Living, Risen God, May the words of my mouth be your words, and may I be blessed with the courage to say them. May the thoughts of all of our hearts and our minds, be your thoughts, and may we be blessed with the courage to live them. Amen.
This morning, I invite you to hear our gospel reading from Mark once again…
We know the story, about how the three women made their way to the tomb just after sunrise. They went expecting to finish the funeral rites for their beloved teacher… but what they discovered forever changed their lives.
In that tomb, they discovered not their teacher, but a man in dazzling white who whispered to them:
Don’t be afraid! You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, but he’s not here! He has been raised, just like he promised. Go – tell the disciples and Peter that he will meet you in Galilee. He’s waiting for you!
What surprises us about this story, however, as Mark tells it is that the women freeze. They had come to honor a dead body and they were met by a mystery. He has been raised?! He’s… waiting for us? Was it a trap? Was it true? Could it possibly be?
It was all so completely overwhelming. They felt like they were standing in the presence of the holy – like Moses before the burning bush – like Elijah standing on the side of the mountain and hearing God in the silence… and yet nothing made sense.
The world was turned upside down for these three women by this radically holy encounter. Terror and amazement seized them and they turn and fled from the tomb.
Was it unworthiness?
Was it the weight of the message that they were called to proclaim?
Was it fear and awe that come from being face to face with God’s power?
The world may never know. But Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome said nothing to anyone… for they were afraid.
They said nothing to anyone… for they were afraid.
Believe it or not – that is the way that the Gospel of Mark ends. Jesus never shows up in his resurrected glory, there are no witness from the disciples, no sharing of the good news. Mark ends his account of the life of Jesus with three women, fleeing from the scene because terror and amazement had seized them and he tells us they said nothing to anyone.
We, of course, can say this probably didn’t actually happen for a number of reasons.
First of all, Every gospel has Mary Magdalene there at the tomb, witnessing first hand the resurrection of Christ. And every other gospel tells us how she and other women who may have been with her shared the good news with the disciples.
Secondly, if we believed Mark’s account above the others – if that truly was the end of the story – then how did we get here? If they didn’t tell anyone, then how was the church born?
No, Mark has a reason for telling his story this way. His goal, in writing the gospel, is to teach us about what faithfulness looks like. Every time the disciples make a mistake, we learn something. Every time they fail, we find out what it truly means to follow God.
And this cliff-hanger ending functions the same way. Mark tells us the women were afraid and said nothing to anyone… so that WE are invited to live the rest of the story. So that WE are invited to take up the call and tell the story ourselves.
Peter was also called to take up the story. Even after his failure on the night of Jesus’ trial, he was called by Jesus to tell the story of resurrection wherever he went. And he found himself in the home of Cornelius… a Gentile… someone who was never part of the plan of salvation that Peter had imagined… and he found him telling the story of how God saves to even such as him.
We are all called to tell the story, and we are called to tell it to anyone and everyone we meet.
Because the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus… it is your story!
From the Sunday School teacher that first taught you the words to Jesus loves me…
to the grandparent who always encouraged your faith…
to the girlfriend who made you get up and come to church this morning…
Someone, somewhere along the way shared the good news with you. You heard the story and you believed it enough to show up. You have responded. You are here.
And because you are here this morning, you have a story to tell.
Your story might not be as dramatic as peering into an empty tomb and being a first hand witness to the resurrection, but you do have a story to tell.
A story about how God has been present in your life. Your story doesn’t have to be filled with drama… it just has to be yours.
Sure, God chose some people with wild stories, like Moses the murder and Jacob the deceiver and Rahab the prostitute… but God also used people like the farmer Amos and the fishermen James and John and the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, to pass along the good news of salvation to the world.
And we are here because they did.
We are here because they were not afraid to speak about what God was doing in their lives.
Over the next two months here at church, we will be following some of the first disciples of Jesus who were not afraid to talk about what they had seen. And along the way, we will use their stories to help us claim our own story of faith.
We discover in that book of Acts that the message moves from Jerusalm to Samaria and to the ends of the earth… all the way to Des Moines, Iowa in 2015!
But here is the real question we have to wrestle with this morning.
What if they women really had been silent?
What if the disciples had never left Jerusalem?
What if Peter had not gone to Cornelius?
… who would have shared the story?
And who is not hearing the story today, because we are too scared to tell it? Who isn’t hearing the good news of God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness because we have been overcome with terror and amazement and haven’t figured out what to say?
We have fear in our hearts because we have come face to face with the holy and we are no longer in control. And any encounter with the holy rightly puts awe and trembling in our hearts.
It is the kind of fear portrayed in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, as the people rightfully fear and revere Aslan the Lion. He is dangerous, he is righteous and there is no escaping him, no containing him, no forgetting him. He is wild and wonderful.
And the wild and wonderful Christ, who cannot be escaped or contained or forgotten is calling our names and has a word for us to proclaim. That on an old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify us all….and…. AND… this is the part we leave out of the song… AND death itself has been defeated.
Sharron Riessinger Lucas calls this: living in the tension of holy fear and prodigal joy.
We are filled with joy because God has run out to meet us like a father who destroys all barriers in order to welcome home us wayward children! Christ is Risen! Jesus destroyed death in order to give us life! The tomb is empty! Amen!
But in the midst of that joy, that holy fear is present… Because with the empty tomb comes the amazing and awesome announcement that “Jesus is risen and on the loose in this world” (Lucas).
And if God is really out there – really present in this world that we live in… then as the great theologian Karl Barth once said… “each of us has some serious changes to make in our living.”
This morning… you have encountered the presence of God and witnessed the miracle of the resurrection…
So, what will you do?
Will you let fear close your mouths?
Will you roll the stone back in front of the tomb and conveniently forget that this all happened?
Will you be silent?
Or will you find the courage to risk it all to share the good news with the world?
As Mark asks us: when – not if, but when the terror and amazement of the gospel seizes your life – what are you going to do?