Mark 16:1-14a .. “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”
Church of The Open Word
Rev. Kit Billings
April 20, 2003
Easter is unquestionably the most important news in all history…it contains a message that remains forever the most important news for all time. One among many reasons it's the greatest news ever is that Easter, as some theologians have said, is the greatest joke God played against the devils of hell. At Eastertide, wrote Protestant theologian Jurgen Moltmann, began “the laughing of the redeemed, the dancing of the liberated! Even in the days of Protestant orthodoxy,” wrote Moltmann, “Easter sermons used to begin with a joke.”
Episcopal Bishop William Frey of Ambridge, PA, writes: “What, after all is a joke? Isn't it something that turns the tables on the expected, something that hinges on the unpredictable or unreasonable? There's nothing more unreasonable than the resurrection of Jesus. And to believe it in it is to be part of that huge practical joke that God plays on those who trust blindly in the sufficiency of human reason to unravel all problems and to answer every question.”
“Easter is the morning,” said one preacher, “when the Lord laughs out loud, laughs at all the things that snuff our joy, all the things that pretend to be all-powerful, like cruelty and madness and despair and evil, and most especially, that great pretender, DEATH. Jesus sweeps them away with His wonderful resurrection laughter.”
And so, in the spirit of starting my Easter sermon out with a smile, let me share this cute anecdote with you now:
A youngster came home from Sunday school on Easter Sunday and told his mother he could understand about Christ but not about the roses. So he asked his mom, “Why was Christ a rose?”
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of “God with us” into our flesh and into our troubled world prior to him “overcoming the world” and all the evil and falsities we each must deal with. At Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord from death right at the time God put one over on the hellish crew that thought they'd won. And this brings us news that rises to heights far beyond what we hear each night on the major network stations. Lately we've been hearing about the liberation of a nation, while with Easter we hear about the liberation of all humanity! Liberation, that is, from deep fear of physical death. Liberation from a paralyzing fear of evil and hatred. And liberation from an extreme, cosmic sense of loneliness.
For isn't it just so terribly easy for regular, good-hearted folk like you and me to be tempted within to get overly and overwhelmingly bogged down with our bodily and material concerns to remain alive on earth? Isn't it just so easy to get overly fearful of what our children or grandchildren may face in the years ahead? Isn't it just so very addicting, in a sense, to remain overwhelmingly centered on feelings of dislike or hatred of those who've either done us great emotional or physical injury, or who are now doing such wrongs to us as some people are want to do?
To be sure, the natural degree of our minds wants to remain focused on such natural problems in life. But Jesus came to liberate the spiritual degree of our being and make it possible for it to have “dominion over the earth” so to speak; that is, over the naturalness we all struggle with. In other words, the Lord finished his awesome glorification process so that he, God-in-human form, would remain fully and intimately connected to every least part of you—and thus his saving LOVE will be open to you at every moment of every day. Quietly and unobtrusively to be sure, yet nonetheless all of Jesus' saving love is here. For He overcame and transformed the natural, finite humanity He received from Mary and glorified it—made it divine!
Our Lord Jesus, as you may recall, loved everyone with a divine and powerful love during his three-year ministry, which the Lord demonstrated in every way possible—in how he healed and comforted people; how he soothed them of their fears and invited them to rest and abide internally in his Spirit, in his love; how he taught them such saving and helpful truth about the kind of goodness, mercy and wisdom we need to embrace to find God's Kingdom within; and how he was willing to give all of his life (even though it brought him to a horrible death) for the sake of showing us both his divinity and the truth that love is stronger than hate, that love will triumph in the end.
Christ made it wonderfully clear that he was God, and as the Scriptures teach, God is Love Itself. With Jesus' death on the cross, however, all of his disciples thought that the Lord's triumphant and BEAUTIFUL words, affections and vision of life had come crashing down—ended with a ghastly conclusion, which sent all of Jesus' male followers into hiding and seclusion, not to mention into the shame and deep sadness they were feeling because of betraying their loyalty to him, which they had promised never to do. From the natural-eye viewpoint, Jesus' ending as he was being tried, condemned and crucified meant that a natural world revival of Israel as God's kingdom on earth had been dashed like throwing a large, crystal juice bowl against a rock.
But that sort of kingship, centered upon political and national interests, was never Jesus' focus. Christ came to transform humanity's perception of where God's kingdom truly lived and exists—a spiritual kingdom of goodness and truth, which yearns to grow in our hearts and our minds. The Lord spoke to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James to help them and the whole world to wake up to the REAL TRUTH OF THINGS, that it is improper to look for the Lord in a tomb of death and lifelessness. Many people, even today, may try to seal the Lord up in that dungy tomb of lifelessness, perhaps saying things like “well, where's the proof of the resurrection? Do you expect me to believe the words of some biblical writer who may or may not have known Jesus personally?” And our answer here can be so simple and even fun to share: “The obvious proof lives in nearly every town across this nation and in many other nations too—within genuine Christianity itself.” For there is no possible way that the Christian church or religion could have taken off and grown with such insuppressible joy and faith in a spiritual leader who wound up dead on a cross and buried in His tomb…END OF STORY. If that had been the actual ending, then everything associated with Christ would have stayed buried in that tomb also.
These women, who did not believe at first nor recognize Him through their tears, were being awakened to a truth that made them run in fear at first—as Mark paints it, they ran “frightened out of their wits.” The truth being that the Lord…and therefore love…is the strongest force in the universe! Yes, it can be flogged and beaten, tortured and crucified, but it will always rise again in transforming power and glory. And with His “authority over heaven and earth” the Lord moved that stone over his tomb and shook the world in a mighty earthquake.
The love-nature of Jesus' power then wanted to make sure that they would tell of this marvelous news to the disciples and Peter specifically. It's easy to assume that Peter, having denied Jesus three times the night of His trial, was probably reeling in shame and sadness, and Christ wanted to help His friend and follower. He wanted Peter to be held in the same healing and beautiful light flowing fully now through the risen Lord—a light of compassion, forgiveness and peace.
On Easter Sunday we can thank the Lord that he did exactly as he said he would do—“rise again on the third day.” After resting in his dark tomb while his final and most powerful stage of divine glorification transformed and warmed his cold, dead flesh into a revived and all-powerful Divine-Man, “God with us” rose into his now fully glorified Divine-Humanity. And this brings the most important news to our good, yet often struggling and sometimes fear-laden, hearts which we all yearn to hear----that this wonderful, God-like man, Jesus of Nazareth who loved and preached and healed all sorts of people and inspired hope as only God could do rose from death in both body and spirit.
No one else in history can make that claim…
...especially after predicting it with such precision as Christ did.
The Lord made certain that many people experienced Him resurrected, since this fundamental truth in life is the one that makes all the difference. God Himself was not just walking here among us in the flesh of the carpenter from Nazareth—now fully glorified, this God-Man is here with you now! Personally close and always listening to your prayers. And perhaps most important of all, the Lord is ever so willing to be known by you. The mark of a mature Christian is not simply to know about Jesus as others tell of Him. No, the mark of a higher order Christian is to KNOW JESUS, personally, closely, within complete trust, love and faith. All good Christian churches come together on this point…which is to lead people to the God-Man, the human degree of our Creator that we can feel and touch and sense is sitting or standing right beside you…in fact, inside your skin.
This, I believe, is why so many people love to attend church at Easter. The resurrection of the Lord on Easter calms the human spirit like nothing else in life, for it preaches about God in human form rising to His full divine-humanity, which lives on two levels simultaneously—in God's great and divine infiniteness and our earthly humanness. Within this LIVING TRUTH, in this LIVING PRESENCE lies the greatest comfort and joy in life, not to mention the greatest news to ever hit the newsstand, that God is here with you and will always be right here beside you!
Thus, Matthew's Gospel ends with these tremendously inspiring words from a fully glorified and risen Lord saying, “I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” And Christ is with us as our very best of friends. Jesus is not just a figure in a book, but is a living PRESENCE.
Indeed, the Lord is always with you;
He's always seeing the best in you without denying the evil in you;
He's willing to laugh with you…cry with you…He helps you see the serious errors
of your ways and overcome your obstacles in life, and He will REGENERATE and SAVE YOUR HEART…
…one blessed fiber at a time!
This, my friends, is the greatest news of life. And we are each called to baptize or wash the world and our own lives with this Great Spirit—a Spirit known in Bible language as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” which we know simply means that God, our risen Lord, intends to bless and cleanse this world in His Divine love, wisdom and power.
Our divine Liberator came and overcame evil and death. Today, simply, we're called to revel in this glorious truth and let its joy ripple through you as it will.
Happy Easter my friends. Amen.