The Day of the Resurrection

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Mark 16:1-8

I was perusing our Barnes and Noble bookstore the other day. I love to do that. And, if you love to do that, you know how it goes. Your intentions are usually to pop in, just for a minute, to look around or to pick up one thing, and the next thing you know you’ve been there for 2 hours, and you have 3 things, and your wife is calling your cell phone to find out where the heck you are, when she just sent you for a loaf of bread. You know.

And so, I’m at the bookstore and the store “Easter” display caught my eye. There were lots of different books, some for adults, some for children; some religious, some not. But the one book that really piqued my interest (or curiosity) was entitled The Easter Story for Children. I wanted to see the Easter story for children, so I went over and opened it up. As I suspected, it was largely about bunnies and baby chickens and flowers, although it did have a little about Jesus thrown in at the end.

But the book got me thinking. If there is an Easter story for children—and, hopefully, one with a little more about Jesus than this particular book had—then what, I wonder, would be the Easter story for adults? & with all due respect to the children here this morning, I suggest that the gospel reading we’ve just heard would be the Easter story for adults—is the Easter story for adults—maybe for adults only. Because it is a story that begins in the pain and bewilderment and anxiety that adults know is an all-too-real part of the human experience.

(Mark, the harshest and sparest of the gospel writers, gives us the story of a seemingly unhopeful Easter.) Three women make their way out of the city at the first light of dawn to visit a tomb. They’re sick with grief over the death of Jesus. Their minds ache with gruesome memories of his crucifixion, and their hearts are heavy with the realization that not only will they not see their friend anymore, but all the hope that Jesus had raised within them was now over.

No more brave talk about the kingdom of God being at hand with God’s justice and righteousness; nothing more to look forward to now but, at best, the same old world with all its oppression and injustice. Death and a foreboding sense of a dark future are all the women can think of as they make their way, appropriately enough, to the tomb.

Who among us hasn’t felt at some time and in various ways like those three women? The doctor calls. “I’m sorry. I have bad news. We’ll do the best we can.” The phone rings in the night. “Sir, there’s been an accident. Please come quickly.” They sit down at the table. “You know Mom and Dad both love you, but we’ve decided we just can’t be married to each other anymore.” She walks into the office. “You have a month’s severance pay. It has nothing to do with you. We’re just downsizing.”

In our own ways, that are all different but somehow all the same, we have all experienced something akin to crucifixion and death. The Easter story for adults, the real Easter story begins not in a sunny spring meadow but in a death, and in a tomb.

One of the stories told at the Nuremberg war trials was that of a group of Jews who had escaped the gas chambers by hiding and taking refuge in a cemetery. They lived there, huddled and hidden in the pits that had been dug to serve as houses for the dead. One night, a baby was born in one of the graves. And one of the old men, when he heard the newborn’s first cries, exclaimed, “O God, have you finally sent the Messiah? For who but Messiah would be born in a grave.” Who, indeed, we Christians would echo, and, in a sense, it is our conviction as Christians that Messiah was indeed born in a grave. At least, it is in a grave that our faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, is born. And our faith in Christ is a faith that tells us nothing in life, no matter how deadly or painful or heartbreaking, can separate us from the love of God. It is a faith that nothing is over until God says it’s over and that God’s love never ends. (The old saying of opera is, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Well, for the Christian faith, it ain’t over till the angels sing and, even then, life is just beginning!

But back to this Easter story of Mark’s. The three women approach the rock-hewn cave that is Jesus’ tomb, and they wonder who will roll away the round, heavy stone door that seals and protects the cave’s entrance.

To their surprise, when they arrive, they discover that the stone has already been rolled back, and when they enter the tomb they find it empty. Jesus’ body is nowhere to be seen. But there is a young man there who tells them to calm down—that Jesus’ is not in the tomb because he has been raised from the dead. And he instructs them to go and tell the disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of them to Galilee, and that they will see him there as he had promised.

Now if this were a children’s story, everyone would be happy. We might expect the two Mary’s and Salome, having seen the empty grave and having heard the message of Jesus’ resurrection, to skip along hand-in-hand, laughing, and smiling, and hurrying back to tell the Good News to their friends. To be sure, some of the other Gospel accounts tell of just such a response. Mark, however, sticks to his adult version of the story.

The three women, he tells us, “fled from the tomb” in “terror” and “amazement,” he says, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Now doesn’t that sound just like adults to you? Isn’t that a thoroughly reasonable and realistic response to the Easter message? The authentic Easter story is, after all, not a little tale about nature—life emerging in the spring, butterflies bursting from the chrysalis, chicks pecking their way from eggs, tulips rising up from the hard soil. Those might be okay for symbols, but the real—the adult–Easter story is about an impossibility, a miracle, God’s raising Jesus from the dead. Not merely the survival of his spirit or the enduring truth of his teaching, –it’s about Jesus’ resurrection to new and wondrous life.

Furthermore, the real Easter, the adult Easter, is about a Jesus Christ who lives today, not just long ago—a living Lord who is always one step ahead of his disciples, and waiting to meet them just as he promised.

Maybe we’ve heard the Easter story so many times that we’ve become casual about it. So we come to church this morning and sing the hymns and smell and admire the flowers and participate in the spring celebration and enjoy the food and fellowship, and we go away thinking, “What a lovely service! What a nice Easter!” If, however, we were to let ourselves catch a glimpse, even for a moment of the true Easter, we would leave this church more like those women who fled the tomb, overcome by amazement and holy fear.

“Go and tell,” the Easter angel says. And we assume that even in Mark’s adult Easter story, eventually that is what the women did. That command is an important reminder to all of us that being Christian involves responsibility as well as belief. The true Easter story, unlike many of its counterfeits, isn’t an escapist fantasy or an opportunity to lose ourselves in the world of make-believe. Rather it is an engagement with the world of flesh and blood, here and now reality. In this world, Christians are to bear witness to their faith in a risen Lord by how they live. The world will know that Christ lives because he lives in us. And it shows.

Perhaps one of the reasons The Easter Story for Children is so popular, even with adults, is that we can hear it and walk away unchallenged and unchanged. The Easter story for adults, however, is very different. It begins where we are, in all our human brokenness, and offers us the promise of new life. It is a story that–if we hear it and believe it—will never let us be the same again.

The women, who, at first, ran away in fear and amazement and told no one because they were afraid, eventually came to believe and, along with the other first Christians, became a part of a mighty enterprise that turned the world upside down with the Good News of the Risen Christ.

If we are truly hearers and believers of that Good News, — then we will go and do the same.

Happy Easter. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.