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The Sabbath Is Over

Sermon - 4/16/06
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Mark 16: 1-8

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 well.

The bare 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:

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. 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 creative).

The choir begins the flowering
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 the story.

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 stories mean?  

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.  
The congregation 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 present".

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 country:

"Two ships collide, one dies".  Wonder if they had a burial at sea?

"Kids make nutritious snacks".  I prefer mine with salt.

"Police squad helps dog bite victim".  So helpful of our police, probably trained by Donald Rumsfeld J.

"Something went 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!

"High school dropouts cut in half".  That'll teach 'em to study!

"Sex education delayed, teachers request training".  I'm not going there J.

Congregation 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:

"The 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.

But 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 on Calvary.

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.

Reverend Bryant breaking bread.

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".

The flowered 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 Jesus.  

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.


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