Easter Sermon 3-31-2024

Easter Sermon 3-31-2024
Easter Sermon 3 31 2024

Rev. Dylan Parson's Easter sermon explores the nuanced narrative of Jesus' resurrection as depicted in the Gospel of Mark, focusing particularly on the stark, satirical contrast of Palm Sunday's procession with the societal norms and expectations of power. He delves into the subsequent betrayal and isolation Jesus experiences, leading up to his crucifixion and the bewildering discovery of the empty tomb by the faithful women. Rev. Parson paints a vivid picture of the journey from hope to disillusionment and fear, where anticipated victory gives way to the harsh reality of Jesus’ death and the initial silence and terror of the women at the tomb. This journey reflects the complexities and challenges of faith, especially in the face of unexpected and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Drawing on the abrupt and open-ended conclusion of Mark's Gospel, Rev. Parson invites his congregation into a deep reflection on the essence of faith amidst fear, uncertainty, and the often unanticipated nature of God's intervention. He suggests that the unresolved ending of Mark, symbolized by the fleeing women who initially tell no one of the resurrection, serves not as a conclusion but as an invitation to engage with the story's ongoing impact on our lives. The sermon emphasizes that despite the initial fear and failure to proclaim the resurrection, the message of hope and new life in Christ ultimately prevails. Rev. Parson's message on Easter affirms the transformative power of the resurrection narrative, encouraging believers to embrace a life of faith that transcends fear and doubt, and to accept the perpetual invitation to a life transformed by the risen Christ, where every end is a new beginning.


Last Sunday, on Palm Sunday, we walked through the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the back of a colt, as told by Mark. We've been in Mark's gospel for Lent and now for Easter as well. So you might remember this story from Mark we talked about last week. It was a grand parade, Palm Sunday was, but it was also this satirical, this kind of sarcastic one.

This means in this Palm Sunday parade to mock the powers of the day. So they might march in, the emperor, the governor, generals, on the back of a grand war horse as the people wave palms. But the point of the Palm Sunday procession, when Jesus rides on the back of a colt, is that they really have no power compared to the carpenter from Nazareth. A whole lot has happened now since Palm Sunday.

Jesus has been betrayed by one of his closest friends, a handpicked disciple that's been with him since the beginning for just a bit of cash. Jesus has been scorned by the crowd that on Palm Sunday praised him as their liberator and their king. And the chief priests of his own faith, collaborating with the Roman occupiers, have handed him over to be executed as an enemy of the state. And all but one of his disciples has fled by the time he is hanging on the cross.

Peter outright denies knowing him. They're all gone. As we arrive at the tomb this morning, they are still all gone. Notice that Mark didn't mention any of the disciples coming to the tomb.

It was just the three women. The disciples are still in hiding. They're desperately trying to figure out what comes next. Now that the Messiah who is going to save the world, save his people, is dead and buried.

What do we do now? They have no idea. They hide. In Mark's gospel, after the grandeur, the anticipation of Palm Sunday, you know, the people, this is the day we've been waiting for. This is the day the son of David has come to set us free.

We alongside the people of Jerusalem were met with this total letdown. Remember this from Palm Sunday from Mark's gospel. The promised king of Israel marches into town on the back of a colt. He heads into the temple as if to take his rightful place, defender of the faith, king of his people, liberator of the oppressed.

And then he looks around in the temple and he goes home. He looks around in the temple, just tours it, you know, like just like a tourist. And he decides then that it's been a long day. It's time to get a bite to eat, turn in for the night.

And so what the people are expecting on Palm Sunday, this tidy ending where good overcomes evil. There's this dramatic final confrontation, you know, like a Disney fairy tale, like the end of a Harry Potter book. There's this dramatic, like, this is it. It's all done.

That doesn't happen. Instead, all the hopes that the people have on Palm Sunday of a coup, a revolution, or just divine intervention, all of that just gives way to nothing happening. It's as if Jesus just kind of slides down the slope of Holy Week after that until he finds himself carrying a cross. So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that Mark does kind of the same thing to us on Easter morning.

If you weren't paying close attention to the reading a few minutes ago, you might have missed it. I think our tendency whenever we hear a Bible story that we think we know well is to kind of fill in the blanks. We see stuff that isn't there in order to complete the story in our minds. We fill in the pieces that are missing so it looks right.

But here's how it goes in Mark's gospel. This is what you just heard. The two Marys and Salome get to the tomb Sunday morning so that they can anoint Jesus' body. Jesus has been in the grave since Friday.

And that was customary. It was kind of a thing you did out of reverence for someone who had died. You anoint their body with oil and spices. And they wonder, whenever they get there, who's going to be able to roll the stone away from the entrance so that they can get in, since they certainly can't.

And they arrive to find that the stone is already gone. And a young man dressed in white is sitting in the tomb. And that naturally spooks them a little bit. You don't expect to find someone sitting in the tomb.

And he tells them what has happened. Don't be alarmed, he says. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised.

He isn't here. Look, here's the place where they laid him. Go and tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going out ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.

And what happens then? Well here's Mark 16 again, where we ended. Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. The end.

If you were reading along in a Bible, I think Bob does, I don't know if anybody else does, but if you're reading along in the Bible, you might see that there's a few more verses left in the chapter. And depending on what version you're looking at, they're probably in brackets. Because it's almost universally believed that originally the entire book of Mark just ended right there. The women come to the tomb.

They find it to be empty. They are told by a mysterious figure that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And they run away in complete terror. They don't tell anybody anything.

They just run away. Now wait a minute. That can't be right because if they didn't tell anybody, how do we know any of this? They must have told the disciples. They must have done what they were supposed to do.

This is not how the story is supposed to end. Some of the earliest Christians to copy down and share the Gospels must have agreed because they seem to have, you know, cobbled together a better ending using pieces from Matthew and Luke. But it almost certainly wasn't originally there. Whenever Mark finished the book, it doesn't seem like it was there.

Listen to how out of place the next verse is, verse 9. They promptly reported all the young man's instructions to those who were with Peter. Afterward, through the work of his disciples, Jesus sent out from the east to the west the sacred and undying message of eternal salvation. Amen.

In other words, they immediately switched from being scared out of their minds and not telling anybody to doing exactly what the young man in white requested that they do. And they brought the good news to all the disciples. The whole world heard the good news. And everything was just perfect after all.

The end. No, I think it's clear that Mark was trying to do something a little bit different at first. Mark leaves us an open ending. The original conclusion of the book, with the women fleeing in fear after they find Jesus has been raised, as I kind of sat with that, it reminds me of an unresolved or suspended chord.

If you know music, you know what I mean. The song has led to any song has led to a moment where you expect a particular note to end like the verse or the chorus of the whole song. And then you're just waiting for that to like finish it up. And you just like, don't get what you're waiting for.

You want it to kind of land and just a nice soothing like finish note that makes it very clear that it's done. You're almost holding your breath waiting for what's supposed to happen, but it never does and the music fades out. It's can be frustrating, you know, and the thing is, when a composer doesn't resolve a chord, whenever they leave it kind of hanging like that at the end of a song, they do that on purpose. It's an intentional choice.

It's an artistic choice. Suspending a chord builds tension. It makes you feel something. You feel caught between what you heard and what you feel like you should have heard.

It leaves you uncertain. It can leave you with a sense of a little bit of physical anxiety. You feel like you're on the edge of the seat. You want to finish the song yourself so you can get the ending you want.

You don't want that little mysterious note there. And I think Mark has just finished his story that way. Mark wants to be clear that we can't just rush into this happily ever after sort of conclusion. And I think that's a beautiful decision because then maybe we're able to better see ourselves in this story.

Life as a believer in Christ, as a disciple in Christ, doesn't often have the clean, straightforward progression we see in verse 9. Verse 9 is just so easy in some ways. They go do what they're supposed to do. They tell the disciples.

The disciples tell the whole world. The gospel goes out. Great. All that in one verse.

Instead, we find that life is almost always a complex mixture of faith and fear. You have both at the same time. Two step forward, one step back. The three women at the tomb are incredibly brave.

They're at the foot of the cross when all but one of the men had gone into hiding. And now Mary and Mary and Salome go to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body, knowing that they're putting themselves in real danger by visibly aligning themselves with a man who was just essentially executed for being a threat to the Roman government. These women, these three women are hands down more fearless, far more committed to Jesus in the darkest moments than the 12th. They go do something that's not even fundamentally necessary.

No one's making them go anoint Jesus' body, but they do it as a matter of reverence and care for the Lord that they loved. They go to care for Jesus even in death because the love they have for him is so strong, it overcomes their fear. They go the same way it kept them at the foot of the cross. Deep in their hearts, they believe that Jesus deserves this last measure of respect and care.

They're not going to abandon him to lie forgotten in the cold tomb. They are beyond faithful. They are extremely brave. And yet, when they hear the best news that they could have hoped for, that Jesus isn't even in the tomb for them to anoint because he's risen from the dead, they run away.

They flee. They're engulfed in profound terror and panic. Isn't that what they should want though? Isn't that what they would like to see? Isn't the best possible outcome of this whole day that he's not dead at all? But they fly out of the tomb as fast as they can. They sprint until they get home, not only neglecting to share the good news with Peter like they're supposed to, but keeping it to themselves altogether because it's just too much.

They're overcome with distress. Now I want you to think about this for a minute because there's something important going on with this. Something unimaginably good has happened and that completely throws them off. To the point where they either can't believe it or they just can't handle it.

So what if, like God does for these women, God were to answer your prayers? What if a miraculous outcome for whatever you've been praying for actually happens? No matter how seemingly impossible it is, because God has decided it should and makes it happen. Would you be ready? Would you be like one who's expected it all along that God was going to answer? Or would you run away frightened? That's something to really consider, I think, because I'm not sure that whenever we pray, we often genuinely believe that God is going to do what we ask. Deep down, I think we believe that things are going to stay pretty much the same way they are forever. Maybe they'll get a little bit worse, but God's definitely not going to step in and do something big or new or unexpected.

But there's good news here. The women's fear is not the end of the line. The same way Peter's denial was not the end of the line, nor Judah's betrayal, I think part of the reason we want a tidier ending to Mark is because we do know what comes next. We have the other Gospels.

Jesus appears to his disciples and then to many, many others over the next weeks before finally ascending into heaven. Jesus comes out of the tomb. His body still bears the wounds from the crucifixion, but is more alive than ever. And he is seen and heard and touched and loved again.

The good news is that regardless of the women's fear, regardless of the mistake that anyone might make, the good news travels anyway. Death couldn't hold Jesus in the grave, so fear certainly couldn't keep the good news quiet. Our lives will always be a mixture of fear and faithfulness, of bravery and cowardice, of saintliness and sin. Our stories are almost never these tidy, happily ever after tales, but God's will is done anyhow.

Sometimes through us, sometimes in spite of us. And it doesn't matter if you approach the empty tomb today with doubt or with absolute certainty, Christ is risen anyway. The powers of oppression and violence and exploitation are defeated. The devil loses in this story.

And Jesus has conquered death and hell for you and invites you into newness and freedom at the empty tomb. And it's okay if like the women, you hear this news and run away screaming, Christ is risen anyway. And he offers you a standing invitation. He waits for you.

He calls for you. And he longs to welcome you with arms wide open into a transformed life that's too beautiful, holy, and powerful for death or hell to hold. Christ is raised that you might be raised with him. No matter what you've done or where you've been, no matter how many times fear has overtaken faithfulness.

Thanks be to God. Amen.