Sermon: Terror and Amazement

Copy_of_empty_tomb

Mark 16: 1-8
The first thing that God’s representatives say is always “Be not afraid.” “Don’t be alarmed.” “Fear Not.” Coming face to face with God’s emissaries, and realizing you have stumbled into God’s real presence should be terrifying.….and amazing.

Last week we read about a woman who comes to Jesus while he is having dinner with Simon the leper. She comes with an alabaster jar and anoints his living body with rich perfume and with her tears and with her blessings.

Now, in their turn, Salome, Mary Magdelene, and Mary, come. They come to wash Jesus’ lifeless body with their funeral spices and their tears. They come to tend a body broken by hatred and violence.

Their hearts are broken with horror and grief. Their spirits are exhausted and broken by the grueling vigil, and their faithful witness to the bitter end.

The women come with certain assumptions. They expect a rock they can’t move. A dead body to tend to. Rites and rituals to be performed to help them process the reality that Jesus is gone.

They expect to face the finality of death…the victory of death over hope…death over love…death over peace…and death, even over faith.

They are left carrying the weight of “What now?” They are filled with despair, not knowing what lies ahead. Overwhelmed by the belief that it is all over. Ended. Their hearts still reverberate with Jesus’ last words, “It…is…finished.”

They come, bent over by broken dreams, but what they discover is a tomb broken open. Where they expect the certainty of death, they find instead, divine mystery, and the promise of something completely unexpected, unimaginable, unfathomable…..and as it so often happens to those who follow Jesus, all their assumptions and expectations are shattered. Their world is once again turned topsy turvy.

-An immovable rock has been moved.
-A sealed tomb stands empty.

-And Jesus is gone.

A messenger of God awaits with news of great joy. He says, “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.”

But all these women know for certain, is that….Jesus is missing….

The rest is too much for their grief-filled and exhausted minds to take in! Jesus has gone on ahead?….Jesus is somehow loose in the world? Unable to process what is happening, “Terror seizes them, (we know, the amazement comes later,) but for now, they bolt!

“They fled from the tomb, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Seized with terror they high-tail it and run away! Wouldn’t you? Tripping into the middle of divine mystery our “fight or flight” adrenal glands would absolutely kick into high gear…and we would be running right behind them. Terror first….Amazement and wonder comes later…

The ending of Mark’s Gospel is disturbing and dissonant because it leaves us with a difficult choice…to flee in terror or to follow in faithful amazement. In order to follow, we must first believe that Jesus has risen and waits for us. We must first step out in faith, before we can meet up with Jesus where he is waiting.

That is Mark’s challenge for us today. To believe first and then we will see – to step out in faith with the belief that Jesus goes ahead of us. The choice is ours. Will we flee in terror? Or will we follow in amazement? Or like the disciples, with a lot of both?

The author “Morna D. Hooker calls Mark’s ending “theologically profound” because of the paradoxical promise to believe first, and then to see: “Mark insists that we must finish the story for ourselves, by setting out on the way of discipleship.” [Weekly seeds:”Now What”, Kathryn Matthews Huey]

What does it mean to imagine that Jesus is loose in the world waiting for us to show up? To come find him? To come running?

Mark teaches us to step out into the uncertainty of each day with the assurance that Jesus is waiting up ahead…We must step out in faith in order to discover Jesus is in the world.

There is a tacked on ending to some versions of Mark that was added some time after that first Gospel was written, In that epilogue, Jesus does meet with the disciples, and leaves them this final instruction: “Go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation!”

We are called to run along behind Jesus and fly in the face of hatred, prejudice, and suffering wherever we find it…because that is where we will most certainly find Jesus.

We are called to step into each new day…filled with fear and trembling, terror AND amazement…we are to proclaim…”I believe….I follow….I witness…I have faith in the risen Christ!”

We are even called to stare down death, and live our lives of discipleship shouting, “Be not afraid!” “Fear Not!” Jesus has gone on ahead, conquered death, and he waits for us to believe, so that we can see.

Many of you know that I took a two – week Winter course at Andover Newton. One morning, our Professor shared with us that a dear, close friend had passed away the previous day.

As we all began expressing our condolences, he said, “Wait, I haven’t finished the story.” He then told us that his friend had been unconscious for several days, and everyone knew her time on earth was drawing to an end. But the previous day, while her husband and family were gathered around her, she opened her eyes.

She looked up towards the ceiling, and she smiled and reached out her hand to someone only she could see…..and then she said, “Wow.”

She laid her arm back down, and still smiling, she again said, “Wow.”

And then she closed her eyes and breathed her last.

With her eyes opening on what comes next for all of us, there was no terror left, only amazement. As she stared through the thin curtain between life and death, she saw into that place between “not knowing” and “knowing”,

…that breathless, heart-stopping place between “being” and “being something else”,

…that place where God works miracles of transformation – that place where something dies and something else is born –

She looked into that holy, sacred place…and she said, “Wow.”

-An immovable stone was rolled away. Wow.

-The tomb was empty. Wow.

-A young man dressed in a white robe, signaling the real presence of divine mystery, provides comfort and glad tidings of great joy to those women so long ago and to us today. Wow!

-Jesus has gone on before us and is waiting…WOW!!

Jesus has gone on before us…..What are we waiting for?

Jesus is waiting for us to spill out from the tomb running into a breaking and broken world that needs the promise of new life,

a breaking and broken world that needs the assurance of God’s love,

a breaking and broken world that needs the peace of Christ in the worst way!

Jesus has gone on ahead…

WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?

Jesus Christ is Risen! WOW!

Jesus Christ is Risen, he is risen indeed….WOW!

Let us pray,

Divine mystery, amaze and terrify us with your power, your presence, and your love! Send us running into the world to be your hands, and your hearts! Fill our lives with Hallelujah! Help us believe even when we can’t see! Fill us with the Wow of NOW! Amen

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