April 4th Sermon, An Easter Sunday Celebration: The Story Isn’t Finished.
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Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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April 4th Sermon, An Easter Sunday Celebration: The Story Isn’t Finished.
In our sanctuary, at the end of every pew, you will find a box of Kleenex because we want people to know that tears are welcome and this should be a space that can hold the sacredness of your tears. This past year has brought us so many tears, tears, tears, our holy tears remind us of the gift of life. Tears remind us that that every life is sacred. Tears are a sacrament of those willing to risk love.
Tears remind us of how very, very, very fragile life is. Yeah, this past year has brought many tears, as always, thinking about the tears of the three women from our Easter story, from the Gospel of Mark today, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James and Salome. As I was thinking about their tears as they witnessed Jesus breathed his last, I couldn’t help but think of the tears of all of the families who’ve lost loved ones to the pandemic this year.
I couldn’t help but think of the tears of those who’ve been forced to grieve from a distance. As I thought about the tears of the three women who witnessed Jesus die a violent death, I couldn’t help but think of the tears of all of the families who lost loved ones to the violence of hate and fear and racism this past year. You know, as I thought about the tears of the three women in our story who not only did their beloved friend Jesus die, their dreams and hope that life could be could be different, that life could be better, died with Jesus.
And I couldn’t help but think of all of the people this past year, the tears of those whose lives, whose hopes, whose dreams just were turned upside down this past year has brought us many tears. But those words that we that we spoke at the very beginning of the service, Christ is risen. Those words tell us that within our tears there is hope. The Easter promise that we that we claim on this day is that suffering, darkness and death do not and will not have the last word God does.
And the word that God spoke that first Easter morning in the story that God continues to tell is a love that is present in our tears, a love for which we can never be separated, a love stronger than even death, a hope that overcomes despair, a stubborn light that that pushes back the darkness.
The Easter promise is two words, two words. You you hear a lot around here. Love wins.
In fact, you will find that promise actually appears on the side of our building for all to see. Love wins. But when you’re looking at life through the veil of tears.
Sometimes it’s hard to see or even believe that that love is winning. There are so many places where it looks and it feels like a like a Good Friday world where hate and violence and suffering and despair seem to have the upper hand. But what we dare to believe, what we dare to trust on this day, love wins, and if love isn’t winning, it just means the story isn’t over yet. I think if Desmond Tutu, who while preaching a sermon in a church at the very height of apartheid, had had machine guns pointed at him, and with that smile and twinkle in his eye, he looked at the soldiers pointing the machine guns and said, you might as well drop those guns, join the dance.
Love is already won this victory. You just don’t know it yet. I don’t know about you. But I’m willing to bet my life on the conviction that love wins because of love wins, that changes everything. You know, if love wins, we keep feeding the hungry, even though those standing in line who are hungry is longer today than it was yesterday. If love wins, we keep praying and working for peace, even though peace seems impossible.
If love wins, we keep fighting for justice. We keep fighting to create a world where every single life is held as sacred and cherished, even though hate and prejudice seems to be so entrenched. You know, if love wins, we have those brave conversations with those who see the world so very differently than we do. If love wins, we sit with our loved one who has Alzheimer’s, even though they don’t even recognize who we are, because we know that kind of suffering will never have the last word.
If love wins, I’m able to tell you who are going through hell. And so many of you have been going through hell in this past year.
Keep going because we know that the worst thing will never be the last thing. If love wins, we’re able to say to those who know the taste, the salty taste of their grief stricken tears that there is a love stronger than death. There is a love from which we can never be separated. There is a love that never ends. If love wins, we keep showing up.
We keep showing up and doing the work of love that is ours to do, even though most days it seems impossible. Even those most days it seems like there’s this stone in front blocking, breaking the promise of new life stones that seem too heavy to be moved away. Love wins, love wins, love wins, and if love isn’t winning, it just means the story isn’t over yet. I love the Easter story is told by the gospel writer Mark, it’s my favorite version.
Mark is actually the the the oldest version and it’s actually the leanest only only eight verses.
Mark begins and it’s Sunday. The three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of Janes and Salome, they had just witnessed Jesus die. And with him, their dreams that life could be different, die with him and they are plunged into into the valley of grief. And it’s the Sabbath, but now it’s Sunday morning and the Sabbath is over, so now the three women can can take their spices and they can go and anoint the body of Jesus as an expression of their love, as an expression of their other deep and profound grief.
And the gospel writer Mark says that on the way there, they’re preoccupied with with the stone, the preoccupied with the stone that would be blocking the entrance to the tomb where the body lay.
So with the stone so large, humanly impossible to move, how could they possibly anoint the body? But these courageous, resilient women, they decide to go anyway. They decide to just show up. You know, sometimes I think that’s that’s that’s all that’s asked of us sometimes is to show up and to keep showing up, even when what’s in front of us seems impossible to keep showing up. Having faith in a God who is able to make away whether there seems to be no way hope is trusting that there is light, even when all that we can see is darkness.
So it says the women arrive at the tomb and they’re surprised that the stone is rolled away. And inside the tomb, there’s a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side. And it says in verse five, it says that the women, they entered the tomb and they saw a young man dressed in a white robe on the right side sitting down. That’s really important to note that this young man, this this angel, which simply in Hebrew means messenger, this mysterious messenger is sitting down because in the in the first century, all rabbis sat down to teach.
So one assumes that this this mysterious messenger has something to teach them. And he does the very first Easter sermon where it says in verse six, he has risen. He’s not here. He’s gone ahead to Galilee. That’s where you will find him. Mark tells the story so, so simply, so quietly. I mean, that’s the whole sermon, he’s not here. Go and tell the others he’s gone to Galilee. That’s where you’ll find them.
That’s where you will see the risen Christ.
That’s it. There’s no trumpet. There’s no choir. There’s no there’s no heavenly light shining down, illuminating the tomb.
There’s just this message. You better get yourself to Galilee because that’s where you will find that’s where you will find them. That’s where you will see the risen Christ. And then Mark kind of abruptly ends the gospel. He abruptly ends the Easter story, says in verse eight that the women fled the tomb seized by terror and amazement, and they told no one where they were afraid. Well, that’s how it ends. That’s the Easter story, as Mark tells it.
How do you like that ending?
Well, let me tell you, the early church, the early church hated that any. So they changed it. The early church actually added verses nine to twenty in the third century. They added a few eyewitness accounts of the resurrection because God forbid that we just embrace a little bit of mystery for the early church.
The way Mark and the Gospel, it was it was too open ended. It was too too mysterious to unfinished too many questions.
But that’s that’s precisely why I love Mark’s version of the Easter story. He leaves it unfinished, it’s almost as if he’s hinting, all right, it’s your turn, you pick it up where I left off. It’s your story to continue to tell. Actually, the the the original Greek is even even more abrupt. The English translation says that they told no one for they were afraid. Now, the original Greek is a little bit different. It says they told no one they were afraid because.
Because that’s how it ends. I’m not kidding, that’s how the original Greek ends it. They they told no one. They were afraid because.
Because what I mean, Mark just leaves us kind of hanging there in suspense. It doesn’t give us the answers. So the gospel writer Mark writes, a gospel tells the greatest story ever told and leaves it unfinished.
And the women are told, go and tell others you will find them in Galilee, where is Galilee? Galilee is where they live. Galilee is where they where they laugh, where they love. Galilee is where they struggle, where they suffer, where they grieve, where they where they shed tears. Where is Galilee? It’s where we live our lives. That’s where the story continues. Love wins. If love isn’t winning, the story isn’t over yet, the story continues.
It’s our story to tell. Wendell Berry puts it this way. Our job, our holy vocation is to practice resurrection, to practice resurrection in the midst of our everyday lives. You know, I am so absolutely grateful and privileged to be part of a pastoral team with three amazing, gifted, courageous, compassionate women. You heard from Becca a little earlier. I have asked Pastor Kally and Pastor Morgan to just briefly share where they encounter the risen Christ.
Where do they see the story continuing?
Lately, I have found myself sitting with moms and dads as they pour out their worries about their kids, especially their teenagers. Many of these families are new to bed, having moved here just a short time before the stay at home order was issued and schools were closed, their teenagers were never given a chance to make friends and to begin a life here. And yet yet they’ve been shut off from the friendships and the comforts of their old life. And these teens and their parents are hurting and they’re lonely and they’re worried.
Having moved my own teenagers across the country just a couple of years ago, I’ve been there. I’ve stayed up at night worried and hurting because my kids were so very lonely. And it’s difficult for parents to share their worries about their children.
We don’t want our kids to look bad or for others to think that we’re lousy parents or we’ve made a big mistake. But as I witnessed the heartbreak of these parents, I remember my own and I know that that we these parents, these teenagers, my own family, we’re not alone. As I’ve been thinking about where I see the Risen Christ, I’m remembering how the disciple Thomas could not or would not believe that Jesus had actually risen until he put his finger in the mark of the nails in his hands and his hand in the wound on Jesus’s side.
So when Jesus appears to Thomas, Jesus tells him, go ahead and touch his wounds. See the wince of pain on Jesus’s face as Thomas puts his finger in the mark of the nails in his hand.
And Jesus aside, recognize that the one who is standing there is the same one who knows everything about the worst kind of pain and anxiety and friendliness and will never discount it.
I see the risen Christ when we invite others to witness and to feel our wounds. When in vulnerability we say, look at my pain and answer each other. Oh me too. Me too. Because when we sit with someone who is hurting, when we see the wince of pain on their face as they share their story, their vulnerability gives us permission to be fully human and fully human is how God is revealed to us. Fully human is how the risen Christ comes to us.
Just like the disciples I am finding this Easter that the risen Christ appears to me in my own backyard, this is my Galilee, this is my familiar place. This is where I have found the presence of God to be meeting me most closely in this season as I gather around a fire with friends, as I learn how to chop a lot of firewood this winter just to maintain that connection with other human beings and and feel the deep love that connects us all at all times, if we can only create the space and the presence to see it.
There’s a story at the end of the book of John, one of these resurrection apparent stories where Jesus actually starts a fire on the on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and prepares breakfast for the disciples. And that was one of the ways that they met after the resurrection. And so for me, that that place around the fire just speaks deeply to the presence of God, to the place where we can meet the sacred in others. And it’s literally in our own backyard.
And so may you continue to find the presence of Jesus, the risen Christ, in your very own backyard. Friends love wins, and if love isn’t winning, it just means the story isn’t over yet. It just means the story continues. It’s our story to tell.
Remember those words by the poet Amanda Gorman that just captured our hearts at the beginning of this year where she said, remember, remember, there is always light. If we’re brave enough to see it, if we’re brave enough to be, it may that life and love that that refused and refuses to be defeated may that life and love rise in your heart this day that we might go to the places where we live, that we might go to the places where tears are plenty and prove with our lives, prove with our lives that love wins.
Love always wins. Christ is risen. Love has risen. Indeed.