Sermon on Mark 16:1-8 for April 1, 2018, Easter B
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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But 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. But 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.” 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.
My parents moved out of their home awhile back, into a retirement community. That meant downsizing, which included packing things in boxes to be dealt with later. So, it fell to my brother, the only sibling still living in the area, to take the boxes to his place. He has been going through them, as time allows, and figuring out what to do with everything.
This week I received, an envelope he sent with things from those boxes. They were pictures of me. There were baby pictures, pictures of me in high school, doing gymnastics, pictures of me with my son who is getting married this month, from when he was a toddler. Opening that envelope was like opening a door of memories. I was not expecting them. The emotions I felt surprised me.
The House of Memory
I was reading about the Easter Story according to the Gospel of Mark in which they pointed out that the word for tomb, in the original, comes from the word for memory. The word for the entrance to the tomb literally means door. The women who came to anoint the body of Jesus were worried that they would not be able to enter; who would roll away the stone from the door of memories?
But the stone was already rolled away. That was Mark’s job. The gospel according to Mark was the first of our four gospels to tell the story of Jesus. He gave us our first memories of Jesus. He opened the door to the house of memories. How did he begin the story? As Mark preserves Jesus’ story, the very first thing that he wants us to remember is that the adult Jesus’ first words are, literally,
“The time has arrived, and the kingdom of God is present; change your thinking, and trust in the good news.”
Mark wanted our mental “house of memories” to open onto Jesus’ central message. That message, put another way, says “The present moment is the moment you are living in now, and the present moment is where God can be found. God is here, in this moment; the time has arrived. God is at work in this moment, the kingdom of God has come; Trust that God is in this moment, luring us toward everything that is Good, and Beautiful, and True. Trust that God is offering new life, new possibilities in the process of each unfolding moment.”
So, if you have not been mindfully aware that this present moment is bursting with possibilities for depth and meaning, then, Jesus says, “change your thinking” – the old word used for this is “repent” but now, so many people have misconstrued that word to include guilt and self-loathing that it is no longer useful. But the word literally means “change your mind” and then, of course, you will change how you are acting, because now you are enlightened, now you are aware of something you did not see before: the good news is that God is present in this moment, coaxing us to compassion, to mercy, to love.
Memory and Suffering
So, that was the first thing Jesus said, according to Mark’s house of memories. But if that memory was in the minds of the women as they approached the tomb, it must have felt different now. Like looking at your baby pictures – seeing yourself before you lived most of your life – before everything that has happened to you since then.
How do you think of the story of Jesus as “good news” after the Romans brutally executed him? Maybe all you can do is bring some spices to honor the body one last time before nature takes its course.
In ancient religions, there were stories of the gods. They lived in mythical time and mythical places. They could come to earth and appear to be humans for a while, but they never really lived lives like we do; they did not get hungry or tired or feel pain like we do.
The Christian story, on the other hand, takes suffering and pain seriously. In our story, God takes suffering seriously The Good Friday story is of an innocent person who was arrested, and though he was innocent, he was tortured by the authorities, endured a sham trial, was given the death penalty; he suffered a complete injustice.
By telling a story – in fact, our central story – as the story of taking the suffering of injustice seriously, Christianity takes every experience of unjustified suffering seriously: the black experience, the experiences of victims of abuse, the suffering of anyone who has been discriminated against – women, immigrants, gay people, trans people, refugees, and all the others.
For Jesus, on a personal level, this is the story of betrayal and abandonment by the very people who should have stuck with him. It is a story of their denial of him, made all the more painful because he had poured out his whole life in compassion on their behalf. There are those in this room who have suffered similar abandonment and betrayal as well. Your suffering is taken seriously.
This is also the story of the suffering of those who loved Jesus and lost him – his mother who lost her son, the people he was closest to, who had to witness his suffering and death. This story takes seriously the experiences of suffering by people who have lost family members, spouses, children, siblings, partners.
Your story is here. There are as many ways to suffer as there are people who suffer, but your story is taken seriously – your suffering matters to God, it is real.
Now, it is true that some suffering is self-caused. We have caused our own suffering by the things we have done, and by the things we did to try to relieve our suffering, self-soothing, self-medication, self-indulgence. And now we feel bad; we feel guilty. This story also takes self-inflicted suffering seriously. Peter denies Jesus and is filled with remorse. Judas betrays Jesus and, in the end, hangs himself. These details are included because God takes the suffering of self-loathing seriously.
We will talk of resurrection, but not as a bandaid on a skinned knee, as if the suffering were negligible. We will not act as if the suffering we experience was planned by God for some mysterious purpose, as if we were marionettes at the end of strings, living a choreographed dance scripted for us in advance.
The New Day Has Dawned
No, suffering is real, and in many cases, unjust, undeserved, or just random. But suffering is not the last word. The way Mark tells the story, it is early, on the first day of the week, and the sun has risen. The darkness was real, but not final. It is like the first day of a new creation. God is at work even in this moment, offering new possibilities; the future is open; there is hope!
The hope begins with seeing that the door to the house of Jesus-memories is open. So the mysterious young man in the white rob, the symbol of the Divine messenger, invites the women to see this situation in a new light. He says,
“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. But 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.”
“Just as he told you” means “remember.” Remember what he said, all the way back to the beginning of your relationship with Jesus where it all started, back in Galilee.
In other words, Jesus is not to be found among the dead. Jesus is the living presence of God, right in the middle of your everyday life, at home in Galilee. Right in the middle of your suffering and pain, there is still Good News. Jesus is raised! You will find him in every moment of your life. How? As you remember.
John Philip Newell says it so well in his Prayer for the Life of the World:
It is when we are still
that we know.
It is when we listen
that we hear.
It is when we remember
that we see your light, O God.
From your Stillness, we come.
With your Sound
all life quivers with being.
the light of this moment shines.
Grant us to remember you
at the heart of each moment.
Grant us to remember.
The Open Story
This story, as Mark tells it, is open-ended. What will the women do? Will they go and tell the disciples that the door to the house of Jesus memories is an open door? Will they go back home to Galilee and find the risen Jesus there? Will they remember?
Our story too, is an open story. Will we practice resurrection by seeing the risen Christ? This is part of why we are here today. We will gather around a table to remember. We will remember Jesus who said he would be present to us in bread that is broken and given away. We will remember the risen Jesus who is present to us in a cup that is not safely contained, but in one that is poured out on behalf of others. This act of communal memory will help us to practice resurrection as we remember everything he taught us.
We will remember that Jesus said he could be seen in every kind of suffering people, in “the least of these,” in the hungry, when we feed them, in the sick, when we provide healthcare, in the political prisoners when we work to end oppression, in the blind, when we shine the light of love on to the darkness of injustice and intolerance, so that those who are willing can become enlightened.
This is how we practice resurrection. We take suffering seriously, because Jesus did, because God does, and because new life is possible. That is our faith, as Professor Walter Brueggemann has said, our “reliance on, and trust in, a future-giving, future-hoping God, who constantly makes a way out of no way.”
So let us be people who enter the open house of memory, who believe that the gospel is good news, worth changing our minds for, and let us practice resurrection by encountering the risen Jesus in the suffering of our own Galilee here in Sebastian County.
This is the moment. The kingdom of God is present. That was what he said. Practice Resurrection. Remember!