Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43, Mark 16:1-8
On the afternoon of Good Friday, I had an Easter experience.
The family of Pablo’s goddaughter in Argentina went to visit the pastor who married us, who had been a pastor to all of them in their teenage years. They were Pablo’s friends first but I now count them as my friends, too. So they called Pablo as they were all together and reminiscing and looking at old pictures, and we both got to chat for awhile. It’s hard to describe to you people I am fairly certain you will never meet but those four humans are some exceptional ones. People who love well, who care about God’s justice in the world,. Who are just very real, who have been through some hard times and no they aren’t perfect but they are wonderful. They are people who laugh easily. And laugh we did.
I was overcome by a sense of God’s goodness for this rare moment of connection to loved ones so far away. Sure we could talk every week with the technology we have; but we don’t. We each have lives and jobs and things and people to attend to. But it just so happened they were together, this pastor who had been Pablo’s pastor and who he chose to preside over our wedding, this couple who chose Pablo to be the godfather of their one amazing daughter, and she herself- because of being able to travel for Holy Week vacation, and they thought of us, and they called. I was overcome because talking to them reminded me that whether I can see them every day or not, they are in this world, being who they are, loving well and caring for others and laughing often and making the world a better place because they are in it. It was a big reminder to me of God’s goodness. That somehow my story is woven together with theirs. And there are more people like them in this world. They don’t too often make it into the news just for being who they are. But they are there. People who manifest God’s goodness, people who remind you how good God is.
And I almost- for a second- felt guilty about having such a lovely encounter on Good Friday of all days. The day we somberly remember the passion and death of our Lord Jesus. Here we were laughing.
But only for a second, and I reminded myself that all time is a good time to receive a beautiful gift from God.
Because life is like that. Sometimes we have an Easter experience of unexpected joy on Good Friday. And the Good Friday experiences can also come at any time. And beloved, you may know as well as I do, Sometimes it seems like the harsh reality of Good Friday is all there is.
Something like that was happening in this 16th chapter of Mark. Your Bible probably has some kind of marker and some kind of note about how the oldest manuscripts from which we know how Mark told the story of the good news of Jesus Christ end at verse 8. With these three women trembling, bewildered, afraid. Not saying anything to anyone. It is not a very comfortable ending.
Just an empty tomb and a strange messenger pointing out to them how Jesus really, really was not there and that he was somewhere else.
The empty tomb was enough for Mark to tell about. No appearances no explanations- yes the other gospels, and some well-meaning soul who added the rest of the chapter, will fill in these gaps. We know that the women would eventually say something to the other disciples, otherwise how would we know this story at all?
You might remember that the first line of the gospel of Mark is thought to be a title. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God. The beginning. Not the whole story. It’s like Mark didn’t finish the gospel, on purpose, to show us that the story goes on, beyond the page. The story goes on in our lives. Where Jesus will show up is in us, as well as before there yes.
But this first ending, or non-ending to Mark shows the realness of the in-between time, that I think we can identify with. We often want to skip to the pure joy and certainty that the worst is over and everything is alright, and more than alright. But real life is not always like that. Real life has a lot of the uncomfortable, unsure time. Real life has a lot more of these times than we often want to admit- where something awful has happened and we don’t know what to do and we try to do what we know, like the women taking the spices, but we are concerned about the obstacles to doing what we know, what about the big stone, and just having the shock of the stone already being rolled away keeps them from really processing the real news- he has risen! The carefully procured spices are now totally unnecessary. Jesus is alive. In our language they would have probably said, what the…?
They were doing their best to carry on how they knew, what was right and loving, to embalm the body even if it was three days later. That is reality, Jesus has died. The shock of the gift from God- resurrection- was just too much to take in. so they do not shout alleluia or sing songs of praise. They are shaking and bewildered and afraid. That’s the last words from the first version of Mark.
There is plenty in this world that shows us the ugliness that Good Friday shows us. How sin, hate, pride, jealousy, and love of power, hurt and harm people. Scarce resources and sickness and death seem to have the advantage an awful lot of the time. Life is uncomfortable and we don’t know what’s coming next. And we have our things we do to get by, our rituals and our plans that ease the pain a little. We have grown accustomed to displays of racism, we have gotten used to justice not being done, we are even somewhat used to their being a thousand people a day dying in our nation, still, from this awful virus. We’re even glad it isn’t 4 or 5 thousand a day like it was for awhile.
And it can be hard to take in when God opens up a whole new reality, that Jesus is not dead but alive. We might even rebel out of bewilderment.
But whether we can see it or not, this is what we know to be true- while we are sleeping or otherwise unaware, God does good and amazing things that we cannot see. God brings healing and life where we only expect pain and death. Yes Easter happened about 2000 years ago, the big one, but little Easters still come to us. Friends calling out of the blue to make us laugh on good Friday. A perfect blossom in your garden. News of a friend you thought might not get better, is better. And even this- one small congregation in California’s central valley took the season of Lent to examine white supremacy culture and take the small step of naming a repentance from that system of sin.
I’ve been talking mostly about Mark, but I want to pull in Acts a little now, too, because my attention was called to this verse, of this passage that is named for today- about how God shows no partiality, I’ve heard it quoted God is no respecter of persons, in other words, skin color nationality and ethnicity make no difference to God. Not that God is oblivious to these things or “doesn’t see” them- God sees us with all of our particularities, the languages we speak how our ears stick out the kind of toppings we like on our pizza- God loves all of that about us, including our heritage. But Peter who is speaking at this point, in chapter 10 has just gone through his famous conversion of coming to understand that God loves non-Jewish, God loves Greek people just as much as Jewish people. That lesson I think was there during Jesus’s life but Peter hadn’t quite got it yet, like when Jesus said the Syro Phoenican woman’s faith was great or healed a man in the Gentile region and fed the crowds there, too; it was the Roman Centurion who had exclaimed, surely this man was God’s son, when he saw how he died. But it was after the resurrection, after Jesus’ ascension, after the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, when Peter had a vision, heard the Spirit tell him to meet someone who had also had a vision, and then he gives this speech, which over all is about what happened to Jesus, his death and resurrection, but he starts out, now I understand, God does not show favoritism. It all goes together…
The resurrection- the new thing God was doing that began in Jesus, encompasses humanity learning through fits and starts that this is true. God coming to earth in one man of one particular ethnicity, in one place, was to show us that we don’t need to be divided against each other or have suspicions or ill thoughts of one another and every way of thinking that is related to that can be overcome. Jews and Gentiles can eat together. Because of how God can do totally new, totally shocking things, like resurrection. Life where there was none. Total transformation of our hearts and our lives, to get to the point where we like God, show no favor or partiality to any kind of group.
God opened that totally new way for Peter, little step by little step until he got it.. It was true for the women, Mary and Mary and Salome, who could only be shocked and afraid at first. But that did not change that God had done this huge and amazing thing, and little step by little step, they would be able to go from shock and silence to joy and testifying. The same is true for us. Little by little God transforms us to live and love in God’s way, completely.
Just as I said on Good Friday, that the legacy and acting out of Good Friday still happens in our world- sin and harm and death- that is 100% true- but it is also true that God is still doing amazing, life- filled things, even if we can’t see them or can’t move with it right away. God said no to our sin on Good Friday, but God said yes to us on Easter. And God keeps doing life-giving things, laugh out loud moments, beauty and poetry and music and love. There are little Easters all around us, because of God’s goodness. Let’s rejoice today in God’s power to bring life, right into the middle of our hurting world!
Christ is risen, Alleluia, Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen!