He’s Not Even In There 4-1-18 Easter Sunday

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In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Mark’s account of the Resurrection. The tomb is empty, but the Risen Jesus is no where to be seen.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/hes-not-even-in-there-4-1-18-easter-sunday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

It probably goes without saying…but as a pastor I spend a lot of Sunday’s in churches…no big surprise, comes with the job. Now, most of time…most of those Sundays, this is the church where I’m at…again, no big surprise…but every once in a while a Sunday comes around when I find myself in a different church.

The most recent example of this happened just 2 weeks ago…14 days back I was not in Underwood Lutheran…but rather I found myself in a slightly larger place called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher…in Jerusalem.

Now this enormous cathedral is built over the site considered by many to house both the location where Jesus was crucified, as well as the location of the tomb where they laid him following his death on the cross. The two spots aren’t far apart…maybe separated by 100 feet or so…but within this one church, they are two very different focal points…the tomb has actually been enclosed into a tiny chapel, itself located inside this one great big church…and as our small group of Holy Land travelers went in…it took a bit of time before we could enter the tomb.

Now this tiny chapel that houses the tomb itself is not large. The entire structure would probably fit inside the narthex right outside our sanctuary doors…but before we could go it to see it…we had to wait in line…because of course we weren’t the only ones there. Now the line actually spun around the outside of the chapel structure…and MAN did it move slow.

We got in line…and we waited…and we waited…and we waited some more…every once in a while we’d take 2 or 3 baby steps forward…inching our way around the chapel towards the entry to the tomb of Jesus. As we moved closer, the people in line got packed in tighter and tighter as we funneled down into to single file…and needless to say we were all getting a little restless, both from the close proximity as well as the time that we were standing there.  Finally, after we’d been inching forward in line for about an hour…and were still roughly 30 minutes away from entering the tomb…one of the people from our group said “Seriously…why are we waiting…he’s not even in there.”

Now it was a sarcastic comment and we all laughed…but then I got to thinking about it…and by golly…there is some deep theological truth in that snarky comment isn’t there? And that’s a statement that sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? (pause)

Easter Sunday…the day of the Resurrection…the time when we gather here in the church to celebrate God’s defeat over the powers of darkness…that through the resurrection of Christ the powers of sin and death have been overcome. We cue the trumpets…we smell the Easter lilies…it’s a time of celebration. But this time around it’s a little odd isn’t it…because this year we hear from Mark.

Early…EARLY on Sunday morning…the sun’s not even up yet…and we hear that Mary Magdalene, and another Mary, and Salome…3 women who had witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross on Friday…these women who watched as they took his lifeless body down, wrapped it up and laid it in that tomb…they watched as the giant stone was pushed in front of the door.  These women who have witnessed it all are on their way for a difficult task.

They plan to anoint the body of Jesus…but they’ve got some things working against them don’t they?  He’s already been dead for a while…his body would already be decomposing, which defeats the purpose of anointing him.

And not only that but as they’re walking along they have one of those startling moments of realization…one of those moments when you realize that what you’re attempting to do is complete futile…like when you get to the check-out counter only to realize that you left your wallet in your other pants…They ask “who’s gonna roll away the stone for us? We can’t do it.”

Maybe, just maybe these women are feeling utter defeat, and yet in the face of everything, they arrive at the tomb. Now here’s the crazy part…the stone’s already moved…and so, edgy and scared, they poke their heads inside…and there stands an angel.

And now that feeling of defeat turns into fear…into anguish…in fact its same exact thing that Jesus himself experienced in the Garden a few night back as he was sweating blood in anguish…this is the same feeling that the women are now experiencing…and who knows why…maybe its at the presence of the angel…maybe its because the tomb is empty…maybe its both…

But its stands to reason, as we consider all this, that for them…NONE of this made sense. He was dead…they saw it…they watched as he was placed here…and everyone knows that the dead don’t just get up and leave…and now to top it all off here’s an angelic heavenly being and we’ve heard in many places in scripture that this seems to be a freaky situation when an angel shows up…and yet the angel assures them…do not be afraid.

For the angel knows why they are here…and angel also knows the futility of their visit. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth…the one who was crucified…He…is…not…here.”(pause) Honestly, we could have used that same angelic proclamation 2 weeks ago in Jerusalem. What do you want in there for…he’s not even in there.

Now maybe this all sounds familiar…that’s the part of the story that’s pretty much the same regardless of what gospel account we hear from…but remember Mark’s different. The angel goes on. Jesus is not here…but go and tell the disciples and Peter that he has gone on a head of you into Galilee…there you will see him…And the women…still utterly freaked out, run off…and say nothing to anyone.

WAIT…WHAT? Its Easter…the tomb is empty…Jesus is risen…what do you mean they said nothing? That’s weird…I think we better read on and see what comes next right? (pause) But here’s the kicker. There’s nothing more to read. Mark ends here…strange as that might seem…and yah its weird…so weird in fact that a few hundred years later some well-meaning monks tacked on a couple extra endings just to try and tidy it up for us.

But maybe we can’t tidy anything up…because think about it. Easter is about resurrection…but resurrection starts from a place of death right…it has to…and logic, along with our personal experience, together these things tell us that there’s no coming from back from death. And the women at the tomb that day…I’m guessing they thought the exact same thing.

So what do we do with this today? What are we to make of this odd ball, utterly abrupt ending of the gospel of Jesus Christ? What are we to make of this empty tomb and this Easter story that lacks actually seeing a Risen Jesus? What are we to make of this oddball decree to go out into Galilee where we’ll see him?

I think that perhaps…odd and confusing as this all is…it is perhaps the best possible way to hear about the resurrection…because it doesn’t make sense…and yet we profess that it is true…We can’t quite understand it…and we sure as heck can’t explain it…and maybe like the women, we just walk away confused by this whole deal, and don’t say anything to anyone…because honestly…who would believe it right? Dude was dead and now he’s not? He was in the tomb and now its empty…HUH?

But here’s the thing. This isn’t the end…and if you don’t believe me, let’s back up to the start of Mark’s Gospel. Chapter 1 verse 1. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (pause) I don’t think Mark spent 16 chapters telling us the whole story…I think Mark spent 16 chapters telling us the beginning of it. And here, with the women running off from the empty tomb…that’s not the ending…that’s just the conclusion of the beginning.

We cannot hear this amazing news of Jesus, raised from the dead…this amazing news of how God has stepped right into death and brought new life out of it, not only for Jesus but for all life through him. We cannot hear it and simply walk out of here today unchanged…perhaps to step back in next week or next month or next year to simply hear the same message again.

Resurrection life is about becoming something different than we were before…about life looking different…about life being lived different than it was before the empty tomb. (pause) This is what’s happened…and this is what Easter is really all about…not about lilies…not about trumpets…not about nice new Easter outfits and family dinners.

Easter is about a God who takes SO MUCH delight in the creation that he made that he willingly took on flesh and stepped down into it…he walked around, and went headlong into every single solitary place of death, even those that we have created for ourselves…and that same God has already, and will continue to create new life out of death…even if its scary…even if it doesn’t make any sense. (pause)

Now let’s swing back around to the command given to the women to pass along to Jesus’ disciples…to his followers.  Go into Galilee, there you’ll see him. Now I’ve often wondered…why Galilee…why not into the temple, or over to Bethlehem…these big name places that were literally right around the corner? Why back to Galilee, that backwater province far to the north?

Well…let’s back up to Mark chapter 1 again…the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ…Where do you think it all started? Galilee…Galilee is where the Jesus called the disciples to follow him…its where he performed countless miracles…its where he spent time teaching them…leading them…and showing them what the kingdom of heaven looks like when it comes near…when boundaries that society has established about who’s in and who’s out are utterly overcome…when those boundaries are utterly demolished…Galilee is where discipleship happens…because Galilee is where life following Jesus happens.

I can’t help but think that Mark’s gospel is one heck of a cool cycle. The gospel begins, and as present day followers of Jesus and readers of the gospel…as present day members of the Body of Christ, we travel along through Galilee right alongside Peter and the rest of the disciples…and we follow along when Jesus is betrayed and killed and laid in the tomb, and now that the tomb is empty…we are sent back to the place of discipleship once more…we are sent back into those places of joy and of sorrow…those places of unity and division…those places of community and isolation…we are sent back out from the empty tomb into the place of life…and that’s where we see him in the faces of one another…in the hungry mouth that we feed…in the widow that we visit…in the time that we spend supporting one another. (pause)

Sure we can visit the tomb. Its possible, I’ve been there…and we can jostle around, pushing to get into that place of death…but in the end what’s the point…Jesus is out here in the place of life…that tomb is empty…Dude’s not even in there. Amen.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Teresa O'Brion on April 4, 2018 at 8:04 am

    A great sermon. You have made things clear. I understand more now. And I know Easter isn’t about the Lillie’s, trumpets, clothes, & dinners but when I’ve heard the trumpets play on Easter morning it brings so much joy to my heart & I’ve always loved that. I miss it. Just my opinion.
    Thanks again for a great weekend. Love you.

    Reply

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