April 8, 2012
Sermon for Easter Sunday 2012
April 8, 2012
The Rev. Bradford Ayers Rundlett
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Brad: Bienvenidos, buenos dias; Happy Easter!
Leslie: Welcome, good morning; Feliz Pascua!
Brad: Most of us are familiar with the Gospel accounts of Easter, and we’re aware they don’t agree. Memory is selective; witnesses even to important and unusual events recall things differently. So, naturally the details in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, vary. If the four accounts were in perfect agreement, we’d know the Easter story was fabricated.
All four Gospels do, however, agree on this - Jesus was not in the tomb, he is not dead; he is alive.
Leslie: Mark’s Gospel was the first written and it’s the most succinct. The original version stops where our reading ended this morning: three women went to the tomb - which they found open - a mysterious stranger told them Jesus had been raised and the disciples would find him in Galilee. The women ran away in terror, and told no one what they saw and heard.
We’ll come back to that.
Brad: Mark left a lot of significant events, teachings, and miracles, out of his Gospel; it’s half as long as Matthew’s. Of particular importance to us this morning - either Mark didn’t know that several hundred people swore they had seen Jesus, talked with him; even had a meal with him – after he was dead and buried! Or Mark didn’t think any of that was important!
Why did Mark completely omit eyewitness accounts?
Leslie: It’s actually very simple; there wasn’t time, and it wasn’t important.
Look at it from Mark’s perspective. The Romans destroyed the great Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. Mark and a lot of other people believed that was the “last straw!” They were certain that the Final Judgment and the Kingdom of God were moments away. Mark’s brief Gospel is the “Final warning;” it’s “the Last Call to Get Right with God.”
Written right after Solomon’s temple was reduced to ruins, Mark didn’t include eyewitness accounts because he believed everyone was about to meet Jesus face to face! Some folks would get a ticket to Paradise; many more would be begging for a “do over.”
Brad: Mark omitted a lot of things. But he included some other things that few people wanted to hear. Jesus was much more than a teacher and healer; he was a social activist, a revolutionary. Jesus was out to change the world!
According to Mark Jesus addressed racial, gender, socio-economic, political, and religious inequity head on. And that did not set well with the powerful men ensconced in Rome and Jerusalem.
Leslie: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, went to do what women did in those days - and still do in many places – prepare the dead for their final journey to where ever it is we go, after we’ve taken our last breath in this life. In Jewish tradition women who performed these ministrations were called the “Chevra Kaddisha” – the Holy Ones.
Brad: The title was more than a little ironic.
The word “holy” means “set apart for sacred duty.” So an object that’s consecrated – like a cross or Chalice – requires special care. A saint merits special respect. And God - who is uniquely, utterly Holy – must be worshipped and revered.
But women, holy?
Leslie: Women who cared for the deceased were set apart for sacred duty. But the duty made them untouchable, unclean. No one would come near them for days – except babies who are hungry, messy, or inconsolable; men don’t want to deal with such things.
And men make the rules.
Brad: So a man would say Yahweh is holy. The Temple is holy. The Law is holy. A sacrifice is holy.
Leslie: But women aren’t like men. We are less likely to think “things” are holy. Thus women recognize two kinds of holiness – one for men, and another for women.
The difference is significant.
From a very young age girls learn about housework, childcare, and how to get around the rules of men. Boys learn about Yahweh, Torah, and how to make more rules for women and children. The Holy One of Israel speaks to men, not to women. So, if you ask a woman, and if there are no men around, she’ll tell you the Temple is just a building. The law works better for men than for women. And sacrifice? Why does God need an animal to die?
Men say that a woman’s cycle and giving birth makes her unclean. Therefore every woman spends much of her life unclean. So be it. It’s the will of God. That’s just how it is.
Women, on the other hand, know that children are holy, good health and peace are holy; safety, comfort, and a good home; good food and plenty of it, and the friendship of other women, are holy. Women know that holiness is not in things; it’s in love, tenderness, laughter; yes, and even tears.
Brad: So the women went to prepare Jesus for burial. The Kohein, the priest, did not assist them. It was forbidden. The priest could not do anything that would make him unclean. He must always be presentable so he can serve in the Temple and speak with the Holy One of Israel.
Leslie: The women knew their duty. But this burial was different. Jesus was different; he was holy in the way that both women and men think of holiness. He deserved special care like the holy things in the Temple. He merited the special respect given to the greatest teachers and saints. And they revered him because he was like God in every way.
He was a man, but he knew things that women know. He was an adult but he saw life through the eyes of children. He saw life through the eyes of the poor and lonely; the sick and sorrowful too. He felt in his heart and soul the hopes and dreams, the heartache and loneliness, that all of God’s people feel. He taught us that there is holiness everywhere and in everyone – even in our most bitter enemies . . . even in death.
Brad: The Chevra Kaddisha would clean him, wash off the dry blood, anoint him with oil; apply spices and burn incense to cover the odor of death. They would wrap him in linen, and in a shroud. They would not receive any payment, and they would be unclean for days.
Holiness has a price.
Leslie: They would do this with quiet dignity – and, yes, with tears - because they loved him, in a way that was holy.
Brad: The women walked quietly to the tomb, each with their own thoughts, their own grief, wondering anxiously how they would move the great rock that sealed the tomb. It was too large, too heavy for the three of them.
Leslie: In Jewish tradition a body is never left alone before burial; it’s a matter of respect. Friends and family - called “Shomerim” - stay with the body until the tomb is sealed. At the tomb of Jesus armed guards replaced the “Shomerim.” Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas both wanted to make sure no one could take the body of Jesus, hide it, and claim he was alive. These guards would not let the women in the tomb. They would mock Jesus and the women. They might make trouble for the women as well.
Brad: When they were close enough, they saw that the great rock had been moved, the tomb was open, and the guards were gone! With growing trepidation they hurried forward.
Leslie: They looked in the tomb. Jesus’ body wasn’t there!
Brad: A stranger wearing a white robe was sitting in the tomb. Who was he, and what did he have to do with the fact that Jesus’ body was gone?
Leslie: What had happened?
Brad: Where was Jesus?
Leslie: Evil and powerful men were involved; it was always that way. The women knew it! And they were terrified!
Brad: The stranger spoke, “It’s okay.”
Leslie: But their hearts still raced, they could not slow their breathing.
Brad: “You’re looking for Jesus aren’t you. He’s not here. God has raised him. Go tell Peter and the others – as Jesus promised - they’ll see him, in Galilee.”
Leslie: What did he say? Jesus is alive? It can’t be! Something awful has happened!
They dropped the oil, the spices, the incense, the linen and the shroud. And they ran for their lives. They ran, and ran, and ran!
And when they arrived where the others waited, they said nothing. They could not trust anyone. Someone had removed the body of Jesus; who and why, they did not know. But they knew their place; if they kept quiet they might survive.
Brad: Power . . . wealth . . . and the ability to evoke fear; these are the things that determine who lives, who lives well, and who doesn’t. Jesus challenged injustice, and the balance of power began to shift. The Emperor knew it, Pontius Pilate knew it, King Herod knew it; the High Priest Caiaphas knew it. And they did not like it.
Leslie: Mark knew that Jesus was out to dismantle social injustice. Jesus exposed the shallow faith of religious leaders, the abusive power of rulers and their armies, the corrupt practices of merchants, the selfish vanity of the rich, the dismissive attitudes about race, age, and gender that perpetuate cruelty and indifference.
Jesus embodied and taught a better way. And he did not fear death.
Brad: Mark’s Gospel, especially the final verses – what he wrote, and what he didn’t write – was like a sword cutting through ropes that bind women, children, the poor, gentiles and Samaritans. Mark’s Gospel is a wake-up call. He wants us to see that a lot of things aren’t right; that people are suffering and dying because things aren’t right. Mark wants us to stop acting like we have forever to fix things; he wants us to stop taking the grace of God for granted.
Leslie: Easter baskets and chocolate eggs are fun. It’s good to celebrate; it’s good to laugh and enjoy life. But Easter is so much more than that.
Brad: Easter is about God changing the rules, changing a sinful and broken world. It’s about changing our hearts and minds, making things good for everyone - create hope where there is despair, establish equality where there is oppression, exemplify compassion where there is indifference, lay the foundations of peace where there is conflict; plant forgiveness and love where there is hatred.
Leslie: Of course the women were frightened! Easter is about grace, a new chance, a fair chance, for everyone.
Brad: Easter is about a new world. The doors to the Kingdom of God are open for everyone. To people who like things the way they are; who have a lot to lose, this Good News will seem very disconcerting.
Actually it’s the best news ever! It’s exciting, life-giving, inspiring, and freeing!
Leslie: Today is a new day, full of possibilities!Jesus is not in the tomb, he is alive. And that changes everything.
Brad and Leslie: Alleluia. Christ is risen!