Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Easter Surprise - for adults

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

“They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That is NOT the story we expect to hear. The whole story of Easter is full of surprises, but this wasn’t what we expected.

-This resurrection story is incomplete. It feels wrong to not see the risen Christ at the conclusion of the gospel.

-It feels wrong for the story to end with fear and silence.

    1. In fact, generations of Christians before us felt the same and wrote additional endings to Mark. (Your Bible probably lists two endings; “a shorter ending” and “a Longer ending” that try to fill out the story.)
    2. But we’ve been following Mark’s gospel and know he writes with purpose so we have to believe that if he left the end of the story this way, he did so for a reason.
    3. We need help to unravel this Easter mystery and we find it . . .

In an EASTER BASKET – this is the adult Easter basket (you have those right? Where the ‘good’ candy lives?)

This Easter basket is metaphoric. It represents a gospel full of clues where we can look for Mark’s deeper meaning. First, a half sandwich (peanut butter and jelly). Mark writes in sandwiches. They are ‘frames’ where we find stories within stories. A story begins, seems to stop, another story begins and concludes and then we return to the scene of the 1st story.

Surprise! there was more to the first incident.

An easy story to identify is the Fig tree. We barely notice it when we read it, except that is seems a bit strange.

1. Jesus, is outside Jerusalem in Bethany and he’s hungry. He sees a FIG TREE in LEAF. He goes over to it, but it has no fruit and he CURSES it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” A bit of a surprise.

2. But the story continues with Jesus entering the Temple and driving out the sellers and buyers so we forget about the fig tree.

3. The next morning the group of disciples pass by the fig tree and Peter is surprised to see that it has withered. Jesus tells them they can do anything if they believe and ask in prayer.

It’s a Fig Tree Sandwich, with a temple story in between. AND the two stories inform each other if we spend time thinking about them. We often miss these framing sandwiches because we read only short portions of the gospel.

BACK to today’s story of the Empty Tomb.

If we read the whole story of Mark from beginning to end, we would have discovered that Jesus has been telling the disciples what was going to happen to him.

He tells them 3x’s that he will be arrested and crucified,

he will die and will rise again.

Thereby telling us, the hearers of the story, what to expect.

Is our sandwich just an expectation?

Well, if you’ve ever woken up to a house where a busy pastor has forgotten to buy candy, you would know that EXPECTING an Easter basket and FINDING one, are two different things! So let’s return to our basket for another clue to Mark’s mysterious ending.

Second, a White linen cloth. Where do we find white cloth in Mark’s empty tomb? --- ON the young man dressed in a white robe.

a. While at first we identify him as an angel because we are accustomed to expect angels at the tomb from the other gospel stories and we associate white clothing with angels.

b. But remembering that Mark’s gospel was written before the other gospels, and not finding other angels in Mark’s story, perhaps we need to rewind this account to understand this clue.

c. Let’s go back 4 days to the night when Jesus was betrayed. (14:50-52)

i. “All of them deserted him and fled. A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”

The unidentified young man, who almost seems out of place in the story, represents ALL Jesus’ followers when he runs away in SHAME.

In those days nothing was a shameful as nakedness and this man was so very AFRAID, that he left even his clothes behind in order to get away and save himself. It seems he’s the very opposite of Jesus.

Yet here in the empty tomb is a young man, clothed in white. It’s a surprise to the women. He represents restoration, cleansing, lack of fear, lack of shame. He is clothed in white which even reminds us of Jesus’ transfiguration.

It seems we have some extra sandwich ingredients that remind us of being transfigured in a glorious manner, including a white cloth ‘brighter than any human could make’ which is now on the young man who ran away.

Mark is telling us that even the shame of the deserting disciples has been transformed.

This clue leads us to believe God has acted here at the empty tomb to transform a shameful death into new life. God has acted in a way that restores the people who ran from the execution, AND the people who approved it, all by the transformation of the person who endured it; -JESUS.

There are some strong clues here to God’s powerful action at this empty tomb.

Another clue.

Third clue, a small bottle, shaped to pour. In Mark’s story the WOMEN who are greeted by the man-in-white, brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body. These Women are faithful to the job of anointing that honors the dead. But they are overwhelmed by the enormity of the unexpected, the empty tomb.

They arrive to complete something, that had already been done to Jesus at Simon the leper’s house, where an unnamed woman came in w/costly perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head.

He said her act would be remembered.

He said, she was anointing him for burial.

The task of anointing was not needed this Sunday morning. The women came, expecting to finish something and instead were handed a beginning.

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.”

Go, tell, there you will see him.

In the telling you will find Jesus there ahead of you, just as HE TOLD YOU.

It is here that we often find ourselves in Mark’s story. We like they have –

“fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and(we like) they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

We too have been afraid and have run away from the story that seems too good to be true. We find hiding places in news stories that say the world has turned away from church and doesn’t worship God anymore and we agree and say nothing to anyone.

We too have feared we’re not strong enough to tell Jesus’ story or brave enough to risk taking on the established powers that rule us with fears of death and scarcity.

We have been afraid that we’re not tough enough to serve the world knowing the cost (of living the Jesus Way) could be our lives.

And like so many generations of Christians before us, we find this ending unsatisfactory and incomplete.

We too want to re-write the ending of Mark’s gospel and there’s one more clue in our Easter basket to help.

Final clue, is a mirror.

Mark’s final sandwich piece is US.

We are the women at the tomb.

We are the transformed young man.

Before we can take a step away in fear, we hear Jesus’ words from earlier in the story.

“ I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, have confidence that you have received it and it will be yours.”(11:24) and

“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”(10:27)

God brings new life into the dead places of our lives every time we ask.

Christ transforms our fear and shame by his resurrection within us. We are given the strength we need to live the Jesus’ Way.

Easter isn’t about believing in Christ, it’s about Christ believing in US.

The surprise of Easter is God acting in Jesus for ALL humanity and then trusting US to tell the story with our transformed lives.


James Snapp, Jr. said...

The "young man" at Jesus' tombs who tells the women to deliver a message to the disciples represents the disciples?? I don't think that really fits the text at all. Every indication is that the individual at the tomb is intended to be understood as an angel, and that is obviously how Matthew and Luke understood things.

I welcome you to re-study the entire passage, and 16:9-20, as something given -- like the rest of the Gospel of Mark -- with the understanding that it would be received as the remembrances of the straightforward, plain-speaking apostle Peter, not as a literary riddle.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Rev Nancy Fitz said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment. I do continue to read and try to understand Mark's gifted writing. He writes with purpose and slips in great insights by including the metaphoric stories that Jesus used.

I think the young man is open to interpretation. Like so many of the incidents and parables in Jesus' story, we get what we get from it. Since I find so many pairings in Mark's story, I also see a connection between the two appearances of the 'young man'. He speaks to the women and shares an important request. On a secondary level, his white garment reflects the change he has gone thru from naked to clothed in white. I believe the second level of his story is symbolic of the restoration that comes with Christ's resurrection. I enjoy the story on both levels; as something given and as symbolic.
Blessings to you.