Risen Indeed!

“Risen Indeed!”

Easter word cloud

Mark 16:1-8 (16:6) – April 1, 2018

            Have you ever had something completely unexpected happen to you? I mean, something so unexpected and unusual it is disorienting? Perhaps it leaves you with your jaw hanging open. I might say that the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series reminds us of that, but, no. I am talking much bigger than that—of cosmic significance! And, much more disorienting. Astounding.

            It wasn’t as if the Rabbi Jesus had kept it a secret. No, He had spoken of it to His followers, a number of times before His crucifixion. But, really, it is a bit farfetched.. Jesus, being raised from the dead? Come on, Jesus. You must be joking. Seriously?

            We know more about what happened on that Easter Sunday from the other Gospel accounts. But, Mark? Not so much. Mark writes in his usual concise, blunt manner. Short on details and description, heavy on action. Let’s take a closer look at our Gospel reading.

            “After the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint the body of Jesus. Very early on Sunday morning, at sunrise, they went to the tomb.”

            We already know the men disciples of Jesus scattered as soon as Jesus was arrested. This was for very good reason! The men were very much afraid that they would be arrested, too! But, this left just the women disciples of Jesus at the foot of the cross, and at the tomb.

            How often is it that women take care of the body of their loved one after death? In many cultures and all around the world, for millenia, washing and dressing the dead body, anointing the body with spices and with perfumes, holding a vigil or mourning or sitting shiva. How often is this the responsibility and privilege of women?

To continue, from Mark 16: “On the way they said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (It was a very large stone.) Then they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled back.”  The big stone rolled over the entrance to the tomb must have been worrying the women. Mark even mentions it. I suspect they already were discussing how their combined strength was probably not enough to even budge the stone. But—what is this? The stone is already rolled away! It’s the first inkling that things at the tomb are not as these women first thought.

            “So they entered the tomb, where they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe—and they were alarmed.“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here—he has been raised!”

I can’t help but smile as I read my commentator’s view on this verse: “seems to be on Jesus not being present because he has better things to do than wait around at a tomb. The “young man dressed in a white robe” (angelic messenger) delivers the good tidings of Easter morning like an administrative assistant explaining why you can’t have a quick word with the boss: “You’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.” [1]

Wait a minute—did I hear that right? Jesus just stepped away? These women are left holding the spices, and they only have a vague idea of where their Rabbi Jesus might have gone.

I realize this whole situation is astounding, but can we put ourselves in the shoes of these women? They had absolutely no idea where Jesus was. Plus, they are faced with an angelic messenger. How often the first words out of any angel’s mouth are “Don’t be afraid!” Angels must be frightening, and awe-inspiring, and enough to make these women shake in their sandals.

Is anything clouding the sight of these women as the angel speaks to them? Is anything clouding their hearts from discerning what it is the angel has to say? We all know the grief and cares of this world, some more than others. What else did the angel say? “Look, here is the place where he was placed. Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter: ‘He is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Again, these women were flabbergasted. Amazed, half in disbelief. As our commentator Dr. Pape tells us, the angel’s instructions to the women “is to tell the disciples, and especially Peter who had denied him, that they had better get on the move (Mark 16:7). Jesus had explained already that after he was raised up, he would go ahead of them to Galilee (Mark 14:28). Now the “young man” reminds them of this scheduled rendezvous. If it’s Jesus they want, they will need to head back to Galilee.” [2]

This is a tall order. The angel orders the women to tell the disciples that they are to go clear across the country, to Galilee, and there they will meet the risen Jesus. I suspect the women already knew how skeptical the men disciples would be of their claim that Jesus was alive. And then, on top of that, the whole group of disciples were told to remove to Galilee to go and meet with the risen Jesus? Kind of far-fetched, if you ask me. Looking at this passage, we read of the women’s response: “So they went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

I wonder how much of the women’s response was fear and anxiety? How much was unbelief? And, how much was other emotion, and distress, getting in the way of them hearing the message of the angel clearly?

Yet, along with the Rev. Janet Hunt, “I find myself wondering about those women now… those who were looking on from a distance: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome.  And I wonder then if it was force of will that kept them there at the foot of the cross for as long as they stayed or if time stood still for them and all other responsibilities just faded away.

“And I wonder about the people who will gather in all of our places of worship this Easter morning to hear again a story many of them have heard over and over again.  I wonder what grief, what loss, what worry, what fear will be clouding their hearts as they step into a place bathed in lilies and the sounds of trumpeted Alleluias.  I wonder if for them this hour shared will be a distraction to be gotten through before they get back to other matters pressing on their minds and hearts or if they will hear in the ancient story retold a promise that will then somehow come alive right before their eyes as they return to their lives in a world.  A world which all too often seems to hold a whole lot more despair than hope, more cynicism than trust, more death than life.  I wonder if some among us, like those women on that first Easter morning, I wonder if we will see God’s promises kept in unexpected ways and places on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning or Wednesday night.”  [3]

We know now, from the other Gospel accounts, that this was just the beginning of the story, the beginning of that Good News, that Jesus has risen, indeed! Despite worry, anxiety, despair, loss, and cynicism, we know the tomb is empty. We know that with the risen Jesus, hope, love, mercy and forgiveness have come into the world again. We can say with the angel in the tomb, “Jesus is not here—He is risen!” Jesus Christ is risen, indeed. Amen, alleluia!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2406

Commentary, Mark 16:1-8, Lance Pape, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/a-gap-in-the-story-easter-thoughts/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

A Wise Answer

“A Wise Answer”

love God, love others

Mark 12:34 – November 1, 2015

Rule books are handy things to have around.

What about the rules of the road? Doesn’t it help everyone to know and understand the rules of driving? Plus, the rules of the road give us a handy guide for safe, reliable, consistent driving. Also, we can think of rules in sports; in football, baseball, hockey, and basketball, just to name a few. All of these rules help teams, individual players, and referees to understand what to do—and what not to do in a game.

Do you know one particular person who knows the rules of one particular sport backwards and forwards? I mean, this person can call balls and strikes faster than an umpire behind the plate. Or, can figure out exactly who went offside before a football snap, or when a player got fouled in a fast-moving hockey game? It doesn’t have to be one of these sports, but any sport. And, that person is really proud of their exceptional sports knowledge, too?

That’s a lot like the situation Jesus is dealing with. As one of the commentators said, “Throughout Mark’s Gospel, the scribes [and teachers] were always evaluating Jesus’ activities. They judged Jesus theologically.” The Rabbi Jesus and some high ranking teachers of the Law are having another in their series of continuing discussions. These teachers really enjoyed discussing the Law, and both the major as well as the minor points of Judaism. Some teachers would get all excited and rub their hands at the prospect of a good argument! I mean, discussion.

That’s where we pick up our thread of the narrative. Different rabbis or teachers had different opinions on what was the greatest of all commands. I am certain some of these teachers wanted to know what Jesus considered the “most important” of the 613 laws in the Mosaic law code, which was (and is) the official, orthodox Jewish rule book.

Jesus does not name one of the “big 10,” the Ten Commandments. Instead, He responds with the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” from Deuteronomy 6:5-6.

Are you familiar with the Jewish custom of the mezuzah, put on the doorpost of observant Jewish homes? I quote from www.chabad.org: “Regarding these words, G‑d has commanded us, “And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your home, and on your gates” (ibid., verse 9). Hence the mezuzah: a parchment scroll inscribed with the verses of the Shema prayer is affixed to the right doorpost of every room in a Jewish home.”

“Why a Mezuzah? In addition to its role as a declaration and reminder of our faith, the mezuzah is also a symbol of G‑d’s watchful care. The name of G‑d, Sha-dai, which appears on the reverse side of the parchment, is an acronym for the Hebrew words which mean ‘Guardian of the doorways of Israel.’ Placing a mezuzah on the doors of a home or office protects the inhabitants—whether they are inside or out.”

Just from this short excerpt from Chabad, an orthodox Jewish website, you can see how serious this was to the scribes and teachers of the Law, in Jesus’s day as well as today. So, yes. Keeping rules properly was really high on the observant Jew’s priority list.

Going back to Jesus, and His response, what IS the greatest commandment, anyway?

Jesus did say that the greatest command was the Shema, a basic, fundamental, foundational statement of faith. Love God. Period. This was also a standard daily prayer in Jewish tradition. I suspect everyone in the room with Jesus knew Deuteronomy 6:5-6 so well they could say it backwards, or in their sleep.

But, Jesus doesn’t stop there! No, He makes another definitive statement. “31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Did you follow that? Jesus made “the greatest command” into a two-part command.

Love God, love others. Two sides of the same coin.

Jesus quoted from another verse in the Hebrew Scriptures, Leviticus 19:18b. Yes, it was included in the Mosaic Law Code. In the Jewish rule book. Except this particular law wasn’t considered so all-important in Jesus’s day. That is, until Jesus reached back and pointed to it.

Love God, love others.

You’d better believe this two-part law applies to a modern world torn apart by arguments, resentments, mourning, sadness, bitterness, and downright hatred. Not to mention war, violence, drought, hunger, and natural disasters, just as much as it applied to similar situations in ancient times and places. Even though this modern world finds it difficult to come near to God, even to believe in the concept of a Higher Power; this two-part law still applies.

Yes, this two-part law also applies to us, today. I encourage us all to avoid the trap of thinking that those old stories from the Bible, and from the Gospels, just apply to those people, two thousand years ago. False! Wrong-er than wrong! Jesus’s words apply just as much to us, today. To modern people, running on the treadmill of our daily routines. Yes, us up-to-date folks, who don’t have time for God, or for church. “Don’t you know? My life is so full I won’t have time to make it to church this week.”

Love God, love others. Remember, these are the words of Jesus.

In this vignette from the Gospel of Mark, one particular scribe engages with Jesus. “Well done, Teacher!” the scribe responded. “You’re right when you said: ‘He is the only God and there is no other god besides him,’ ‘Love the God with everything you have,’ 33 and, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ Obeying these commandments is worth far more than all the worship in the Temple at Jerusalem!” These words are not combative, or argumentative. This scribe agrees with Jesus! The Gospel describes this teacher as sincere, affirming of Jesus and His statements. Plus, this teacher acknowledges that the institutional aspects of Jewish ritual and observance are less important, secondary to loving God and loving others. Isn’t it true that religious ritual so often gets in the way of truly loving?

This scribe, this important teacher of the Law gets where Jesus is coming from. Listen to what Jesus responds: “34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to [the teacher], ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”

Summary statement? “When we hear these words, we know that we are close to the center of Christianity, that we are close to the heart of God. The cross of Christ, the most important symbol of the Christian faith, has two dimensions: a vertical love to God and a horizontal love towards our neighbors.” (from a Gospel analysis by Edward Markquart)

The simplicity, truth and wisdom of love is at the heart of the Good News. Are there things we are engaged in right now that are secondary, less important that Jesus and His call to love God and love others? Think about it. If we truly love, what else is necessary?

Love God, love others. Jesus’s greatest command.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to Rev. Edward Markquart and http://www.chabad.org for their assistance in the formulation of this sermon!

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!