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Mark 16:1-8

For the past month, I’ve been working via a temp agency at a non-profit in Falls Church. We were at a staff meeting recently when the boss asked me why I hadn’t finished some work he had assigned to me.

“I don’t have all the information,” I said. “If I had the information, I could do the job.”

The boss looked at me and said, in some exasperation – for he did not have the information either, “Well, why don’t you just give me eternal life while you’re at it!”

Immediately, I shot back at him: “I can do that! I’m a priest! It’s a done deal! You already have eternal life! Now can I have my information?!”

My boss’ reaction to this was … well, it was a bit startled. In the month I worked there, he kept forgetting that I’m a priest, and that proclaiming the Gospel is a more important to me than anything else. He kind of laughed off my remark, and meeting went on from there, but I couldn’t help feeling that his remark is emblemic of the challenge that we face as disciples of Jesus these days.

For us, the Resurrection – the triumph of God’s life over mortal death – is a done deal. Happened 2,000 years ago, outside the gates to Jerusalem, on a Sunday morning. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt to boot.

But for so many, the Good News of God’s love is not a fact around which they center their lives.

For so many, it is … well, it’s a special brunch on a Sunday morning. Or an Easter Egg Hunt. Or a chocolate bunny.

You can’t really blame people for not knowing this Good News, for reducing it to off-hand comments like my boss, for making it seem impossible …

Not when you read Mark’s Gospel, you can’t.

Because Mark’s Gospel ends in such a way that it’s amazing anyone knows the Good News of God in Christ Jesus.

Really.

Women Arriving at the Tomb, by He Qi

Listen to it again:

So they (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

You may not realize it, but this verse is considered the true ending of Mark’s Gospel. That’s it: The women left and said nothing to anything, for they were afraid.

No actual resurrection moment.

No Mary Magdalene going to the others to say, “He is risen!”

No disbelieving disciples.

No other appearances, not to the 11, not to the two walking along the road.

No charge to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”

Nothing.

For they were afraid.

How many of us are as afraid as the women to proclaim the Good News?

How often do we, who gather joyfully on Easter morning to celebrate, to say “Alleluia!” again, go out into the world and actually use that word?

How many of us are willing to overcome our fear and tell the truth, God’s truth?

The ending of Mark’s Gospel – the true ending, not what has been added on later – is as abrupt as its beginning. In his beginning, Mark doesn’t present a long genealogy like Matthew, he doesn’t tell a sweet story of the birth in the stable like Luke, he doesn’t engage in theological discussions like John.

Mark simply and brutally lays out the truth:

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Short and sweet and to the point. Just the facts, ma’am, thank you very much.

The ending is the same: He has been raised; he is not here. … And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Short and sweet and to the point. Just the facts, ma’am, thank you very much.

And if you think about it, wouldn’t you have been afraid, if you had been the first ones to go to the tomb, filled with grief, because the man you’ve followed for so long, the man you’ve seen done miracles, the man who preached a truth such as the world had never heard, if that man were dead, crucified by the cruel Romans in the cruelest way possible, in a way that in your own tradition was nothing less than total humiliation?

Wouldn’t you have been afraid, if when you arrived at that tomb, you discovered it was … empty? And that some young man … a man you do not know, whom you have never seen before … was sitting there, clothed in a white robe, telling you that Jesus was gone, that he had been resurrected (“What?” you think. “What does he mean, ‘resurrected’?), and that you are to go tell this improbable, this impossible so-called “truth” to the rest of the disciples?

Wouldn’t you have been, like those three women, scared to death?

And wouldn’t you, like those three women, have kept your mouth shut?

Well, thankfully, the women did not keep their mouths shut, nor did the disciples, because obviously someone girded up their loins and told the truth, God’s truth, and the world soon knew … with astonishing speed, if you think about it … that Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Because – think about it – if no one had told the truth, God’s truth, we wouldn’t be here today, would we?

But that still leaves us with the question, on this Easter morning, of whether we are afraid, in this day and age, to tell that truth, God’s truth, ourselves.

Commentator David Lose believes that Mark intentionally ended the Gospel as abruptly as he began it “precisely to place the burden of responsibility for telling the Good News squarely on our shoulders. … By ending his account in this way, [Mark] invites us into the story, to pick up where these women left off and, indeed, go and tell the Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised, and is going ahead to meet us, just as promised.”[1]

In other words, no matter how afraid we might be, it is our job to tell this story, to finish it. It is our job to tell people, like that boss of mine at the non-profit, the meaning of Easter.

It is our job, my friends, to set aside our fear so that we can stand up for Jesus.

• • •

I remember the first time I tried to proclaim the Gospel, tried to tell the story of Jesus. I was a child in Catholic elementary school – I was probably in fourth or fifth grade at the time – and I, the little Roman Catholic who had cut my teeth on doctrine, tried to tell my little Protestant friends about Jesus. The problem was, I had cut my teeth on doctrine, and that’s about all I could proclaim, whereas my little Protestant friends had cut their teeth on the Bible and actually knew the story of Jesus. I can tell you, it was a good long time before I tried proclaiming the truth of God’s love in the Risen Lord!

So I know what it’s like to be afraid … I know what it’s like to be like those three women who went to the tomb very early on the first day of the week, and to be confronted with a truth bigger than I could handle.

Now, as you all know well, you can’t keep me from proclaiming the Gospel!

So … on this Easter morning, I am asking each of us to dig down and think hard and long:

What are we afraid of?

What is it that keeps us from proclaiming the truth, God’s truth, to the whole wide world?

If we can’t speak the words – He is risen! – in public, then can we at least live those words with our lives?

Can we do what St. Francis is purported to have said, to “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words”?

Because, I can assure you, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Because I can assure you, this is true: Christ is risen.

So let’s get to it.

Let us set aside whatever it is that scares us, let us stand up for Jesus, and let us proclaim that truth, God’s truth, to the whole wide world:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

Sermon preached on Easter morning, Year B, at Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 8 April 2012.

 


[1] David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, “Just the beginning,” on workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=574, posted 1 April 2012.

 

 

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Zofran uses

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine asked on Facebook what we would say if we had to Tweet the Good News of God in Christ Jesus on Easter morning.[1]

You all know what Twitter is, right? It’s that instant messaging service in which you can say whatever you want in 140 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation.

I have to be honest: I have not been a fan of Twitter. I find it to be terribly narcissistic, that most of what goes out to the world is useless, vainglorious nattering.

But Twitter now has a place in our lives. Look at the role it has played in the Arab Spring … in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria. More than 26 million Americans alone use Twitter … tens of millions more people use it around the world, and tens and tens of millions more people follow it without every posting a thing.

Which means that if we can come up with a really, really, really great Tweet on Easter, we could reach tens of millions. And if our Tweet is really, really, really, really great, we can reach maybe even hundreds of millions of people!

All we have to do is figure out what to say about the Risen Lord in 140 characters or less … including spaces and punctuation.

So here’s our challenge on this Easter morning:

What should we say?

How should we announce the greatness of this day?

The Women arriving at the Tomb, by He Qi.

Should we edit Peter down and say, “Jesus Christ is Lord of all, raised from the dead on day three. He is ordained by God as judge of all. All who believe receive forgiveness”? (That’s 138 characters, by the way.)

Meh … too complex.

Perhaps we could turn to the Psalmist: “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! The right hand of the Lord is exalted! This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”? (That’s 139 characters.) But … that’s not quite clear, is it? And it is very triumphalist. So this won’t work either.

Now we could quote Paul, the apostle who never met Jesus in the flesh, only the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. His Tweet could read: “You have been raised with Christ. Set your minds on things above where Christ is. For you have died, your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Ha! That one is exactly 140 characters!)

Um … I’m thinking this isn’t the good news we were looking for.

So what about quoting the Risen Lord himself? “Jesus says: Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Ninety-five characters – pretty concise.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell people that Christ is risen, does it?

There’s the message from the angel: “Do not be afraid. He is not here. He has been raised.” That’s fairly straight-forward, and it only takes 53 characters.

It is Good News, but is it enough? Does it really convey what we want it to convey? Is it enough to convince people that this is the Good News of their lives? I don’t think so.

So even though we know what the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, is and what it means, we still don’t have a message to Tweet that is good news for our readers.

And we do want to convey good news, because this is our job. We don’t just get the Good News this morning … we have to give it as well. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, on the day he died for us, “It is finished.” He was saying that his work on this earth was done, and now he was turning it over to us.

Make no mistake: This is our job. We have to spread the Good News to a world that does  not know the Good News is even there! There’s a whole world out there that hasn’t quite gotten the message. For far too many people, this day isn’t about resurrection. It’s about Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies!

But Jesus gave us this job, and we’d better get working.

So tell you what.

Let’s roll up our sleeves, and let’s build a Tweet together.

Let’s figure out how to share with the whole world the Good News we receive on this holiest day of our lives.

We can start with the words of the ancient song, the Exsultet, which can only be sung on Easter.

The Empty Tomb, by He Qi.

 

(chant)

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,

And let your trumpets shout salvation

For the victory of our mighty king.

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,

Bright with a glorious splendor,

For darkness has been vanquish’d by our eternal King.

Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,

And let your holy courts, in radiant light,

Resound with the praises of your people.

That’s a pretty good message, don’t you think?

A little long, though … it kind of blows the 140-character limit.

So let’s reduce it down.

Let’s just make the first part of our Tweet say, “Rejoice!” That’s eight characters – still plenty of room to work with.

But to be effective, we have to be clear why we’re rejoicing.

What is it that makes us so happy on this holy day?

Is it the knowledge that Jesus died for us? For each of us? Personally?

Yes. But what does that mean?

That God loves us, perhaps?

That is why Jesus died for us, you know – because he loved us.

So I think that might be the next part of the message.

God loves you.

That’s another 14 characters, so we’re still in good shape.

But even though that message has been repeated many times before, there are still some people who don’t quite believe that God loves them. Some people don’t believe Jesus died for them, and others say, “Yeah, OK, he died for us, but how does that prove that God loves us?”

Well, we have that answer, don’t we? It’s pretty simple, actually:

Jesus’ tomb is empty.

(chant)

This is the night,

When Christ broke the bonds of death and hell,

And rose victorious from the grave.

The women went to the tomb on the third day so they could anoint Jesus’ body, but he wasn’t there. He was gone. It was the angel who told them the God’s-honest truth: He has been raised from the dead – just like he told you.

In that rising, my friends, God proves his love for us by not just defeating but by annihilating the one thing we fear the most: death itself.

Jesus loved us so much he died for us – for each one of us, right here.

God loves us so much he destroys death for us – for each one of us, right here.

So let’s make that the next part of our Tweet:

The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ, who died for us, is risen!

That takes us up to 83 characters. Meaning, we still have some room to get more of our message across.

So let’s explain some more why this is all Good News.

(chant)

Easter Morning, by He Qi.

 

This is the night,

When all who believe in Christ

Are delivered from the gloom of sin,

And are restored to grace and holiness of life.

How blessed is this night,

When earth and heaven are joined,

And man is reconciled to God.

And there you have it.

The gloom of sin, which leads to death – emotionally, spiritually and physically – has been lifted. Our lives, which sometimes can seem so empty, so pointless, so difficult, so draining, are restored to grace and we are made holy again.

Any separation from God that we may have experienced in our lives is over and done with. We have been reconciled to God. Our relationship has been put to right, we have been brought together, our accounts have been squared. We are reunited with God, and all our differences have been patched up and resolved.

By dying for us, Jesus wiped the slate clean.

By raising Jesus from the dead, God keeps that slate clean … forever.

And that is Good News indeed. Why, it’s such Good News that I think we ought to praise the Lord for it.

So let’s put an “Alleluia!” in our Tweet. We’ve got the room.

And look! We still have some room left.

He Is Risen, by He Qi.

So let’s go back to where we started. Let’s put in another “Rejoice!

Put it all together, and I think we just might have our Tweet. I think we are ready to proclaim to all the world what makes us so very happy on this Easter morning.

Rejoice! God loves you! The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ, who died for us, is risen! All of us are reconciled to God! Alleluia! Rejoice!

And we did it in 135 characters, thank you very much! I think my friend on Facebook would be pleased.

Yeah.

We have Good News to share this morning:

God loves us, and we can prove it. The tomb is empty, Christ is Risen. Alleluia!

And you can Tweet that!

Amen.

Easter sermon, preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Arlington, Va., 24 April 2011, Year A.

 

[1] The Rev. Mark Delcuze, Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Beverly Farms, Mass., “Tweeting the Resurrection,” 13 April 2011, https://www.facebook.com/mark.delcuze?sk=notes

 

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Dear Beloved in Christ:

Easter in Haiti

Easter services here were incredibly powerful today. To be able to proclaim, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” in a place that is still filled with death almost defies description.

Hearing the angel proclaim “He is not here” in Luke’s Gospel brought tears to my eyes, for there are so many — perhaps as many as 300,000 — who are not here with us now. At the English service, I read Bishop Duracin’s Easter message to the congregation. (In Haiti, the Bishop is the preacher in all of our parishes.) In his message, Bishop spoke of how we remember “a relative, a friend, one who was close to us, all of whom, in most cases, were denied funeral ceremonies where we could say goodbye with human dignity. Thus,” he wrote, “crossing the desert has been and still is long and extremely difficult.” Although I had read the message in advance, I still found myself almost unable to continue. I know I was not the only one thinking of friends and family, and seeing again the awful devastation which still remains with us, or the bodies that are still being found.

But Bishop Duracin also told us: “The devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, does not stop us from singing in joy and gladness, ‘Alleluia, He is risen.’ … We can no longer continue to look for Jesus among the dead, we can no longer remain in tears because of our dead, because, if during their earthly life, they knew love, their place is in the Kingdom with the Lord to reign with Him in His eternal glory.”

His message, and that of the Gospel, reminded us that we have much to celebrate here even in the midst of death, because “God is a God of life, a life that flows from his love for humanity, a love that is embodied in his Son Jesus Christ.”

I drew strength from that message, and from the celebration of the Eucharist, my first Easter Eucharist in this country. At the fraction, I found myself so caught up in the joy of the moment that I repeated the Easter acclamation, a slip of the tongue that brought smiles to all of us. By the end of the service, the joy of the Resurrection was so powerful that I repeated that acclamation again, with great gusto, and with equal gusto, the congregation replied, nearly shouting, “The Lord is risen indeed! ALLELUIA!”

Yes, we are surrounded by death in Haiti. But we are also surrounded by new life, by the new creation that God proclaims. Which is why, especially here, we are proclaiming “Alleluia!” with all our beings.

Bishop Duracin and all of Haiti bids all of you, “Joyeuses Paques!” Happy Easter!

Your servant in Christ,

Lauren

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