SCRIPTURE – Mark 16:1-8 – When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Finding the Real Jesus
April 8, 2012
He is risen! Praise God and Hallelujah! This is a truly great day. Which makes what I’m about to say all the more awkward. I have a confession to make to you. Easter makes me uncomfortable. I know that’s probably a sacrilegious thing for a pastor to say, but it’s true. I know it’s the most important holy day of the Christian year. I know today we celebrate the greatest of miracles, the goodest of good news. I know that this is a time for splendid Easter clothes and lilies and tulips and the Hallelujah chorus. I know all that. But Easter still makes me uncomfortable.
Why? Because something about it just doesn’t make sense. It’s the day which drives home the point in the most definitive and demonstrable fashion that Jesus is our resurrected savior, and yet because of what happens today, I feel like I understand Jesus less than ever. When he’s teaching, I can connect with him. When he’s welcoming little children to him or sharing a meal with his disciples, I can claim him as a friend. When he’s healing people or comforting them, I can say, “That’s my guy!” But when he’s walking out of the tomb three days after his dead body was put in there? I don’t know this man! A clichéd evangelistic opening line is, “Do you know Jesus?” I want to say, “No! And after this story, I don’t know if I want to. This Jesus is a bit…scary.”
During Lent here at Crestwood, we’ve tried to get to know Jesus a little better by looking at some of the more difficult passages in the gospels. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been less than comforted by what we found. The Jesus we’ve encountered is not meek and mild, but mean and wild. There is nothing domesticated about this savior, and few of the words we’ve heard during Lent should be printed in a greeting card. Who is this Jesus we’ve met?
First of all, we learned he’s not always a nice guy. When the disciples are unable to heal a boy, Jesus says to them,” You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you?” In another passage Jesus completely contradicts his “Prince of Peace” label by saying, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Does that sound like something Jesus should say? And yet it’s right there in Luke’s gospel.
Next, we looked at the story where Jesus calmed the storm by just saying the words, “Peace, be still!” Only God is supposed to be able to do that. So who is this Jesus? We then looked at the story where Jesus throws his weight around by overturning tables in the temple. In short, Jesus snaps and loses his temper. Is that they way the son of God is supposed to act? And what about what he says later to his family? He completely disowns his own flesh and blood, saying that his real family is whoever does the will of God. I thought Jesus was supposed to bring families together, not pull them apart. Finally, last week we came to the conclusion that in his attempt to fulfill the Jewish prophecies about the coming Messiah, Jesus was utterly unsuccessful. Not nice, bringer of division, scary power, intimidator, family disowner, unsuccessful. THIS is our savior?
When we embarked on our Lenten journey, my hope was that we would come out the other side with a greater understanding of Jesus. I was hoping we would know him better, be able to relate to him more intimately, gain a more complete portrait of who this man is. I wanted the confidence of the little girl in Sunday School who was drawing a picture. Her teacher asked, “What are you drawing?” The little girl said, “I’m drawing God.” Her teacher smiled and said, “But honey, no one knows what God looks like.” And without looking up from her paper the girl said, “They will in a minute.” I want that kind of confident knowledge in Jesus. But after studying him closely for the last six week and then read the resurrection story, I’m not sure I do know him better. And what I have learned makes me uncomfortable.
Maybe that’s why I like Mark’s version of the resurrection so much. I wish it stopped at v. 8 and didn’t go on to add a couple of different endings. The women come to the tomb, expecting to use spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body. But instead of a corpse, they find a rolled-away stone and a young man who tells them that Jesus is not there, but has been raised. And Mark says in v. 8, “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.” Other translations say the women were “distressed and terrified” or were “trembling and bewildered.”
Yes! That’s what I feel today. My uncomfortableness is a mixture of terror and amazement. This isn’t the meek and mild savior I’ve heard about in Sunday School. This is someone wholly different, and he makes me uncomfortable. That must have been true for the early Christians, as well. They were so bothered that Mark ended his gospel with the women being scared that they tacked on an additional ending which brought some closure to the story. But that only glosses over the fact that on Easter morning, the eyewitnesses to the empty tomb were afraid.
Maybe that’s exactly how we’re supposed to feel on Easter. Two thousand years of history and yearly repetition may have softened the edges of this story, because I believe hearing the Easter story should evoke strong emotions: terror, amazement, joy, bewilderment. There’s a magnitude and mystery about this event that should make all of us uncomfortable. If our souls don’t stir when we hear this story, if our hearts don’t leap a bit when the young man says, “He’s been raised,” then maybe we’ve become dulled to the wonderment of this news. I believe it’s easy for Easter to become so familiar to us that we miss the genuine joy it holds for us. As I’ve wrestled with this, I’ve come to the conclusion that if we become too comfortable with Easter, this morning we may end up merely anointed a dead body with spices rather than experiencing resurrection.
But a dead body is easier to control, isn’t it? We can confine a dead body to a casket or a tomb and know right where it is. If Jesus stays dead, if the stone isn’t rolled away, then Jesus is kept in place, compartmentalized, easier to manage. We can separate our lives into the parts where faith plays a role, like Sunday morning, and…the other parts. But if Jesus is alive, if Jesus is resurrected, if Jesus is no longer confined, then that means every part of our lives is subject to his transformation. This morning’s story reminds us that we can’t confine Jesus, and if we let him, he can change our lives and our world. And the thought of that change, of living as a Christ follower first in this world, both exhilarates us and scares us. And it should.
Last fall, I went out to Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time for a pastor’s retreat. One afternoon we decided to climb a mountain. Hey, why not? They were right here! Because none of us really knew what we were doing, we chose a small peak with a non-threatening name – Lilly Mountain – that required no actual mountain-climbing skills. The hike took us a lot longer than we thought it would, mainly because we learned part of the way up that there weren’t any escalators and some insensitive park ranger had forgotten to put a Starbucks along the route. The climb was strenuous and the final push was a bit unnerving, but we made it to the top and were rewarded with a breath-taking view of the Rocky Mountains.
As we stood on this little 10-foot plateau and looked around us, I realized that one small misstep would send me plummeting 9,000 feet to the bottom. I had never felt that sensation before, and it was terrifying. I realized that I was experiencing the most awesome view of creation I had ever seen, and at the same time I was one loose rock away from SPLAT! It was a mixture of terror and amazement, being so close to death yet full of life, sort of like standing right outside of an empty tomb. That’s what Easter feels like to me this morning. So close to death, and yet overflowing with life.
I don’t expect that I’ll ever fully understand this. None of us will. Even Jesus’ followers, the disciples who were with him, didn’t get it. The risen Jesus appeared to them, talked with them, ate a meal with them, and in some cases it took them six full weeks to understand what had happened. So do I think we’ll ever understand Easter? No way. But that doesn’t have to stop us from living Easter.
Robyn shared a quote last week during Sunday School that flipped on a light switch for me. She quoted theologian Jurgen Moltmann, who wrote, “What we can know historically about Christ’s resurrection must not be abstracted from the question of what we can hope from it, and what we have to do in its name. It is only in the living unity of knowing, hoping and doing that Christ’s resurrection can be understood in its true historical sense.”
What that says to me is that I don’t have to understand to take action. I don’t have to be comfortable with Jesus before I follow him. I don’t have to be able to explain the resurrection before I live it out. Emily led a group of youth and adults to West Liberty on Monday to do tornado relief work. I don’t know if anyone on that trip could give me definitive answers about the meaning of the resurrection. But I guarantee you they embodied Easter as they helped a family clean up their damaged home.
I know we have a lot of intelligent people here at Crestwood, but I’m not sure any of the folks involved in the Senior Empowerment effort that Colette is leading could calm my fears about this unconfined Jesus. But I guarantee you this group knows what it means to be resurrected, to experience the transformative power of Jesus as you contemplate how you can continue following him.
You see, resurrection is all around us, Christ is still at work in this world to bring about new life, and we don’t have to understand it to see it as a source of hope and to join in the effort. Jesus is so much bigger, so much greater, so much more magnificent than we can ever imagine, and the miracle is that this wild, unconfined Jesus has pointed at you and me and said, “Follow me.” Not “get to know me” or “understand me” or “explain me.” He said, “Follow me.” Easter is a reminder of this invitation to come to the empty tomb, to be filled with terror and amazement, to approach death and find new life, and then to tell that world what we saw, not through words, but through how we live out what we believe. May each of our lives shout from the mountain top: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”