Scripture Reading: Mark 16:1-8
Welcome, again, to Easter Sunday 2015. We gather as people have in this very space for going-on nearly 60 years. It has the same floor tiles, the same pews, same cross, and same pulpit. The color scheme in here as changed, along with most of the original folks. We have some charter members of this building?s first Easter still with us, and one might argue that they have changed a lot in the last sixty years, and yet in some ways not much?; they are the same good people.
What Easter means has gone through a host of changes?since the beginning, since the first Easter. No one really knows, for sure, what the earliest proclamations about Easter were, because no one was writing it down at the time. What we have in our earliest Bible records are memories of that event, that happening, that spiritual awakening that we call resurrection. What we do know from our earliest writings about those memories is that they are all different from one another, and when looked at closely, we discover that even those early disciples of Jesus had among themselves many who did not believe (and we don?t know if they ever did believe) in resurrection, because it is not an easy thing to believe in. What our Biblical record tells us is that there has always been a widely diverse understanding of the meaning of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection.
Resurrection is surely the most mysterious reality that most of us hope for, and that many fear is not real, and that none of us can prove; yet it remains as something that has such an enduring spiritual force that we realize we want to continue to discover more about it.
In our tradition, we follow through the Bible stories in a regular pattern so that we get to focus on as many different stories as possible. This year, the focus for us comes from the earliest Gospel written down, Mark?s. The original text ends saying, ?Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.?
We have written copies of Mark?s gospel story where scribes have for centuries attached additional endings, trying to make the resurrection something more than ?and they told no one anything?,? end of story. The results of these well intentioned efforts have left us with a very stilted, dogmatic, uncreative perspective on the meaning of resurrection, saying that resurrection, and Christianity, are little more than a promise of life after death, if you believe the right things. I think that such traditional answers to what resurrection is would leave Jesus crying in dismay over this life?s work.
Jesus lived fully, the way he did and for what he did?not for correct belief, but so that in his time and in our time we might make real the Kingdom of God, the way the world could be if God were in charge. Justice, mercy, humility, love, fairness, equality and sharing would be preferable ways of operation to competitive striving, arrogance, wealth, cutthroat business practices, discriminatory lending and prejudice and hatred toward mere differences. And resurrection in the Jesus tradition means that just because Jesus died, which he did, that which is most essential to God and to us lives on and so should we.
We, creatures who have the gift of reflection, despair, and can so easily live in our own hells of fears that our lives have so little meaning, our lives are so short, and that everything ends in death. The challenge of the resurrection of Jesus is that neither in life nor in death are there nearly as many endings as life seems to suggest. Resurrection. especially in Mark?s Gospel, affirms that the final answer has not yet been arrived at and probably never will be.
We human beings and our very old religions are still quite new on the evolutionary timescale of history. I hesitate to use this as an example, but it is one that I love; and perhaps something like the absolute mystery of resurrection can only be understood by looking at good storytelling: in C.S. Lewis? Chronicles of Narnia, as the tale goes, in order to save Edmund, the lion-savior Aslan must sacrifice his own life. The White Witch, however, is unaware of the laws of Deeper Magic, which promise resurrection to the innocent victim. Aslan rises and the White Witch and her minions are defeated.
The Deeper Magic, the greater love of God embedded in the creation of the universe, is mysterious, but it is part of the larger causal interdependence of the universe; in fact, it may be its? animating energy, this tremendous love of God for all of creation. The resurrection of Aslan does not circumvent the laws of nature, but occurs as a result of deeper laws of nature. This opens the door to seeing resurrection as part of God?s amazing universe, and to affirming that certain moments can be so closely aligned to God?s vision that unexpected and transformative energies can be released, radically changing cells and souls. Such moments leave us amazed, and this is the proper response, since as Abraham Joshua asserted, ?radical amazement? is at the heart of religious experience.
Mark?s Gospel does not define resurrection reality, but merely points to the fact of the matter, that the Jesus story continued and continues well past his death. While none of us knows what happened to Jesus, what we do know is that Jesus? followers all knew that Jesus died, and that something radically changed them from being defeated women and men of grief and moved them into being the first generation of people who named resurrection as an everyday possibility.
Mark?s Gospel leaves the end unfinished because it is our job to do the finishing?, to live resurrection in our time, in our lives. A good friend of mine told me recently that the traditional way of understanding resurrection has been primarily to construct privilege and the withholding of love from those people who don?t believe the right things. Too often it has been used for discrimination and for parceling out hell to those who disagree with those in control and who have the power. This has been, all too often, an apt definition of the organized church of Jesus the Christ in so many places.
Jesus died like so many do because those in power positions of privilege killed him for simply wanting life, lived fairly, for everyone, and especially the poor and the dispossessed.?? We have seen as recently as the death of Travon Martin, an alive and an excellent young, black man wearing a hoodie, killed because a man accustomed to?representing, if you will?privilege and power, stood his ground and killed an unarmed, innocent person; and the system that promises justice stood its ground and said, ?Well, it was understandable.? Those are the words of death, not resurrection. It is not a unique privilege to be loved and eternally valued by God. Everyone is unequivocally loved by God. But, knowing that we are so loved (which many of us have assumed for our lifetimes) brings not privilege, but responsibility to reach out and embrace those who don?t know how valued they are in the eyes of God. The poor and dispossessed and culturally discriminated against often feel that God must feel toward them the way society does. We must be the doorway, the touch that communicates holiness and divine value to others.
Most of us are still just catching on to our privilege and our true responsibilities for the privileges we have, which favor nearly every one of us in this room. Do you sense God speaking directly to you? We should. As in Mark?s Gospel, our story is not yet finished, and WE have a part to play. There is so much distress in our world still, and it?s because God is not done yet and we have only perhaps just begun to be God?s agents of creative change, the makers of justice and demanders of fairness for those who do not have the privileges that we enjoy without even trying.
Resurrection reality is calling us to get out of our seats and into the game, and like Jesus, we are called to fully identify with those who are suffering to bring to them justice, love, fairness, humility. It?s only the beginning, and we?re empowered and equipped to work for the good in all situations, because we trust God?s promises that with God all things are possible.
Last week we saw discrimination in the law so clearly demonstrated that even the purveyors of that so-called law of religious freedom, even they had to compromise. But we have all worked for decades, each of us in so many places that it finally coalesced into an undefeatable reality?; it was what Lewis called deep magic, I would call it the ultimate undefeatable reality of God?s love that so saturated our society that not even those who fear equality the most could stand in its face and not make a change. But, we are not finished, just like Mark?s Gospel?it is only the beginning, and you and I are filled with the Spirit of God?s deep love, which does not ever desire to punish or abuse or hurt anyone, but to bring everyone, not just our select few, everyone, into the deep and amazing grace and love of God.
What did David Letterman say last week, ?everyone in Indiana is a carbon based lifeform,? and God values each the same, and so should we.
In the 13th century, the Persian poet Rumi had an interesting way of describing our need for resurrection. He wrote this dialogue:
?The mystics are gathering in the street. Come out!?
The response from those inside, ?Leave me alone. I?m sick.?
The response, ?I don?t care if you?re dead! Jesus is here and he wants to resurrect somebody!?
As much as I don?t want to interrupt your Easter Day plans, God is here. The Risen Christ is here and wants to resurrect somebody. God is about every day, every time with each person in our world, indiscriminately wanting to do resurrection.
Give God that which is dead or dying in you and let God give you life.?? Easter happens when God touches what has died and brings life to us. Finish the Gospel story by adding your story to it.