Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Journey to Hope...Easter!

“Jesus is on the Loose...”
Mark 16:1-8

Today is a day of celebration. We have a gorgeous array of flowers, the Children processed with gold and white banners, a clear sign in the church that it’s a special day, we are singing beautiful, full sounding hymns, you all came dressed so beautifully. We are clearly celebrating here today. This is a day like no other, and I hope it is a day like that for you!

But the scene of the first Easter morning is quite different. It’s been three days now, since the crucifixion. Christ’s bloody, battered, lifeless body lies in the tomb. The 12 disciples who gathered as friends at the Passover table have now fled. One of them, the betrayer, has taken his own life in despair. There is a numbing air of let down, disappointment and grief: that is, for those who had hung their hope on Jesus; that is, for those of the community of believers; that is, for all those who had hoped he was the Messiah That first Easter there are no trumpets, no hallelujahs, no joy. The first Easter begins in grief and disappointment.

Three women are on their way to prepare the bloody, battered, lifeless body of Jesus for burial. It is the last act of caring love they can offer. This was what women did when there was a death. But these women were followers of Jesus, too … disciples. So even though they come to do what is ritually appropriate, even though they come to anoint the body with oils and spices and perfumes to give the body a bit of beauty for burial, they are disciples coming to do this work. It had to have been an emotional task. They were disappointed. They had, like all the other followers and disciples, placed their hope in Jesus. In the darkness of that Friday afternoon, they are the ones who had stood by the cross as Jesus was killed. All their hope had hung on the cross with Jesus. Their entire future, as they saw it, was crucified that afternoon. So they come this first Easter morning to do the very last thing they can do for Jesus. But they come let down, disappointed and grieving.

Shouldn’t the Easter story resolve those emotions? We expect something more out of our Easter story. Let down, disappointment and grief should turn into trumpets, and hallelujahs, and joy. But it simply isn’t there in Mark’s gospel. Even when they find the stone rolled away, even when they see the tomb empty, even when they hear the words of hope from the man in white, the women’s Easter morning response is not celebration. Instead, it’s terror, amazement and fear. Easter begins with fear!

Why were the women afraid? The English translation says it this way, “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” End of sentence. The Greek translation doesn’t resolve the question, either. “They said nothing to anyone, they were afraid for…” The sentence doesn’t end, but the gospel does end here. Scholars have discovered that the oldest manuscripts of Mark’s gospel end here. And we are surely left wondering, what has them so afraid? End the sentence, please. Please tell us what has them so afraid.

I believe the women fear the same two things we fear 2,000 years later. Either they fear Jesus’ life and ministry didn’t make any difference or they fear a Jesus on the loose that will change their lives completely.

Maybe the women fear that Jesus’ life and ministry didn’t make any difference. Perhaps they fear … actually, they must fear that death has won, that in Jesus’ death there is no hope for any of us. That death, with its ravenous appetite, has finally, utterly swallowed up their friend. And in that, has sealed the fate of people forever. They must fear that death will always win. That death will always have the final answer.

And maybe they fear that the message of the man in white was a lie. Maybe he was a Roman guard playing some sick joke on them by stealing the body of their loved one. Maybe he knew what buttons of theirs to push. Maybe he had heard of Jesus’ promise of resurrection. So, maybe he wanted to get a good laugh. Knowing someone would come prepare the body for burial, maybe he waited that morning to play this sick joke on them, to say to them what they wanted to hear, only to play a kind of April Fool’s joke on them.

But do not overlook the fact that Jesus is on the loose. The message of the man robed in white doesn’t end with “he has been raised.” He continues, “Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him just as he said.” Perhaps this is what elicits the fear. And I think it should. The women might fear that this news will change their lives forever. For the women knew as well as we know that if Jesus is waiting on-down-the-road for them…He probably has plans for them.

“They said nothing to anyone, they were afraid for…” But they did say something to someone! Even in their fear, they said something to someone. Because we know their story 2,000 years later. We know their fear, their terror, and their amazement. But even that didn’t stop them, eventually, from saying something to someone. Because we know that Jesus is on the loose. We know that Jesus went ahead of them to Galilee. We know that this on-the-loose Jesus was waiting for them and the rest of the disciples to show up. We know he had plans for them, plans for them to say something to someone. It’s the telling of the story of hope that will change their lives forever!

What kind of fear does the Easter news bring you?

Are you afraid that this Easter celebration will leave you unchanged? That you will gather around your Easter dinner table among the azaleas and chocolate Easter eggs without having seen God? Are we “afraid” that we will find the tomb empty of meaning and hope? Have we experienced so many moments of shock, moments of let down, disappointment, moments when the bottom drops out of things, that even the slightest Easter news still brings us fear?

The Easter story comes first to those in shock, let down, disappointment, to folks who have nothing in which to hope, to folks who share your experience of loss. And yet, they find hope. They find the empty tomb full of promise, because the missing body hasn’t been stolen; it has been raised from the dead! It has defeated the ravenous monster of death. Death will never again have the final word! Life, abundant life in the Risen Savior, has the last word! And in that, you can find hope. In that your life can be forever changed. In that hope Jesus waits to meet you.

Or maybe you are afraid of the possibility that Jesus is on the loose and waiting for you? Perhaps you should be! Because Jesus is waiting on-down-the-road for you…and he probably has plans for you. Plans for you to share this good news with the world; plans for you to bring hope to a hurting and broken world; plans for you to meet people where they are and show them who Jesus is and the kind of hope and promise he provides. To say something to someone.

For a Jesus on the loose is impatiently waiting for us. A Jesus on the loose calls us out from tomb-gazing, to go meet him in the world, out where people are waiting for the word of resurrection hope; out where we can say something to someone who hasn’t yet heard of the joy of this special day.

I wonder if you won’t do something risky with me and walk with me out of fear and into hope this day. Jesus is on the loose and he is waiting for you to meet up with him and to bring hope to the hurting world…to say something to someone!

(Here in worship I challenged people who had their cell phones to look through their list of contacts and see who among their contacts might need to hear a word of hope. Everyone else, I invited them to go through their mental contact list and see who they know that need to hear a word of hope. Those with cell phones were encouraged, right during the message this day, to text that person from their cell phone: “Jesus is on the loose…” Others were encouraged when they got home to call the person they thought of, say “Jesus is on the loose” and hang up. The person will call or text you back and you can share the story of hope with them.)

Christ is Risen…and he’s on the loose!!!
Thanks be to God!

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