Going Home for Easter

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.   

Mark 16:1-8

It is good to see you here on this special day. To have family home for Easter. To hear you bear witness to the Easter faith-to share the good news in our singing, in our liturgy, in our prayers… that Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!

But I wonder… I wonder if you noticed that this is not the way Easter begins in the gospels… Easter morning in the scripture has a whole different mood to it… In Matthew the women come… see an angel, experience an earthquake and are scared … In Luke, the disciples hear the news from the women, but they think it is an idle tale… rumors, really… hardly the hallelujah chorus… In John, Mary leaves the tomb crying… for to add insult to injury, she thinks someone has stolen his body… how would you feel? She doesn’t even recognize the risen Jesus as he stands right in front of her… In John, the disciples hide in fear on Easter and Thomas won’t even believe until he sees Jesus with his own eyes and touches him with his own hands. Hardly our normal Easter expectation.

This year is Mark’s turn to tell the story… and of all the gospels, this one has puzzled me the most. The other gospels have "and they lived happily ever after" ending. Not the original ending in Mark. Marks memory of Easter is hardest of all to hear: In Mark, Easter morning both begins and ends in fear. Where is the joy of Easter morning? Not in Mark. Instead, the women have come to the tomb afraid… and they leave afraid… speechless… in spite of actually being there to see an empty tomb… in spite of the young man telling them that Jesus is not dead, he is not buried, but risen and waiting to meet them back home in Galilee… Rather than believing, they leave in fear: "they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid."

Perhaps then those women would understand those of you- and maybe many of our friends- who do not find empty tombs as enough evidence for Easter faith. They even had an appearance by a young man with a word from God… and they did not leave that morning full of Easter faith. They left full of fear.

I’ve been wondering about that for years… to tell you the truth. Why did they leave with fear?

The most obvious answer for me is that they were scared because the empty tomb was not enough to banish their fears. What they had just seen in the last few days… the arrest, the trumped up trial, the corrupt collaboration between religion and the state…that was just too much for the simple fact of an empty tomb… even a messenger saying, "he is not here"… to overcome. Let’s be honest. I’m not sure any of us would have left that tomb believing yet… sometimes there is just too much of life and death and sadness and cynicism for Easter faith to break through. Sometimes the reality of loss-not only the death of a friend… but other losses… the loss of health… the loss of jobs… the loss of family… the loss of friends… sometimes that is just too much for someone… and saying the tomb is empty… just saying "Jesus is alive" or singing Easter hymns is not enough… no matter how many times we hear it or sing it. Grief and despair can be just that real. Perhaps that is why Easter morning ends not in faith, but in fear.

But I also think there may be more to it than that. Barbara Brown Taylor has helped me see other possibilities. She says, "You know why they were scared? They were scared, you see, for as wrecked as they were by Jesus’ death, they knew how to behave in the face of death. You view the body, you seal the tomb, you go back to the house to eat fried chicken and green bean casseroles with your friends. You accept that there is no going back and you get on with your life, diminished as it is. But when the tomb is empty and the body is gone? How do you get closure on something like that?
They were scared you see, for even though they had caught Jesus’ vision and given themselves to following him, on Easter morning, they had that guilty relief you have when you realize that if he is dead, there are many things you don’t have to do anymore… you don’t have to believe anymore… or hope anymore…
In some ways hope is harder than death. You no longer have to believe in, work for or hope in a dead Jesus… you can get back to your life… but if he is alive… you are not done.
They were scared you see, for if he was risen from the dead, so were they. Lord Caesar could go on governing by the same tired rules-"might makes right, strike before you are struck, watch your back and let others watch theirs"- (and if Jesus is dead, they could play by Caesar’s rules… but if Jesus is alive… and you are a follower… well, they were not finished playing by the rules Jesus taught them… love God with all you’ve got… love your neighbor… love your enemies… forgive… harder rules to live by)… In some ways life would be easier if Jesus were still dead…"
Barbara says, "Mark did not know exactly what we would be scared of all these years later; he just knew we would be." 1. 

So Mark seems to end his gospel in fear.
But I hope, I really hope, you noticed that this is not really where Mark wishes to leave us … in our fears. For planted in the midst of that fear-full story, we see God providing the witness and the word… the witness and the word that is meant to lead us where our fears may find release… where we may find our peace and even muster the courage to follow once again… where we might find our Easter voices…to sing and to shout.God has provided the word and witness … someone who is telling us where to find and meet our risen Lord. And Mark is trying to lead us literarily there … through his incomplete ending…

There in that empty tomb I hope you heard the messenger of God trying to break through our wall of fears:
"Do not be alarmed, he said… you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here…. 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…"

Did you hear what that messenger said? He said, Jesus is not here… in the empty tomb… There is no need to ask CSI to come and do their forensic work to offer us proof…. Don’t hang around here. He is not here. There is no need to look for relics or to ask for DNA testing of a centuries old shroud… even if you got the match… he is not there… but let me tell you where he is…
"Don’t be afraid, you are looking for Jesus… he has been raised (but) he is not here… he is in Galilee… there you will see him, just as he told you."  Did you hear him? Jesus is alive and he is going to meet you in Galilee… you know where Galilee is don’t you… Galilee is home.

Galilee is the home of Jesus and most of the disciples. Galilee is where they spent three years together… the disciples spending time, precious time with Jesus… having left all behind to follow Jesus… learning from
Jesus about how to forgive… how to live… just being with him…Galilee is where he taught them and showed them how to live as members of God’s society… to follow God’s way… to not only pray but to work for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven… caring for the poor… healing the sick… forgiving one another… forgiving the sinner… Galilee is home… it is where you first met Jesus and it is where you will meet him again.

Home… perhaps God knows it is home where we often experience hope, healing and resurrection. Maybe that is why he meets us there. You know something of this in your own experience in other ways. You know the power of home:

Brian McLaren had a son who was diagnosed with cancer and their lives were thrown into chaos. They spent months in a hospital. Brian says he remembers feeling a poignant homesickness for a normal day, the way things used to be.
People who have experienced disease or accident look forward simply to coming home from the hospital to experience the most mundane things: sitting in their old, comfortable chairs; sleeping in their own beds; making a cup of coffee at their own counter in their own kitchen; petting their dogs and giving them their food. Home is that place where you find healing and hope. Maybe God knew that.

I think of my cousin Cole who is serving in Afghanistan. How must home feel like for Cole who is living in a cold and fearful climate and situation? Home… the ordinary and the mundane… complaining about the traffic… giving his wife and daughter a light daily kiss… I bet home sounds pretty good for Cole… a sort of resurrection place for him.

I imagine Galilee was that kind of place for those women and the other disciples. After an emotionally draining and devastating week… going home is where they need to go… and the angel says, it is there, where they will meet Jesus… back home… ready to be with them again… ready to encourage them again…
ready to fill them with hope again… ready to forgive them for their failures to follow him all the way… ready to send them out… again… so that the risen Lord can be experienced yet again… the evidence not being an empty tomb… but being in the lives of those who know him…love him… and follow him…

I think that is why Mark ends his gospel the way he does… he wants to lead us home… he wants us to go back to that place where we first met him dealing with the fears of people… fear that the sick would never get well… fear that the hungry would never be fed… fear that life was a sort of dead end … fear that death is the end.. go back to that place where you remember him bringing hope to you and to others… there you will meet him again… follow him there… and you will meet our risen Lord… and then and there… you may find release from your fears….

Go back to Galilee-Easter will be waiting for you.

This Lent I learned a song and response I want to share with you that has taken me back to Galilee… a place of home and hope. I’d like to take you there with me… to that time… to that place where faith was reborn and hope was alive…to remember Jesus in Galilee and in our lives… I’d like to take you there so that this Easter you can remember where you can find our risen Lord. I’d like to take you home… to where Easter faith was born…In order to do this, I’ll need your help.
I’m going to read a few lines that come from the life of Jesus…as a way to trigger your memory… and ask you to join in a sung response. The choir will be helping us. They will sing it the first time… then we will join in… I will signal when you are to sing the refrain:
Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger,
My love is stronger than your fear.
Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger and I have promis’d promised to be always near…

Choir and Congregation together: (same thing)
Line: Jesus, it’s my son, he’s out of control, nobody can do anything for him
Line: Jesus, it’s my brother, he’s dead, if you had been here, it wouldn’t had happened
Line: Jesus, wake up, it’s the storm, it is too much for us
Line: They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.
Line: Jesus, I have failed you, I have betrayed you, denied you… I let my fears get in the way of seeing you again…

1. Sermon

2. Song is Don’t be Afraid from Iona Wild Goose Worship CD: Come All You People



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