Easter.18 “Amazed and Afraid” Mark 16:1-8
How does the Easter Gospel strike you? What should we say about it? This is one of those “Duh!” questions that no one asks because it seems obvious, right? I’m supposed to say “Christ is Risen!” and you respond: “He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!” Yeah. You respond. You’ll get another chance. Joy! is the correct response to Easter, right? I suppose y’all are expecting a sermon on Joy! (even though I’m kinda with Joseph Sittler, a departed, crusty old Lutheran professor who remarked to a colleague once, coming out of the seminary chapel after being treated to a second year student’s sermon: “You know, I find there is nothing more depressing than a sermon on Joy!”).
But Prof. Sittler and I seem to be in a tiny minority this morning. I look around and see that most people are pretty jacked. They got the day off Friday so they could have a nice long weekend and kick back and watch the Final Four, do some shopping, hunt up some candy eggs, eat the kids’ candy while they’re not looking, maybe make the semi-annual visit to church. The ladies have their new spring dresses on, guys show up in slick duds, kids in their “Crewcuts”, Easter lilies everywhere. Why wouldn’t you preach a sermon on Joy!?
Well, it’s not because me and my, me and my, me and my friends gotta work today. That’s not it. We love our work even more than the RHCP. It’s not because we had to get up extra early (well, maybe it’s a little bit that?). It’s not because we’re Grinchy or Scroogy. Our tiny, cold hearts are growing 2 sizes, every day—God bless us, everyone! It’s not because Prof. Sittler has a point about sermons on Joy! (though you’re getting warmer, I think!). No. The reason my sermon today is titled “Amazed and Afraid” rather than Joy! is because amazed and afraid was the response of the first disciples, the first Easter—on finding the tomb empty and hearing the (to them ominous!) news that Jesus was loose and looking for them for a meet-up…
I have this bias, you see, that the Scriptures are always right and that the response of the first disciples and apostles to the Gospel is paradigmatic, such that if our response is dramatically different, if our way of proclaiming IT diverges considerably in content, if it produces a different response than from those who first heard the news from the angels, then something has gone wrong—that’s my bias: that the Scriptures and the first Christians set a template that, if we don’t fit, we out to wonder, seriously, why?
And if you say, “well, that’s just Mark. He’s always been a bit of a downer! The other Gospels show more joy on Easter.” Not entirely wrong, but only Matthew mentions (once!) anyone having any joy on Easter morning, but that was very much the secondary (tertiary?) response—fear and amazement and just plain confusion is the Order of the Day, on the first Easter. And one senses that Mary Magdalene’s joy was something quite different than the second year seminarian’s that Sittler encountered in the pulpit in Chicago, anyway.
So what’s up with the first Easter? Maybe a closer look at the text will help. Gotta remember that unlike most of you who are here for Jesus every week, especially last week on His way to the cross(!), behind Him all the way, the apostles and most of the first disciples forsook Him and fled when the soldiers and mob with clubs came for Him on Thursday evening in the garden to take Him away to the cross. The disciples were all like: “I’m out”. They slunk over to Pilate’s hall, later; way behind Him, keeping out of sight, and when one girl recognized Peter, he denied even knowing Jesus at all.
Mary, His mother, was there at the foot of the cross and John and a couple other ladies (but they were just there to support Mary, for her, let the reader understand!). The rest stood at a distance (if they stood by at all!) to watch the End. Only two guys who no one would ever have thought were disciples—rich ruler guys—Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (whose wealth and power would have shielded them from suspicion of being followers of Jesus) even bothered to claim the Body and give Him a proper (if hurried!) burial, in Joseph’s new tomb, and only because it happened to be nearby, if the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is correct, only about 30 yards from the cross.
With friends like that… right? They did not exactly cover themselves with glory when the chips were down and Jesus could have used a pal or two. He died alone and forsaken, even by God His Father! So the several Marys and Salome went to the tomb that morning, embarrassed, humiliated, sheepish, and only because (as altar guild members!) they knew that if you leave the linens, anointing, and service prep to the men it will always be done wrong, so they’re just fixing mistakes, and a young man, looking suspiciously heavenly, like an angel or something, is sitting on the right side of a now empty tomb.
They are alarmed! As naturally, they would be! And the angel says “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid Him (and I don’t mind saying, for two dudes, they did a very nice job of it too! A fine linen shroud wrapped with about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, lovely fragrance, very pleasing to the nose, and I think the shroud is actually lying over there somewhere, and someone might want to take a look at it and hang onto that thing. Interesting things to see in it, perhaps. Could be valuable someday!) but anyway, where was I? Oh yeah! Jesus is risen; and go, tell His disciples—and Peter who doesn’t even know who He is anymore—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you. Have a nice day…”
The prospect of meeting up with the Lord they’d denied, doubted, and abandoned in His hour of need—how would that strike you? With Joy!? Or maybe with something more Kierkegaardian, something more like Fear and Trembling? Yeah. Now you’re with me. “So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid…”
Which strikes me as just right. That’s what Easter will always do to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Amazed and afraid. And where we go blabbing the good news to anyone and everyone, practically giddy, they are tight lipped and say nothing to anyone. Because… amazed and afraid!
Have we treated Jesus much differently than the first apostles? Have we been such great pals, especially when the chips were down and He really could have used a true friend? Uh, I’ll leave you to answer that one yourself. Think on it a while, though. Because when I think on it a while, I’m right there with the first disciples at the empty tomb. Fear and trembling. Amazed and afraid. I want to see Jesus—in my head. But in my heart? There’s a whole lot of stuff I’d rather not discuss with Him. That conversation could turn awkward, real quick…
It is kind of an awkward conversation. If you want to know how that goes—you’ll have to come back next week! But I’ll give you a preview: you can run, but you can’t hide. Jesus will find you—amazed and afraid. And at that most awesome moment, there will be no words. Only the strong, yet gentle arms of the Good Shepherd, scooping up His long lost sheep, laying you on His shoulders, and taking you home, amazed that: Christ is Risen…