On the Other Side of the Cross Mark 16: 1-8

PilotTwo hunters go moose hunting in Canada, and hire a pilot to fly them to a remote region.  He tells them at the drop off point, “I`ll be back in one week, and remember I can only carry one moose out of here.”  A week passes; the pilot returns and the hunters have two moose.  The pilot says, “Hey, I told you guys no more than one moose.” One of the hunters replies, “Look, the pilot told us the same thing last year and we gave him a big tip to take both moose out.”  The three of them argue for few minutes; the pilot gives in, and agrees to take both moose.

They load up the moose and fire up the plane.  The plane shudders and strains trying to take off.  It finally gets the wheels off the ground five feet, ten feet and then runs out of runway and smashes into a tree.  The two hunters dazed and confused make there way out of the wreckage.  One hunter looks at the other and says, “Where are we?”  The other looks around and replies, “About 200 yards further than we were last year!Women at tomb

After Jesus’ death, the women who went to the tomb must have felt they weren’t more than 200 yards further than when they first encountered Jesus; right back where they started; without much hope; worrying about who is going to do the impossible and roll the stone away.  The tragedy of his death is compounded when they arrive by the fact it appears his body has been stolen.  They had to wonder if the short gain was worth this pain.

Any of us feel we’re about 200 yards further than we were last year?  We might have made some small gains and we’re thankful for those steps forward.  Some of us can speak of real resurrecting changes since last year.  My pastoral sense says a lot of us wish we could know greater change than being 200 yards further down the road.

The clerk at Men’s Wearhouse confirmed my hunch.  She learned I was a pastor, and asked, “What is the sermon about?”  I asked if she ever felt she wasn’t much further down the road than last year.  She said, “Yes, and I wish it could be different.”  I told her it could, and encouraged her to be kind to herself and don’t let go of a Loving Lord who is working in her, even now.  I wished her Happy Easter!

Our longings causes us to gravitate to this day of caterpillars turning to butterflies, grass turning green, eggs cracking open with little chicks.  These symbols are fine as long they’re reflections of the greater reality.  We must be careful with these metaphors and not allow them to reduce or trivialize the message; causing us to settle for less.  It’s too easy to think good thoughts and to try harder while reciting certain maxims.  While, our platitudes may keep us safe, they can’t fill the longings of our heart.

Easter SymbolsYou didn’t dress in your Easter best to hear an Easter history lesson that enlightens, yet doesn’t invite you to consider a category defying message that declares earth shattering change is possible.  You’re tired of looking for the living among the dead based on someone else’s Easter expectations.  Deep down you pray that Easter Day will confirm your hopes real trans-formative change is possible in your life and in this world.  Me too!

A minor character in the Easter story undergoes that kind of great change; the man sitting where Jesus lay in the tomb.  The text says he was dressed in white, but it doesn’t tell he’s an angel, though Mark makes him sound like an angel.  Mark also places a man in the garden the night of Jesus’ arrests.  In Mark 14:52, we’re told a man, wearing nothing but a linen garment was following Jesus as Jesus is seized, he fled naked, leaving his garment.  Now, in Mark 16 a man sits in Jesus’ empty tomb fully clothed saying, “Do not be afraid!”  Does Mark use this literary figure to make the point; Jesus is on the loose; transforming people in dramatic ways, like this man? Man at tomb

The leading roles in the Easter story are played by the women.  Their transformations aren’t as considerable as the man in the tomb.  But, at least they experience the news of resurrection; for their love of Jesus opens up a possibility that the other fear-ridden disciples missed because they stayed behind closed doors.  The women demonstrate what it is like to let go of fear, so they might be free to find out if Jesus is alive and offering life changing power.  They aren’t exactly sure what happened even after seeing the empty tomb with their own eyes; but, they are in position to consider what an empty tomb means to them and the other followers.

They tell the others.  The way the news is received reminds us that each person needs to have their own experience with resurrection to see beyond the land of the ever dying into the land of the ever living.  Each of us must be open to the Easter message; exercising a faith that behaves like Jesus is raised.  Resurrection news can only change the lives of those who choose to be in relationship with the Risen Savior.

Disciples after Jesus DeathI realize this is starting to sound like one of those Easter messages that suggests anyone who has experienced great Easter change is better off than those whose faith remain uncertain.  Let us be honest with each other and ourselves; none of us are any different than those disciples huddled in fear in that upper room, knowing they had abandoned Jesus after spending three years with him.  Death levels the ground and causes all of us to shudder.  It is likely we would have remained behind too when the women left, if we were not AWOL already.

Jesus told his disciples he would rise from the dead before dying.  So, we might think Jesus would chastise them now.  A careful reading of all four Gospels reveals Jesus doesn’t berate, blame, or call for retribution on these of little faith.  Patiently (Thomas) and forgivingly (Peter) he invites them to let go of their shame; works with them right where they are.  Later, he breathes forgiveness on the whole bunch; acting in the same manner he did toward his executioners.  Jesus will not let his disciples carry baggage from the past; because his resurrection sets them with the message that new life is possible for them and us, 200 yards at a time.

The risen Jesus is the definitive revelation of the heart of God; showing us love prevails over hate; forgiveness rules life, not blame; humble service is the way of world, not lording over those we cause to feel they are unworthy; and nonviolence is the way to confront hate, blame, power, and violent crosses.  The Risen Christ wants to release us from that same old tunes of the false self and invite us into a relationship and an open-ended future that develops our true self, not from the top down; but from the inside out. Thomas

The good reason we feel we’re only 200 yards further down the narrow road with Jesus is because inward transformation doesn’t happen easily.  Living to the rhythm of the empty tomb; dying little deaths so we may know little resurrection; continues to ask us to lay down our life; while remaining hope filled God knows what do with a life offered freely for the sake of others.  This is an act of passion that requires us to be open to a sense of mystery that defies full understanding, just like when you say I love you.  If we’ll remain before the mystery in wonder long enough, gradually the beauty of its truth unfolds and is revealed, 200 yards at a time.

The Easter story is more than an account of the miraculous ‘returning’ of Jesus’ body, we’re not here for a history lesson.  Neither is the raising of Jesus a showy miracle, we not here for a magic show.  Jesus’ resurrection assures us transformation is possible.

PotterTransformation happens as we live life one moment at a time, and little by little small changes build on other changes, day by day shaping our future.  We trust all those changes are dramatically transforming us for tomorrow.  As the true self grows, we realize all the ways the risen Christ has loved us, picked us up when we fell short, and freed us to mine the immortal diamond of our soul, which God stamped with divine DNA.  Jesus’ empty tomb is the reference point where our 200 yard resurrections are taking us.  For now, Christ is already alive; changing us, one resurrection at a time.

Mark’s gospel concludes without concluding.  You expect to hear how the women left dancing and everything changed.  We get a ragged non-ending as they run away in terror and amazement, talking to no one.  It’s as if there are three ellipsis dots at verse 8-more to come.  There is more to come, each one of us can supply our own ending; telling each other how far down the road we are this year because of Christ’s resurrection.  We are writing the rest of the story two hundred yards at a time.

Christ is Risen, what say you?

He is risen indeed!

Happy Easter!



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