A Sermon preached by the
Rev. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, April 1, 2018
Text: Mark 16:1-8 (The Message); 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 (The Message)
What were you expecting? We have shouted, “Christ is risen!” and sung, “Alleluia.” Isn’t that what you were expecting on Easter Sunday? Or were you looking for something different, something more? To be sure, after a few more alleluias and a couple of amens, there will be chocolate eggs and a delicious finger food brunch. Our menu has something for everyone. There shouldn’t be any shattered expectations on Easter at First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, should there?
But then there is this morning’s text from the gospel of Mark that ends so abruptly and surprisingly. No Jesus standing in the shadows of the garden, no post mortem appearance on the Emmaus Road, no Christ walking through walls. Just the proclamation, “He is risen.” Followed by silence. As we read it over in Bible study this week, it struck me that in Mark’s narrative there are shattered expectations all over the place. In fact, “Shattered Expectations” might serve as a sub-title for this ancient text. Let’s go back to the beginning. Tell me about the Christmas story as recorded by Mark. What’s that you say? There isn’t one?
Sure enough Mark hits the ground running. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Not even a complete sentence; just a sort of announcement of what lies ahead; followed rapidly by John preaching in the wilderness, Jesus’ baptism, and the temptation of Christ in a few short verses. Shattered expectation number one – no nice beginning, no pretty birth story, no angels singing with friendly beasts keeping watch. We are immediately in the thick things.
Next, we get a couple of stories as Jesus moves to and from the lakeshore. Simon, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, and a handful of others – “Come follow me.” They leave what they’re doing and follow. What do you think they were expecting when their feet said “Yes” to Jesus’ call? Something messianic, some respite for their beleaguered lives, some liberation for their occupied country. Something wonderful that would restore the glory of the David legend, throwing out the hated Romans and their despicable collaborators. Will their expectations be shattered? Without question. In fact, much of Mark’s gospel is taken up with the failure of the disciples to understand the sort of Messiah Jesus was, the Holy One who had become human to show God’s will and way, to bring to life God’s Beloved Community. Jesus, himself, must have had a number of deep disappointments, if not shattered expectations, with this group who had so eagerly agreed to follow but who kept up a steady resistance all along the journey.
“’…who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” Right, Peter, but let me tell you what that means. “…he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things…If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” (Mark 8:29-34). Peter, who was riding high one moment, must have felt shattered in the next.
It is curious that Peter and the rest seem to hear the part about suffering, rejection, and death, much as they try to minimize it, but they miss the part about resurrection. It seems as if they would rather ride straight to the top than take any detours through Samaria and Jerusalem, through the Tenderloin, East Palo Alto, Sacramento, and Washington, DC, through suffering, rejection, and death. As are the crowds, they are quite pleased with Jesus’ healing and exorcising and challenging the self-righteous religious authorities. That’s enough. Let’s just have a steady diet of that. We don’t want any more, suffering, rejection, and death, and we can’t even wrap our minds around resurrection!
But if this is their expectation, it will be shattered soon enough. Jesus’ challenge to the powers that be, especially the religious authorities, soon has him in hot water. Mark moves the action rather swiftly to Jerusalem and the fateful final week of Jesus’ life on earth. As he predicted, suffering, rejection, and death unfold in short order. He is betrayed, arrested, tried on trumped up charges, abused, humiliated, and executed. If they held any expectations of a Davidic Messiah who would restore the glory of the kingdom and elevate his followers to positions of power and wealth, they were surely shattered, as nails were driven into his hands and feet on a wooden Roman cross.
Body buried, sabbath finished, at dawn on the first day of the week, three women, hurrying along the road toward the burial ground. These faithful women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome by name – had stayed near Jesus’ side through the horrors of the trial, the crucifixion, and the burial. They had been more faithful than the male disciples who had fled or kept their distance, denying that they even knew Jesus. What were they expecting on that morning as they made their way to the burial site? They expected a stone-cold tomb, with a large rock, sealing inside the decaying body of the one whom they had followed so faithfully. Even they had missed the promise of resurrection. They knew what they had seen with their own eyes and they could not imagine they would find the living among the dead.
It seems ironic that their last shattered expectation was to find the massive stone rolled away, the tomb empty, except for a curious figure – angel? young lad? – clothed in white, seated where the body should have been, with directions for what the company of disciples should do next. He was risen indeed, and though he had told them several times that this would happen, they just hadn’t expected it to be so! No wonder they fled in terror and amazement, experiencing both trauma and ecstasy in the moment. No wonder they were silent – at least for a while. Trauma often leads to a sort of numbing that only wears off with time – and, for them, as the good news of the empty tomb sank in. I wonder if we would have responded any differently if we had been in their sandals.
In today’s Words of Preparation, Dorothy Harvey writes that “Resurrection is always a mystery, always a miracle, but often we do not recognize resurrection when it comes to us.” In that regard, are we any different than the first disciples? What is resurrection for us today? How might we recognize it? Is it simply the empty tomb or is it something more? Harvey suggests that “When all that separates and injures and destroys is overcome by that which unites, heals and creates in the ordinary routine of our daily lives, resurrection has taken place” (Dorothy Harvey, compiler, Birthed from the Womb of God: A Lectionary for Women). How does that definition work for you? That which brings creativity, healing and unity into the world is surely life-giving. Is that resurrection?
David Lose writes of today’s text, “Resurrection isn’t a conclusion, it’s an invitation. And Jesus’ triumph over death, sin, and hate isn’t what Mark’s Gospel is all about.” Really? Can that be so? Might that be a sort of shattered expectation for us? Isn’t that what we’ve heard proclaimed over and over, learned in Sunday School, repeated as our profession of faith? “No,” Lose claims. “Rather, Mark’s Gospel is all about setting us up to live resurrection lives and continue the story of God’s redemption of the world” (David Lose, “Only the Beginning,” March 30, 2015, davidlose.net). To live resurrection lives! Now there’s a challenge for us.
Barbara Lundlblad agrees. She comments, “Of all the Easter Gospels, Mark’s story invites us to stand where those first trembling witnesses stood. Those three women didn’t see Jesus. Neither do we. They didn’t hear Jesus call their names. Neither have we. They weren’t invited to touch his wounded hands. We haven’t touched Jesus’ hands either. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome are our silent sisters. The narrative is left for us, the readers, to complete” (Barbara K. Lundblad, “Mark 16:1-18: Beyond Fear and Silence,” April 4, 2012, huffingtonpost.com). Is there another shattered expectation here? Isn’t it enough for us to go on telling the stories of Jesus that have come down us? Isn’t it enough to proclaim the good news? Apparently not. There is are resurrection lives to be lived!
On many an Easter Sunday we have heard Paul’s wonderful words. “…let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed…
Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?”
Isn’t that good news? Isn’t that worth extended alleluias and a couple of hearty amens? To be sure, but is it enough? I don’t think I had paid sufficient attention before to the last verses of this passage from First Corinthians. You see for Paul and for the writer of Mark and for Jesus himself, it is never enough to just shout the good news. For them there is always an expectation that we will live the good news. “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends,” Paul writes, “stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of Christ, confident that nothing you do for Christ is a waste of time or effort.”
In the fifth century, Leo the Great advised that “As we have died with Christ, and have been buried with Christ and raised to live with Christ, so we bear Christ within us, both in body and spirit, in everything we do.” What would it mean for you and me to bear Christ within us in everything we do? The narrative is left for us, the readers, to complete. To live resurrection lives is our calling. To continue the story of God’s redemption of the world is our challenge. “When all that separates and injures and destroys is overcome by that which unites, heals and creates in the ordinary routine of our daily lives, resurrection has taken place.” Then the work of resurrection lives. Any shattered expectations for you today? If so, I still hold hope that the expectations of the living Christ will be fulfilled in us this Easter Day and all our days to come will be filled with resurrection living. Amen.