Fear: The First Word of Easter

Fear: The First Word of Easter

Easter 1 (NL2) John B. Valentine
Mark 16:1-8 March 31, 2024


Let’s be honest ... folks.

We come here this morning from lots of different places ... with different points of view ... and different needs ... and different attitudes.

• Some of us are here because somebody asked us to be here.

• Some of us are here because somebody ... like Dad or Grandma ... told us to be here.

• Some of us are here because here is where we always are on Easter.

• Some of us are here because “here” is the closest place to “home” you can find on a day you’d really rather be at your real “home” half-way across the country.

But I’m not so concerned about how you’ve come to Easter this morning ... as I am with how it is that you’ll leave.

Because ... truth be told:

• There’s more than one way to leave this sanctuary ...

• There’s more than one way to leave the cemetery and the empty tomb ...

• There’s more than one way to leave Easter.

+ + + + +

You see ... there are four Gospels that are found in the Bible ...... four "life-stories of Jesus"

And all four of those Gospels tell the story of Easter morning.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all agree that it was women ... and particularly one woman ... a woman named Mary ... who dared to visit Jesus’ tomb that Sunday.

• How it was still dark when they made their way through the cold streets of Jerusalem ...

• How it was that they ventured forth when no one else would ... for fear of being identified as one of Jesus’ co-conspirators ...

• How it was that they ... and they alone ... went to the tomb to attend to the Jesus’ body ... and say their last goodbyes.

So it was that on that dark, forlorn and fearful morning that those women arrive at the tomb ...

And discover that the stone in front of the door has been rolled away!

And then they see this young man sitting there ... dressed in dazzling apparel ... who gives them this startling ... this utterly unexpected news ...

that “Jesus is not here” ... that “he is risen from the dead” ... and that they should go and tell the others of his friends.

+ + + + +

But the take-home message that each of the gospel-writers emphasizes highlights some different reactions to that empty tomb:

• For MATTHEW ... it’s all about the “Wow!” ... as in “Wow, that’s amazing!”

Matthew says that the women ran back to town with great joy and began to tell everyone everything which they had seen and heard.

• For LUKE ... it’s all about the “Whoa!” ... as in “Slow down, I need to think this over.”

Luke reports that the women went back and told the disciples everything ... and the disciples considered it “an idle tale” ... “a crock of ..... stuff.”

• For JOHN ... it’s a “Whew” ... as in “Whew, I’m exhausted.”

John attests to Mary racing back to tell the disciples ... and the disciples lacing on their own track-shoes to check into what she’d said.

But MARK???

Mark tells the Easter story differently.

Mark’s account is more abrupt ... more ambiguous ... more awkward ... perhaps more honest.

Mark reports that there’s that young man who says to the women:

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here ... but go ... and tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

And the women do what? They did what?

“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.”



And then the Gospel of Mark ..... IT ENDS ... right there! The whole story ends ... right there!

+ + + + +

‘What a nothing-burger’ ... some would say ... ‘What a letdown!’

Just when you think Mark’s story about Jesus is going to resolve ... it stops.

(In fact ... if you look in a Bible ... you might note that there were some folks in the early church who were so disturbed by the abruptness of the ending of Mark that they added twelve more verses . But ... in the original text ... it just STOPS!)

“They went out ... and said nothing to anyone ... for they were afraid.” Period. End of story.

No further appearances ... no suppers in Emmaus ... no breakfasts on the beach.

Just this stunned, stupefied, silent ending.

They didn’t know what to say ... and they didn’t know what to do ... “for they were afraid.”

Truth is ... folks ...

• If you’re looking for the basis of a great new song about Easter ... don’t turn to Mark.

• If you’re wanting Easter done Technicolor ... argued scientifically or evoked poetically ... don’t turn to Mark.

• If you want talk of daffodils and butterflies ... and Easter eggs and chocolate Easter bunnies with hollow ears ... don’t turn to Mark.

With Mark ... alls you get is uncertainty ... and fear.

+ + + + +

Now ... to be sure ... the women didn’t go to the tomb looking for it to be empty.

• They just went to the tomb to pay their last respects.

• They just went to the tomb seeking certainty and finality.

• They just went to go a try to make sense of so much senselessness ... and to cry their eyes out in grief ... and to just gain a little bit of closure on all that had gone down.

But isn’t that the way that most of us go deal with life?

Just seeking some certainty and some clarity?

Just trying to make sense of senselessness?

Oh sure ... there may be days we dream of something more ... something beyond ... something bigger.

There may be days when we dream that the future won’t be like the past.

But most days we’ll just settle for certainty and clarity and ‘what you see is what you get’.

But into our locked-tight, nailed-down, sure and certain worlds comes this word ... this curious word ... from Mark:

“That the women went to the tomb ... and found that the stone had been rolled away ... that their lives were more full of uncertainty than they could have possibly imagined .... and they were scared ... scared half out of their wits!”

You know ... it is pretty scary to live in a world like that ...

A world in which dead people might actually live ...

A world in which the future doesn’t need to look like the past ...

A world in which “impossible” doesn’t exist ...

A world in which “what you see” isn’t all of “what you get” ...

A world which is less about destinations and more about journeys.

But check this out ...

+ + + + +

Maybe it’s just me ... but there’s this single overlooked detail at the end of Mark’s account of the Easter story.

• It’s not as mysterious as the ‘breaking of bread’ thing or the ‘road to Emmaus’ thing in Luke ...

• It’s not as profound as the ‘great commission’ thing in Matthew ...

• It’s not as metaphysical as the upper room thing in John ...

But the angel says what? “Go to Galilee. There you will see him.”

Go to Galilee ....

Now ... for Mark’s gospel ... Galilee is where the whole story began ... Galilee is where Jesus’ ministry got its start ...

As in “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news.”

And maybe what Mark ... and that Markan angel ... are telling us is that the resurrection of Jesus it puts a claim on us.

A claim to go back to the start ... to go back to the start ... to go back to Mark chapter one ... to go back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and to pay attention to what we see.

To look at Jesus’ ministry ... his words and his wonders and his encounters along the way ... through the lens of this empty tomb ... through the lens of resurrection.

To go back to the start and hear his words “Follow me” with fresh ears.

To go back to the start and see the wonders that he does with resurrection eyes.

To go back to the start ... in the new-found awareness that the words he speaks and the wonders he does and the values he embodies are the words and the wonders and the values that are confirmed by an empty tomb.

+ + + + +

You see ....

Mark doesn’t finish his gospel with an Easter to-do list or a trite affirmation.

No ... Mark proclaims the surprising and unsettling and somehow hopeful news that Jesus is risen ... and owns that it is surprising and unsettling and hopeful all at the same time.

“Go ... go looking for him in the world. His world ... your world ... our world.”

“Go ... and take all that fear and confusion and uncertainty with you ... and take it into a new life that may not be all that comfortable.”

“Go back to Galilee where Jesus’ ministry began ... but go back with a new perspective.”

“GO. Go and follow.”

Mark warns us ... reminds us ... promises us ... that this empty tomb is going to take us places ... push us in places ... drive us to go where we might not otherwise go.

Maybe that’s why those women were so afraid ....

Not because they didn’t get what was going on ... but because they did!

+ + + + +

For Christ IS risen. Christ is risen indeed!

“Fear: The First Word of Easter” was/is a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship gathering on Easter Sunday 2024.  The text upon which it is based is Mark’s account of the Easter story, as recorded in Mark 16:1-8.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20240331a