An Easter Sermon: Finding Words to Speak

Scripture: Mark 16:1-8, John 20:1-18

When I was in the ordination process, I was required to write a twenty page paper that summarized my beliefs about God, Jesus and creation among other things. Obviously this paper was an important one, so I worked hard on my answers, researching the best books, and articles that I had from seminary. I crafted my paper and submitted it to my review committee.

When I met with them, we began to go over the paper, question by question. One of the first questions was, “Who is God?” I had cited a famous theologian for this question so I was sure my answer would knock it out of the park.

An older man piped up to comment on what I had written. He said, you know, this isn’t really what we want. We don’t want to know what the theologians say, we want to know what you have to say. What we want to know is … who is God for you? Who is the God you pray to when your soul is troubled? Who is the God who brings you life? Who is God for you?

What they demanded was not a generic proclamation but a personal response.

gatheringWhen we hear the Easter story, I think it makes that same demand on us … not to just share a generic proclamation but a particular one. It invites us to share the ways our lives have been touched, transformed and shaped by the resurrection of Jesus.

One of the striking things about the Gospel readings today is that we see that there was a variety of responses to the Jesus’ resurrection from silence to urgent proclamation. The question for us is: where do we locate ourselves in the Easter story? How do we respond to the Good News that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed?

The reality is that it might take us some time to find our words, after all, look at the women in Mark’s Gospel. Mark tells us that the women “went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.”

The women were silent.

Their response seems to contrast the loudness of our culture, where music or the TV or phones are always buzzing in the background. Everywhere we look it seems like something new or someone new is trying to get our attention.

dawnThe women, in contrast, were completely silent. I mean, can you blame them? They had gone to the tomb Sunday morning, grieving. They had lost a friend, teacher, a dear one and planned to preserve his body with spices. It was their way of paying their respects … although they hadn’t figured out how they would lug away the heavy stone blocked the entrance to the tomb though. Either way, when they arrived, someone had already opened it … They went in cautiously and found a man, dressed in white, who said: Jesus is not here. Jesus has been raised. Go and tell the disciples.

And the women fled. And said nothing to anyone. Now why do you think that is?

I imagine initially, they had experienced excitement, after all, Jesus is alive. Pilate has not won. Death is not the last word. Jesus is alive.

Yet, I imagine the fear quickly set in. He’s alive? If he’s alive, now what? Are we going to have more trouble? Can we go back home? Where are we to go? What do we do next?

And then I imagine, came the silence. After all, what are they going to say? To whom are they going to tell it? Which one will be the first to pronounce these words? Would I? Would you? Who, once struck by the immensity of the powerful presence of God who calls into being things that are not and who gives life to the dead, is going to become chatty and casual? Who is going to be the first to speak?

Søren Kierkegaard once said, “Some things are true when whispered but become false when shouted.” It is also true that some things become cheap when shouted or said too rashly. When one hears a cursory and easy witness, one wonders, where is that awesome distance before God? 

Sometimes we have to collect ourselves. Sometimes we need silence until we can find the words to speak, to find our own personal response to the news that new life is possible even in our most heart wrenching places.

What is your response to the Good News that Christ is risen?

Let the words soak in. You don’t have to be in a hurry to respond. Easter lasts fifty days, did you know that? We think of today as Easter Sunday. Alleluia, here we go! But Easter, according to the church, lasts fifty days. Easter ends May 24th, so don’t be in a hurry. Take the afternoon, take the evening, take next week. Soak in the announcement.

I once heard a preaching professor say that to really understand the Gospel, we need to use all the senses, we need to engage in touch and sight, sound and smell, so perhaps to understand the Good News, we need to ask ourselves: What does hope feel like? What does love triumphant sound like? What does resurrection look like?

A mother was trying to explain Jesus’ resurrection to her five year old son. She said, “God resurrected Jesus to show the world that love is always more powerful than death. God said, “Ha ha mean world! Love wins!” Her son replied in response, “Um, mom, if God said, “Ha ha!” She would be just like the mean world. I don’t think she made fun of people like that.”

For that five year old boy, the news that Christ is risen sounded like not saying ha ha … it sounded like not making fun of people or being vindictive.

For an old man who lost his wife, hope looked like a water beetle. Have you ever seen one? Shortly after his wife died, this man went for a week alone to their rustic camp, set on the edge of a pond in Maine. The man had tucked a fishing rod under the bow of his little dinghy and pushed off the shore. He had paddled to a familiar part of the pond and found that he had some company, a water beetle was wandering up the side of the boat. The man gazed as it made its way down to the seat, treasuring this visit with a new, if unlikely, friend. Then the water beetle seemed to shudder, to lurch a bit this way and that. Then it rolled on its side and died. The man felt a fresh stirring of grief over his wife’s death, now mingled with the death of his new acquaintance. The man remained still. The better part of an hour passed.

Suddenly, the water beetle seemed to stir, to shudder again ever so slightly. The husk of the water beetle cracked and fell away from its body. And just as suddenly there was a fresh stirring from inside. Emerging from the husk, lifting its wings to dry in the afternoon sun, was a dragonfly. Ah, he remembered these particular water beetles are the larva stage of the dragonflies. And with that, his new friend took flight. As the dragonfly flew over a cluster of water beetles by the boat, he wondered if they had any idea about the new life that was waiting for them … and then he began to think of the life to come that his wife now knew … how he himself was invited to pass through this season of mourning, this death into new life.

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Resurrection comes to us in the particulars of everyday life. We often think of Easter as a triumphant, one day affair, but in reality resurrection slips into our lives in ways that reawaken us and invigorate us with courage to continue on. Resurrection comes to us in the early streaks of dawn, in the kindness of a young boy, in the hope of a dragonfly, in the cry of an infant, in the surprising possibilities of our lives.

One of the striking things about the women’s particular response to resurrection in today’s scripture is that, in the oldest manuscripts, their responses comprise the entire end of the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel ends saying: the women said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.

The scribes of that time were obviously uncomfortable and a bit embarrassed by that ending because they added various more triumphant and seemly endings to later copies of the text. Yet, there is something beautiful to the truth that the silence of these women is not an ending but rather a beginning. Out of that moment of quietness and wonder, God brings forth two thousand years of witness.

This is the truth of Christ’s resurrection. When we think a door shut, that the way is bleak and hopeless, we discover that, just like that water beetle, our stories are not yet done being told. God through Christ is writing a new chapter; God is healing the tender parts of our hearts; God is moving our world toward kindness and love and life abundant; God is making us new.

This is the truth that we are invited to experience today, in our bones, our bodies, and our souls. Now the question is: how will we respond?  No rush to answer. Easter is fifty days and if you applied, I am sure you could get an extension.

Take your time. Let the news soak in. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.

Amen.

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