Tell the Old, Old Story…
Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021 ~ 8:30AM – Pastor Teressa Sivers
God of New Life, God of Resurrection Life;
What gratitude fills our hearts as we gather on this lakeshore today, Easter morning! Let your Spirit fill us like the fresh air of this day. Let your love flow from us like waterfalls flowing around this region. Renew us this day. Amen.
My favorite movie, hands down, is “The Princess Bride.” I have shared this with you before. There is so much I love about it, so much I can quote from it. But it was a less-quoted scene that popped into my head as I spent time with Mark’s account of the resurrection this Holy Week. The premise of the movie is that of a sick boy being read to by his gruff grandfather, and the book being red is “The Princess Bride.” As the scenes move back and forth from the boy and grandfather reading in the bedroom, and the action of the story being read, viewers begin to realize that it is all—the book and the reading of the book—about love. About halfway through the movie, and halfway through the reading of the book, it seems, for a moment, that the ‘bad guy’ -Prince Humperdink- is going to marry the Princess Buttercup, not the ‘good guy’ -Wesley. The boy urgently interrupts his grandfather, and the flow of the storytelling, insisting “you read that wrong, Grandpa…I’m just sure of it.”
That is how a lot of people feel about Mark’s telling of the resurrection story. Surely Mark was interrupted before he could finish the story. He certainly wouldn’t purposely end the Good News of Jesus Christ like this, would he? ‘Mark, you are telling it wrong. That is not how it ends. I’m sure of it!’ I think that is exactly the reaction Mark was after.
If you open your Bibles and open to chapter 16 of Mark, you will see that, at some point after Mark’s writing of the gospel, someone(s) tried to add more ending—the shorter and the longer ending of Mark. But the oldest manuscripts we have of the gospel end at verse 8 of chapter 16. The oldest manuscripts end with the women running away full of fear and telling no one. And…we are right, that is not how the story ends. We can be sure of it. How? Because we are gathered here on the lakeshore today, 2000 years later, fully aware of the empty tomb and the risen Jesus. Again I ask, how? Because someone…many someones…accepted Mark’s invitation and continued the story.
I find Mark’s telling of the empty tomb strangely comforting, perhaps because it is so very human. I know there are many Bible stories of people whose faith falls short, of people who get it wrong, of people who fail. But in many cases, especially in the New Testament, the get picked back up and put back on their feet, which is good news, of course. But in Mark, the author doesn’t tell us that part. The other three gospels all end with triumph and joy. The women welcome the news and share it. The risen Christ appears to the followers. Hooray! Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia! Amen! In Mark, the women disciples, who have been with Jesus through the entire events of Holy Week, including the cross and death, fail.
Mary, Mary and Salome are human. They have limits. There is only so much pain and horror and grief they can bear. The tomb is empty. Jesus’ body is gone. An angel is there—always frightening. They can’t process this new information. They are just done. They run away and tell no one—at least not right away. That is a comfort to know—we can’t get it right all the time. Even the strongest among us have our limits. The women fail to follow the angel’s instructions and guess what? The resurrection still happened. The risen Christ was still risen. The Good News got out. Jesus went ahead as promised to Galilee. There are followers of the risen Christ gathering around the world right now celebrating this Good News. Mark told us from the beginning of his gospel that he was just starting the story. Mark 1:1 reads, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God…” Just the beginning. The story continues, resurrection continues, all around us. We have a part in the greatest story ever told. And yet, Mark also assures us that we will certainly doubt and fail at times, sometimes really spectacularly. But God won’t. Jesus remains risen. The Spirit moves with your every breath, every heartbeat. Resurrection doesn’t depend on us, it is for us. Thank you, Mark. I think you told that just right.
Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021 ~ 10:30AM – Pastor Teressa Sivers
God of Life! God of Love! God who is Love! May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts bring glory to your name. Amen.
I love ropes courses! Love them! For anyone unfamiliar, a traditional ropes course is an obstacle course, usually built in the woods, where groups may go to build teamwork—working together to conquer each obstacle. As you move deeper into the course, the obstacles become more difficult and usually move up higher into the trees. You find yourself walking rope bridges and flying down zip lines. I think I’ve told you before how I love zip lines.
So, when Destiny USA Mall in Syracuse began advertising a modified ropes course in the mall, I HAD to go! So we did, my husband (Doug), my son (Aidan, then in early high school), and myself. We paid for admission, put on our safety harnesses, put our tethers on the course line, and headed out. The course consists of solid metal poles with wide round platforms connected by a wide variety of rope and wood board obstacles. I was first in our family, eager to go. I turned to a rope ladder sagging between two metal platforms and started out boldly…and then I looked down.
Ropes courses in the woods are challenging. It is scary to cross a wobbly rope ladder high in the trees, the wind in your hair. But when you look down from a tree platform or the rope ladder, you see lots of branches to grab onto and a pine needles covering the floor below. At the mall, just air and concrete. My heart didn’t leap in my throat, it just stopped. I was several ‘rungs’ onto the ladder and it was a swaying, unsteady mess under my feet. I was barely upright. What could I do?!?! I was terrified. Somehow, no clue how, couldn’t process like a rational person, I managed to make it to the next platform…barely. I literally wrapped my arms and legs around that solid pole, as far from the edge of the platform as I could get and panicked about how I was going to get back to the entrance and off this crazy course. And then it hit me…Aidan!!
I whirled around, ready to shout to Aidan, to warn him not to come. If I was terrified for myself on the ladder, I was panic-stricken at the thought of my youngest on that dangerous rope. But I was too late. Aidan had taken his first few steps and I saw on his face exactly what I had just been through. Aidan looked at me and cried out, “help me, Mom!” What was I going to do? The ladder would be even more unsteady with two of us. Now my heart did hammer in my throat. I thought I was going to be sick. And then, my husband spoke from the other platform, calmly waiting his turn to enter the course. “Aidan! Just grab your tether!” Tether!! He has a tether! I have a tether! Duh!
I know why Mary didn’t recognize Jesus that resurrection morning. I know why she wasn’t afraid when not one, but two angels popped into being inside the empty tomb, though fear is the standard biblical character’s response to angels. I know why. She was absolutely and completely overwhelmed by grief and pain and horror. She was absolutely and completely overcome with the great weariness of carrying all those horrendously heavy emotions for hours and hours. In some paradoxical way, she was both sobbing in grief and entirely numb. She couldn’t be rational. She couldn’t process new information. Mary Magdalene was on overload. It was Easter morning, but she was still in Good Friday.
Rev. Rolf Jacobson from the Evangelical Lutheran Church used the phrase, “trying to hear the Good News of Easter in a Good Friday world” for this phenomenon. It is hard to lift our eyes above the devastation of a Good Friday world. Mary had witnessed horrors just days ago. Her beloved Teacher, Rabbouni, arrested before her eyes. She watched as he was brought to trial, convicted, taken out to be brutally scourged. She trailed behind him in shock and fear and pain as he dragged the cross in agony to the hill outside the city. She wept and cried out as he was crucified, and remained present with him as he died. She witnessed Joseph of Arimathea and the pharisee Nicodemus lay her beloved Teacher’s body in the tomb. That is where her focus was in the garden cemetery Easter morning 2000 years ago. Probably experiencing a bit of post traumatic stress syndrome, she made her way to the tomb, unable to sleep, while it was still dark. That is where Jesus met her that morning, deep in the throws of Good Friday pain.
My Beloveds, that is the Good News of Easter. Jesus meets us wherever we are, especially when we are deep in the agony of a Good Friday world. Jesus meets us, awakens us from our weariness, reaches through the chaotic emotions within us, and tethers us to life abundant, love everlasting. This is what it means to be an Easter people, a people of the resurrection. This is what it means when we clergy call everyone to live resurrection everyday—to remember you are tethered.
What a Good Friday world we have been living in this past year! Most, if not all, of us could stand easily in Mary’s sandals, overcome with all the heavy emotions of world events, and carrying many personal burdens as well. We find ourselves overwhelmed, in the dark, surrounded by the many deaths of this world:
- grieving for 500,000+ deaths to COVID-19.
- struggling to grieve for loved ones without the comfort of gathered community
- enduring economic hardships, isolation, fear, anxiety,
- horrified by racial violence against black, indigenous, Asian, people of color—and today is the anniversary of MLK, Jr’s assassination. When will we ever learn?
- devastated to see headline after headline of gun violence across our nation
- weary and anxious over the division in our nation, in our denomination, too many times even in our own families.
The list could go on. We live in a Good Friday world.
But, oh my Beloveds, it is Easter morning! It is resurrection morning! And here is news that shouldn’t be a secret…every morning is resurrection morning! Every moment is resurrection! For we are tethered to the God of love and life, we are held by the Risen One, we are connected to God and one another in the Spirit. Easter is the final word, not Good Friday! Life wins!
On that rope ladder, high above the concrete mall floor, Doug’s voice pierced through Aidan’s panic. Aidan looked at his tether, securely attached to his safety harness. A smile replaced the look of fear on his face. Aidan put one hand on his tether, passed by me on the platform, and practically ran to the next obstacle. Christ the Lord is risen today! Christ is risen indeed! And all God’s people say Amen!