Sunday, March 31, 2024

Resurrection Unresolved

Mark 16:1-8

Happy Easter!

Once a year we like to make a super big deal out of resurrection, even though none of our gospel accounts show us anything about it. What they do show is an empty tomb, mostly, and a bunch of disciples who do a pretty terrible job of getting even close to as excited as we are on Easter Sunday. 

The words Matthew, Mark, Luke and John use for the initial reactions of those first told of the resurrection are: “alarmed,” “trembling and bewildered,” “afraid,” “disbelieving”, “terrified,” “doubting,” “startled and frightened,” “wondering,” and “it sounded to them like nonsense.”  Not a single “Hallelujah!” among them!


So, I submit that maybe we’re a little removed from the whole story and invite us back to the whole resurrection thing today with fresh eyes.


First off, I’d like to point out that, knowing he’s going to rise from the dead, we don’t even pause to wonder why it took so long.  We just fill the Saturday of a Dead Savior with last minute Target runs for Easter tights, vacuuming the house, and preparing the ham for tomorrow, and don’t really give a single thought to the unsettlingly long delay between the death of Jesus and his resurrection. At the precipice of despair, when the worst thing ever has happened, it all just stops and stays for a while. 


In any world-altering project we competent humans undertake, this is the moment we would be all hands-on deck, nobody stopping, nobody sleeping, a beating heart of adrenaline-hyped project managers and bleary-eyed, caffeinated engineers making sure it all comes off as it’s meant to.  

But instead, God – and every single human in this story, made in the image of God - leaves the building and turns out the lights. They go home and crawl into bed and spend an entire day on purpose not doing it. Luther says Jesus sabbathed in the grave. Dead guy not in any hurry to get this show on the road.


We race to resurrection. We’d actually prefer to skip the death part completely, if possible. And if it must happen, let’s just dip our toe in and move on quickly. 


How strange it is, that in the wake of Jesus’s violent death, when all is utterly lost and darkness has triumphed unequivocally, the greatest drama of the cosmos grinds to a quiet halt. And another story takes center stage and demands precedence. Candles are lit, stories are told, prayers and naps and holding one another and reading alone and recalling the faithfulness of God and practicing the gratitude of belovedness are what happens.


Centuries later we know where this story is going, so we skip the pause and just boogie ourselves on to the celebrating. But while it’s easy for us non-stop, state of the art, capable modern creatures to miss that that the whole salvation story stopped at the most disastrous moment to remember God is God and we are not, uncooperative Mark makes jumping to victorious, joyful resurrection celebration super awkward.  


Because, after Jesus’ most faithful followers are told to spread the news of his resurrection, and then go meet the risen Jesus back where they began--in the ordinary places of life--Mark actually ends his whole gospel account with them backing slowly away from the weird stranger in the corpseless tomb, stumbling into the daylight, hiking up their skirts, and high tailing it out of there as fast as their legs can carry them, keeping mum about the whole crazy situation. 


This is such an uncomfortable ending that by the 3rd century a short new ending was tacked on, and by the 5thcentury an even longer one, where everyone did what they were supposed to and believed in the risen Lord, because people couldn’t bear the story stopping with the dissonant note left hanging in the air, just begging for someone to walk across the room and play the chord that resolves it.

So not only does the salvation story stop and stay a while at the worst part, like it’s not at all concerned about getting things sorted for us, but then Mark leaves the whole narrative of Jesus unresolved and unsettling. 


Let’s just say a fair-minded teacher would hesitate to give a passing grade to this project. The comments might say, “lacks clarity of purpose and audience, central idea not well presented, participants could show more effort, completely missing a conclusion, C-”. 


The truth is, in no universe, does what God is doing here make sense to our cause and effect, good guys/bad guys, earning and proving, comparing and competing, winning and losing sensibilities. In fact, we might say that God’s project upends all of that entirely.  


Here’s how we do Easter: a few typical options

Option 1: Easter is for later. It means we’re given an individual get-out-of-hell-free card, an eternal win on the uncompromising board game of life. So, if we play our cards correctly, we reap some well-earned rewards! (And we can help others get their cards too).  

Option 2: Easter makes us feel better. Jesus died and rose to calm the existential dread that meets us in the night, the voice that whispers we are not enough, that somehow, we’re failing at life. We’re honest enough to know we actually can’t do it on our own. And we hear Easter saying, You are enough.

Option 3: We’ve had it with all the gobbly-gook of religion and have washed our hands of it, except when we’re dragged to church by our smiling in-laws who are crossing their fingers that this time, we’ll change our mind and come back to faith.


Here’s how God does Easter: 

Instead of rescuing some people out of it, God plunges right into it all, right alongside us all. Instead of backing our self-improvement projects, Jesus goes right for our sin – which is just a shorthand way of saying, whatever blocks us off from God and each other, whatever tells us we are not worthy of God’s love, or that we are but someone else is not, whatever breeds fear, isolation, self-centeredness and destruction – this is what Jesus takes on for us and brings to the cross.  There is nothing - no suffering, sorrow, or loss, no horror done to us, or by us, that Jesus does not carry us directly into the heart of God, even the final terrible divider, death itself. Jesus was defeated and broken by all that defeats and breaks us. He was dead and buried. It was all over. For a while. Except it wasn’t. Jesus rose from the dead, and the end of the story has been written: there is no death so great that life is not greater, no evil so powerful that love will not prevail. 


And perhaps this is a message not yet felt on Easter morning, but maybe tasted earlier, in the moment the sabbath began and they all turned back to the truth that God is God and we are not, and practiced trusting God even if they weren’t feeling it, because it’s what we do. And they waited. With God, and with one another, they waited to see what God would do next. Maybe in their waiting, they remembered whose story this all is. And then the next morning, a few of them reached empty tomb to put spices on Jesus’ body. And they forgot again. Because

here’s how the first followers of Jesus did Easter: 

alarm, terror, confusion, skepticism, trembling and bewilderment. The idea of Resurrection did nothing for them whatsoever. Being told about it just freaked them out.


Because resurrection is not an idea or belief. It’s what comes after death. It’s the new life that comes after what was, has died. It’s the hope that is born from a place of loss and despair. It’s when tragedy is shot through with overwhelming love and inexplicable peace, when patient grieving abates and washes away and something new and unexpected wakes up and yearns to be born in us. It’s when you find that fear’s hold on you has been broken and you are free.  It’s when you find yourself able to love, able to reach out and be with and for another despite all the risks of heartbreak or failure.  It’s life, life, life. 

He was dead. The tomb was empty.  Resurrection didn’t mean anything until Jesus met them later, alive. Then they too were resurrected. Back in the ordinary places of life he told them to follow him into, they found God bringing resurrection all over the place, and began their new life of trusting in what they could not make happen, waiting and watching for what God would do next, in them and through them.


Except Mark doesn’t show us that part. 


What God is doing is beyond our capacity to grasp. So maybe it’s helpful to us that Mark stops while it’s unresolved and people are freaking out and confused and keeping it real, because the story keeps going, and pretending to resolve what isn’t resolved doesn’t make the truth any less true: that God is relentlessly bringing life, life that death itself cannot stop. 


The story of the Living Christ is still going. God’s still writing it with the ink of our lives. Our job is not to jump to resolution and hide from the discomfort and dissonance, but to wait and watch. God is always here, always at work, always turning death, impossibility and nothingness toward life and love, always bringing resurrection, always inviting us to join in.

But there can be no resurrection without death. So we go to the places of death, and we wait.  Jesus came in to this life to be with and for us. When we are with and for each other, that is where we find the risen Lord.


If this Easter finds you in the darkness of despair, I invite you into the great surrendering pause of practicing trust even if you don’t feel it, that is, to wait and watch for what God will do next. Please allow some of us wait there with you.


If you come to this Easter ready to heed the call of the messenger in the tomb and join in resurrection, I invite you to back into your ordinary life. Jesus said to follow him there. That’s where he will be. Go into your week and wait and watch for what God will do next and be ready to respond.  


If you’re here today to make someone else happy and you think none of this applies to you, I’m sorry, it actually does. You are already loved and claimed by God, and your life is just as much a conduit of God’s love and justice, hope and healing, as the person sitting next to you. I invite you too, to wait and watch for what God will do next.


Resurrection happens!  

We’re invited to surrender into the story. To trust that Jesus is out there ahead of us in the completely ordinary places of our lives, and the utterly ordinary lives of everyone on this planet. And when we’re over our shock at the whole thing not going at all how we think it should, and ready to find him, that’s where we should look. That’s where we’ll find God bringing resurrection all over the place. So we will practice trusting in what we cannot make happen, remembering together whose story this really is, and waiting and watching for what God will do next, in us and through us. 

Christ has risen, Hallelujah!  


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