An Easter Sermon from Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
March 27, 2016
The sun was rising, and the details of the world were coming into focus as light dawned on a new day, plants turning from monochromatic shades to vibrant green, the dew reflecting like diamonds; lumpy shadows on the path solidifying into rocks and stones; scary unknown predators at the side of the road morphing into the mailboxes, shrubs, and parked cars they had always been in the light of day.
And it was a new day. The beginning of a new week. And they really needed something new.
When the women were walking to the tomb that morning, as light dawned on a new world, I wonder about their conversation about rolling away the tombstone.
Were they regretting the decision not to wake up some of the burlier disciples so they could be the muscle for the job?
Or were their concerns more along the lines of “great. Another tombstone to move. Another one of our loved ones. Dead. Another person to mourn. Another friend killed by the Romans. We thought it was going to be different this time.”
Ched Myers asks: “Is there not in this anguished question an echo of Sisyphean tragedy?” (Ched Myers, et al “Say to this Mountain” Mark’s Story of Discipleship)
Are the women feeling as helpless as Sisyphus? For those of you who don’t remember your Greek Mythology, to atone for his hubris, Sisyphus’ eternal punishment was heavy labor, pushing a large stone up a hill every day, only to have it roll back down. No progress made. No change to believe in.
Are the women feeling as helpless as Sisyphus? Are they feeling that their work is futile and never leads to change or any good news? With their rabbi dead, were their hopes dead too?
I can think of lots of people who feel that kind of hopelessness in our world.
—People who cannot get ahead in our economy, living from paycheck to paycheck and doing their best. Rolling the stone of minimum wage and high health care costs.
—People who live with fears they will face violence because of the color of their skin or because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Rolling the stone of prejudice and systemic discrimination that feels like it could, at any moment, roll right back over them.
—People who flee terror in their own countries and then are labeled terrorists when they seek safety and a new life. Rolling the stone of terror and fear, seeking to get past danger, only to face different discrimination and limitations.
I wonder if the women were feeling the weight of a stone of hopelessness as they walked to the tomb that morning. They had hoped Jesus was the one who would save them from the weight of Roman oppression. They had hoped he was ushering in a new world. Instead they saw his body, broken on the cross, an instrument of torture and death for criminals.
Dreams dead, crushed in sisyphean ways.
‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’
When they looked up, they saw the stone was gone, already taken care of. The weight that was impossible for them to handle was gone. In the growing light of the early morning, the women see an open space where they expected obstacle.
I have long wondered how they had courage to enter that tomb by themselves. Perhaps they had courage to enter the tomb because they realized ‘Nothing they could do could move this stone. By grace it has already been rolled away for them. They only had to have eyes to see it.’ (adapted from Myers 206)
Having ‘ears to hear’ and ‘eyes to see’ have been big themes for Mark’s story of Jesus’ life. Another way to say having eyes to see is to say “re-vision” to see again.
And in the light of the resurrection, I confess I need some re-vision. Because I look around and see lots of people still stuck in tombs of racism, discrimination, violence, and poverty.
I still need some re-vision because in the face of the violence of the world, I continue to show up with burial spices and prayers for those who mourn.
The women entered the empty tomb, a space that had been re-defined and re-visioned.
We’re told their response to the young man in white’s instructions was that they ‘fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’
I wonder if this is the truest statement in the Bible. There’s no sugar coating here. There’s not a sense that our first response to the resurrection should be a simple, calm happiness.
Terror and amazement seized the women—it grabbed hold of their collars and pulled them off their feet. Imagine those moments in your life when you have felt like that, unable to control your body’s response to news you received.
The first times Alden, and later, Elliott, drove off in the car, a newly minted driver’s license in hand. I held it together while they were out on the road. It was only when the car safely pulled up in front of the house that I started shaking, my body’s way to disperse all of the fear, worry, and anxiety I’d been holding. Anxiety and relief seized me.
When a loved one makes it through a dangerous surgery.
Or when they don’t.
In those empty tomb kind of moments, time moves at a different pace as our minds and hearts imagine a million different scenarios we hadn’t needed to consider before.
When our bodies face news of such magnitude—for good or bad—and when our mind can’t keep up with what our eyes are seeing or what our ears are hearing—it is then that terror and amazement seize us, stopping us in our tracks, giving us time to process.
Mark ends the story in that moment. And that’s actually been helpful to me this Holy Week, full of bad news from around the world and from the statehouse.
God has rolled away the stone. Jesus is not in the tomb. Resurrection, and the hope of it, has been ushered into the world in ways that require our re-vision.
But the story is not scripted. All we know is the task of mourning is no longer required. Jesus is on the loose, God is rolling stones away from the tombs of our lives in ways we cannot control or predict.
And we, together, become the body of Christ for the world, witnessing to the resurrection.
When the women fled the tomb, seized with terror and amazement, I hope they tossed the burial spices off into the shrubs, light beginning to dawn on them that they showed up to Easter with the wrong tools. Or I hope they wondered if they could maybe repurpose those spices and grave clothes, binding the wounds of the world, providing comfort and solace to people in pain, beginning the slow hard work of resurrection.
Biblical scholar Ched Myers writes:
“Death and resurrection, brokenness and healing, marginalization and empowerment, sin and reconciliation, injustice and transformation all shape the very pattern of the Christian life. Resurrection is gratuitous—a pure, unearned gift of God. It is the ultimate test of and the only hope for a disciple’s faith. At the same time, we are called to eke out resurrection bit by bit, step by step on the Way. Sometimes our experience of resurrection is glorious and clear. But most often it is the fruit of long, painful labor—birthed, but needing nurture.” (p 209 Say to this Mountain)
The rolling away of the stone is a job bigger than any one of us can do alone. Standing witness to resurrection, though, after we’ve recovered to being seized by terror and amazement, is the way we write the next part of the Easter story, the part Mark doesn’t tell us.
All weekend, I’ve been thinking of our Good Friday worship service. For those of you who couldn’t be here, we added flowers and herbs to a big wooden cross that was laying on some cloth on the floor. It was a chance to remember a tragic night, but with an act of love. I expected people to toss their flowers on the fabric, but what I saw instead were tender gestures of love, as people gently placed their flowers on the cross. It evoked for me all of the graves I have been to, and the love and care with which we say goodbye to those who have died.
And Good Friday’s grave clothes are empty today. The cross is gone. The flowers from your act of devotion remain. Jesus’ body is no longer here, except in us. The Easter proclamation is that we are the body of Christ, broken for the world.
The apostle Paul wrote that we are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (2 Cor 4:9)
At the end of Mark’s gospel, the barriers between life and death have been rolled away and what is left is for us to go out and tell the world not to lose hope while they wait for their own resurrections.
Broderick Greer reminds us: “We are resurrection scouts: people claimed and loved by God, invited to mark and point toward surprising moments of beauty and resurrection.”
We cannot roll away the stones ourselves, but we can point people away from the tombs that wound their lives.
Pastor and poet Jan Richardson writes:
If you are looking
for a blessing,
do not linger
where a blessing
used to be.
was not content
in its confinement.
It could not abide
the unrelenting silence,
the pressing stench
So if it is
open your own
Fill your lungs
with the air
with a cry.
Hear how the blessing
in your own voice,
how your own lips
form every word
you never dreamed
See how the blessing
circles back again,
wanting you to
how it draws you,
its only word:
(© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.
from Circle of Grace)
Amen. May it be so.