Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Welcome to worship! I’m usually used to Easter being nice and sunny, and the forecast calls for that in spite of the rain we had today! Looking forward to it!
You can find the bulletin for this service here.
There is no Thanksgiving for Baptism today, but you can have some fresh flowers in your space for Easter to remind you of new life. We will be having communion, so you may have something small to eat and drink. And as always, a lit candle for the whole service that can be extinguished at the end during the Sending Hymn. Again, these are optional, as you can set up your space however you like according to whatever is most helpful for you.
Here is the video!
O God, may our eyes be opened and our hearts softened by the work of your Spirit, allowing us to see the new life given to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
So usually when big Sundays like today roll around, I look at my sermons of the past to see if I can plagiarize myself. Most of the time (actually all of the time), those sermons aren’t really worth stealing from or ever mentioning again for that matter, but hey, one can always hope. Anyway, as I was looking through my past Easter sermon, I noticed something funny: about half of them reference movies of some kind. And half of those movies were usually Marvel movies. I know, commence eye-rolling.
Now, those of you who know me more than just this pretty face and killer bod would know that I just love these Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. And for those of you who have seen one or two or all 23 of them would understand why it isn’t hard to love these movies. I mean, on the most part they are stellar in their casting (and re-casting), directing, and acting. They have exciting action scenes and amazing special effects that really add to their story telling. And the fact that these movies talk about many of the beloved comic book characters that I grew up reading and collecting and mimicking on a regular basis really is the icing on the cake. But overall, even above all of these reasons, I think I love these movies because they’re all connected. They aren’t sequels of each other per se (except for the ones that are labelled as such with a number beside the name), but they complement each other’s stories in subtle ways, they have crossover cameos, and somehow all the individual movies in this large universe add up to a bigger plot that can’t be contained in just one movie.
And once I saw the first connection in that first Iron Man movie and then that awful Incredible Hulk movie in 2008, I was hooked. I needed to see more of the story, hear more about the characters, learn more about this universe that is so fantastical but yet so realistic in its own way. And yes, it’s a lot to watch, I think it takes more than 2 straight days to consume it all, but it is a lot of story. And so to me, missing any of the movies or supplement TV series is like leaving the story incomplete.
You know what I mean, don’t you? That need for a complete story is in all of us. I mean, imagine the dissatisfaction you’d feel if the power went out during the final act of that really engaging movie you’re watching on Netflix, or you find that the last chapter of that page turner book you’re reading has been ripped out, or if I just said “amen” right now and ended this sermon. Well, I’m not going to do that last one perhaps to your disappointment but hey, at least you’ll be satisfied in knowing how this sermon ends.
We see this need for a complete story in today’s lesson out of Mark. Not in the lesson itself, mind you, but in the treatment of the whole book of Mark. As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, the book of Mark very concise. No frills, just too the point and that’s it. So we don’t get a birth narrative, no played out temptation in the wilderness, no extra little details for a fuller story like the other gospel accounts have. Just look at today’s text, and how it ends with “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.” It’s not much of an ending to a lesson at all, as it’s so abrupt, so sudden, and the story doesn’t really seem to be resolved. No announcement to the disciples, no Jesus in the garden looking like the gardener, no Jesus at all, actually. Just the women running from the tomb in fear.
But in this case, we might be ok with that, because we already know how the story unfolds. We know that the women do eventually tell people. We know that Jesus eventually does show up in that upper room, that road to Emmaus, and many other places that cannot be contained in one book. And we know that Jesus gives them a final goodbye as he is ascended into heaven. We know all that, so we’re ok with today’s reading ending a bit suddenly like it does.
Well, what if that was the ending of the whole book? What if we never hear of Jesus appearing in the upper room, to the others, or even at all? What if this story doesn’t get resolved?
We’d probably want to write our own ending, fill in the blanks, so to speak. We’d give the missing details from what we already know from the other gospels, and all would be right and good. Well, that is exactly what happened because this actually is the end of Mark. At least, this is the end as we get in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts available. But we have others that add a variation of other endings, in an almost obviously sloppy attempt to complete the story.
Every other gospel account known has more of an ending, so Mark should too. Every other gospel account has Jesus appearing at least once, proving that the bodily resurrection happened, so Mark should back that claim up too. Every other gospel doesn’t leave us with an incomplete story, so Mark shouldn’t either.
We aren’t the only ones who would think this, as I said we have a couple alternate and more full endings of the book. But then I wonder, is it really that bad that it ends this way? Is it bad that we don’t have Jesus appearing to the other disciples and in the wild and so we’re left wondering what happens next? Is it really that bad that the written story seems incomplete, making it up to us to fill in the ending?
Well, not if you remember the other things we’ve talked about with Mark. Specifically, with how it starts. Remember that? We started the book in Advent and revisited the beginning again in Epiphany and again around Lent. So it’s like the lectionary for this year was set up to get us to this point. See the book starts with, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Now, if you don’t remember that and think, well of course it starts with the beginning, what else would it start with? What I mean is that it starts with those actual words, “The beginning.” That tells me that this book, in all its short, action-packed 16 chapters, in all its no frills, no nonsense demeanor, in all its incomplete and unresolved story-telling… is just the beginning.
What happens after the tomb is found empty, is up for grabs. What happened with the disciples is up to the disciples. What happened to the centuries between then and now was up to those living at those times. What happens now is up to us.
So I do think that Mark was left intentionally as a cliff hanger like this, that we be enticed to continue the story. Not necessarily add it to the end of Mark, mind you, but to continue in the lessons and themes that we’ve learned from the ministry of Jesus. Lessons of care and compassion. Lessons of love and community. Lessons of grace and peace. All these lessons culminating on the cross upon which he was meant to die, but as that man dressed in white sitting in the empty tomb tells us, that death didn’t stick. He is risen.
He is risen above all the hatred toward him. He is risen above those who shunned him because he didn’t fit their expectations. He is risen above all the selfishness, the condescending piousness, and the downright evil that would rather have him dead. He is risen.
He is risen so we can see just how powerful God’s love for us is. He is risen so we can learn of God’s radical grace and unending mercy in the world. He is risen so we can be empowered to proclaim this good news, forgive as we’ve been forgiven, and continue this story throughout our lives.
See the resurrection connects us all to a greater universe, as our stories have been connected to his story. The resurrection didn’t lift Jesus up to just appear to the disciples, but to appear to all of us in our communities, relationships, and everyday lives. The resurrection doesn’t end with Jesus ascending into heaven, but continues on in each and every one of us and always.
In this Easter season, may we see the new life and love of the resurrection, that we might be lifted up with Christ to continue God’s story of grace and forgiveness. Thanks be to God. Amen.