April 4, 2021
Easter Day, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Maybe Mark needs to go to writer’s school? Isn’t this the most unsatisfying end to a story you ever heard? “They didn’t tell anyone, and they were afraid.” In fact, the original Greek text is even more challenging for the grammarians. It ends with a preposition. “And they were afraid for…” Not too long after the gospel was circulated, know-it-all editors began adding their own endings to the book. I left silence after I read the gospel this morning so that you could feel the unfinished nature of this story. What the heck just happened? Maybe you wondered if the screen was frozen. Where are we?
When I first came to Gloria Dei, I was constantly disoriented in the building. I would come up one stairway, only to find I had gone in the wrong direction. I discovered new stairways that came out in places I hadn’t expected. Visitors always wonder how to get out. “I thought the parking lot was the other way.”
It’s a perfect description of this last year. We never imagined we would have a second Easter online. In a matter of days last March, our worlds dramatically changed. Front line health care workers faced truly life and death situations just by going to a job that almost seemed routine a few days ago. We got a sniffle or cough, maybe a little temperature, and we began to wonder if we would be a number in that daily chart in the newspaper. The web of relationships that tethered us to the ground lost vital threads that held it together. Isolation, empty time, lots of stops at the refrigerator became the daily grind. And not a few of us stood staring at the burial place, our well-practiced grieving rituals interrupted. In May, the murder of George Floyd made white people see what people of color have been trying to report all along: this system isn’t working.
Lately, we’ve started to come up the stairs, vaccine rates growing, the hope of more freedom surging up with the tulips. I feel a little like Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, pulled out of her hibernation home office, held up in the air after a long winter to see what the next six weeks are going to be like.
We’re coming to the top of the stairs but aren’t sure where we are. The trial of Derik Chauvin has started, but we’ve learned enough to know that justice may not be served. We’re preparing to return, but there’s this nagging feeling that we don’t know what to expect. Did a full year of working apart change the fabric of daily work? Or our school? Did the time apart from children and grandchildren leave us with moments that can’t be recovered? Will everyone come back to church? Or maybe we’re asking, “Do I have to go back to the way it was?” “Can I keep some of this pandemic life?
The ending to Mark’s gospel has always felt the most real to me. Resurrection and fear. Newness and uncertainty, amazement and nerves always go together. For most of us, the days finish more like a sentence with a preposition at the end than a gorgeous, poetic, well-crafted paragraph.
This morning I have the privilege to being guy in the white robe telling you that Jesus isn’t where you expect; he’s risen. I’m sorry that you get me. I’m so often filled with fear and disappointment, too. I cannot provide sophisticated proof, even from my own life, that he’s alive. I can’t tell you that everything is going to be okay now. I can’t even assure you that little by little everything is going to get better. All of us have this strange promise that the messenger on the first Easter had: You’ll see him when you get back to your own Galilee, your own life.
You will see the living Jesus in the life that you will lead today, tomorrow, and every day. Like those women on that first Easter, we get to choose to accept that or not. Desperate to trust that this strange message is true? My advice is start from within. The living Christ isn’t “out there” to be found. The living Jesus has been planted within the molecular soil of your body, and your brain, and your emotions; even in your struggles and warts; in your history and, and most wondrously, in all the embarrassing things about you. You–your body, the neighbor’s body (ALL the neighbors, mind you), even the earth’s body–is Galilee. There you will see Jesus.
One chaplain, when talking about life after COVID, says:
I compare it to bulbs that are dug up each year, kept somewhere dark for the winter, and then replanted. Sometimes, these bulbs might not be replanted in the exact same place as they were in the previous year. However, the purpose of the bulb remains the same. It will still bloom to share the beauty it is holding within itself. It just might have to adapt to the new environment that it is now placed if it is to grow for years to come.
To trust in the resurrection of Jesus is trust that life is divinely infused, like tea in a cup of hot water. It permeates not only the water but scents the air and warms the insides. Resurrection isn’t something that we have to make happen. The salvation of the world and every being isn’t something we have to bring about, either by certain belief or holy behavior. It’s done; already accomplished in the crucifixion and resurrection. From now on, it simply IS. We’re all steeping in it.
In past years, on Easter morning when I’ve gotten up before dark to go over the sermon one more time, usually not a little exhausted from the Easter Vigil, I’ve hidden eggs around the house for Darin. This delights me; makes me giggle; leaving plastic Easter eggs for a 50-something adult, usually with candy but one year with battery-operated tea lights so they would glow in the darkened bedroom. It’s silly, really.
But I think this is how Easter usually works. When we arise into the new day, this Jesus of Nazareth, now the Living Christ, has gone ahead of us, leaving behind signs of life, sweet and glowing gifts that point to our ultimate future, one on which God cannot wait to provide, but sets out for us today. The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means, “Rising up,” or even better, “up-rising.” Jesus resurrection is the uprising.
Valerie Kaur, an Indian American, of the Sikh faith, spoke at the National Moral Revival Watch Night Service in 2017. She spoke as a mother raising a brown boy who may one day wear a turban as a sign of his faith in a nation with enormous rage. “The future is [frightening] on this watch night,” she said. On that night, she channeled the rising spirit of her grandfather, imprisoned on his arrival to America because he wore a turban, but eventually stood up for the Japanese being interred during World War II. “All our grandfathers and our grandmothers are telling us to be brave.” “What if this darkness is not the tomb, but this darkness is the womb? What if our nation is not dead but is waiting to be born? What does the midwife tell us: Breathe. And then, “Push.”
We catch the glimpse of the women at the tomb in Mark just as they were taking those breaths. We stop here this morning and breathe with them. We take it in, this news of Jesus, the first born of the dead, who is just ahead starting an uprising, hiding love and justice in plain sight, ready to be picked up by anyone willing to grasp it; anyone willing to pick up the gift and do what Jesus spent a life teaching us to do: push.
Those Easter women pushed. We’re here this morning because fear—the preposition at the end of the sentence–didn’t stop them from being Christianity’s first preachers. They rose up. They spoke their truth.
Perhaps this is what Mark intended all along. The preposition at the end of the sentence isn’t the end of the story. It’s our invitation to pick up the pen and write. Breathe and push. Rise up and live this sacred story.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
 Chris Vetter, Ridgecrest Village, Davenport, IA
Valerie Kaur, YouTube recoding, speaking at the National Moral Review Watch Night Service on December 31, 2016: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=valarie+kaur+youtube&docid=608000797996681018&mid=DD0BEC41A999D4D7011EDD0BEC41A999D4D7011E&view=detail&FORM=VIRE