301 First Street NW
Mount Vernon, IA 52314
Worship Sunday at 9:30 am
by Rev. Lorene E. Wunder
So…Did you notice anything missing from the reading from Mark’s gospel this morning?
Or maybe I should ask…did you notice anyONE missing?
Jesus. His body is missing, just like it’s supposed to be. But there is not even a glimpse of the risen Jesus.
Mary Magdalene is there, but we are used to the Gospel of John’s version with a weeping Mary mistaking Jesus for a gardener.
I imagine when most of us imagine that first Easter morning, what we imagine is John’s version. John has all the drama, as Mary Magdalene moves from grief and confusion to amazement and hope and joy.
Mark’s ending is…different, very different.
From the beginning, some have found it…unsatisfying. You could argue that Mark’s gospel stops just short of a happy, or even a hopeful, ending:
“Overcome with terror and dread, [the women] fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)
Close the curtain. THE END
It almost seems like an April Fools’ joke, doesn’t it?
What do you think? Do you like this ending?
If you don’t like it, you are in good company:
Look up Mark chapter 16 in a Bible and you will find more after verse 8. Depending on when your Bible was published, it might bracket everything that comes after the women fleeing because they were afraid and indicate that two endings—the shorter and the longer—were added later. [Shorter and Longer Endings Here]
Remember that back before the printing press, manuscripts were copied by hand, and those early scribes occasionally took liberty with what they copied. Clearly, a few of them weren’t satisfied with Mark ending his gospel, “the good news”, with fear and silence.
So they cleaned it up a bit, probably in the early second century.
In the shorter version, just two sentences, we are assured that the women did what they were supposed to do—they told and others believed.
In the longer version, eleven verses, Jesus appears to Mary in what sounds like an abbreviated version of John’s ending, followed by Jesus appearing to two people who are out walking (which is remarkably similar to Luke’s version of the road to Emmaus), and then Jesus appears to all the disciples as they are sitting together in a room.
There are a couple of things that I find interesting about the longer ending of Mark.
First, it emphasizes belief, almost as if it is trying to make up for Mark’s original version of not believing. This longer ending includes some signs that will accompany those who believe: casting out demons, speaking in tongues, healing the sick with the laying on of hands, and—my personal favorite—picking up poisonous snakes and drinking deadly things and not being harmed.
Ever heard about snake handling churches, deep in the Appalachian mountains? The longer ending of Mark is where they come from. Wow.
I don’t know about you, but I am glad–and relieved!–scholars determined that this ending was added on later!
Another thing I find interesting is that when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, he “upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” (Mark 16:14) This could be an abbreviated version of the disciple Thomas who doubted, as told by John.
I have to say, it just doesn’t feel like Jesus to me, that he upbraided or (as different translations say) rebuked or scolded or criticized the disciples for not believing.
I don’t think that sounds like Jesus. I think that sounds like followers a few generations later who wanted Jesus to be tough on the doubters, and chew out the disciples for running away at the end. That sounds to me like a human ending, not the unexpected ending God delivers.
And here’s the thing…I actually like the ending—the original ending—of Mark’s gospel.
I think it is an entirely appropriate response for the three women to be scared beyond the power of speech by an angel at the empty tomb, telling them Jesus is not here.
We know the ending so well, it’s virtually impossible to put ourselves in their shoes, to truly imagine how scared and despondent and hopeless they felt after Jesus’ death. Crucifixions were a part of life under the Romans but Jesus’ followers assumed he would end that humiliating death sentence altogether. They thought Jesus would change everything, end the Roman Empire, not die at the hands of it.
That was not the ending the women and those first disciples were looking for.
Ending the gospel with Jesus’ followers all frozen with fear even as the angel tells them the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive—what I experience is a sense of humanity, of compassion, of making space for doubt and disbelief, and yes, fear and grief.
And there was plenty of that to go around that first Easter morning:
Notice that the angel instructed the women to “tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7, NRSV) that Jesus has been raised and is going ahead of them to Galilee. And Peter. Peter, who had made a big show about how he would stay with Jesus no matter what.
Instead, just as Jesus had predicted and Peter had sworn would never happen, Peter had denied knowing Jesus, denied that he was one of his followers.
Peter did a belly flop, got exposed as a fraud. The shame, the humiliation, the grief, the regret. Can you imagine?
When the women finally told Peter that Jesus was back, did that sound to Peter like the best possible news, or the only thing worse than Jesus’ death?
If you were Peter, what would it sound like to you?
But here’s the thing:
With the resurrection, God brings life and hope and new and unexpected possibilities to dead ends and no way outs.
In the resurrection, God brings new life where none is expected, where everybody has stopped looking for it.
So when the women met that angel and were too overwhelmed and frightened to say anything, it was okay. Jesus was raised for them, waiting patiently until they were ready to try to share what they had experienced.
When Peter was huddled away somewhere, ashamed of what he had done and terrified that he would be next, it was okay. Jesus was raised for him, too, to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus was raised to change the ending.
Where do you find yourself today?
Are you afraid? Ashamed? Full of doubt? Full of grief? Wondering where the good news is for you, a loved one, our country, our world?
It’s okay. It’s okay to feel that way.
But take heart. The way things are right now is not the ending, it is not the way things will remain.
The resurrection promises there is hope, that God somehow, mysteriously finds a way to make a way whenever and wherever there seems to be none.
The resurrection shows us that compassion and mercy and grace and forgiveness are far more powerful than shame or humiliation or failure.
The resurrection shows us that God can redeem even the world’s worst violence and hatred and abuse of power because God is on the side of life and love.
The resurrection say, this is not the end. And thanks be to God for that.
L: When we are all despairing;
when the world is full of grief;
when we see no way ahead,
and hope has gone away:
All: Roll back the stone.
L: Although we fear change;
although we are not ready;
although we’d rather weep and run away:
All: Roll back the stone.
L: Because we’re coming with the women;
because we hope where hope is vain;
because you call us from the grave and show the way:
All: Roll back the stone.
~Janet Morley, in Bread of Tomorrow (found in Resources for Preaching and Worship Year B)
So it is Easter morning and so that means we are going to talk about really important things. And I will begin with a question, so get ready:
Ham? Or egg casserole? Or lamb?
Brunch or dinner?
Chocolate bunnies? or Cadbury eggs? or Peeps?
My question, of course, is a bit tongue in cheek, but not entirely. Holidays, in large part, are centered on special foods, and gatherings with family and friends, yes?
During the last week or so I have had a number of conversations with people about Easter: what it means—is it about bunnies and eggs and baskets, or an empty tomb? but also how some like Christmas better than Easter.
And I can understand that, for many reasons. Easter is a moving target—the date is different every year because Easter falls on the first full moon after the spring equinox. Last year it was March 27; the year before that, April 20; next year it will be April 1. It is difficult to pin down and to plan accordingly.
Christmas is always, reliably, on December 25.
Christmas is about a baby being born, and who doesn’t like that?
Easter, on the other hand, besides being difficult to keep track of, involves a good deal of suffering and death, and if there is anything we human beings want to avoid talking about, it is suffering and death. We don’t even like to say “death.” We say “passed away” instead.
No wonder neon colored, rabbit shaped marshmallows are such a thing.
The celebration of spring and loved ones getting together and delicious food and getting creative with eggs are all good things. But they are not the main event.
To paraphrase the Grinch, “Maybe Easter…perhaps…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Easter…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
The main event is that empty tomb, God’s big surprise, and what it means for us.
And let us be honest for a moment: this whole notion that God raised Jesus from the dead—it does not make sense to our rational, empirical, scientific brains. So if you get stuck there, no judgment.
More important is this:
The event of Easter is not about proof, it is about perspective.
The truth is, we can’t prove that the resurrection happened.
And the predominant message I see about Easter in hymns, cards, memes on Facebook is, “Jesus died so we can have eternal life.” But the resurrection is so much more than a get into heaven free card.
Easter is about a different way of seeing, perceiving, understanding. It is a way of living. A lifestyle, if you will.
We see this transformation from the old way to a new way in Mary Magdalene.
When Mary headed to the tomb at dawn on that first day, she was a wreck. The crucifixion of Jesus had dropped the bottom out of her world. We don’t know why she was going to the tomb—in John’s version of the story, Jesus’ body was already wrapped with linen cloths, spices and ointment. Maybe she just wanted to be near him, to see if it was all real. Maybe she just didn’t know what else to do with herself and wanted to get away from her friends who were also in shock and deep grief.
Of course, Mary finds the tomb empty and instead of being joyful, she is terrified. If possible, her grief is intensified. A missing body can only mean foul play—grave robbers, or someone wishing to inflict further indignity on her beloved friend. So her grief is compounded. Everything was terrible, and getting worse.
Perhaps that explains why Mary doesn’t seem moved at all by seeing two men in white inside the tomb. When she turns away from and sees another man, she assumes he is the gardener.
Then he says her name, and somehow, there is something about his voice, because all of the sudden, she recognizes him and she calls him, “Teacher.” Jesus tells her not to hold on to him and sends her to the others. When she gets there she says, “I have seen the Lord!”
Now, seeing is a huge metaphor in John—John includes stories about people who are blind understanding who Jesus is, while the religious authorities who are supposed to know everything get caught in the weeds of whether the healing happened on the right day, etc. Rather than saying, “Come, follow me” to prospective disciples, in John Jesus says, “Come and see.”
So when Mary says, I have seen the Lord, this is significant. It means, she gets it. Which means, we are supposed to get it, too.
We are supposed to see that it is about relationship. When Jesus said her name, she responds by saying, “Rabbouni”, teacher. Not his name, but that he is her teacher and she is his student, his disciple.
Although John’s Jesus doesn’t say it here, the message is, Do not be afraid. Trust me. Follow me and do what I do, live how I live.
And that is the new perspective that is so different from the world’s view.
Now—I think it is critically important to point out that in many ways, the world that first Easter morning was no different than it had been the day before. The Roman Empire still ruled their land with an iron fist; the religious authorities were still in cahoots with the Romans; the powerless and vulnerable were still suffering. Nothing appeared to have changed.
But those who followed and believed had a different perspective. They lived as if the world had changed and guess what? They changed the world.
Let me say that again:
After the resurrection, the followers of Jesus lived as if the world had changed and because they did, they changed the world.
The Roman Empire is gone and other empires have risen in its place. The Jewish religious authorities who use religion to benefit themselves? Still around, just in more religions. People are still vulnerable and suffering. And yet…when we live as if the world is different because of Easter, we still change the world.
That’s perspective. That’s a change in perception. That’s an amazingly hopeful call to us in a time in which it feels the world is swinging off its axis.
You have probably heard it said that “Perception is reality.”
You have probably seen the inspirational message, Believe there is good in the world. Be the good in the world
These are true. But we don’t do it entirely on our own.
Farmer, New Testament scholar and co-founder of Koinonia Farm Community Clarence Jordan said,
“The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our ‘no’ for an answer. He raised Jesus,
not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that he himself has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life.”
This is the message of Easter, one not for just this day, or the Easter Season that lasts for fifty days, but for every day and ever more:
Jesus has taken up permanent residence,
standing beside us as teacher, friend, encourager,
whispering constantly to us that the world has changed, that the world is different, in spite of the evidence…
so that we can—side by side with him—change the world.
Friends, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
~Rev. Lori Wunder
9:30 am Worship
Features the Chancel Choir, brass players, “butterfly-ing” of the cross (in which paper butterflies are used to decorate a grapevine-covered cross to illustrate new life among us), and closing out the service with a sing-a-long to Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”
10:45 am Easter Egg Hunt for Children (Grades 4 and younger) in Memorial Park (weather permitting)
It’s the week after Easter as I write this and our house still contains the Easter “leftovers.” The bunny Teddy made when he was four is still up. The miniature garden tomb we make every year still has the linen cloth inside. Plastic eggs are here and there. Our refrigerator contains hard boiled eggs whose dye jobs are becoming decidedly less beautiful by the day.
And the candy. Oh, the candy.
Easter is still lingering. As well it should because for Christians, Easter is not a single day, it is a season. The Great Fifty Days. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Because who can possibly make sense of the resurrection in just one morning?
The early church called this season mystagogia, a Greek word that means “lead into the mystery.” Sounds just about right to me!
The Season of Easter begins with Easter Sunday (April 5) and the story of the empty tomb and the angel’s message to “go and tell!” and then continue to Pentecost (May 24), the day the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples and gave them what they needed to share the good news.
On the Sundays in between these two High Holy Days, our scripture readings from Acts and Romans show the evolution of the disciples, moving from fear and doubt to hope and confidence. They also show some of the ways in which the earliest followers lived into—and struggled with!—this new and changed reality.
Following Jesus isn’t easy. Trusting in God’s promise that “Love Wins” takes time and effort as we unlearn the world’s ways of jealousy, fear, expediency, “might makes right” and safety in numbers.
And so we find courage and hope in the stories of those earliest followers and the companionship of one another. I hope you’ll join us for worship this Easter Season as we grow ever deeper in faith, hope, understanding and love.
Love, I thought, is stronger than death or the fear of death. Only by it, by love, life holds together and advances. ~from “The Sparrow” by Ivan Turgenev
“Easter Eggs!” – Photo by moonlightbulb