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Sermon for 8 April 2012 (Easter Sunday)

FIRST READING Acts 10:34–43

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

PSALM Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24

1Give thanks to the LORD, for the | LORD is good;
God’s mercy en- | dures forever.
2Let Israel | now declare,
“God’s mercy en- | dures forever.”
14The LORD is my strength | and my song,
and has become | my salvation.
15Shouts of rejoicing and salvation echo in the tents | of the righteous:
“The right hand of the | LORD acts valiantly!
16The right hand of the LORD | is exalted!
The right hand of the | LORD acts valiantly!”
17I shall not | die, but live,
and declare the works | of the LORD.
18The LORD indeed pun- | ished me sorely,
but did not hand me o- | ver to death.
19Open for me the | gates of righteousness;
I will enter them and give thanks | to the LORD.
20″This is the gate | of the LORD;
here the righ- | teous may enter.”
21I give thanks to you, for you have | answered me
and you have become | my salvation.
22The stone that the build- | ers rejected
has become the chief | cornerstone.
23By the LORD has | this been done;
it is marvelous | in our eyes.
24This is the day that the | LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be | glad in it.

SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 15:1–11

1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them — though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

GOSPEL Mark 16:1–8

1 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. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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. And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.


Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Happy Easter, everyone! I can say happy Easter today because Jesus tells us in John 14:19: “Because I live, you also will live.” It’s a wonderful promise that fills us with eternal hope. I was wondering this morning; how many of you are here today, decked out in your Easter Sunday best, but your fingers are slightly stained? I asked this because I’m curious to see how many of you colored Easter eggs this weekend? Yesterday we had the annual Easter egg hunt and I thought I saw hints of pink, blue, green, and purple on some fingers from all the Easter eggs that were colored, hid, found, cracked, or consumed.
Some might try to hide this fact, but you can take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Just over one billion real eggs are dipped and dyed every Easter in America. The Dudley egg dye company sells over 10 million egg dying kits every year. No wonder we’re such a colorful bunch! Yet eggs sometimes get a bad rap at Easter.
This might surprise many of you, but eggs are widely used as a symbolic food. Everyone from dancing druids and pagan fertility gods to — worst of all — bored kids on Halloween, have all claimed eggs as some sort of special specimen for themselves. The Christian use of eggs at Easter probably has its roots in a host of different cultures and traditions. But there are two connections that make the “Easter egg” a powerful symbol for this miraculous morning. Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem brought Him there to celebrate Passover, in that holy city. The Last Supper was a Passover Seder. And one of the ritual foods arranged on everyone’s Passover plate was a hard-boiled egg, the “beitzah.”

This egg symbolized the “chagigah,” a ritual sacrifice made in the Temple. After the Temple was destroyed this egg also became a “mourner’s” reminder. The Temple sacrifice could no longer be made, because the Temple no longer existed. In Orthodox Judaism hard boiled eggs are still offered to mourners as their first food after a funeral. For Christians on Easter Sunday — as Mark and all the gospels tell us — funeral rites were transformed.
Although nearly all biblical scholars agree that Mark’s original manuscript concludes at 1:8, which was where our gospel reading for today concluded, the so-called “longer ending” is a later addition to this gospel. It seems the addition was added to deal with the abrupt and apparently incomplete nature of this text. Matthew, Luke, and John add lots of details to the Easter morning event, with as much traffic back and forth from the tomb as some Monday morning commutes. In contrast, Mark’s presentation is stark and simple. Mark focuses his reader on a very specific moment — the empty tomb is revealed and the pronouncement of its significance is announced: “he is raised.” In other words, Mark’s text is less about the disciples who will make up the community of faith, and more about the faith that will make a disciple-community possible — the faith that Christ is Risen.
Although Mark’s Easter text is a shorter version, it nevertheless provides some traditional, historical details. He begins by carefully connecting the events of Sunday morning to those of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial just before the Sabbath. Mark, who is generally stingy at naming names, reiterates in chapters 15 (40, 47), and 16 (1) that the same women witnesses who were present at Jesus’ death on the cross and at his burial in the tomb, are the ones who come to the tomb site “when the Sabbath was over.” The women’s return emphasizes the continuity between Jesus’ death, burial, and the empty tomb. The careful observation of the Sabbath by these women — that they depart just before the Sabbath begins, keep the Sabbath, and return only after the Sabbath has concluded (“early on the first day of the week”) — also enables Mark to count three days between Jesus’ death and this Sunday morning discovery. Mark’s added detail that “the sun had risen” makes it clear that the women could see where they were and could easily identify the tomb where they had been in 15:47.
Although the women must have purchased ointments and spices for anointing Jesus after sundown on the Sabbath, it’s not until they’re on their way to the tomb that it occurs to them that they will need to fill another need in order to fulfill their mission. Having watched Joseph of Arimathea roll the disk-like stone covering over the front of the tomb before they left, the women now belatedly wonder who might be available at this early hour to roll the stone away for them. Since the whole point of sealing tombs was to keep out grave robbers, the process of sliding the stone covering into a groove was much more easily accomplished than getting the smooth, handle-free disk worked free again.
But as the women reach the tomb they could clearly see the stone itself had already been rolled away. Mark doesn’t provide any natural or supernatural details to account for this movement (Matthew 28:2 suggests earthquakes and angels as the work crew), an omission that itself seems to imply divine activity at work. Typical Jewish tombs of that era consisted of an antechamber that led to a low doorway into the burial chamber, where the body would be laid on limestone. Somewhat surprisingly, the women don’t seem to hesitate to clamber into the strangely open tomb. They then scramble back into the burial chamber itself. It’s only when they reach the inner sanctum of the tomb that the women confront two astonishing realities. First, Jesus’ body is not there. Second, a white-robed figure awaits them with a message.
Although Mark doesn’t definitively declare this presence as an “angel,” his description of this being as a “young man” and his “white robe” and the women’s response to his presence as one of “ekthambeomai” — a combination of alarm and fear, distress and amazement — leaves us with little doubt. Furthermore, it immediately becomes clear that this white robed figure is there to offer a message from the divine, thus embodying the literal meaning of the Greek for “angel” — “messenger of God.”
The first message conveyed by this angelic emissary is one of comfort, urging the women, “Do not be alarmed.” However, the message the angel unfolds could hardly have done anything else but alarm, distress, and amaze the women all over again. The messenger carefully identifies who they have come “looking for” Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was “crucified.”
But what the women are “looking for,” a dead body to anoint, a last ritual to show their respect and mourning for their crucified master, is a wrong-headed notion. The angel denies that their early morning visit to the tomb is some sad closing chapter for a lost life. It instead, is the first experience of a new miraculous reality: “He has been raised; he is not here.” The angel’s pronouncement indicates this resurrection was accomplished by God, for Jesus was raised (“egerthe”) through an intentional act by the divine.
That the tomb is truly empty is emphasized by the angel, who encourages the women to gaze upon the place where ”they laid him.” As generations of doubters have asserted, of course, an empty tomb doesn’t “prove” Jesus’ resurrection. As generations of believers assert, the angel’s revelation that Jesus “has been raised” fills the empty tomb with an opportunity for faith. It’s this opportunity that the angel reveals to the women in the commission he gives in verse 7. The women, who had come expecting to anoint a dead body, are now told to recall and embrace as true, the words Jesus had uttered in Mark 14:28; “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Jesus has not been “raised” as some ghostly creature to some ethereal plane. Jesus’ body was not in the tomb because He had been resurrected and was on His way to Galilee to meet up with His disciples once again. These women, who remained loyally at the cross during Jesus’ crucifixion, who had accompanied His broken body for its hasty burial, and who had returned in daylight to offer their respects, are now told to go and find the eleven remaining disciples who fled, scattered, and hid during Jesus’ trial and execution. All of them together are to join up with Jesus in Galilee. Even Peter, whose three denials of Jesus were especially pathetic, is specifically named and included as one who is to make this first faith journey to find the risen Jesus.
What most readers find so unsettling and unsatisfying about Mark’s abrupt ending of his gospel is that instead of carrying out this commission, these three women witnesses, these first recipients of what is truly the “gospel” — “he has been raised” — now let their fear overwhelm them. The might of the religious powers, the Sanhedrin, and the might of the political powers, the soldiers, couldn’t move them from Jesus’ presence. But their fear and wonder of God’s presence and power reduces them to terrified mortals, instead of faith-filled followers. Just as the disciples had fled in fear, these women, who had stood near Jesus during the worst, now themselves flee before the overwhelming news the angel delivers.
The women who came to the tomb early Sunday morning were focused on mourning. They’d gone out as soon as the Sabbath was concluded and purchased the ointments and oils and spices they needed to give Jesus’ dead body a final, funereal, last anointing. But instead of mourning a death, these women were stunned by an empty tomb and instructed by an angelic being to spread the good news, the “gospel” of a new life: “he has been raised.” Instead of participating in a ritual funeral meal, these first tomb witnesses were shocked to hear that Jesus had broken through the shell, like that of an Easter egg, of death and despair. Jesuse was now living a resurrected life.
Easter eggs, with their beautiful, brightly colored, decorated shells are MEANT to be broken, peeled, revealed. The constricting shell of sin and death, that had held humanity captive for so long, lay shattered by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Every pink, blue, green, and purple smudge under our fingernails is a sign of Christ’s triumph over the prison of death. In the words of the hymn written by St. John Damascene in the 8th century: Come, ye faithful, raise the strain Of triumphant gladness: God hath brought his Israel Into joy from sadness. Tis the Spring of souls today: Christ has burst his prison . . .
C. S. Lewis may be one of the most quoted Christian writer in all of history. His brilliance in writing makes it hard to find even one line that isn’t quotable. But here is one of the most quotable of the quotables: “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” What Lewis is “pecking at” here is this: we must be hatched, or we’ll “go bad.” We must “break out” of the death grip the world would hold us in and fly into the new life that Christ’s resurrection offers to all — however scary and strung with surprises that journey might be.
Jesus broke the mold. The resurrection was a prison break. Jesus made the ultimate “prison break” from hell, from the power of sin and death. The first message from the empty tomb to the women witnesses is to “break out” as well. Leave that place of death. Gather the disciples. Go to Galilee. Expect to meet the resurrected Jesus. Follow Him.
When given that first directive — here was the first Easter egg — the women at the tomb flinched. Instead of proclaiming, they clammed up. Instead of throwing their eggs against the wall, they tucked them away. Instead of making an omelet, they made tracks. Jesus calls us to a resurrection life, a new life that demands we “break some eggs” so that we may live celebrating the power of life, instead of cowering before the threat of death.
Because of what Jesus did for you and me, Easter Sunday is a break-out day; a prison-break celebration. I don’t think it’s any accident that some of the greatest literature in the Christian tradition is prison literature: Paul’s letters like Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon; John’s Revelation on the Alcatraz of the 1st century called Patmos; Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail;” Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison; Karl Barth’s collection of sermons he delivered in prison called Deliverance to the Captives. If you’re a fan of convict literature, then you’re a fan of Cervantes, Voltaire, Thomas More, John Donne, Daniel Defoe, Oscar Wilde and Jack London just to name a few. But maybe the greatest prison literature of all time is John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress. Here’s a letter Bunyan wrote to a friend while in prison: For though men keep my outward man within their bolts and bars, Yet, by faith of Christ, I can mount higher than the stars.
Sometimes I wonder if we’re in danger of commemorating Easter with too many plastic, reusable, resealable eggs. I know that these plastic, split-in-two-and-refill eggs are easy and convenient. But consider this, “Breaking” them open, at their neat seams, doesn’t cost us anything. In reality, nothing is really “broken.” Jesus’ bride is in a crisis of discipleship, because more and more Christians don’t want to truly “break-out” of their eggshells, don’t want to embrace the invitation of a radical resurrection life, don’t want to throw their safe circular eggshell against the wall. But like the virtuous women witnesses in Mark’s gospel, our faith will “go bad” if we do not “go to Galilee” instead of “going home.” We need to “hatch out” from a safe, socially acceptable life and embrace the resurrection life that our Savior offers us this Easter Sunday.
What if instead of enclosing ourselves in safe elliptical eggshells, Christians took on a new shape to offer to the world? In his novel “Winter of Our Discontent,” John Steinbeck suggested that those raised with the reality of the resurrection might turn out “differently”. Steinbeck concludes, “Let’s say when I was a little baby, and all my bones soft and malleable, I was put in a small cruciform [cross shaped] box and so took my shape. Then, when I broke out of the box, the way a baby chick escapes an egg, is it strange that I had the shape of a cross? Have you ever noticed that chickens are roughly egg-shaped?” (John Steinbeck, Winter of Our Discontent (Viking Press, 1961), p.115.
A resurrection life, once tasted, forever transforms. Look at petrified Peter. Look at sin-seeking Saul. Look at arrogant Augustine. Look at limp-kneed Luther. If you break out of death and break into life, in the shape of the cross, nothing is ever the same. Because of the resurrection, there’s a whole new way of living in the world.
The first time your child discovers that Parmesanio Reggiano is better than Velveeta, you’re pleased; that is until you hit the cash register. When you discovered that lobster tasted far better than chicken nuggets, it was great; until you got the bill. Developing our taste for a resurrection life, instead of a shell-encased life, is also equally costly. In today’s self-serving society, one that tells us to openly accept all sorts of sinful behavior, a God centered and driven life could cost you relationships, “business assets”, “free rides”, your “free time”. It could cost you the “easy route”, worrisome nights, money, time, and perhaps even life itself.
This past week I read an article where a company was being investigated by the city of Lexington, Kentucky for refusing to print tee shirts for the 5th annual Gay pride parade. The company, in their refusal, offered to find another printer and ensure the same price, but on Bible based Christian beliefs, they refused to accept the contract. The group, in a fit of bigotry and hatred, subsequently filed a complaint with the city’s Human Rights Commission. However, even though the company has not been charged or found guilty of any wrong doing, the company has already lost several contracts with many of the customers it has been doing business with for years. Developing a taste for the Resurrection life can cost you your livelihood. But I’m here this morning to tell you that the Resurrection life is worth it.
The Resurrection life has no down side, because there’s no fear of destruction or denial or death. Resurrection life means the end of death, not a dead end. Resurrection life offers us a life with the resurrected Lord on this Easter Sunday. Jesus’ death and resurrection has given death its ultimate beating. When Jesus rolled the rock, there was a rolling away of despair, rolling away of delusion, rolling away of sin and guilt and shame. All we have to do is throw a few eggs against the wall, and show up in Galilee to meet our Savior. It’s time to break out and live a Resurrected life for Christ. Hallelujah. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

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