April 4, 2021
"Completing the Story"
Pastor Scott Landis
For years I’ve led worship on Easter Sunday and almost every one has begun with a grand opening procession. Shouts of “Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed” are followed by a vivacious singing of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today – Alleluia” – all reminding one and all that this day is different from all others. Churches are packed. Folks are dressed in their Sunday finest, and smiles abound as kids try and sit still after having been all “sugared up” on Easter candy. It’s a day of laughter, noise, and heartfelt joy all appropriate for the occasion. But very different from the story Georgia just read describing that third day after Jesus’ crucifixion.
That day began in deep sorrow. It was a time of grieving as the women made their way to the graveyard – not unlike the one I am standing in today. There are no tombs here – just stones that mark the burial plots of those who have died many years ago.
I find graveyards to be fascinating places. And obviously, so do many others because I see hundreds of folks come by and spend time here – even though most don’t know a single person buried here. People are drawn to graveyards for obvious reasons. They are places we go to remember – loved ones and friends. They give us a sense of history and belonging. They are places we go to grieve and feel a closeness to who and what was. [Pause]
I was reared in southeastern Pennsylvania. My memories of family members who died there are mainly of loved ones being buried in caskets in beautiful graveyards adjacent to their churches. My mother was buried in that way and almost every time I return to my hometown I take my father to her grave. It’s always a difficult moment. We weep as we gently lay flowers on her grave. We remember who she was and all that was – and feel, once again, our pain that all that is gone – she lives no more.
It’s quiet there. The grounds are sacred – just like here. And folks generally honor the fact that this is a solemn place. One that demands respect as we walk about and feel a gripping of our hearts. [Pause]
The women came to Jesus’ tomb early on the third day. They came with spices – in order to ensure that he was properly anointed for burial. And, I am sure, they came to remember – to grieve, and to begin the process of letting go. But what they anticipated and what happened were very different.
They were met by a young man all dressed in white who upon, recognizing their shock, said, “Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus – the one they nailed to the cross. He’s been raised up. He is no longer here. Look – see for yourselves. The place is empty. Now – on your way. Go and tell the disciples and Peter that he’ll meet you in Galilee. You’ll see him there. Just like he said. [Pause]
As I mentioned earlier, we tend to celebrate Easter morning with great joy and excitement. Large crowds gather on our lawn just steps away from this graveyard as a unique and stirring worship service is anticipated. But not so today. The pandemic has restricted us, once again, from gathering in ways much more to our liking. But, I wonder, given our situation, if you might be able to get in touch with the reality of that first Easter (even more than being here) as you watch this service from your homes – perhaps alone – or with just one or two others. Imagine how you would have felt coming to the grave – confronted with the reality that the one you were grieving was no longer there. [Pause]
Mark said it this way, “They got out of there as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned. They said nothing to anyone.”
It’s understandable, isn’t it? They couldn’t make heads or tails out of what they had just witnessed. Dropping their spices – they ran. Shocked into silence – they hid. Frightened at what they had just witnessed – they tried to act as if this was all an illusion. This couldn’t be happening. No one would ever believe them anyway – so they said nothing to anyone.
And that’s how Mark ends his gospel. No resurrection. No alleluias. No Christ the Lord is risen today! Just stone, cold silence. [Pause]
We know that more happened than what is written. And we really don’t know why Mark ended so abruptly. But I like to think it’s because Mark wants us to complete the story for ourselves. [Pause]
Take a little walk with me. [Move further into the graveyard]
We come here to remember and that is an essential part of grieving our loss. Early on our grieving may be overwhelming – filled with shock. Depending on the circumstances we may not be able to believe what has happened. We sob as we mourn the loss of who and what was. But we cannot stay here. While we will not likely encounter a young man dressed in white telling us to “fear not.” We will encounter Jesus. Why? Because he was raised – just as he said.
You see, while Easter may begin on a solemn note – the story ends in heartfelt joy. After coming to grips with the reality of what was – the disciples witness resurrection – Jesus was alive!
It’s a story we must complete for ourselves. But we can only do so by walking into our grief. And then, Mark invites us to go to our own Galilee. Wherever that might be. And there we will see Jesus. Why? Because he is risen as he said.
Easter is indeed a glorious day. And we ought to celebrate with our whole being. For while it begins here in the grave – it ends in the glorious resurrection. I like to think our loved ones are challenging us with that same invitation – cheering us on. “It’s nice you dropped by for a visit – but the action is in Galilee.” That’s where we move from sorrow to servanthood. From mourning to ministry. From grief to glory.
Alleluia – Christ arose!
Mahalo ke Akua!Amene