Isaiah 12:2-6, Mark 15:42-16:8
March 27, 2016
So I was thinking… Holy Week! Holy Week is a swirl of stories. It was a time of great intrigue, complexity, even conspiracy! It was a time when there were intense political and legal battles going on between the priests of Israel and Rome. It was also a time of great anxiety for those involved, and then great shock and devastation when it all ended so badly on Good Friday.
And in all of that there was still this overall “plan of God” happening. And the pieces of this story fit together around that plan like an intricate puzzle. That’s amazing to me! Because, if the people in this story had free will – and I believe they did – they weren’t just puppets following the proper script, then how could all of their actions still result in God’s plan being fulfilled? That’s mind boggling to me!
Then, add to that the importance of what Jesus did, on a global and eternal scale. Because in all of the Holy Week events we have, in the background, the Atonement that he was bringing, and the fulfillment of the plan of God for our Salvation, which was always his mission.
Holy Week was a time of intensity, and incredible complexity! And I was thinking this week, that all of that stands in great contrast to what I see as the simplicity of the Easter story. Think about it. This story is brief. This story is uncomplicated. This story is simple. You said it. “The Lord is risen.” (He is risen, indeed!) Amen?
That’s the big thing I want us to take with us today. “Easter: the Simple Fact.” In light of that, I wanted to read this story today from Saint Mark’s Gospel. Because his is often the simplest message. We learned in Seminary that the Gospel of Mark was written as a simple “eye-witness account” of the ministry of Jesus. Mark is the “Jack Webb” of the Gospel writers. “Just the facts, please!”
The facts are simple. The women came to the tomb of Jesus. In all the crazy events of two days before, it had not been possible to give Jesus a “proper” burial. The Sabbath had come at Sundown, so they couldn’t do anything, other than just to wrap Jesus’ body and lay him in a tomb, and roll a stone across the door.
Now, the Sabbath was over. It was the third day. And these women went to the tomb, taking with them the spices and other things they needed to give Jesus that proper burial. But apparently they hadn’t thought this through very well, because they hadn’t given any thought about who would roll the stone aside. This wasn’t a job for just a few women!
Well, It turns out it didn’t matter, although Mark tells us that’s what they were discussing. Because when they got there, the stone was already rolled back. And Mark makes the side comment, “It was very large!” (Remember “eye-witness account!”) Luke tells us more. He says the great stone was “rolled away,” using a word that indicates a distance. In other words, the stone was hurled aside. Matthew tries to describe the power that did that, telling us of an earthquake, and an angel of God, and the Roman guards being frightened and falling down “like dead men.”
Mark doesn’t tell us those things. He simply tells of the young man in the white robe, who was there waiting to tell the women the news. It’s almost understated here. We almost miss that this was a frightening event for these women. And we almost lose sight of the confusion, the anxiety they had over the fact that the body of Jesus was missing! That had to have been very disturbing! And it was one of the very upsetting things in John’s account. “They have taken the body! Please tell me where, so I can find it!” But here, that almost doesn’t matter.
The young man at the tomb says, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth. The one who was crucified.” “He has risen! He is not here! See?” Now, go and tell.” Then Mark ends his Gospel. (At least in its earliest form.) He ends it saying that the women “told no one what they had seen at the tomb because they were afraid.” So, as a Seminary professor of mine once suggested, who does that leave to tell the story? It’s us! The readers! We’re the ones to tell! That’s a great thought, isn’t it?
So yes, the day of the Resurrection was marked by amazement, disbelief, and even fear. But, in the end, in comparison with Holy Week, the Resurrection of Jesus was the simple fact. “The Lord is risen!” But think about that! The Resurrection quickly became the centerpiece of the Christian faith. Paul told the Corinthians, “If Christ is not raised, our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:14) “If Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless.”
Think about that! Think about your faith! It’s nothing if Jesus is not risen! That’s what all of Jesus’ ministry has been leading to. Yes, he preached love, acceptance, justice, peace. Yes, he was God’s example of the kind of people we should be. And that’s a tall order! We are to aspire to be like Jesus! And that’s all good! Don’t get me wrong! But his constant refrain through all of it – though the people didn’t want to hear it – was the “atonement.” “The Son of Man will be arrested, put to death, and three days later, rise!” They downplayed that morbid message! “Stop saying that, Jesus!” “Surely that will never happen to you!” But, they began to hear it more and more!
Well, now it had come true! And now it became the centerpiece, the focus, of the faith. I remember a few years ago, I was reading a history of the early church. And in that book, the author said that, in the early days, the cross was not the central symbol of Christianity! Not at first – in fact, not for nearly 400 years! In all that time, the cross was not featured in early church art, or architecture, or symbolism. The central focus was the empty tomb – The Resurrection!
That was the centerpiece of the faith! And the early Church celebrated the Resurrection every week! And they celebrated it on the first day of the week – the day of the week it happened. So the “Sabbath” of the new Christian Church became Sunday, instead of Saturday.
That’s how important this “simple fact” was! And here on Easter, we need to know that! And we need to know how important it is to us! Sometimes I think, when we moved to the celebration of Resurrection only once a year, maybe we lost a little of that. Maybe now that we reserve only “a little time” to remember, maybe it’s too little. We say “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!” “…Now let’s get back to all that “other stuff.”
Well, we need to know, without a doubt, that without the Resurrection, there is no “other stuff!” And don’t get me wrong! All the other stuff we do as a church is good! But we need to remember that we worship a living Lord! We worship a risen Lord! Our lives are centered around his atonement. That was God’s plan all along!
So, without getting too complicated, and too deep, setting aside the complexity of what came before it. I want us to remember, and to celebrate today, Easter: the Simple Fact. “The Lord is Risen!” “He is risen, indeed!”
Eternal God, we thank you for the wonderful plan you had for us and for our salvation. Help us to remember today, Jesus, our risen Savior. Help us to celebrate that central event of our faith, and to know that we are your children, followers of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen.