a sermon based upon Mark 16:1-8,
According to the Gospel of Mark, the women who came to the tomb at dawn (carrying spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body) were told: "Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you!"
Jesus had told them that he would rise from death on the third day, and that he would meet them in Galilee… Now, it seems, he is going ahead of them to keep that promise. The Jesus movement is not over & done with!
This morning, at sunrise (out on the Small Boat Harbor breakwall), I spoke about those brave women, who had come to tend Jesus’ body, but were taken by surprise on that first Easter morning.
Those "words of reminder" should have helped them (and should help us!) to remember some of the other promises Jesus had made, such as: I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also.
I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me, though they are dead, yet shall they live.
Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Because I live, you shall live also.
Yes, Jesus left behind not only an empty cross and an empty tomb, not only the folded grave cloths and some grieving friends… Jesus left some promises behind that should bring comfort, as he goes on ahead!
The women (and the other disciples, hiding out in fear behind locked doors) were certainly in need of some comfort just then. The execution of Jesus, coming about so suddenly from Thursday night to Friday afternoon, raised the inevitable question (the same questions that any death of a loved one brings): "Why did this happen? How can we cope with our loss? Will we ever be able to turn this hurt, this pain, to a new purpose... or is every-thing over with? What do we do now?"
To help his followers answer those deeply heart-felt questions, Jesus left some tangible things behind: an empty cross, an empty tomb, empty grave-clothes, and a young messenger to remind his followers of the promises he had made.
We are comforted this Easter (80 generations later!), not because there is no grief or death or burdens to bear, but because we know Jesus has been there before us, and he goes ahead of us.
We are confident this Easter (2018) because Jesus always keeps his promises. But we are also challenged by this Easter story...The messenger who met the women at the tomb gave them a task to do... "Go, and tell!" -- "Go & tell his disciples… and Peter!"
This message -- which brings comfort and restores confidence -- was not just for the women! All of Jesus’ grieving, fear-filled followers need to be reminded of the promises Jesus made and the fact that it wasn’t over! … unless they quit on him.
And did you notice the special grace of mentioning Peter? You know why! He blew it badly. Three times, in his fear, he had denied knowing Jesus. (!) (We spoke about that on Maundy Thursday night up in Fellowship Hall.) Apparently, God had already forgiven him, and wants Peter to know the Good News of Easter; and wants to get him going along to Galilee for the promised reunion, too.
Yes, tell Peter, too. I know he denied me. I know that he swore that he never
knew me. And I know it’s all that much more shocking because he boasted
during that Last Supper: "even if they all abandon you, I will never do that!"
Yes, I know that Peter fell asleep in Gethsemane … They all did!
As I said, the Good News of Easter isn’t just for those women who had come to Jesus’ tomb; it’s for everybody, including Peter! (I guess, imperfections never stopped God from trying to make good disciples out of us!)
I can imagine the young man in the empty tomb thinking: C’mon girls, you can do it! You are about to become Jesus’ very first Easter "evangelists" -- if you just follow through on this one thing: "Go, and tell! Go, preach it!" (That’s Jesus for you… commissioning women to be his first preachers!)
But (Mark tells us) the women were so frightened by the turn of events, that they fled from the tomb (Mark 16:8) and they told no one anything!
Those words were the original ending to Mark’s Gospel. It leaves us wondering what will happen NOW? If they don’t tell the story, it will die! If they don’t tell the Easter story, who will?
I think that’s the point Mark wanted to make…
We’re all of us given the task of telling the story of Jesus’ continuing "aliveness" -- his living "presence." The task has not changed during all the centuries of the Christian Church. It’s still our challenge (on this Easter morning) & it’s still our choice, either to "go and tell" ... or not to...
Not only does the future ministry of this 156-year-old congregation here in Alpena depend upon us getting up and getting out and telling others the Good news of Jesus …the entire spiritual movement begun by Jesus to repair, to restore, and to reform the world to be the Kingdom of God "on earth, as it is in heaven" is at risk of dying out, if we fail to communicate that to others.
It’s been said that "the church is always only one generation away from extinction" because it relies on the current members to tell others the Jesus Gospel such that they want to become involved; they want their lives to change for the better.
The events following that first Easter provided enough evidence for the early church to believe Jesus was still with them, as he had promised, and that his Spirit would continue to guide and strengthen them.
We don’t know how much time passed before those frightened women finally told the others what they had seen, because Mark ends his telling of the Jesus story at this point. However, we know that they must have done so, because Jesus’ movement was resurrected. And we’re here today as living proof!
The events of Easter should provide comfort to those of us who mourn our losses (of our own loved ones) through knowing that Jesus goes ahead of us, and of knowing that we have a companion along the path of our loneliness.
As the 23rd Psalm says: "Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me!" Jesus is "Emmanuel", God with us – God in the flesh.
Jesus goes ahead of us, in daily life, and Jesus goes ahead of us in our death… and into the resurrection beyond!
The Easter experience should give us the courage to carry our own cross to the end, knowing that Christ is with us; and that he is ahead of us.
We are still Jesus’ "followers", all these centuries later, because we listen to his messengers, we believe his word, and we allow ourselves to be led by his Sprit wherever that may take us in life… trusting that Christ is with us, now and for eternity.