Easter, Year B, 2015

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are grieving.  They are expecting their Jesus, the one they loved, to be in a tomb.  They are going to anoint his body and prepare him for a proper burial.  They are coming because they love him.  They are coming to do right by him.

But Jesus is not there.

So 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.

The original ending of the Gospel of Mark does not give us the resurrection we expect. There is no resurrected body.  There are no alleluias. Jesus is just. . .gone.

Jesus is on the loose.

This is, and this should be, terrifying to the women who have come to anoint him.

When a person is nailed to a cross, and pierced with a spear, when his blood flows out of his body, he ought to die.  The rules of biology and logic demand death.

The women who loved Jesus expect death.

And Jesus experienced death.

But not for long.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark, God has been rewriting the rules.  At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens tear open, the Holy Spirit descends, and the Father’s voice booms over the crowd, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.”

God the Father announces to the crowd, and to us, that everything about life as a human being is about to change.  God breaks into human history in a new way and reclaims us for his own.

Now, humans tried to control that holy in-breaking.  Some tried to control the in-breaking by ignoring Jesus.  Some tired to control the in-breaking by insisting Jesus follow the rules.   Some controlled the in-breaking by turning Jesus over to the authorities.

Those authorities helped control the situation even further by killing Jesus.

But when God decides to reclaim his people, not even death can stop him.

God the Father resurrects his Son, changing every rule.  Jesus is on the loose.

Thousands of years later, we haven’t learned this lesson.  We still think we can control God’s in-breaking in our lives.  We still think we can pin Jesus down.  We set aside one day a week to worship him.  We celebrate his birthday in December.  We give him a week in the spring to remember his death and resurrection.

But Jesus doesn’t do well in confined spaces.

Jesus is on the loose in your life.

Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, we were owned by sin and death.  They were our masters and we were forced to do their bidding.  But God defeated sin and death through Jesus’ resurrection and now we belong to God.

You may think you can control Jesus by setting aside Sunday to think about him and going back to your real life the rest of the week, but good luck with that.  The God who created the Universe is reclaiming you. The God who broke through the heavens, and became a human being is reclaiming you. The God who defeated sin and death is reclaiming you.

Jesus is at loose in your life when you brush your teeth in the morning.  Jesus is at loose in your life when you write your Facebook status or balance your checkbook.  Jesus is at loose in your life when you commute to work, when your boss gives you a dressing down, when you turn on your television at night.  There is no moment in your life that is apart from Jesus and his Father who raised him from the dead.

Think about that for a moment and now tell me that the ending of the Gospel of Mark doesn’t just about sum up your reaction.

Terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The idea of Jesus loose in our lives is terrifying.  At any moment he could ask us to reconcile with someone we loathe, give away the money that gives us security, humble ourselves when we want to advance.  How can we know this mysterious resurrected Jesus has our best interests at heart?

The author of the Gospel of Mark gives us a little clue about this mysterious resurrected Jesus to calm our anxiety.  The heavenly messenger at the empty tomb tells the women “. . .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.”

Why Galilee?

If you turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, you’ll see that Jesus first arrives on the scene in Galilee.  Mark is pointing us back to the beginning of his Gospel.  The resurrected Jesus is the same Jesus that taught and healed and exorcised demons.  The Jesus that is on the loose in your lives is not some zombie, not some spiritual Santa Claus, spying on you in judgment. He is the Jesus who loved men, women, and children; brought wholeness out of brokenness; and spoke truth to power.  He is the Jesus who loved Peter, even through Peter’s betrayal.  He is the Jesus who loved us so much that he wanted to identify fully with our human experience and was willing to die, so that we might be united with God.

This is the Jesus who is on the loose, loving us, healing us and bringing us eternal life.

And for that we can heartily say,

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Easter, Year B, 2009

Today is the most celebrated, exciting day of the Church year.  Easter represents the core of what makes Christianity unique.  The resurrection of Christ offers endless possibilities for our own redemption and our own new lives with God.  The resurrection is all about experiencing unbridled hope and joy where there was no room for either.

So, why then won’t Salome and the two Marys get on board with the program!?

In every other Gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection, the women who find the empty tomb are terrified, but they dutifully trot off to tell the male disciples the news.  In the original ending to Mark’s Gospel however, the women are so freaked out by everything that has happened that they run away and tell no one.

This ending of Mark is completely unsatisfying!  This ending is abrupt and unresolved.  We are left not with an image of a victorious, risen Lord, but with three shaken women, who cannot integrate this good news into their lives.

This ending reminds me of the ending of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film version of Beauty and the Beast.  At the very end, when the Beast morphs back into the prince he had been before his curse, instead of looking thrilled, Beauty looks disappointed.  Cocteau refuses to deliver us the neatly wrapped up ending we want.  David Chase did the same thing when he ended The Sopranos so abruptly, in the middle of a scene.

While neither the ending of Beauty and the Beast nor The Sopranos was completely satisfying, in retrospect, both are considered pretty brilliant, poetic endings.

Real life does not deliver neat endings, wrapped up with a satisfying bow.  Real life is complicated and messy.  Real life does not have endings the way a piece of literature does.

So, I would argue that this ending of The Gospel of Mark is a brilliant piece of writing that acknowledges the messiness of real life and intentionally leaves us in tension.

By leaving us in tension, Mark drives two points home.  First, Easter Sunday cannot be celebrated independently from Good Friday.  Second, God does not need humans to get their ducks in a row before he acts.  The resurrection happened whether the women at the tomb were ready or not.

Easter Sunday is a wonderful, celebratory day, but it cannot happen without Judas’ treachery, the insecurity of Pilate, and the murderous crowds.  The resurrection cannot happen without Jesus’ painful death, and Jesus’ abandonment by all of his closest male friends.  The Good News does not come without the terrible news of the death of God and the abandonment of hope.  The resurrection is redemptive, yes, but not even the resurrection cannot erase the horror that came before.

And this is like life, too, isn’t it?

People have rich second marriages after the death of a loved spouse or a difficult divorce.  Some go on to have children after miscarriages or still births.  There are those who start a new, exciting job after being suddenly laid off from a previous one.

Our lives go on after painful events, but we don’t ever forget those tragedies.  We don’t forget the way grief shaped us.  We don’t forget the people who are no longer with us or who might have been.  We don’t forget feelings of rejection and shame.

Instead of ignoring the past, we integrate the past into who we are.  We are not thankful for bad experiences, but we do acknowledge how they shaped us and made us more complicated, sometimes better, people.

Those painful experiences help us treasure the good in life even more-help us to feel in our guts how lucky we are to be loved, to be safe, to be employed, to have friends.

In the same way Mark’s Gospel, by not prettying up the resurrection, helps us to feel the power of the resurrection in our guts.  Jesus was dead.  Dead, dead.  He was not sleeping.  He was not impatiently waiting in the tomb to jump out and surprise everyone.  Jesus had died.  And so, when Salome and the Marys find the empty tomb, of course they are terrified.  Dead people are supposed to stay dead.  As much as I miss my mother, who died nine years ago, if I suddenly visited her grave and found it was empty, I would be completely unsettled and afraid.  The women who come to minister to Jesus’ body will one day see Jesus’ resurrected body and be comforted and amazed and astonished, but for now they are just scared.  So they run.

And this leads me to my second point-Jesus does not need the women to have an enthused reaction.  He does not need Peter to stay loyal to him.  Jesus does not need to have all of his disciples sitting vigil for him.  God does all the work of the resurrection.  The resurrection is for the redemption of humanity, but God does not need humanity to make the resurrection happen.

Jesus’ resurrection happens despite the fear of the people who had been close to him. In the same way, God takes initiative with us.  God pursues us, loves us, forgives us even when we are afraid, freaked out, and incompetent.

There are those who truly believe that in order to be a Christian you have to meet a long list of requirements-including holding very specific theological and political beliefs.  But, I guarantee you that Mary, Mary and Salome had no deep theological understanding of the empty tomb. I also guarantee you that Jesus did not hold their reaction against them!

Jesus’ resurrection is good news for all of us.  Jesus’ resurrection is for us when we are filled with faith and when we are filled with doubt.  Jesus’ resurrection is for us when we are able to live how we want to live and when we disappoint others and ourselves.  Jesus’ resurrection is for when we are feeling blessed and when we are feeling forsaken.

Jesus’ resurrection and the new life it offers us is all about God’s overwhelming, powerful, all encompassing love for us, not about how good or deserving we are.  Jesus tells us that the entire motivation behind God becoming incarnate in Jesus is that love.  God wanted to find a way to be in full relationship with us. Since we are unable to live a perfect life, he chose to do all the work for us, to become like one of us, die like one of us, but then break the power of death over us, so that we might be in relationship with God forever.

And whether this news makes us shout for joy or makes us want to run away in fear, God still loves us and invites us to relationship with him.  And that is Good News.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.