|We have been engaged,
in the last 6 weeks during the season of Lent, in a study of Holy
Week, studying each day of the week as told in the gospel of
Mark. And as retold in this book by Dominic Crossan and
Marcus Borg, The
Last Week, which we have used in our Tuesday evening Lenten
Study, and it has been fodder for sermons the last 6 weeks as
cross at the beginning of Easter services
If you missed any of
those sermons -- I think just 2 of you! -- you can get the book, or you
can go online when you get home to www.heartofeugene.org
and you can read those sermons online, and I KNOW you're all going to
rush home and do that to make sure you're caught up before you have a
wonderful Easter meal. We'll just assume that J.
We come now to the
conclusion to the story, to the conclusion of holy week and of the
gospel. Which is of course the beginning of the good news
that we proclaim.
And I'm going to read
the story from Mark's gospel, since that's what we have been studying,
and you heard Matthew's read a bit ago, and you might note a few
differences. So, the 16th chapter of Mark, it's very brief in
Mark's version, just 8 verses:
the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James,
and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And
very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they
went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one
another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to
the tomb?’ 4When they looked up, they saw that
the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As
they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe,
sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But
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. 7But 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.’ 8So
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.
And that's where Mark ends his
gospel. Now don't be confused, if in your Bible there's more to
the story. Because in my Bible there's actually two other endings
added on. One is called the "Shorter Ending of Mark" and
the other the "Longer Ending of Mark" (Bible editors are very
The choir begins
of the cross.
|And if you read in
the footnotes, if you have a good Bible with footnotes, it will tell you
that ancient manuscripts have different endings to the gospel of Mark,
and the oldest manuscripts end right there where I've read.
And scholars have come to the conclusion that those other endings are
actually additions made to the gospel of Mark by later editors who were
uncomfortable with this rather abrupt ending to the gospel as Mark tells
So what about that
story of Mary when she meets Jesus in the garden, and she thinks he's a
gardener? That's John's gospel, that's John's story. And
what about that story of the two on the way to Emmaus, my favorite
story, where they're walking along, talking with a stranger, and it's
not until they break bread with him that their eyes are opened and they
recognize Jesus? That's Luke's story. And what about that
story when Jesus gives those last words, the great commission -- 'Go and
make disciples of all nations' -- that's Matthew's story.
Now those are all
good and important stories and they help us to understand Easter, but
our goal this year has been to understand Mark's story. So if you
want to hear more about Matthew, Luke, or John, well, you can come back
next year J.
I'm afraid if I covered all 4 of them, nobody would come back on
Easter. So we're going to concentrate on Mark this morning.
These variations in
Easter stories provide the one very important clue to our reading of the
story, and that is that the truth of Easter is not found in the facts of
history but in the meaning of the story. As our authors,
Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, say: if you believe the tomb was
empty, fine, now what does that story mean? If you believe that
Jesus' appearances could have been videotaped, fine, now what do these
If you're not sure
about that, or even if you are quite sure it didn't happen this
way, fine, now what do these stories mean?
So you get the point
-- it doesn't matter [what happened historically], if the question is
what do these stories mean. And I cite that example because I'm
quite certain that pretty much sums up all of us here. So now that
we're all here together, some of us are certain that it happened exactly
this way or that, some of us are certain it didn't, some are not certain
about anything, and I'm going to clear it up once and for all:
only God knows J.
Fine, now what does
that story mean?
|And here's the gospel
truth: Easter is that place where history and parable, where
metaphor and fact, come together in one indistinguishable blur like a
rainbow against the gray skies we witnessed earlier this week on the
Coburg hills. We can never reach the end of that rainbow, but that
makes it no less real. The goods news is not that Jesus was raised
from the dead 2,000 years ago -- so was Lazarus, so was the daughter
of Jairus, we don't celebrate that.
joins in the flowering of the cross.
The good news is that
Jesus lives and can be experienced and seen today. That's what
brings us together, just like that rainbow. That's what puts the
smile on our face on Easter. That's the wonder that Marilyn talked
about in the children's story.
N.T. Wright, who is
an Anglican Bishop and good friend of Borg & Crossan's, sums it up
well in a new book that was quoted this morning in the Register Guard in
an editorial by E.J. Dione, which just goes to show that I do other
things sometimes on Sunday morning. Couldn't help but catch this
great editorial, where Dione (who is a columnist for the Washington
Post) quotes Wright and says: "When Jesus emerged from the
tomb, justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty rose with
him. Something has happened in and through Jesus as a result of
which the world is different place. A place where heaven and earth
have been joined forever. God's future has arrived in the
Who says you can't
find good news in the paper?! And truth, even in our Register
Guard. Well, speaking of news fit to print, here's some
interesting tid-bits gleaned from newspaper headlines across the
collide, one dies". Wonder if they had a burial at sea?
nutritious snacks". I prefer mine with salt.
helps dog bite victim". So helpful of our police, probably
trained by Donald Rumsfeld J.
wrong in plane crash, experts say". You too can be an expert,
and work for the federal government!
"Bush wins on
budget, more lies ahead". I can't make these up!
dropouts cut in half". That'll teach 'em to study!
delayed, teachers request training". I'm not going there J.
continues to flower the Easter cross.
|Now back to the news
on Easter, that reminds us of why we are here. Because this
story means something to us, and not only for us, but as Wright
suggests, something that makes the world a different place.
And to get at that meaning, I want to read something not about
Jesus but about Moses. Not about Easter, but about
Passover. And not from the Bible, but once again from the
Register Guard editorial page, this time from Friday's paper,
David Brooks, who is a columnist for the N.Y. Times.
I have to tell you
that I don't often agree with Brooks, and on this particular column he
is writing in support of the war in Iraq with which I definitely do not
agree, but he makes a surprising and welcome observation when he says:
"Last night I
re-read the Exodus story. [Hang on to that, I'm going to come back to
that] The Exodus story reminds us that human beings can transform
themselves and their situations. It reminds us that people who
embark on generational journeys are the ones who see all the
possibilities the future contains. The finest things humans have
done have been achieved in an Exodus frame of mind."
And he goes on to
cite the founding of our country and the civil rights movement under
Martin Luther King. And then he says:
Exodus story is not the story of liberation but of the long, troubled
march to freedom."
And his point is that
freedom only comes through hard, difficult struggle. And I could
not agree more even while I disagree with the way that he applies that
principle in the case of the war in Iraq.
Now whether you agree
with Brooks or you agree with me does not concern me this morning.
The point that I want to make is the point from which Brooks begins,
when he says 'Last night I re-read the Exodus story'. Now why
would he do that? If you think about the time, this week that we
have been celebrating, our Jewish brothers and sisters are celebrating
what? Passover. And what do they do at Passover but read the
story of Exodus, the story of the long march of the Hebrew people to
freedom. And I assume that Brooks is Jewish. And so he
writes about his own experience and applies that to the present.
Karl Barth, great
theologian of the 20th century, always used to say if you wanted to
understand what God is doing in the world, you read the Bible in one
hand and you read the newspaper in the other. Today, you might
say the Bible in one hand and the Internet in the other, I don't know.
here's the point: Mark is very clear -- when Jesus gathered
his disciples in that upper room on the night before the
crucifixion, they were celebrating the Passover meal. The
meal about that long march to freedom. And Jesus takes the
unleavened bread and says 'this is my body'. He takes that
cup of blessing and says 'this is my blood'. In other words,
I give my body, flesh and blood, to this cause. To the
kingdom of God, here on earth as in heaven. The long march
of freedom and justice for all that would lead to the death of one
It was his
passion for the kingdom of God as the alternative to the kingdoms
of Pilate, Herod, and Caesar that got him killed. Hence the
cross is at one and the same time the rejection by worldly
authorities of Jesus, and the vindication of Jesus by God.
Easter is not only
about the empty tomb, it's also about the empty cross. Easter is
the reversal of Good Friday, when the world's "no" to the way
and message of Jesus became God's "yes".
cross of Easter.
|Now you don't have to
agree with me on this, no news there, I'm doing good when I can
get people to agree on what
to put on a pizza. But I suspect there is a reason that Mark
does not have any of the appearance stories in his gospel.
Any appearances of Jesus after he's risen. I think there's a
reason for that. It's not because Matthew, Luke, and John
got all the good ones, and there was some unwritten gospel rule
that said you could only have one of those stories in each of the
gospels and you can't share them. That's not the
reason. And the reason's not that Mark didn't know any of
those stories -- he was the first of the four written, we
think. But I don't think it's because he didn't know those
stories -- I think those stories were well known. Maybe he
didn't know all of them, but he surely new some stories.
That's not why he doesn't tell them either.
I think Mark
intentionally leaves us with the empty tomb as a way of saying to
us: it's not about Jesus. It's about what he taught.
It's about the kingdom of God that is at hand. It's about making
God's reign visible by loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind,
and by loving you neighbor as yourself. It's about feeding the
hungry and healing the sick. It's about ending economic
exploitation and violent oppression. It's not so much about
praising the name of Jesus as it is doing the work of Jesus.
The message of Mark
is that the Sabbath is over. The tomb is empty. The work of
Easter, of the risen Christ, has begun. And that's why that
stranger in the white, we assume to be an angel, tells the women to go
and tell the disciples to head for Galilee, where they first met Jesus
when he called them to be fishers of people. To go back, in other
words, where you started. Re-trace your steps with Jesus.
Remember what he taught you. Take those 5 loaves and those 2 fish
and feed the hungry crowds, then you'll see Jesus.
The Sabbath is
over. Care for the lepers and the outcasts, eat with the tax
collectors and the sinners, then you'll see Jesus. The Sabbath is
over. Confront the high priests and princes of this world, stand
up for the victims, the weak and the poor, then you'll see Jesus.
The Sabbath is over. Work for the justice and the righteousness of
God, bless the peacemakers, the merciful and the meek, then you'll see
Jesus. The Sabbath is over. Walk with the disciples on the
way to Jerusalem, which is the way of the cross. Join that Palm
Sunday processional in its parody of military power. March with
Moses and Miriam, with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, with Desmond Tutu
and Caesar Chavez on that long march to freedom, then you'll see
The Sabbath is
over. The tomb is empty. Jesus is not there. He awaits
us in Galilee, where Herod rules by might, disease rules by stealth,
poverty rules by stench, powerful rule by wealth. And where Jesus
proclaims the kingdom of God is at hand.
The Sabbath is
over. The tomb is empty. The work of Easter has begun.
The flowered cross of
Easter is carried out of the church and into our world.