Listen to Heidi Middendorf sing “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth:”
Listen to the sermon here:
Easter has been the biggest holiday in the Christian church for centuries. It’s when we celebrate the culmination of Jesus’ story in the Gospels, when it turns out that even death did not have the last say. Christ is risen! Alleluia! And we who know the whole story pull out all the stops on this day. We bring in the trumpets, we sing the great, joyous songs of resurrection, and oh, the flowers – so many flowers! We fill the church and often our homes with all the signs of new life: bright spring colors, butterflies, bunnies, a sign of abundant new life in their own way.
Easter is such a reliably joyful and celebratory time for us that I think it’s easy for us to forget how disorienting this story is. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome went to the site of Jesus’ grave distressed, grieving, but at least thinking they knew what they would find there. Instead they found what could have been the worst April Fools Day joke ever: Jesus’ body gone, and instead a young man sitting calmly in the tomb, informing them that Jesus has been raised from the dead, he is alive, he will meet them later in Galilee.
What would you do if you found the tomb empty? Really, what would you do – if you watched a friend die, prepared his body for burial, saw him sealed into a tomb…and then when you went to visit his grave, you found that his body was not there?
I think it’s entirely possible that I would do exactly what they did: run! Get the heck out of Dodge. Get away from this mysterious messenger and his strange and frightening news. It says that they were seized by terror and amazement, and I imagine I would be too. We may talk about resurrection casually and joyfully now in the abstract, but in truth, someone rising from the dead is about the most unexpected thing that can possibly happen.
The original ending of the Gospel of Mark is right here, with the women running away, afraid to tell anyone what they’ve seen. The author left the audience in suspense in a way the other gospels do not. Eventually another writer jumped in and finished off the Gospel of Mark with a happier ending, in which the resurrected Jesus makes an appearance and gives some final instructions. But this version leaves us with the women, fleeing from the tomb in terror and amazement, uncertain but also, maybe, just beginning to hope that what the young man in the tomb said is true. Hope that the most unexpected thing that could possibly happen could be true.
That hope in itself propelled those women to become the first preachers of the gospel, the first people to know the whole story of Jesus and tell it to the other disciples. And that in itself is a story of resurrection – of moving so quickly from fearing for their lives to risking their lives, from fear and trembling to boldly proclaiming. Something transformative happened to them, something unexpected, and it was resurrection.
I know a number of people who are here for Easter are not here regularly, so to give you some background, throughout the last few weeks we’ve been talking about Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of “creative maladjustment:” in essence that there are many things about the world to which we should resist adjusting. We should not be well-adjusted to violence, white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or other forms of discrimination and oppression that prevent people from fully living and thriving. And so we have explored what it looks like to maladjust, and to embrace maladjusted patterns of living like humility, sacrifice, self-denial, exposure, disruption, resistance, and mortality.
But I believe the greatest maladjustment of all, and the one that enables us to live into all of these other maladjusted patterns, is resurrection.
This world is terrifyingly full of death and forces that impede the fullness of life. Death comes to us in ways that are massive and public, like school shootings and wars, corrupt governments and dangerous environmental shifts, systems of oppression and discrimination. And death comes to us in smaller, private ways: we lose loved ones, relationships end, institutions that are important to us close their doors, things change, we fail to meet our goals, we lose the person we hoped we would be, or we’re forced to hide our true self away…and if it’s not actually a death, it often feels like one.
Deaths and endings seem so final. It can be so easy to get stuck there, in grief and fear and uncertainty, fleeing from the tomb.
But the story of the resurrection is that endings are not final. Grief and fear do not win. Death does not win. In fact, all of creation is wired for new beginning.
All of life is about resurrections. Our bodies kill off 100,000 cells per second…and replace them. Our food begins with the death of an animal or a seed falling from a plant into the ground. We are literally dying to live.
Resurrection isn’t merely an event that we remember that happened once long ago; the resurrection is part of our ongoing resurrection, the resurrection that we live into every day that reminds us that none of the death we encounter in this world has the last word. It is all a new beginning. It is all a resurrection.
The question for us is whether we will adjust to death, or maladjust with resurrection. It is entirely too possible to be paralyzed by grief, or to flee in fear, or to sing a requiem for this broken, painful world.
But this is not the only option. We can look for the sprouts of growth in the rotting compost pile. We can bury what has died and mourn it, but also ask God to empty the tomb and surprise us with the most unexpected thing of all. We can look together for signs of new life, and ask each other where God’s resurrecting power is still present even when we’re grieving, even when we’re afraid, even when we want to run, or hide. We can sing one of those joyous anthems of resurrection, trumpets and all.
We can experience that same unexpected transformation that turned the women from fear to boldness, from terror to joy. Resurrection. Christ is risen – Alleluia!