Sermons

Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile

Easter Sunday

April 4, 2021

Isaiah 25.6-9

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Mark 16.1-8

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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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. 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.’ 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.

May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.

The Gospel of Mark was the first one written.  It’s the shortest, and it ends here.  No encounters with the risen Lord, no urgent messages to the other disciples to tell them about the nice young man – possibly an angel – with his reassuring words.  Just this bare-bones story of astonishment and paralyzing fear. According to Mark, the women fled from the empty tomb, and never said a word to a soul.  Of course, that can’t be exactly what happened – someone must have said something to someone – otherwise we would never have heard about it. There would be no 2000 years of Christian history.  No popes and abbesses and heretics and reformers.  No ZOOM gathering of the congregation of Bloor Street United Church in April 2021.

Some scholars say that at the end of the first century when it was first circulating, Mark’s gospel might not have been a scroll.  It could have been in codex form, like a primitive book, and perhaps the last page fell off and got lost. Well.  By the 4th century a couple of different scribes had concocted alternative endings, to match the other gospels, and these are printed in our Bible now, in parentheses – but even in translation these are an obvious edit.

So maybe Mark did it on purpose – a way of saying to the reader, ‘Over to you.  What are you going to make of this?’  What is your reaction to an empty tomb?

Most of us have some experience of anguish – of long nights of grief, or of longing for things to be different.  Wishing, just as the women at the tomb did that morning, that someone could be alive, and not dead.  Now, after a year of covid and restrictions that ebb and flow unpredictably, all of us can resonate with their feelings of uncertainty and fear about what the future would bring.  In our world too, there are grim realities – pandemic losses, and things that haven’t changed.  Even after covid it will be oppression for some, undeserved and corrupting privilege for others, obscene poverty side by side with obscene affluence, violence in homes and among nations, exclusion by race and gender and ability.

And if on some chilly morning, when the sun had risen, and we meant simply to honour the dead, and to walk humbly in this injured world, we were stopped by a stranger who promised joy?  If Easter were not only the welcome return of the spring, but a proclamation that tears would cease and all would flourish, as Mary read to us from the prophecy of Isaiah?  What would we say if the sorrow of the world were banished?  No harder to believe than that a man was raised from the dead.

But like the women at the tomb, perhaps we too would retreat in alarm. Perhaps it would take us some time to adjust to the good news.  That can’t be right, we might say – we have important work we are doing on homelessness and hunger, anti-racism and transgender awareness, child welfare and refugee support.  All our careful calculations about how to survive in a broken world would be in doubt.  Each of our carefully honed resentments and angers and jealousies would be irrelevant.  Our self-importance and our self-righteousness would no longer matter.  We would have to recalibrate and begin living the abundant life that Jesus promised – a life of energy and goodwill and peace.

The extremely difficult invitation of Easter is to live that life now, every day, each of us in our own unique way.  The story of the risen Christ asks us to do our work (and our play) with the joy of new life, and in the assurance that all is well. On an Easter morning, when the sun has risen, and we are surrounded by our friends in pretty hats and flowers, and we gather for communion, it seems just possible.

But when we falter, we can recall the words the women heard so long ago from the mysterious stranger at the empty tomb.  Jesus of Nazareth is not dead but risen, he said – and he will meet you on the road ahead.  Just follow him. Amen.

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