewhat unbelievable.
This was not the morning they had planned. Nothing was as it was supposed to be.
And then, as if it were not already strange enough, Mark tells us that the women leave the tomb in terror and amazement and say nothing to anyone out of fear. Having been the very first to know of the resurrection, they are so afraid and terrified that they keep it all to themselves. They say nothing to anyone.
And, believe it or not, that’s how the original Gospel of Mark ended. In this gospel, where the disciples fail time after time after time, there is a cataclysmic failure to tell the good news of the resurrection. Fear overcame faith. Silence overpowered proclamation. Nothing was at it should be.
Obviously, word got out, or we wouldn’t be doing this whole Easter thing this morning. Clearly, word of Jesus' resurrection became widely known and it sparked a movement in the world that continues to this day. Plainly, news of an event that is so life-changing and history-changing could not be silenced for long.
But it is an expected reaction. We are, of course, looking at their response through something of the rear view mirror. We bring our pre-knowledge of the resurrection to the story and can’t imagine keeping quiet about it all.
Still, for them, it was a storm of fear, irrationality, unbelievability, grief, exhaustion, hope, and so much more. Their minds were reeling. Their hearts were beating out of their chests. The adrenaline was pumping through the veins.
They simply didn’t know what to make of it all.
And, this year, we are meeting them right there.
On this most “unexpected Easter,” we are consumed with preoccupations of every kind. We listen for reports from the Health Department each day, updating us on the number of people in our counties who are diagnosed as infected. We listen to governors’ press conferences, detailing the progress of the virus in our states and others.
We spend time - maybe too much time - listening to the endless news stories. We have washed our hands more than Pilate. We are wearing masks, so that we cannot even see the smile of another. We are stuck at home, forgetting to be grateful that we have homes to be stuck in.
But maybe, just maybe, this year we can just sit with the wonder and the mystery of the resurrection. Maybe this year, with a few dozen of the regular distractions shut down, we can consider what this day means for all of us. Maybe we can get a sense of God’s vindication of Jesus - the champion of the poor, the prophet of justice, the challenger to misused and misguided power. Maybe this year, we can grab hold of the idea that the resurrection is more about how we live this life, instead of focusing on what might happen in the next.
Maybe this year, Easter will prompt us to consider the cause of the poor, who are more likely to be infected by Covid-19 than the more well-off. Maybe this Easter will push us to consider how unjust a society we have created - a society that all too often mirrors that of Jesus’ day - in which a few benefit at the cost of the many. Maybe this Easter will force us to confront the inherent racism at play in our nation and in our world, evidenced by more black and brown skinned people being victims of the Corona virus that lighter skinned people. Maybe this year we can move beyond the bonnets and bow ties, the bunnies and banquets - and more fully commit ourselves to what Jesus was all about: justice, righteousness, equity, and fullness.
Because that is really the unexpected message of Easter. The message of Jesus to “love one another” has been endorsed and defended and confirmed by God’s raising Jesus from the dead. God wins! Just when we had expected to silence Jesus' message by silencing Jesus, God slaps us with the resurrection. Just when we thought we had shut God down by killing the messenger he sent, God raises Jesus, and it is almost as if we can hear a voice from heaven saying, “I’m ba-a-ack.”
Is this the Easter we wanted? No. Is it the Easter we expected? Not in a million years.
But the amazing thing is that Easter comes to us in all of its expectedness and in all of its unexpectedness. God comes to us in ways that we can foresee and ways that blow our minds. Easter changes us - if we let it - making us some of the most vital and essential workers of our day.
We are the people of abundant life! We are the people of a divine justice for all! We are the people who challenge the unbridled and indiscriminate use of power! We are the people who stand up for and with the ones the world overlooks and cares nothing about! We are the people of resurrection! We are the people of new life! We are the people of God!
And, just maybe, that is the most unexpected reality of it all.
We are the people of God! Hallelujah!
For now and evermore. Amen.