This is today’s Easter sermon. I used Isaiah 25:6-9 and Mark 16:1-8.
Mark’s gospel ends with the three women coming to the tomb to anoint Jesus and then fleeing in terror and amazement and afraid to tell anyone what they saw. The young man said, “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. 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.” (16:6-7)
Unlike the other gospels in which the risen Christ appeared that day, whether the appearance happened in the presence of the women or later in the day before the two disciples, Jesus did not appear at the end of Mark. Jesus was gone. Like the women, we’re left hanging. Go to Galilee? Tell others? What’s next?
Had they arrived at the tomb and found Jesus’ body, things would have been fine. In sorrow they would have anointed him. His ministry would have become great stories to tell the next generation. It probably would have ended there. However, that his body was missing and the young man reminded them that they will see him in Galilee changed everything.
Jesus rose from the dead. He slipped death’s shackles. The men probably didn’t tell the women what Jesus said to them as they went from supper to the Mount of Olives just days before, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Mark 14:27b-28) Thus, the young man’s words were a sort of challenge to the women, “Will you follow Jesus or stay here?”
Their fear was not due to timidity, but awe. What Jesus said came true. He spoke on three different occasions to his disciples that he would die and rise after three days. It was too fantastic to believe then. But with his body gone and the young man’s words, the women saw that it was true.
What else would be true? All that he taught and all that they witnessed … could there be any other explanation other than what he said would be true?
Going to Galilee, then, became more than traveling north of Jerusalem to return to the place of his ministry of the preceding three years. Going to Galilee meant continuing the work and ministry he began. The healings, the teachings, the advocacy on behalf of those who had no power or voice, all that had to continue and Jesus was waiting for them to resume and assume it. Mark’s ending, though we might think of it as ambiguous, did not give a simple, pat, “neatly tied in a bow” ending to the Jesus story like the other gospels. Rather, the ending told the women, told the readers, and tells us that making visible the risen Christ is our responsibility. Jesus lives in and through the work we do.
We are the body of Christ, not just as a synonym for the church, but as the incarnation of Jesus today. We are Jesus’ hands and feet. We are Jesus’ voice. People need Jesus. The world needs Jesus. They could be unchurched or the spiritual but not religious. They could be people without a place to lay their heads at night. They could be people who have dim hopes at best. They could be people who struggle to have a full evening meal. They could be people of other faiths. They could be the rich and the powerful as much as they could be the poor and oppressed. The world needs Jesus, not to make people Christians, but to manifest love in all of its dimensions. The world needs Jesus to bear witness to justice in order to bring about shalom. People encounter Jesus when they are fully accepted for who they are. People without voice or without power will know Jesus when those who can speak and those who have power will use their voice and their power on behalf of those without. People without dignity will find Jesus when they are no longer invisible while standing in broad daylight. People who have more than they could possibly use in ten lifetimes need Jesus, too, so they might know generosity and thus, live more richly than if they hoarded their wealth.
Jesus is not just the man who rose after three days in the tomb. Jesus offers hope to all in this world without it. Jesus says that all are loved by God and that all should receive mercy and compassion. Jesus reminds the world that justice and peace rooted in God’s steadfast love is for all people and that the health and well-being of our common good trumps our own personal desires and agendas.
Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was not about providing charity to people in need, but being relational with them. He shamed the mighty so they would stop exploiting the weak. He included women because they had as much to offer as men. He healed the lame so they might serve others. The unspoken aspect of his teachings was that we are in community together and though we must take care of each other, especially the poor, the widow, and the orphan, we do it out of love in order to bring us together, not to maintain our separate spheres of existence.
Jesus did not seek to create a church or a religion, but to create the beloved community desired by God for all of us no matter if we were rich or poor, man or woman, straight or queer, young or old, powerful or powerless. Jesus sought to bring about the gathered community Isaiah described, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” (60:3-5) The community, our community, would be all people for all people. The strength and richness of our community come not from all of us in uniformity, but united in our diversity.
The reality Jesus proclaimed in his ministry was that all are welcome and all have a place at God’s table where a feast of rich foods filled with marrow and well aged wines strained clear is set for all. And that feast extends beyond the table. It goes into the world and touches all people with grace, love, and compassion. It means that no one should ever know scarcity or deprivation and all will have their daily bread.
But Mark’s resurrection account was not just for the women that morning. It is for every one of us, too. That Jesus was not in the tomb is not just a story, but a powerful witness that continues to this moment and will continue to resonate as long as there is injustice in the world. His prophecies were true, not just that he would die and be raised up in three days, but that we all are worthy of God’s love and grace and that true justice is fundamental in order to create the beloved community. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr spoke these words at the Riverside Church exactly one year before he died, “On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will only be an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
On Good Friday evening I went to the Lichtenstein Gallery in Pittsfield to see the opening of a photography show by Nick DeCandia entitled “Take Another Look.” It will run through April 25, and I recommend it. The images capture the magnitude and reality of food insecurity in Pittsfield. Many faces. Many worn with struggles. Many photos were taken at November’s massive turkey distribution at South Congregational Church. Though the food distribution was a successful collaboration of many organizations throughout the city, we should not ignore that in the richest nation in the history of the world, these images show people begging for their food. And though the community might congratulate itself for its generous support, we cannot leave it at that for if we do, then we have accepted begging as a way to address food insecurity.
Jesus sought to restructure the edifice of first century Palestine. He died for that effort. His resurrection became hope’s light in that darkness and implicitly proclaimed that life always overcomes death. The young man challenged the women to continue his ministry. That challenge remains for us today. What’s next? Are we prepared to go to Galilee? Are we the body of Christ incarnate?