Sunday, April 12, 2009

Resurrection Day

If you’re looking for a clean, happy, ending to this Jesus story, don’t bother looking to Mark. It’s like he finished his gospel in mid-sentence, as if the pen was ripped from his hands right before he got the his main point. The story feels stilted, stunted, smaller than it should be.

It looks like something’s missing. It doesn’t make sense to finish the gospel by saying,

”Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

You can almost hear the dot-dot-dot after the word “afraid.” There’s no resolution. The story sounds incomplete. This ending leaves us wanting more.

But this is where the earliest and most reliable manuscripts end the story. This is Mark’s final sentence. His conclusion. All that other stuff you find in your bibles after this verse wasn’t in the earliest known versions of this story.

For Mark, there’s no joyous proclamation. No teary-eyed reunion. No awkward mistaking Jesus for the gardener. In fact, in Mark’s version, Jesus doesn’t even show up. Just a message from some guy in the tomb cleaning up. “He is not here,” he says, almost matter of factly, “He is risen.”

And with that, a terrified group of women hunker down, out of sight, not knowing what to do next.

Mark’s version of the story makes our triumphant songs of a victorious resurrection seem somewhat misplaced, don’t you think? I really can’t see the scared women at the tomb breaking into 4 verses of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!” I can’t see them dressed in their finest spring fashions shouting “Alleluia!” at the door of the tomb.

It’s more like they’re stuck in Good Friday, where the songs of Jesus death nestle snugly in their ears. Where the cries of pain, anguish, and looming death drown out whatever good news there might be from God. Where tyranny and evil seem to have their fingerprints all over our lives.

It’s easy to get stuck in Good Friday, like the women at the tomb.

It’s not their fault. We might want to blame them for not having enough faith in Jesus’ resurrection. We might look down our noses at them for not trusting what Jesus said about himself would be true.

Or we can see ourselves in them, as a mirror reflecting our own doubts and fears back to us. We can see them as sisters, fellow followers of Jesus, who are still surprised when Jesus actually does something we can point to. In fact, I wonder if that’s where we’re most comfortable because that’s what’s most familiar.

At least, that’s what those women are for me. A mirror reflecting back on me all my fears and doubts. These women, I think, represent me when the resurrection doesn’t seem all that real in my life or the world.

When I hear on the news that the polar ice caps will be melted in 30 years, or when I’m praying with someone who’s taking their last breaths, or when the idea of God seems almost offensive in light of all the evil in the world, I am like the women at the tomb, hunkered down, frightened by those things I can’t control.

But also, I wonder if that’s not the only reason the women were afraid. I wonder if the women were afraid was because they knew the resurrection was real, and that meant that all that Jesus said was true. And that can even more terrifying. For everyone.

If Jesus is alive then that means that I will be transformed into his likeness, whether I want to or not. It means that I’m called to live the resurrection life that Jesus asks me to live. That I am called to walk as a New Creation in a world being re-born.

This means I don’t have the luxury to be cynical. It means I don’t have the luxury to be scared. It means I don’t have the luxury to give into hopelessness.

Even if, like those women at the tomb, I haven’t seen the Risen Jesus with my own two brown eyes, I trust the testimony of those who have. I have no choice. God won’t allow me the indulgence of despair. If it’s true that Jesus is alive then the whole world is starting new, everyday, all the time.

If Jesus is alive then we are compelled to walk in Jesus’ compassion and love. If Jesus is alive then we are asked to be agents of forgiveness and peace. If Jesus is alive we are determined to see God’s kingdom of justice and mercy break out in the world.

If Jesus is alive, then God just pressed the re-start button, and began a whole new creation.

This Easter Season, I’m going to focus on Living the New Creation, thinking about what the New Creation looks like. If Jesus is alive, of he is the first born of the New Creation, then God is always starting something new and fresh in our midst. That the world is still a living, breathing, organism, and we have a call to participate in this New Creation.

Our Jewish friends object at this point. And they raise some good questions. They ask why the New Creation looks so similar to the old one? If Jesus is the messiah, then God’s reign of justice and peace would be self-evident everywhere we looked. There would be no more war, no more violence, no more hatred.

If Jesus was the messiah, if God’s kingdom of forgiveness and love has come to earth then the why do so many marriages break down? Why do some many families fall apart? Why do so many children hate their parents?

If Jesus was the messiah, and God’s promise of a New Creation arrived at the empty tomb, why do friends still die of cancer? Why do loved ones get killed in car accidents? Why do children all over the world die of hunger and preventable disease? Why is the earth melting?

Good questions. Important questions. Questions for which I wish I had the definitive answer.

But what I can say is that the empty tomb was the beginning. And we see signs -hints - of God’s in-breaking kingdom when justice flourishes, forgiveness finds a home, when peace isn’t merely a hope but a living reality, when love for others is the world’s motivating drive.

These are signs of God’s final reality reaching back and touching us, laying on hands in prayer, so that, one day we will stand face-to-face with the one who makes all things new.

Maybe Mark didn’t end his gospel in mid-sentence, after all. Maybe he meant to leave the story unfinished. Maybe he meant to say what’s missing in his story is YOU - US. WE are being asked to finish the story, not with words but with our lives.

Like the women at the tomb, I think we come to the empty tomb with our own fears. But the message to us is “He is not here. He is risen” is a challenge for us to add the final paragraph to the story by living the New Creation that is blossoming all around us.

For us Good Shepherd folks, I see this as thinking about how we live in relationship to the earth, how we care for what God has so lovingly given us.

Some have asked me what caring for the earth has to do with the gospel, what it has to do with God’s New Creation. I say it has EVERYTHING to do with God’s New Creation!

If God’s kingdom has come/is coming to earth then it means that God’s commitment to the world includes the earth itself. If God’s kingdom means loving and caring for others, it also means the world God made.

Resurrection life includes the whole of creation. A creation that shouts with a loud voice “Christ is risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”