TERROR AND AMAZEMENT
A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on April 5, 2015 (Easter Sunday)
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not 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. 7But 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.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. – Mark 16:1-8
How many of you have Easter feasts planned for later today? There is nothing like celebrating a special day with good food and loved ones. What makes a holiday feast so special is that most of the time we don’t eat like that. A lot of folks struggle from day to day just to put food on the table. When Jill was a child, she remembers some times in the summers just having a dinner of fresh corn on the cob – a real treat when the corn is fresh. It wasn’t until years later that she realized that might have been all her parents could afford to feed their six kids at the time.
We know that many people in our world, in our country, and in our community go hungry – in spite of advances in agriculture and packaging and transportation.
That is why the vision of Isaiah from 25 centuries ago is so powerful – a vision of a great feast of rich foods for all people. Some of the children among us today might imagine a feast of chocolate Easter bunnies, Peeps, and jelly beans! What a glorious thing that would be – no more hunger, no more people in need!
But then Isaiah goes on to envision even more amazing things – like a world without death. That seems like an impossible dream to us – with loved ones who are ill, and with news of senseless plane crashes and shootings.
And a world in which there is no longer any shame or disgrace. How appealing that must seem to those who are treated like second-class people, or worse – who suffer from bullying or discrimination.
It all seems like an impossible dream. A few decades ago many people believed we would all soon live in a world like that – all we needed was advancing technology and some more education for everyone. But these days it seems like a more distant dream than ever.
But we – the Christian Church – still hold to that vision. In spite of current appearances, we believe we will get there someday. It won’t be by our efforts, it will be the awesome power of God.
In fact, it won’t just be some day in the unforeseeable future. When Jesus came to live among us, it already started. He called it the Realm of God, or the Realm of Heaven, and he said it was right here in our midst. Obviously it hasn’t quite spread through the whole world. But we catch glimpses of it in Jesus’ ministry – like when he fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Or when he raised Lazarus from death. Or when he welcomed and ate with tax collectors and sinners.
When Jesus was killed his friends may have thought the dream had ended. But after his resurrection, we still see glimpses of it among his followers. When people eat what food they have with gratitude, and share it with others – that is a rich feast. When we welcome people into community whom other folks consider unfit to have a cake at their wedding – disgrace is taken away.
But what about death? Isn’t that a part of being human – of life? We will all go through it.
But when Jesus was raised from the dead, and left an empty tomb behind, he showed us that with God, death is not the end. It is not forever. The hope and promise of our faith is that all who entrust their future to God will one day rise as well. It won’t be right away. It won’t be here. Our loved ones who have died will not return to be with us here. But all who believe will rise to live where hunger, and grief, and shame, and death no longer have any power over us.
That is amazing, unbelievable good news. But what I wonder about is why, in the Easter story from Mark that we read this morning, the women who went to the tomb and first heard that Jesus was raised ran away in terror and amazement. Because that is how that gospel story ends. If you look in a Bible at the Gospel of Mark you may find some additional verses after 16:8, but look carefully and you may see that most scholars think those verses were added later by someone who thought women running away in terror and not saying anything was not a very satisfying ending – so an alternative ending was written and attached.
Fleeing in terror and amazement. Maybe it was just the grief they were feeling – they wanted to see his body one more time and pay their last respects, and he was gone!
Or maybe they wondered who would ever believe their story about an open tomb and a mysterious young man saying Jesus had been raised. It terrifies me to preach an Easter sermon! It is still hard for many people to believe.
Or maybe they realized that – if it is true that Christ was raised – then we have to live in a new and strange kind of world, because the old world of power and control and death is falling apart, and the old rules don’t work anymore.
That is hard, because so many of us still live in that old world of death. We still believe that death is the ultimate power in the world.
You don’t believe that? How about this for evidence: A lot of people still think that the best way to protect and secure our lives is to kill our enemies – anyone we think is a threat to us and our way of life. And the way to be sure that we have the necessities of life is to deny those things to “outsiders.” Whether they live or die doesn’t matter to us.
More evidence? Brian Blount, a Presbyterian Minister and professor of preaching, was intrigued by the recent fascination of our culture with zombie moves and TV shows. Zombies are terrifying creatures that have died, but that still walk, spreading death to others. How many of you saw the film “World War Z?” How many watch the TV series “The Walking Dead?” How many of you know where you would go and what you would do in case of a zombie apocalypse?
Brian Blount wrote a book,called “Invasion of the Dead – Preaching Resurrection.” In it, he suggests that this fascination with the living dead is because many people feel like that sometimes – going through the motions of life, surviving but not as fully alive as we should be, spreading death to others. We are the living dead.
Brian Blount wrote, “Day in and day out, hordes of people and communities experience a sense of living deadness because of the way political, economic, and social domination systems crush the human spirit in pursuit of corporate and institutional gain.”
Jesus is the “anti-Zombie” – the one who died and came back to life not to spread death, but to infect people with life that spreads to others, creating a new world of abundance, community, and love. Jesus is the anti-zombie apocalypse – an invasion of the Realm of God into the Domain of Death.
Christ is risen! That is good news bound to strike terror into the heart of anyone who has grown accustomed to death. And if the first to the tomb were so terrified they could not tell anyone, perhaps that means it is our responsibility to tell the good news to folks here and now. Christ is risen indeed!
Happy Easter! Amen.
Robert J. von Trebra