“DO NOT BE ALARMED”

MARK 16:1-8

APRIL 12, 2009

 

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            I want to begin this morning with some questions.  I want to test your knowledge.

 

            Who was the first President of the United States?

Who was the first major league baseball player to hit 60 home runs?

            Who was the first major league baseball player to hit 70 home runs?

            Who was the first person to fly across the Atlantic?

            Who was the first American to go into space?

            Who was the first woman to go into space?

            Who was the first American to orbit the earth?

            Who was the first person to host the Beatles on United States television?

            And for the last question: Who was the first person to see the resurrected Jesus?  It was Mary Magdalene

 

            When Jesus was on the road with his disciples, he had a group of women with him, some of whom underwrote his expenses.  One of the them was Mary Magdalene, a woman out of whom he had cast seven demons.  Just what her problem had been nobody says.  Whatever it was, it was a little more than being bi-polar.  In any case, she seems to have teamed up with Jesus early in the game and to have stuck with him to the end – and beyond.  Beyond the cross.  Beyond the grave.  And The Gospel writer Mark doesn’t tell us here, but the Gospel writer John makes it clear that it was Mary Magdalene to whom Jesus first appeared.

            And at the risk of sounding blasphemous, let me say that the ending to Mark’s Gospel – which we have in front of us today -- leaves a lot to be desired.  What we read today may be about the resurrection, but it seems out of place, the wrong mood.  We’re here in a spirit of celebration.  We’re joyous.  It’s Easter Sunday.  But the women who first witnessed the empty tomb had nothing but terror: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement has seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

            What a way to end a Gospel!  Of course, you may be thinking, “What do you mean, end the Gospel?  I still have some verses left in my copy of the Gospel of Mark.”  Yes, you do, but all scholars agree that the Gospel of Mark originally ended right here at the eighth verse.  Later someone who copied the manuscript thought Mark could have ended his Gospel on a more upbeat note.  They were embarrassed about this account, so they added a few paragraphs that were more positive and upbeat.  I assume, however, that Mark knew what he was doing.  Let’s consider carefully what he said happened on that first Easter morning.

            Very early on a Sunday morning, three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, went to the tomb where they had placed the body of Jesus.  On the way they worried about how they would get inside the cave-like tomb, for a large stone had been rolled in front of it, as was the custom in those days.  When they got there, they discovered the stone had already been rolled back.  That was their first and mildest surprise of the morning.  When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man seated there, dressed in white, obviously an angel.

            Mark tells us they were “alarmed.”  The word “alarmed” in the Greek is a very strong word.  A better translation would be “scared out of their wits.”

            The angel said, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth; who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, here is the place they laid him.  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.”

            Now they were really afraid: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.”  In fact, they were so afraid they disobeyed the angel and told no one.

            Now the question is: Why were they afraid?  Why wouldn’t they be jumping for joy with the resurrection of the Lord?  Why wouldn’t they be so excited that they would run out to tell Peter and the other disciples the good news?  Why wouldn’t they have the mood of happy celebration that we have this morning?  Well, let me suggest two reasons for their fear.

            First, if Jesus was raised from the dead, life is far more unpredictable than we might have thought.  A driving motivation of modern life has been the effort to gain control.  Since the Enlightenment, our intellectual efforts have aimed at discovering the laws of nature: cause and effect.  The more we understand, the more of life we’ll be able to control.

            And this not only applies on a global level, but it also applies on a more personal level.  Maybe you heard of the woman who went into the office of a cemetery manager and complained, “I can’t find my husband’s grave.  I know he’s buried here.”

            “What’s his name?” the manager asked.  “John Jones,” she replied.

            Referring to his database, the manager said, “Madam, we have no John Jones.  We just have a Mary Jones.”

            “That’s my husband,” she said.  “Everything is in my name.”

            Now that’s control!  We do everything we can to make life predictable.  We don’t want any surprises that will turn things upside-down for us.  We assume that if we take this step and that step, we can control the result.

            So you see how the resurrection of Jesus Christ breaks the inevitable connection between cause and effect?  Dead people do not rise from the tomb. The law of nature dictates that when a person dies, his or her body decomposes; that’s the end.  If Jesus was raised from the dead, the world of cause and effect is blown open.  Natural law still operates for the most part, but the fact that natural law did not operate at one point in history means a great crack opens in the wall of predictability.  Who knows what might happen in this type of world?  Who knows what the future will hold if Jesus is still alive?  What can be counted on in life if not death?  No wonder the women were afraid.

            Here’s the other reason to fear Easter:  If Jesus was raised from the dead, God clearly and resoundingly said yes to Jesus and the way of life revealed in him.  This may be the most frightening part of Easter.  Jesus traveled a road that not many of us are eager to travel.  His road is not upward mobility but downward mobility.  It’s loving one’s neighbor, and telling the truth, and having compassion for the poor, and forgiving one’s enemies.  Who wants to live like that?

            Do you see what it means that Jesus was raised from the dead?  God was saying, “This is the kind of life I will bless.  This is the kind of life that will have eternal significance.”  And even scarier, given what happened on Good Friday, the resurrection of Jesus shows us that however God might lead us in the future, in all probability God will not lead us around suffering but through it.  Following this Jesus can get us in trouble.

            There are reasons to fear Easter.  I prefer life under my control, predictable.  I prefer to think that God is going ahead of me to smooth the way, make things comfortable and pleasurable for me.  But the resurrection of Jesus pulls the rug out from under all that.

            No wonder the women were afraid.

            So then, what in the world are we doing here today?  Why this mood of celebration?  Why the singing?  Why the joy?  Because for each reason to fear Easter there is a flip side to that reason, a positive side to that reason. 

            Think of the first reason I gave you: if Jesus was raised from the dead, life may be unpredictable.  That’s scary, but the good news is we can give up our pathetic efforts at trying to be like God and control life. 

            Have you ever calculated how much energy we spend trying to make sure this and that happens in our lives and the lives of other people?  If we finally recognize the fact that some events are out of our control, that life is unpredictable and yet, all things are possible, then we can relax and quit trying to be God and instead trust God.

            A number of years ago Trudy and I went to London and Paris.  It was a great trip.  Trudy won the trip because the office she manages did so well that she won a trip for two to London, and we paid a little extra money and extended the trip to Paris.  It was our first time in both places, and let me tell you what I really enjoyed about the trip:  I wasn’t in charge.  We went with a group of other people from Watson Real Estate and I wasn’t in charge.  What a contrast to trips I’ve taken to Israel and Greece and Turkey.  I’ve taken groups to those places, and I’ve loved those trips, but each time I was in charge.  Where to stay.  What to include, what to exclude.  All those trips were great, but how freeing to go on a trip where I was not in charge.

            The same thing applies here.  God is in charge, so enjoy the trip.

            Consider the second reason to fear Easter.  Do you remember it?  If Jesus has been raised from dead then God clearly and resoundingly has said yes to Jesus and his way of life, and that means, we are to follow in his footsteps, and as we follow in his footsteps, those footsteps will lead us through suffering not around it, through Good Friday, through the cross, but the good news is that on the other side of our suffering, on the other side of Good Friday, on the other side of the cross is an empty tomb.  Paradoxically, those who willingly lose themselves in Christ gain the only life worth having, the life that will extend for all eternity.

            In the fifteenth century, before Christopher Columbus, King Philip of Spain stamped his coins with the motto, “There is nothing beyond.”  Spain was proud of the fact that she was considered the western extreme of the world.  A traveler could go little further without danger of falling off the flat edge of the earth.  Of course, King Philip was wrong.  There was more beyond – a whole new world yet to be discovered.

            Let’s fast forward to today.  To the twenty-first century.  One day in modern Spain a small boy, about five years old, sat at the end of a pier overlooking the ocean, gazing at the horizon.  A fisherman observed him and wondered what thoughts were running through his mind? 

            “What do you think is out there?” he asked the boy.

            “America,” the boy responded.

            Somewhat surprised by his matter of fact reply, the fisherman shielded his eyes and pretended to study the horizon.  Then teasingly, he asked, “How do you know?  I don’t see anything.”

            “Oh, I know,” the boy answered.  “My dad’s been there and he told me about it.”

            Jesus has gone where we have yet to go, and he returned to tell us about it.

            Jesus has risen.  He has risen indeed.