Easter Sermon – Pastor Amanda (4/4/21)

Mark 16:1-8

The Resurrection of Jesus

16 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; 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. 7 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.” 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. [a]

Message

There is a story I once read about, of a Christian missionary to India that went to spread the gospel and found that God had already been at work and doing more than he could have imagined. Pantaenus was sent as a missionary from Egypt to India around 190 AD to bring the gospel to the people of India, the people so far away from Rome that they surely had not had the privilege to hear the good news of God. News that God’s only son Jesus had come to Earth and been crucified and resurrected for humanity’s sins and to reconcile the world back into a loving relationship with God.

When this man arrived in India he was surprised to find, not people desperately in need of God’s gospel, but a number of christian congregations who had already been there for many years. There were groups of faithful people who had the gospel of Matthew and who traced their founding all the way back to the apostle Thomas. They had been in India learning, teaching, reading the Bible, and attempting to live faithfully while the Roman church functioned across the world having no idea there were also Christians in India.

The Roman church thought that they themselves would bring the good news of God to those who needed it, only to be reminded that God’s workings and the gospel itself was more powerful than what they themselves could do or would do. That God went where God willed, not where they wanted or in the places they expected.

God had worked through them to spread the gospel and encourage faithfulness, but God had also continued working elsewhere and with radically different people in totally new ways. This did not just happen in India either, there are plenty of similar stories in Ethiopia, and other places around the world as well. Yet it was the same God at work in each of these places, through the same Gospel. 

Although there are alternate endings to the gospel of Mark, our reading for today was the original. Later, ancient scribes, unsatisfied with Mark’s ending, included other alternate ways to wrap up the story and incorporated them as well after the original ending. The gospel writer Mark however wanted the story to end with Mary, Mary and Salome being terrified and amazed fleeing and saying nothing to any one because of their fear.

The story of Jesus’s resurrection ended with fear instead of celebration because the logical response to meeting a strange man robed in white in place of your dead, beloved teacher would be fear. Even if, like happened, the first words that man said were, “Do not be alarmed”. The women had much reason to be very alarmed.

We know, from other gospel writers, that Jesus, resurrected from the dead, was already in Galilee and that others would see him, that the disciples would find him and that the movement he started would grow into what it is today. A global church of about 2.4 billion people. We know that God was and is at work in the world, that there, out in our midst, we will meet him, just as he told us. The women and Jesus’ disciples had been told by Jesus before his death that he would rise again, that he would come to meet them, so perhaps the women should not have been as surprised as they were. Yet in the midst of shock, grief, confusion, the tomb was a much easier, more tangible place to expect to find what they were looking for.

The temptation still remains even for us, to look where we might expect to find God, in the tomb. We, like the women, still look to the places that make sense to us, where we think God should be, rather than in the place God promised us he would be- in Galilee and in the world, with his people.

Throughout the entire gospel story, Jesus confronts his followers and his disciples with this aspect of faithful living- expecting God where you want God to be. When disciples fall short, Jesus is there to pick them up and empower them again. When they struggle to understand a parable, Jesus explains it to them. When they are slow to understand their role in feeding a hungry crowd, Jesus walks them through it. When they look for prestige among themselves rather to the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus shows them the way. And, finally, when the way of Jesus leads to the disciple’s abandonment, Jesus emerges and summons them to Galilee for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

Today, we as the people of the church might feel much like the three women at the tomb- terrified and amazed. We are terrified because the world has changed so much, because our church attendance and active membership changed significantly because of a global pandemic, which has brought fear into so many other aspects of our lives.

We are, however, also amazed. Amazed by the way in which we are reaching out to people  

with Facebook, zoom, and other forms of technology. We are amazed by all the ways we have experienced God’s love in the midst of this wild year. We are not solely terrified because we can glimpse ways in which good things are happening and being made possible through God.

We, like the three women at the tomb are seized by both amazement and terror. We are living in the story after the story Mark tells in his gospel. Where, because of God and God’s action, not the ability or response of any three people, God has continued to work and make new life possible.

If we are ever tempted to think that God has abandoned us or our churches, we would do well to remember this aspect of the Easter story- God does not leave us, we just do a really good job of looking in the wrong place, even if we should know better. We need to develop the practice of looking for God where God promises to be, not where we want God to be.

Just over a year ago, when COVID and lock downs had really just started to ramp up, my husband Cole and I began volunteering at a soup kitchen in our town every day. We worked on the food pantry side and helped to give out groceries to people in need, no questions asked. Because of COVID we were giving as much as we could to anyone we could. But, also because of COVID, donations were down and some of the soup kitchen’s staff, volunteers, and even guests worried that they would not be able to keep up with the quickly rising demand. 

There were many days, sometimes multiple days per week, that by the end of the day, Cole and I would have given out all there was to give of various items. We wondered if those who would line up at the door the next morning would receive much at all – since the freezers were empty of meat, the dairy and produce was completely depleted, and the canned good shelves were looking sparser than ever. Walk in coolers that once looked lush with bins of produce floor to ceiling, looked dark as a cave and empty as a tomb on Easter morning. Even with the money the soup kitchen had saved up, the local grocery store shelves were sparse, and there were strict limits on the number of each item you could buy, which makes it logistically very difficult to shop for a food pantry. And yet, we gave out all that we had each day, trusting that God would continue to provide for tomorrow. 

And every single day, God did. Local restaurants who closed temporarily, went through their refrigerators and freezers, donating all the bulk meat and vegetables they had left. Some local churches, though they were not meeting in person, continued food drives at their congregations, and some even decided to empty their church kitchen pantries and freezers with things that had been purchased or saved for events that had since been canceled. Every day people would come by with trunk full of groceries – on multiple occasions, they would say they were shopping for their family, remembered us and all their neighbors who must be struggling, and felt moved to buy double of everything they purchased, giving us the second half. Neighbors rallied together and pulled their money to buy and donate hundreds of pounds of meat from the local meat processor – so much that you could not even walk into the walk-in freezer. People donated produce from their

own gardens, cheese from their own goats, and cans from their own shelves, and some days the food pantry was stocked with milk, or eggs, or vegetables that every grocery store in town was out of. 

While we had been looking for God inside the walls of the food pantry, looking for God in the fear we faced each day because of our empty shelves, we had entirely missed where we should have been looking for God in the first place. God had already told us where God would be – in the faces of every single person who came to receive food. In the heart of every little kid who was overjoyed at the chocolate bunny and little happy meal toy we would give them. God was in every neighbor and local restaurant and church that stretched themselves a little bit more, knowing that God would continue to care for them as they cared for their neighbors. God was in the smiles and sighs of relief that Cole and I, along with all the other volunteers experienced daily in restocking shelves that were empty the night before. And God was there in the hope, and the faith we all had, that we could continue to show up each day, and God would continue to show up too, just as God promised. Like the women at the tomb, it just took us a little while to learn to look for God in the right places. 

So, this wonderful Easter morning, remember this – When things look bleak or beyond hope, or when you wonder if God has abandoned you. Try looking elsewhere. Wonder where God might be and listen to the signs pointing us back in the right direction. Look for God in the little opportunities for hope. Look for God in all those around you. Let yourself be both Terrified AND amazed at all the ways you encounter God in the places you never thought to look. God does not leave us, even when we may feel that way. God is constantly at work in the world, and in our lives, making new and terrifying and amazing things possible. May we all have the faith to look for God where God tells us to. Amen.

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