Sermon: Unfinished Business

Sunday, April 1, 2018
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Easter Sunday

Alleluia, Christ is risen! At least… I think he is?  Our gospel reading for today leaves things a little… open-ended.

This is such a weird reading from the end of Mark.  In Matthew, Luke, and John, we get these lovely post-resurrection appearances from Jesus – dramatically appearing in the midst of his disciples, tenderly calling Mary by name in the garden, forgiving Peter for his denials over brunch by the sea, and my personal favorite, walking with two clueless disciples on the road to Emmaus and vanishing the instant they finally realize who he is — hilarious.  But in Mark, this is all the closer we get to the resurrection.*  We’re never really given a big “alleluia!” moment.  And for Pete’s sake, Jesus doesn’t even show up!  It’s an ending that almost seems designed to leave us feeling unsettled and uncomfortable.

Instead of seeing Jesus, we see the impact that his resurrection has had on the people around him.  Salome and the two Marys have come in grief to perform the tender act of washing and anointing the body of their beloved friend.  They are startled to find the stone moved, the body gone, and some random stranger hanging out in the tomb – and they do not react well to being told, “Do not be alarmed!”

But for some reason, I keep finding my attention drawn to that figure the women encountered in the tomb. We assume he’s an angel – and for all we know, he is – but Mark never actually makes it clear, unlike the other evangelists.  Mark just calls him a “young man.”  Interestingly – and this is pure nerdiness, so bear with me – the word for young man, νεανίσκος, only appears one other time in Mark’s gospel: during the passion narrative we read last Sunday.  When Judas and the angry mob come to arrest Jesus, we read that a “young man” wearing a linen cloth was following Jesus, but was so frightened by the crowd that he left the cloth and ran off naked!  It’s lovely to think that maybe this is his redemption story, too – that maybe, like Peter, he got a second chance to be a witness.  And some new clothes.

But what I find most compelling about this young man is imagining him sitting there alone in the tomb, waiting for Salome and the Marys to arrive.  It was very early morning, before the sun had come up; I imagine a crisp chill in the air, making little white puffs of his breath as he paced around the tomb.  I imagine him as being too excited to even be able to stand still.  He must have been bursting with uncontrollable joy!  He had been entrusted to share the best news ever, news of this most awesome and wonderful and unthinkable thing that had happened!  I even imagine him practicing to himself exactly how he would say it: “HE has been raised!” “He has been RAISED!” “He HAS been raised…”

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And then the women show up, after the sun had risen.  And the young man just can’t contain it anymore, and he finally bursts forth with the news, “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 the women react to this news with shock.  Grief can be a difficult burden to shift, and having hope can sometimes be more painful than accepting a difficult reality.  And these women had come to the tomb with the sure and certain knowledge that Jesus, their dear friend, was dead.  And so in the face of this stranger’s impossible, too-good-to-be-true news, the women are “seized with terror and amazement,” and struck completely silent. They say nothing to the young man, but instead flee the tomb and are too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.

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Their silence leaves us without a sense of closure, without some kind of confirmation that Jesus really has been raised.  Mark doesn’t wrap this story up in a bow for us.  Instead, he leaves us with the young man’s words still hanging in the air:  “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  But go; tell the disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Last Sunday, we read Jesus’ passion story as it appears in Mark, full of urgency: “keep awake!” “get up!” “the hour has come!”  This is the very next chapter of Mark, and it is just as full of action and urgency. This time, instead of “keep awake!” or “the hour has come!” all of this urgency and action can be summed up in just two words: “go; tell!”   Perhaps Mark deliberately leaves the story unfinished so that we will go looking for the risen Christ ourselves, so that we will go to Galilee to tell others what we have seen.

Of course, “going to Galilee” doesn’t necessarily mean that we should all hop on the next plane to Israel. Galilee was Christ’s mission field, where he did his preaching and teaching and healing and feeding.  It’s the place where he bore witness to God’s goodness and love to other people.  I think Mark is telling us to go look for the risen Christ in our mission field, in our Galilee, to look for Christ among the needy and the sick and the hungry and among those who hunger for God’s word, to expect to find Christ among those whom we love and among those whom we have yet to meet. Maybe we will find him among our friends having a rough time this week.  Maybe we will find him among the Central American refugees we will be welcoming next week.  Maybe I will find him with my noisy new neighbors.  Maybe you will find him with your most annoying coworker.  And almost certainly he will find us in the moments when we least expect it.

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We never know when we’ll suddenly find ourselves face to face with the risen Christ – but the joy of Easter is that we do know, with a sure and certain faith, that Christ is alive and out there, waiting to be found.  The story of the resurrection, especially as Mark tells it, is meant to fill us with hope and with the joyous expectation of encountering Christ – and then to set us loose on the world, our hearts and lips overflowing with this incredible good news:
Death has been defeated by the living God!
Christ, our savior, is with us!
And we shall all inherit life and love both now and forever.

Alleluia!  Christ is RISEN!

Alleluia!  CHRIST is risen!

Alleluia!  Christ IS risen!

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