Easter B Sermon (2012)

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Texts: Mark 16:1-8;
Acts 10:34-43

SLOW TO FOLLOW A SUFFERING MESSIAH

How many of you remember back to the show Dallas, and the summer fans were left wondering who shot J. R.? Any LOST fans out there? How long did you have to wait to find out what was under the hatch? At the end of last season, Castle fans weren’t really waiting all summer to see if Kate would live, but rather did she hear Castle declare his love as she lay wounded in his arms. TV serves us cliffhangers on a regular basis.

The ending to today’s Gospel from Mark is a cliffhanger with a surprise ending. Listen to it one more time: “So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

We might want to say, ‘Hey, Mark, don’t you know the story isn’t over yet? The women can’t just run away afraid without telling anyone, or the Good News of Easter will never get out.’ We crave a better ending.

When you pull out your Bible later today – after Easter dinner and hunting for eggs, of course – you may find two or even three additional endings to Mark’s Gospel that go on past verse 8. But people who study the ancient handwritten texts feel the most accurate texts end at verse 8, with the scared women running away and not telling anyone.

So what’s up with the added-on endings? Biblical scholars think they exist because Mark’s ending was a cliffhanger. The monks who spent their lives hand writing copies of the Bible knew that Matthew, Luke and John ended their Gospels with Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and the apostles, getting the ball rolling on spreading the Good News. The monks didn’t think Mark’s Gospel was complete, so they filled in their own endings to read more like the others. It’s a bit like you or me imagining our own ending to the cliffhanger of our favorite show. When a story seems unfinished, we want to know what comes next! If we aren’t told, we make something up that makes sense to us.

Can we try to understand why Mark ended it that way? We can begin by understanding that as the Messiah, (1) Jesus fulfills the promise of God taking charge and becoming king of the world; but (2) it’s in a way that completely redefines what kingship is. I have a ritual every Easter morning to listen to Handel’s Messiah, the “Hallelujah Chorus,” where we sing, “The Kingdom of this world is becoming the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!” God’s Kingdom came into this world decisively that first Easter – not some time in the future, in some otherworldly place, but here in this world.

But the second thing to understand is that Jesus takes charge as king by redefining kingship. Jesus shows us a way of ruling in our world that flips things upside down. Mark illustrates this later, in chapter 10. The disciples James and John have privately come to Jesus asking to be at his side when he comes into power as the Messiah. But they have no idea what they are asking, because they are thinking in terms of human kingship that ascends to power by means of military conquest. Jesus redefines kingship through the cross, such that when he comes into his power, the two by his side will not be any of his disciples, but instead the insurrectionists who hung on his left and his right on Good Friday. James and John are clueless, and Jesus knows this. So he gathers all his disciples and tells them,

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 42-45)

Jesus’ way of ruling in this world is through loving service and mercy, not military power. This is still challenging for us to hear 2000 years after Jesus tried to explain it to his disciples. Jesus gave his life as ransom for many — suffering on behalf of others. Mark tells us that Jesus makes it perfectly clear that following him means we must also live lives of taking on the suffering of others. Jesus says,

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

How can giving up our lives for others possibly be considered Good News? It’s no wonder the women ran away afraid to tell anyone! All of Jesus’ teaching about suffering, dying and rising was finally sinking in, and their first reaction was normal: fear of that suffering and dying part. That’s not what they wanted to hear – they wanted the victory to be about the end of suffering – for good! Instead they were beginning to realize that the victory had to involve suffering — and then so does the call involve about having the strength and courage to follow Jesus in continuing to take on the suffering of this world.

So here’s the third thing to understand: The Resurrection is the promise that suffering will someday truly end, but it’s not yet the end of the end. It’s a victory because it’s the beginning of the end, when God’s reign came into the world through Christ and is working to transform things but is yet to come to complete fulfillment. Some ask why God can’t make things come to end sooner, but that probably would mean using force. Using force is our way of doing things, not God’s. In Christ we see that God is love, and so force can never be a part of God’s repertoire.

And here’s the fourth thing to try to understand: The mystery of faith is that you and I are called by Jesus to be part of bringing the end of the end about, the final fulfillment of God’s reign. He doesn’t have to call us. In love, he wants to call us because he knows it will infuse our lives with love and meaning. Jesus calls us to be citizens in God’s Kingdom, God’s way of reigning. So, as such, his Spirit comes to help us to live transformed lives based on loving service, healing, new life, and grace.

Pastor Dave ended Lent with an excellent sermon about courage, naming some of the more recent courageous saints like Gandhi, Mandela, Schindler, and King. And he posed a very good question: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? This morning let’s take that a step further: whose suffering might I share, might I help bear, if I’m not afraid? It’s natural to be afraid – often our first reaction is to run away. How much of our lives do we spend trying to avoid suffering? Our culture of consuming and being entertained is largely based on trying to avoid suffering. So why would we want to follow a counter-cultural Lord who leads us into loving service of those who suffer in this world?

Why? Because real life includes suffering. Our culture encourages us to avoid it at all costs, but it is impossible to avoid. This is a mystery, of course, but it makes some sense in considering points three and four we mentioned above: that God as love never uses force, even against ‘bad’ people, and God in Jesus calls us to be part of the new reign coming into this world through Christ and his Spirit.

Which brings us to our fifth and final point. We can be encouraged that Jesus’ call was heard and answered by the kind of saints already mentioned: Gandhi, Mandela, Schindler, and King. But the greatest encouragement in Mark’s story of Jesus is the way in which ordinary folks like you and I step out in faith. The disciples whose names we know are not the heroes in Mark’s Gospel. Instead, it is filled with unnamed characters who show faith. We might remember from Epiphany season alone: Mark told us of a leper who stepped out in faith and was healed by Jesus, and the paralyzed man whose four friends lowered him through the ceiling to be healed. Jesus commended these ordinary folks – no different than you or me – for their faith. They came to be healed from their own suffering, and then followed their Lord to bear the suffering of others. It is ordinary folks who build a community together, like here at Prince of Peace. We welcome those with doubts; we embrace those with burdens; and we bear their suffering in faith to help make this world a better place. Come and share the Easter meal of new life, and let us together answer the call to go out into a suffering world as disciples of our Risen Lord. CHRIST IS RISEN – HE IS RISEN INDEED! Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, April 8, 2012

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