Date: April 5, 2015
Title: “Out of the Graveyard, Into Your Backyard”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Mark 16:1-8
If I say “Christ is Risen!”, you will say “Christ is Risen, indeed!”… right? That’s just the way it works. Well, this morning, on my way into church, I decided to call each of my daughters. I didn’t really expect them to answer – it was, after all, a little before 7:00 am on a Sunday. And, sure enough, the 28 year old in San Francisco was still asleep, so I left her a message, “Christ is Risen!”, wanting to be the first to share the news with her. Then, much to my surprise, my 23 year old, who is living in El Paso, Texas, and working on immigration reform, answered my call! When I greeted her with the ancient affirmation, “Christ is Risen!”, she immediately responded, “Remember the Alamo!”
You just never know where anybody will be when they hear the news of resurrection. You just don’t know what they will be doing when the Risen Christ surprises them with joy. Easter is like that.
Now I have a confession to make. I’m not particularly proud of this, but here goes…after a long day at work, a long day of writing or re-writing newsletter articles, webposts, or semons; after a long day of working with people, caring for people, maybe even wondering about people, there is nothing better as far as I’m concerned that watching a good television murder mystery! I know, it’s not very uplifting. It’s not very redeeming. Certainly it is not at all “spiritual” (don’t tell John Wesley!). But there is something deeply satisfying to me about a 60-minute drama that presents a problem, outlines a mystery, and then solves it all within the space of an hour!
There is something deeply satisfying about a show that answers all my questions, wrapping everything up in a neat little package, and eliminating all trace of ambiguity, as it allows me to turn the television off, walk away from the drama, and never give it a second thought. Maybe that’s why I tend to prefer the other resurrection stories. Like Matthew’s Gospel, where the women get to see the risen Jesus with their own eyes. Or Luke, who has Jesus encountering disciples on the road to Emmaus after Easter morning. Or John, where the Easter miracle gets wrapped up in several “Aha!” moments, where people not only see, but talk to, and even touch the resurrected Christ.
Mark’s Gospel doesn’t give us any of that. Mark leaves us hanging, mid-sentence, wondering, “Well now what?” The women come to the tomb expecting to find only death. They come looking for a body, prepared to confront a corpse, and then they find out that Jesus is gone. In his place is a stranger, who reassures them, “It’s okay”, as if he expects them to say, “Oh well, thank goodness…you had us worried there for a second. But if you say it’s okay…”
But of course, it is not okay. The Greek words used to describe the women’s reaction are tromos, which means trauma; and ecstasis, meaning ecstasy. Trauma and ecstasy grab the women because resurrection is terrifying and mysterious and distressing. There is no neat little package here, and we cannot walk away from this drama without giving it a second thought.
Perhaps this is the genius of Mark’s Gospel. The silence and ambiguity of the ending draws us into a place we know very well. The place where the women find themselves in the moment of discovery is the place we live day in and day out. Out post-Easter lives are right there, on the line between hope and fear. Matthew Skinner puts it this way:
Co-pilots aren’t supposed to crash commercial jets.
States aren’t supposed to grant individuals the right to discriminate against under-protected groups under some squishy definition of ‘religious freedom’.
We may never learn where the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were taken when they were kidnapped from their school, or what happened to the 43 student teachers arrested by police in Southern Mexico.
In our own particular lives, we cannot see far enough into the future to know where today’s choices will take us tomorrow. Will we live happily ever after, or simply struggle along from one crisis to the next? Will we be surrounded by community or isolated in our own loneliness? Will we have saved enough, dared enough, loved enough to get us through to the end of our lives?
Faced with the enormity of life’s questions without answers, seized by our own trauma and ecstasy, it is tempting to pull the covers up over our heads, squeeze our eyes shut and whisper a prayerful “Please, God, not in my backyard.” But here’s the thing about Easter: Jesus doesn’t stay put. He goes directly from the graveyard into your backyard and mine. Easter is not a spectator sport. We may get it figured out one day, and maybe not. We may still be standing around, caught in the grip of both trauma and ecstasy, when resurrection throws us off balance and bring us back to life.
The great thing about being a minister – the greatest thing in my mind – is the opportunity it gives me to be with people from birth to death and in all those moments in between. From time to time, I have been privileged to witness resurrection. Not in bodily form, certainly – but I have seen it. I have seen people laid low, who by all rights should never rise again. I have seen them get up, brush themselves off, and go on to live more fully than they ever lived before.
I think of Judy, who went off to college full of high hopes and great expectations, only to contract polio, which left her unable to walk without crutches and leg braces. She dropped out of college, and had to give up on her education degree – and yet, she became the most significant teacher I have ever known, as a volunteer mentor, guide, and friend to literally hundreds of young people.
I think of Ralph, who lost his job six months before retirement thanks to a disagreement with corporate executives. Rather than waste time with justifiable anger, or allow himself to be consumed by self-pity, Ralph used his unexpected free time to create a non-profit organization which helps people coming out of the prison system find sustainable jobs and the support they need to start new lives.
I think of Olon, whose 8-month-old daughter died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or Gwen, who at age 7 lost both parents in an accident caused by a drunk driver, or Michelle, who struggles even today with debilitating depression and has to work harder than I work all day, just to get out of bed in the morning.
It is unnatural that all these people should be living such full and abundant lives. And yet, this is precisely how God works when Jesus comes out of the graveyard and into our backyards. God does not protect us from death, but brings us back to life again and again and again. God brings us back to life because life – not death – is God’s will for every one of us.
Easter is not a conclusion. It is an invitation. Easter is our invitation to join Jesus in my backyard and yours and in every yard, back or front, throughout the world. It is our invitation to join Jesus in loving deeply and in living fully. And the story is just beginning even now, wherever we may be when we hear that affirming “Christ is Risen!” He is risen – and so are we, indeed. Thanks be to God! Amen.