The Greatest Surprise – April 1, 2018
The Greatest Surprise
A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
April 1, 2018
Main Idea: Christ is alive!
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Mark’s account of Easter ends in a surprising way. There is no appearance of the risen Christ. The women run off in terror and do not share what they had learned. The last sentence of the text actually is incomplete. To be true to the Greek, it should end with … It seems a strange way to end “the Good News of Jesus Christ”. Throughout Christian history, many have been uncomfortable with this ending and so in our Bibles we have later additions; “the Shorter Ending of Mark” and “the Longer Ending of Mark” which attempt to finish the story in more satisfactory ways.
The key to Mark’s Easter account is actually the first verse of the Gospel of Mark, which is “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark’s gospel invites us to experience Jesus for ourselves. Easter is not the end of the story. Easter is the beginning; of our faith, of our hope, of our new life. Easter is the greatest surprise. Christ lives! Not only way back then, but today.
That first Easter morning dawned quietly, mournfully, as the women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. Their activity seemed almost pointless as they did not think they could move the stone at the tomb. But they wanted to be near him one last time, to honor him in death before returning to their former lives. When they arrived at the tomb they received a big surprise! The stone had been rolled away! Who could have done it? They entered the tomb cautiously, expecting grave robbers or vandals but instead they received another surprise! A young man dressed in a white robe, sitting casually as if he had been waiting for them. This was more alarming than vandals because this young man had the look of an angel about him. Oh, and there was no body! Where had it gone?
The young man said “Do not be alarmed” (This was proof that he was an angel, that’s what they all say!) “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” (16:6). In the women’s overwhelmed and bedazzled minds, everything the young man said made sense, except for the “He has been raised” part. Yes, they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. Obviously, he was not there. They could see the place where the body had been laid. The women had been expecting death. They were not expecting life!!!
The young man continued “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (16:7). There is nothing to do here at the tomb. There is no need to sit here and grieve and ponder what might have been. Go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus will be in Galilee, just as he had told you he would be. Don’t just share that news but go to Galilee yourselves so that you can see Jesus and be with Jesus and continue to live in the abundant love of God made known to you through Jesus.”
The women were overwhelmed. They could not fathom what they have heard. They could not imagine a life which overcomes death. They could not comprehend a love which has no limits. And so they ran away “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (16:8b)
We understand why the women were afraid. We struggle to fathom what we have heard. We have a hard time imagining a life which overcomes death. We can’t quite comprehend a love which has no limits. We’d like to think we would have acted differently, but most likely we would have acted just the same. What would happen to those women if they really believed this story? How would their lives change? Who would believe them if they shared it? What kind of trouble would they bring upon themselves?
Mark leaves it up to us to take the next step in this story. Will we follow Jesus to Galilee? Will we go back to the start of Mark’s Gospel to read and experience the story again? Suddenly we understand that first verse, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” differently. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the beginning of the story. It is the beginning of our new life in Christ and the beginning of God’s redemption of the world. “The resurrected Jesus [goes] on ahead of us, too, outpacing us, calling us into God’s future. The point of the story of Easter is not to linger at a tomb that is empty. The point is to go, go faithfully forward, to head in the direction that the risen Christ is leading. Risen from the dead, Jesus is now leading into the future that only God dreams possible.” (Nathan Kirkpatrick, faithandleadership.com)
Now what happens to us if we really believe this story? How do our lives change? Who will believe us if we share it? What kind of trouble do we bring upon ourselves?
Even though we celebrate Easter every year, resurrection still comes as a surprise to us, the greatest surprise. To find hope in the midst of despair, to find healing in the midst of pain, to find joy in the midst of sorrow, to find power in those perceived as powerless, this is to recognize resurrection in our lives. To offer a second chance to someone, to withhold judgment on someone who is different, to be the change we wish to see in the world, this is to recognize resurrection. Sometimes we experience a moment of peace within difficult circumstances, sometimes our presence brings deep comfort to another, sometimes our struggles provide time and space for something new to emerge. These are experiences of resurrection. When we look out at the world, it often seems as though sin and death have the upper hand but we know that this is an illusion. Sin and death and evil have been defeated by the power of God’s love known to us through Jesus our Christ.
Christ is alive and leading us forward to live lives of joy and beauty and purpose! We can’t just hear this news and keep it to ourselves! Christ is alive and we are empowered to share this good news not only with our words but with our actions resisting evil, caring for the vulnerable, and welcoming the stranger as Jesus did. Christ is alive and our story is only beginning.
On this Easter Sunday, as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper may we give thanks for this greatest surprise, that Christ is alive among us and around the world bringing love and peace and life to all of creation. Christ the Lord is risen today! Alleluia!
Let us pray,
Surprising God, thank you for your great love for us, made known to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus our Christ. Empower us to live out this love throughout our lives. Amen.
Our hymn of preparation for Communion is # 706 I Come with Joy
Notes and Quotes
“The story that claims us tells us that the risen Christ is out ahead of us, let loose in the world, leading us into a future beyond prejudice and poverty and prison and politics. Jesus goes ahead of us into a future that cannot be defined by death or grief or loss. Jesus goes before us into a future of peace and love, justice and truth, restoration and reconciliation.” (Nathan Kirkpatrick, faithandleadership.com)
The ending is open so that we can participate.
“But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’” (16:6-7)
April Fools Day – “It has become tradition on the first of April to pull jokes of the harmless variety on those near and dear to us. We plot and we scheme, and often the yuks are funnier in our imaginings than how they play out in reality, but that doesn’t stop us from sending the little kid in us out on a rampage. Even the most staid among us have been known to indulge in a practical joke or two, so beware of trusting anyone on that day.
How the custom of pranking on April 1 came about remains shrouded in mystery.
When the western world employed the Julian calendar, years began on March 25. Festivals marking the start of the New Year were celebrated on the first day of April because March 25 fell during Holy Week. The adoption of the Gregorian calendar during the 1500s moved the New Year to January 1. According to the most widely-believed origin postulated for April Fools’ Day, those who could be tricked into believing April 1 was still the proper day to celebrate the New Year earned the sobriquet of April fools. To this end, French peasants would unexpectedly drop in on neighbors on that day in a effort to confuse them into thinking they were receiving a New Year’s call. Out of that one jape supposedly grew the tradition of testing the patience of family and friends.” (Snopes.com)
choose your own adventure – How will the story end? Has it ended?
“The story of Jesus does not end with his death. God has done something new, something unheard of to this point. The crucified is now the risen one, but risen to a new life, rather than simply to more of the same life.” (Nelson Rivera, FOTG, Mark p. 532)
Ps 30:5 – “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
three women – Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of Joses, and Salome – also at crucifixion 15:40