The Secret that Couldn’t Be Kept: An Easter Sermon

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Mark 16:1-8

“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.”

That’s how the reading from Mark’s gospel concludes today. It’s actually how the most ancient manuscripts of the gospel of Mark conclude, period. There are a couple of disputed endings tacked on to it in most of our Bibles, but these days, scholars pretty much agree that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” is really how the gospel writer ended his story.

So what are all you people doing here? Go home, there’s nothing to see here, it says so in the Bible.

I’m just kinda, I don’t know, disappointed. Like, we just had a trumpet fanfare. A trumpet fanfare, people! We have Easter bells, I refuse to call them jingle bells unless we’re riding in a one-horse open sleigh, that we’re supposed to ring every time someone says alleluia!

It’s kind of embarrassing for me, to be honest, to be up here like, Oh, hi guys, you came to church today on like the highest of all Christian holy days, with trumpets and trombones and alleluia bells (see what I did there) and like what I actually have for you is this story about these ladies who are too afraid to say anything. Yaaaay.

Alleluia?

But it’s the text we have so, idk, I guess we’d better go with it.

In case you haven’t caught the earlier episodes, here’s a quick recap. Previously, in the Gospel of Mark…

There was this guy named Jesus. He was a Jewish carpenter who lived about 2000 years ago. From the very beginning, he went around proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was about to come to earth, and then he traveled all around healing people, feeding people, casting out demons, hanging out with some genuinely sketchy characters, forgiving sins, arguing with religious leaders, praying, blessing children, and teaching confusing things like when he told the rich guy he needed to give all his money to the poor, or said that in his kingdom, whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.

This kingdom didn’t make a ton of sense, especially given what we know about kingdoms, empires, superpowers, and what-have-you. They’re usually more about taxing people, punishing people, amassing wealth and power, and building up armies to protect their resources.

Still, some people were excited about him because they were in a bad situation. The Roman Empire occupied the Jews, and for a long time, the people hoped that someone would come along to lead a revolution, overthrow Rome, and restore the Jewish people to power in their own land. And some of them thought Jesus would be the one to do this, even though they were confused about some of the details he kept going on about.

But, in the episode right before today’s season finale, the revolution failed spectacularly. Jesus was arrested and executed for treason via crucifixion, a particularly brutal kind of torture that entails being hung up on a cross and suffocated slowly over hours and sometimes even days. His followers were devastated. And that was the cliffhanger right up until today.

In today’s episode, I mean reading, we begin with some of Jesus’ followers, women named Mary, Mary, and Salome, heading to where Jesus was laid to rest. They are probably drowning in grief, not only because their dear friend is dead but because their hopes and dreams for the new world he promised to bring have been crushed. Anyone who has suffered a significant loss can understand the pain of bitter disappointment, of life not turning out the way you thought it would, of lost causes, of losing a loved one, of despair.

On their way to the tomb, they’re talking about how they might get into it because there is a large stone in front of the tomb that is very heavy, and they are only three ladies, after all. But when they get there, they discover it has already been rolled back.

Which probably causes them some anxiety.

And then they go in and see a young man they don’t know in a white robe, sitting there.

Our translation says: “They were alarmed.”

This is an understatement. “Alarmed” doesn’t quite capture what’s going on here. The word in Greek means something more like “out of their senses.” In modern parlance, they freak out. Which you can understand. They freak out because everything they were hoping for and working toward just came crashing to the ground in a brutal, violent catastrophe. And here they are, trying to begin to pick up the pieces, and instead of seeing the body of their friend, there’s some random dude just sitting there.

And what does the man say to them?

“Hey, stop freaking out!”

Which, if anyone has ever told you to stop freaking out while you were literally in the middle of a freakout, how did that go?

But that’s what he says, “Stop freaking out! You’re looking for your friend Jesus, who was crucified. But he’s not here; he has been raised. Look, there is the place they laid him. Go tell the rest of your friends that he’s gone on ahead of you to Galilee!”

And, like, if I put myself in this situation, I can imagine that I might have heard those words, but they would have made absolutely no sense to me.

Like if somehow you ran into someone in a spacesuit who started telling you about how gamma-ray burst pulses and phase velocity allowed him to reach superliminal speeds through a colossal hypernova, and that’s how he’s able to stand before you right now from 10,000 years in the future.

You might hear the sounds making up the words, and you might even recognize some of the words, but you would have no comprehension of what those words actually mean.

And I think that’s how the women probably heard that line, “He’s not here, he has been raised.”

Like, what?

And so you would probably do what the women do.

You would run away.

You would run as far and as fast as possible.

And once you ran, you would probably make a pact with all your friends, “They will think we’re crazy, we’re not telling A-N-Y-O-N-E about this. Not a single soul.”

Which is, apparently, what the women in our story do.

Except that that can’t possibly be what they actually did, because here we all are.

Here we all are, 2000 years later, reading the story that they apparently never told anyone. Here we all are, ringing our bells when we hear the word alleluia and listening to trumpet fanfares.

If they never told anyone, they did a terrible job of it.

If they meant to keep a secret, 2.38 billion Christians later, it is the worst-kept secret in the history of humanity.

And I wonder if this isn’t the mind-bending, world-disrupting, life-bringing point of it all.

Of course the women couldn’t tell anyone when they were bewildered and terrified because it wouldn’t make any sense. It didn’t make sense to them.

But what if, after the initial shock wore down, something began to stir in them, something strange and terrifying and wonderful, and in light of their experience, they began to see a world in which it just might make sense after all?

What if it went back to what Jesus had been doing all along, in all those past episodes? The things he did that confused people and seemed hard to understand, especially for a political revolutionary who was supposed to be overthrowing the government—what if he was doing it to show his disciples, and all of us, what the world is really meant to look like?

See, in a world of hunger and disease, Jesus’ miracles of feeding and healing seem strange and out of place.

But what if Jesus is showing us that hunger and disease are the strange things, and that in the new world he is bringing forth, there is only healing and abundance?

In a world of poverty, Jesus’ insistence that the rich man give away all his wealth seems strange and radical.

But what if Jesus is showing us that poverty is the strange thing, and in the world he is bringing, there is always more than enough for everyone?

In a world of evil, Jesus’ ability to command demonic spirits to depart seems strange and a little scary.

But what if Jesus is showing us that evil is the strange thing, and in the world that he is bringing, there is only goodness and wholeness?

In a world of retribution and revenge, Jesus’ unabashed forgiveness of even the worst offenders seems strange and offensive.

But what if Jesus is showing us that retribution and revenge are the strange things, and in the world he is bringing, there is an overflow of mercy and forgiveness, no matter what you’ve done or what you’ve left undone?

In a world in which violence and coercion are the purview of kings and governments, Jesus submitting himself to death, even death on a cross, as the ultimate expression of his kingship, is strange and almost incomprehensible.

But what if Jesus is showing us that violence and coercion are the strange things, and in the world he is bringing forth, there is only self-giving and peace?

In a world of death, Jesus rising from the dead is strange and frankly unthinkable.

But what if Jesus is showing us that death is the strange thing, and in the world he is bringing, there are no more tears, no more heartaches, no more separations, no more tragedy, no more grief?

What if, like the time traveler from 10,000 years in the future, Jesus came to show us that he is transforming the world into something more wonderful and spectacular than we could ever conjure up for ourselves, through the complete giving over of his very self?

And what if it is the turning point of the entire cosmos? That somehow, some way, on the cross, he took into his body all the death and violence and pain and shame and grief and evil and poverty and suffering the world could throw at him, such that when he died, all of that died with him, and he is so full of hope, and healing, and forgiveness, and mercy, and love that nothing—not even death itself—could hold Him down?

And what if, even though the women initially couldn’t understand it, their confusion gave way to clarity? Not head clarity, like a math problem, but a kind of lived clarity that brought into focus everything Jesus had shown them, until they couldn’t keep the secret, until their own lives took on such a quality that they began, right then and there, to live into the new world Jesus is making for all of us?

And so now, 2000 years later, we’re here with our trumpets and our alleluia bells, hearing the story they never intended to tell but couldn’t refrain from telling because it’s so beautiful and hopeful and true.

Listen, I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that this is easy to understand, especially not from the vantage point of the world we know.

But what if the world we know is the strange one, and through the miracle of Easter, Jesus is showing us that in the world he is bringing, not only does the resurrection make sense—but it is the only thing that enables us to make sense of everything else?

Alleluia, Christ is risen. Amen.

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