Easter.21 “Not A Dull Man”
What a weird thing, huh? Oh, not that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. I don’t think it’s weird that God, even having taken on human flesh, should rise from the dead, because duh, God! Immortal! All-Powerful! OK?” Oh, sorry, I almost forgot, “Christ is risen!” Alleluia! Audience participation is so important, like pastoral ministry 101.
But no, that’s not what’s weird about Easter, to me. What’s weird is how Mark’s Gospel ends—and it seems, from the most ancient and apparently reliable manuscripts, it’s the way Mark actually ended the thing: after hearing from the angel that Christ is risen [whoa, there, skippy; let’s not over-do the audience participation thing. How about one more time at the end, which will come quickly. You’re recognize it.]. They do not exchange pious greetings, rejoice at the Resurrection News, hunt eggs, have opulent brunches, and get dressed up in fancy outfits, and nice hats, as Easter is now celebrated. No. They tremble with astonishment and say nothing to anyone (which is actually the sensible, biblical policy on sharing the Gospel, still, today) and fled the tomb, for they were afraid. The End!
What a weird ending! (now, I like ending sermons with everyone scared, but few in the congregation seem to like it as much as I do; more’s the pity.). I see why the people who killed him would be afraid, hearing he’s back and looking to speak with them. But why are his friends and disciples afraid? That’s what I’m puzzling over today…
I doubt the problem was that they thought he was a ghost. They weren’t nearly as afraid of ghosts as much as they were afraid of the living, flesh and blood Jesus! But why? We aren’t afraid. What was wrong with them? Well, Dorothy Sayers thinks the problem is not with them, but with us. Basically, she thinks we have made Jesus into something he never was—a dull man, a safe, tame, pet kitty cat and not the Lion of Judah, the dangerous King he truly is. She writes (in a London Times editorial)…
“The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary; they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before Heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; he referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; he assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had “a daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,”3 and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.”
So, when he came back, it was a problem. A scary one, even for his friends—who had denied, betrayed, ignored, and basically consented to his death, even the best and bravest of them. Apparently, even they had not gotten over their attachment to pig farming and capitalism. They saw him as a threat to BBQ and a healthy rate of return on loans they’d made—which he was, in fact. Among other things…
Even his disciples thought he went a bit far in dissing King Herod, Caesar Augustus, and the Synod’s Council of Presidents, in upsetting the economy by driving the money men out of the centers of power. He was far from “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. He freaked out and flipped over traders’ tables in a rage that reached up to Heaven. He got mad at a fig tree once(!), because it didn’t have figs out of season for his breakfast! (What? Martha couldn’t make an omelette?) So, he cursed the poor, innocent fig tree; and it withered and died! That’s not level-headed, even-keeled, or kind! He sent his disciples out on the sea in a little boat. A storm came up that nearly killed them. That he stilled it, miraculously, didn’t comfort them as much as raise the question who let the storm get started? He ripped Peter (who’d just confessed him as Lord and Christ) for wondering if the cross is really a great idea; re-named him Satan!
Now I would say: that’s an exciting but dangerous Guy to follow around and emulate. Few people want that, especially in their pastor, which is why most of us are hypocrites, still today, who water down the Word instead of hitting you between the eyes with the upsetting truth.
It’s like I told you last Sunday: what dies on the cross with Jesus is cowardice, deceit, and corruption. And to the extent that you are cowardly, deceitful, and corrupt (and we all are, to some degree) you need to die on the cross too before anything like real Life and Joy are possible for you. Which is what I told you on Friday: if you were there, at Golgotha on Good Friday, 30 AD, you should not have been a spectator jeering at him, or even a pious friend shedding soft tears into lace hankies—sad, but going along with his removal as regrettably necessary. No. You should have been a participant, nailed up on it like the thief you are, dying next to Jesus and begging him to remember you in his Kingdom. Only in that Way will any of us see Paradise.
Perhaps we can see, now, why they ran from the empty tomb the 1st Easter, screaming like little children? It’s actually quite a proper, sensible response to the Easter News! It’s less like a fluffy bunny, our Gospel, and more like the Bidens’ dog: a handsome, but unpredictable animal that turns on a dime from belly rubs to bites, then takes a massive dump on that beautiful rug that really tied the whole Oval Office together. My wife says: “that dog will never be ‘Presidential’. It should be recalled, replaced.” I like him.
Fear, like flying, can be fun. I think the second angel was just outside the tomb with an iPhone, getting video, when the first angel goes: “Hi, there!” and everyone freaks. I bet they’re laughing in heaven over it right now. I kind of like scaring my wife like that, sometimes; but don’t tell her that.
Maybe, if we recover some of that holy fear, the joy of Easter will properly follow? Jesus will loosen our grip on our pigs, property, and sense of propriety, for sure. Not a dull Man! But, the predictability, propriety, and profits lost is nothing compared to the Paradise gained, chasing after him. IT’s all on offer at his Table, now, for you. Because: Christ is Risen!… Alleluia.