The following sermon was delivered Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018. Enjoy!
–Grant, the Nerdcore Theologian
16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body.2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb.3 They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) 5 Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. 6 But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. 7 Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” 8 Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Life is a series of patterns. Look really closely, and you can see them.
Nations follow a pattern. Nations are born, either through discovery, or through revolution against an existing power. They find footing, perhaps after a rocky start. They have an ascendant period of growth and building. They have a golden age, a climax of power, prestige and prominence. And then, there is inevitable decline, followed by collapse into irrelevance, revolution, or even complete destruction.
Likewise, lives have a pattern. We are born into this world helpless, in need of parental protection and guidance. We grow into childhood, idyllic in its own way, but not without its trials and difficulties. We emerge into teenage years with days of storm and conflict as we learn who we are going to become. We become adults, and hopefully find a career or a niche in which we are productive and fruitful in this world. As we age, we can no longer work, and so we retire, and then rest on what we have earned in life, or rely on our loved ones to take care of us. We do this, all the way down to the end, to death.
Patterns are important to recognize. In fact, that’s what separates us from animals, our ability to recognize and create patterns.
It served us well in our tribal ages–being able to see patterns in the wild helped us to tell whether or not there was a predator lurking in the trees, or whether or not a certain plant was edible or poisonous. It has aided us well even today. We are hardwired to not only see patterns, but to adhere to patterns. Which makes this passage, this gospel, hard to understand.
This gospel does not fit the patterns. Not the ones we understand, at least.
It doesn’t sound like an ending. Stories are supposed to have a beginning, a middle, and an ending, and those parts tend to adhere to certain patterns, ideas, or methods. Specifically endings. Endings wrap everything up. Endings are meant to satisfy something in us that wants closure. And Mark gives us an ending, but it’s an ending that breaks with the patterns that we are trained to understand, to recognize.
He does this for a good reason though, a reason that has to do with choice. A choice on our part, that is. Mark wants us to make a choice at the end of this gospel, but seeing the choice clearly takes a keener eye and an opened mind, one that not even the disciples or his followers could discern fully. Ultimately, the choice is yours to make–with God’s help of course.
Mark, along with the other gospels, use certain patterns in the way they tell a story.
Most often than not, it goes a bit like this. Jesus shows up in town. A problem is presented to him. Complications are added to the problem. Jesus says something profound or important. Jesus acts and the problem is reversed. The people depart, in awe of Jesus, and either react positively or negatively. That’s the pattern. It goes up, then back down, and usually the way down in some way mirrors or even reverses the way up. Therefore, a lot of the time, the most important part is in the middle, the peak.
Take for example a story early in Mark.
Jesus is teaching in a house. The house is packed, but some friends have a paralyzed man who needs healing.
They escalate the situation, climb to the roof, and lower the man.
Jesus, moved by the actions of the friends, says to the man: your sins are forgiven.
Scribes are upset, tell him only God can forgive. Jesus responds by healing the man, along with forgiveness.
The people are amazed, and depart in wonder, for they’d never seen anything like that before.
Do you see how that works? That pattern is repeated over and over in the stories of Jesus. It’s actually quite fascinating to see how much it works as a framing structure. That said, it sets up some expectations about how people respond. Either with wonder and acceptance, or wonder and fear. Sometimes both at the same time.
Therefore it’s interesting to see how this passage both adheres to Mark’s previous pattern of escalation and de-escalation, and subverts our expectations at the same time.
Let’s break down Mark 16 then, for posterity’s sake:
Mary, Mary, and Salome, go to the garden where Jesus was buried.
They begin to worry about how they are going to roll away the stone.
They then get worried because the stone has already been rolled away.
Furthermore, Jesus’s body is nowhere to be seen.
A Young Man is present, tells them that Jesus has been raised. He is waiting for them to arrive in Galilee.
Overcome with terror, they flee the tomb.
They say nothing to anyone, because they are afraid.
Now, as you can see, it has the same rise and fall of the previous story. It even shapes our expectations because of it. We expect to see this result in a similar way that occurred before: amazement, wonder, and hope. Instead, we see the opposite: amazement, fear, and uncertainty. Why is this? Why would Mark subvert our expectations like this? He does this because he wanted to make this story a turning point for us, his audience. Even thousands of years later, it poses to us a strong choice.
Will You Stay, Or Will You Go?
Mark ends his gospel with a resurrection, but not with closure. He ends it with a question, a question for you to ask yourself that was best said in the song by the Clash (who, albeit talking about a different situation entirely, still seems to apply today):
Should I stay or should I go?
If I go there will be trouble
If I stay there will be double
So you’ve gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
You may laugh all you want, but the truth isn’t far off.
Mark’s whole gospel, as I have said before and will keep repeating, is all about getting you to REPENT. That’s why he doesn’t bother with the nativity of Jesus. He starts at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, where he says to the people that he has come to proclaim the kingdom of God, and that we need to repent, change our hearts and minds, and prepare. That message remains consistent throughout the gospel, and as lean as it is, it truly hammers that point home. Jesus is here to teach you about the Kingdom, and for you to accept the Kingdom, you have to repent.
That message remains even in the very ending of this gospel. There is no happy ending in Mark, because he is depending on YOU to supply the happy ending. You are given plenty of examples of how to do so throughout the gospel. Mark, therefore, wants you to ace the exam, so to speak. You’ve been given the right answer, if you’ve been paying attention. In his estimation, though, you’ve been given an example of what you COULD do, as exhibited by the women. You could run away in terror, confusion and fear in the face of the resurrection. Or you could meet Jesus in Galilee.
Meeting in Galilee, Back From the Dead
That’s the right answer, of course. Meet Jesus in Galilee, so to speak.
Galilee was where it all started. Galilee was where the gospels began. It’s Jesus’s hometown, so to speak. It’s where the disciples came from. It’s where his legend spread.
So Galilee means a lot of things. Galilee could mean “do ministry where you are.” It could also mean the opposite: Go and find where Jesus wants you to be. For me, though, it means to be ready to start from square one, only this time, do it better. Because that’s the meaning of Easter, really.
I mean, Jesus died, and beat death. That’s huge. That’s incredible. And that means that everything is changed.
You can go home, but you aren’t the same person you used to be. You can go somewhere else, but you won’t be the same when you get back. Whatever you do, you will be changed. More than that, you will be resurrected, like Christ. You will have a fresh start, and a fresh direction. You have an opportunity to start over again, and meet Jesus where he wants you to be, with the understanding you didn’t have before.
His disciples eventually did meet him in Galilee, this much we know from the other gospels. They did learn the meaning of resurrection, so much so that they started a whole new movement, far bigger than it was when Jesus was alive (for the first time.) It exploded. When they went to Galilee, they ball got rolling, and it grew into an avalanche. It outgrew their wildest expectations, and kept growing, 2000 years later.
Meeting in Galilee resulted in the church. 2000 years later, Jesus is still waiting for us, wherever Galilee might be.
But in the end, of course, the choice is yours. You could run into the night screaming, in fear of death, or the uncertainty of God. You could ignore it, make excuses, and try to poke holes into a testament that doesn’t care one bit if it makes any logical sense, because logical sense wasn’t what Jesus was here to make. Jesus was here to make disciples. Jesus is here to make you a disciple. But to become a disciple, you have to repent. You have to change your heart and your mind. You have to become something entirely new. You have to be resurrected.
So will you stay or will you go? Will follow Jesus to your own personal Galilee? Will you call him savior, or will you call him a myth, a legend, a fairy tale, a falsehood? Will you live as if he is your King, or will you simply call him King, and spend every day acting as if he isn’t? Will you repent, and change your heart and mind? The choice is yours, and it always will be. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.