On Easter Sunday we celebrate God's triumph over the power of death -- but while we are all mortal, modern medicine has brought us many amazing ways to (at least temporarily) triumph over the power of death ourselves. We've almost come to take many of them for granted -- a collective state of mind revealed by the fact that news of former vice president Dick Cheney's recent heart transplant barely registered on the periphery of the headlines. More stunning was the saga of English soccer player Fabrice Muamba, who collapsed on the field during a game on March 17. Muamba managed to survive despite his heart not beating for 78 minutes and, his team doctor announced, being "in effect... dead in that time." Such miraculous stories invite the use of the term "resurrection" -- but the Resurrection of Our Lord is so much more than mere reanimation of the body. Of course, that's an essential element of the empty tomb -- yet as team member Dean Feldmeyer notes in this installment of The Immediate Word, we misunderstand the true miracle of Jesus' rising if that's all we focus on. Indeed, as Dean points out, the term "resurrection" has come to be synonymous in popular usage with reviving anything that's been dormant for a time... and as a result we have come to think of it as something we do for ourselves by pulling up our bootstraps and achieving some sort of success. But Dean uses Mark's account of the resurrection to remind us that instead, resurrection is something God does for us -- and as such, it's not just an astounding historical event but an ongoing reality in every day of our lives.
Team member Mary Austin shares some additional thoughts on the Mark passage, and she points out that, like the women who were seized by "terror and amazement" when they discovered an empty tomb, fear is a palpable part of our lives that threatens to isolate us from others and keep us silent -- just as was initially the case with those women as they fled the scene. But Mary notes that we need to heed the angel's instructions to share the good news and not be paralyzed by our fear -- otherwise we run the risk of keeping Jesus (and ourselves) entombed in this world and not following the risen Christ into his Kingdom. As the angel bluntly reminds the women (and us) as they look for Jesus in the tomb: "He has been raised; he is not here." In other words, Mary suggests, to find the risen Christ we have to get beyond our fear and go out to Galilee -- i.e. into the world -- and tell everyone what we've seen and experienced.
by Dean Feldmeyer
So how does one go about getting resurrected these days?
Musicians and actors are spoken of as "resurrecting" their careers. Politicians are described as "resurrecting" their campaigns and their election hopes. Scientists in South Korea have said they can "resurrect" the prehistoric wooly mammoth. Honda is hoping that the Brio will "resurrect" their brand in India. And publishers, we are told, are using e-books to try to "resurrect" the men's action/adventure novel. Meanwhile, professional sports teams are wheeling and dealing, trading and selling in efforts to "resurrect" their playoff hopes.
There's lots of resurrecting going on in popular culture -- and most of it is seems to be of the do-it-yourself kind. Resurrection, as it is popularly understood, is something you do.
Not so in the Bible. Jesus did not resurrect himself. In the scriptures, resurrection is something you get.
Popular culture has decided that resurrection is a thing much to be desired.
Lindsay Lohan wants it. We are told in the entertainment pages of the newspaper and the celebrity sites on the internet that she has bleached her hair and gotten plastic surgery and completed her community service and she is now ready to resurrect her career.
Madonna wants it. All those who follow such things were sure that she was going to resurrect her career with her Super Bowl appearance -- but it lacked that electric enthusiasm that is necessary for successful resurrection. Some said she just went through the motions, so no resurrection for her. Too bad.
Newt Gingrich wants it. He was going to resurrect his presidential campaign by winning heavily in the Deep South, but Rick Santorum put the kibosh on that. Last week Newt laid off some of his staff and cut back on appearances. If his campaign is resurrected it will be a miracle.
Just Google the word "resurrect" and there's no escaping the fact that everyone is looking for resurrection these days:
- Scientists in South Korea hope to pull off a trick right out of Jurassic Park and "resurrect the wooly mammoth species."
- Magic Johnson is planning to "resurrect the glory" of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
- Julia Roberts is trying to "resurrect her flagging career" in Mirror Mirror, a modern remake of the Snow White fairy tale.
- Nissan plans to "resurrect the Datsun".
- And organizers are hoping to "resurrect the Occupy movement" this summer.
In popular culture, resurrection is simply a matter of getting your act together, getting a plan in place, doing your due diligence, and working really hard. It's a do-it-yourself kind of a thing.
Not so in scripture.
In Mark's very brief and abruptly ended account of the first Easter, he leaves out much of what we have come to associate with the story. But about this one thing he is very clear. When speaking of the resurrection he places these words on the lips of the "young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting" near the tomb: "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here" (Mark 16:5-6).
He has been raised. The present perfect tense. He is not the doer of the action, but the recipient of it. He did not raise himself. The raising did not happen as the result of something that he did or did not do. It was done to him, for him. It was a gift.
In Acts 10, Luke recounts Peter's sermon wherein he tells of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday: "They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear" (vv. 39b-40).
Again, biblical resurrection is not a do-it-yourself thing. It is God who is in charge of this resurrection business. It is God who resurrected Jesus and allowed him to appear.
Resurrection is not a human thing that can be figured out and replicated if we use the right formula. It is a God thing, filled with awe and mystery.
And if we take seriously the witness of scripture, the appropriate human response to resurrection is a strange mixture of fear, awe, wonder, disbelief, skepticism, and jubilation all at the same time.
CRAFTING THE SERMON
The challenge of the preacher is always to cross the hermeneutical bridge from past to present, from scriptural witness to contemporary application. This is especially so with the story of the first Easter.
It is always tempting at Easter to just tell the story and let it lay there, to stay on the safe side of the bridge. But an authentic respect for the text demands not just a hearing of it but an encounter with it.
The Resurrection is not just a nice thing that happened to Jesus a long time ago, a historic event that happened once and has never been replicated. The Resurrection is as much an existential reality as a historic one.
Resurrection is a continuous possibility for us, not as an accomplishment that we can achieve by our own hard work and self-imposed moral virtue but as a gift from God. It is not a do-it-yourself curative for the problems that drag us down. It is a gift of God that raises us out of whatever grave into which we have fallen.
What death do we fear most?
Is it the death of ridicule and dislike? Do we fear most that people might think or speak critically of us or laugh at us or think us foolish? Is that the grave we fear? God can raise us up from it.
Is it the death of failure? Do we fear most that we will work had and fail to meet our goals, that our time and sweat and investment will have been wasted? Is that the grave we fear? God can raise us up from it.
Is the death of error? Do we fear most that we will be shown to be wrong, to be a fool, to be uninformed and thought by others to be stupid? Is that the grave we fear? God can raise us up from it.
The celebration of Easter is not, as in the popular culture, a celebration of what we can do for ourselves, but of what the God of life and promise can do for us, with us, through us.
It is the celebration of life as a gift of God over the powers of death and darkness.
It is the celebration of new life and new hope.
It is the celebration by which we cry out in spontaneous glee: "Praise the Lord, Christ is Risen!"
He is risen indeed!
by Mary Austin
Like your current flame and your ex both showing up at your door at the same time, the last chapter of Mark's gospel has a certain… well, awkwardness. Two endings compete for our attention. The first ending has the women arriving at the tomb, hearing the news about Jesus, and telling no one "for they were afraid." The gospel observes, redundantly, that it's giving us both a shorter and longer ending, but without any further instructions. Do we get to pick the one we like best?
The story, like all the Easter morning stories, begins with the Sabbath now over. The women come to the tomb and seek out Jesus' body to offer it more care and attention. There is a sense that they've been waiting all through the Sabbath and through the night for dawn to come, so they attend to Jesus in this final way. Luther Seminary professor Paul S. Berge observes: "The evangelist reminds us of the importance of time: 'And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb' (Mark 16:2). Greek is an exacting language and has the literary quality of drawing readers or hearers into the immediate presence of the text. The resurrection story is such an example. The New Revised Standard Version text of Mark 16:2 reads: 'And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went (Greek: 'they come') to the tomb.' The literal reading of the Greek text would be to translate as a present tense event, 'they come.' In Greek this is known as the historic present tense with its purpose to draw you as the reader or hearer into the present time of the story. We, too, become witnesses, even participants with the women, in the action of coming to the tomb."
In the same way, we can also feel the fear that fills the women as they encounter the young man in white who reports that Jesus has been raised from the dead. The first ending of Mark's gospel makes perfect sense. Who wouldn't react in this way?
Fear is alive and well in our time. The presidential campaign runs on fear -- fear about the economy, or about people losing what little security they have. Both Congressional Republicans and President Obama have released budgets for the next fiscal year, and each side attacks the other based on fears of what will be lost if the budget passes. The "Stand Your Ground" law at the heart of the controversy over the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin is a response to fear. As ABC News explains: " 'Stand Your Ground' laws state that a person can use lethal force if that person feels at all threatened. Versions of the law have been passed in 25 states, but Florida's is considered to be the most aggressive." The same article adds: "No mainstream Republican groups or pro-gun groups have spoken out to defend the law since the fatal shooting of the unarmed teen by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, although concerns have been expressed on many conservative blogs that the controversy will lead to an attack on the rights of gun owners." More fear. Another response to fear is revealed in the following statistic cited in the same article: "A Wall Street Journal analysis today found that killings classified as self-defense doubled from 2000 to 2010."
But, like the authors of Mark's gospel, we can't stay with fear. Some wise author knew that the first ending to the Easter story wasn't enough.
The Gospel of Mark can't end the resurrection story with silent fear, and neither can we. As Professor Berge adds in the article noted above: "With the events that we have witnessed at the tomb, we have been drawn into the early dawn hours of a new day. With the women, we have come to the tomb and the discovery of the large stone rolled away. The message of the young man is addressed to us. We too have received the commission to go and tell."
Both endings are important. We understand panic and anxiety. We too greet God's good news with fear. Our terror finds an echo in the gospel. But we need the second ending too. We need to move out of our fear and onto the good news. We need the news that Jesus appears to the frightened and the doubtful. We need Jesus' concrete instructions to get outside our fearful selves, and go out into the world to share the good news we've been given.
We need both endings -- one to mirror our world, and the other to show us God's new world.
Mark's account of the resurrection ends abruptly with the words "and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" (Mark 16:8). This caused considerable consternation in the early church. Other accounts of Jesus' resurrection had been circulating, and it seemed odd to Mark's readers that he would end his gospel without including any of these -- and without presenting any evidence of the resurrection except for the empty tomb. There are two alternate endings to Mark, but strong linguistic and textual evidence suggests that they were added in some later manuscripts. So why does Mark end his story so abruptly? Very possibly it is for dramatic effect. Perhaps he wants to leave the line "and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" resonating in his readers' minds as an encouragement not to do the same thing. In the prior verse an angel has just said, "But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you" (v. 7). The implication is that the good news of resurrection is an urgent call to action: those who hear it are to get themselves "to Galilee" -- to witnessing in the world -- without delay.
Mark's simple telling of Jesus' resurrection provides no eyewitness accounts from those who have met the risen Lord. There's just an empty tomb and an angel saying, "He's gone from here." For Mark, the central feature of the story seems to be the angel's command: Go. Go and tell the disciples and Peter. Go and follow the risen Lord to Galilee. Go and share with all who will hear it this glorious news that death has been vanquished forever, that Jesus who was crucified now reigns triumphant.
Mark's version is the closest to our own modern-day experience. No one in the church today has embraced Jesus, as Mary Magdalene did, or put their finger in his side, as Thomas did. All that is left to us are the stories, the testimony -- and the command of the angel: Go. Go to Galilee. There he awaits you.
The same is true for our Easter congregations. Let us share the good news with them: yet as we do so, let us not fail to share the angel's command as well. Along with the glorious Easter proclamation "He is risen!" there is the instruction of the angel to go and leave the place where we presently are in our spiritual lives: to venture out and see if the risen Lord does indeed meet us.
When Fidel Castro met with Pope Benedict in Havana this past week, the Cuban political leader (and former Roman Catholic) asked the religious leader a very simple question: "What does the pope do?" The pontiff gave a long answer about his foreign travels and his service to the Church.
I wonder if Pope Benedict, reflecting on the instructions that Jesus gave to Peter (who is recognized as the first Pope), should not have simply responded that the calling of a Pope is simply to "go, tell" (Mark 16:7).
One of the new and different ways popular culture is structured in this computer age is "interactive entertainment." On internet blogs and bulletin boards, people sometimes create fiction in genres such as murder mysteries together, as a community effort. One person writes the first chapter, another the second, and so on -- with no one knowing exactly how it's all going to turn out.
A few years back, a Hollywood studio had the same principle in mind when it produced the movie Clue. Based on the popular murder-mystery board game, the film had three or four separate endings. When the time for the final scene arrived, the audience -- equipped (in at least some theaters) with computer keypads -- got to vote on which ending they wanted. They got to decide which suspect had committed the murder.
Interactivity is the principle behind all computer and video games. Players impact the story by what they punch into the keyboard, or how they wiggle the joystick. Every game session is, by definition, different from the last.
There's an interactive story in the Bible. It's Mark's account of Jesus' resurrection. It ends abruptly because what happens next is up to the readers to decide.
The great opera composer Giacomo Puccini died suddenly before he had a chance to finish his final work, Turandot. One of his fellow composers, Franco Alfano, wrote two final scenes that completed the story. When the opera premiered at Milan's La Scala opera house in 1926, the famous Arturo Toscanini was the conductor. Toscanini got to the place where Puccini had left off, and he stopped the performance. With tears in his eyes, he turned to the audience and announced, "This is where the master ends." Then he raised his baton again, said, "This is where his friends continue," and he concluded the performance.
There was great excitement among many in the scientific community when a group of physicists going by the acronym Opera claimed that neutrinos could travel faster than the speed of light. Their results called into question the Theory of Relativity established by Albert Einstein. It set the stage for the possibility of new phenomena, including being able to travel backwards in time.
Yet others remained skeptical. They called upon the dictum of British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington, who wrote: "No experiment should be believed until it has been confirmed by theory."
Upon further experimentation, Opera discovered a faulty wire and a faulty clock that gave them an incorrect reading. Einstein's theory still stands -- nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
This is true for science, where every principle must be proven by theory; but it is not true for religion. There will never be a theory to prove the Resurrection. You either believe or you do not. This Easter Sunday, those who are gathered here in this sanctuary, we are the believers in the seemingly impossible.
Many years ago, a friend told me that his young son was a great fan of both Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers. The boy faithfully watched both of their television shows, and one day it was announced that Mister Rogers would be paying a visit to the Captain Kangaroo show. The boy was ecstatic. Both of his heroes, together on the same show! Every morning the boy would ask, "Is it today that Mister Rogers will be on Captain Kangaroo?" Finally the great day arrived, and the whole family gathered around the television. There they were, Mister Rogers and Captain Kangaroo together. The boy watched for a minute, but then, surprisingly, got up and wandered from the room.
Puzzled, his father followed him and asked, "What is it, son? Is anything wrong?"
"It's too good," the boy replied. "It's just too good."
Maybe that's it. Maybe the news of the empty tomb, the news of the resurrection, the news of Jesus' victory over death is just too good to believe, too good to assimilate all at once.
-- Thomas G. Long, "Empty Tomb, Empty Talk," in The Christian Century, April 4, 2001, p. 11
There is only one flag that the flag of the United States of America is submissive to. There is only one flag that the stars and stripes bows in homage to. There is only one flag that commands a post above that stars of the 50 states on the staff. And that flag is the flag of the United States Naval chaplain.
When religious services on Sunday morning are being conducted aboard a U.S. naval vessel, the U.S. flag is lowered, the chaplain's flag is raised, and then the U.S. flag is raised once more, seated below the religious emblem.
As we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, let us be sure that the message of Easter flies higher than any other.
-- Ronald Love (former U.S. Army chaplain); Thomas Love (former U.S. Navy chaplain)
"We are the Easter people" the Avery and Marsh song proclaims. What kind of 21st-century witnesses to the resurrection are we? Passive spectators, bystanders, mere onlookers? Or are we active witnesses who pay close attention, observers, watchers? Can anyone tell by our actions that we are trying to live a Christian life? Not just wearing crosses around our necks or using the night words, but really living as if we have heard the promise of Easter.
How is that? To start, that means living as a forgiven person. Living as a person who is forgiving. Living as if your very life is worth something to you, to those around you, to God. Living as if you count. Living as if others count. And knowing, thank God, that to be Easter people, we need not be perfect.
Easter people do not come wrapped in neat, finished kits complete with all the answers. Easter people are free to grow. Easter people can choose to take a leap of faith. Easter people can hear the inner questions without discarding them or discrediting ourselves as witnesses.
Knowing we are children of God gives us the courage to be Easter people. As children of God, as Easter people, we offer ourselves the benefit of a doubt.
by George Reed
Call to Worship
Leader: O give thanks to God , for God is good;
People: God's steadfast love endures forever!
Leader: Let the people say,
People: "God's steadfast love endures forever."
Leader: God is our strength and our might;
People: God has become our salvation.
Leader: The Lord is risen!
People: The Lord is risen indeed!
Leader: Let us go and follow the Risen Christ!
People: Where will we find him?
Leader: He has gone ahead of us to spread the good news.
People: We will go and spread the good news, and there we will find Jesus.
Hymns and Sacred Songs
"This Is a Day of New Beginnings"
"The Day of Resurrection"
"Easter People, Raise Your Voices"
"Hail Thee, Festival Day"
"Christ Is Alive"
"Camina, Pueblo de Dios" ("Walk On, O People of God")
"The Strife Is O'er, the Battle Done"
"Sing unto the Lord a New Song"
"Your Loving Kindness Is Better than Life"
Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982 (The Episcopal Church)
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African-American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship
Prayer for the Day / Collect
O God who raised Jesus from the dead: Grant us the faith to go to those in need, that there we may find our Risen Christ and join him in spreading the good news; through Jesus Christ our Risen Savior. Amen.
We praise and adore your Name, O God, because you are the one who created us and who resurrects us to new life. Grant that as we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus we may be willing to enter death to find new life in you. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins, and especially our desire to be resurrected without offering ourselves in sacrifice to the world.
People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are quick to move from Palm Sunday to Easter, without taking time to contemplate the cost Jesus paid to share the good news or the cost we must pay to be part of that witness. Resurrection seems to us to be our birthright and something we can do for ourselves. We avoid thinking that we if we truly die, we can't do the resurrecting. Forgive us our foolish, selfish ways. Help us to go out into mission, where we will find the Risen Christ and where we will receive the gift of our own resurrection. Amen.
Leader: God comes to us so that we may be given new life. Receive that new life as you give this life away.
Prayer for Illumination
Send, O God, the light of your Spirit upon us, so that as the good news of the Risen Christ is read and proclaimed we might see Jesus still proclaiming the news of your reign and be inspired to join him in this work. Amen.
Prayers of the People (and the Lord's Prayer)
O God, you are life that never ends. You are the one who can bring life from death. You are the one who brings resurrection from despair.
(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)
We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are quick to move from Palm Sunday to Easter, without taking time to contemplate the cost Jesus paid to share the good news or the cost we must pay to be part of that witness. Resurrection seems to us to be our birthright and something we can do for ourselves. We avoid thinking that we if we truly die, we can't do the resurrecting. Forgive us our foolish, selfish ways. Help us to go out into mission, where we will find the Risen Christ and where we will receive the gift of our own resurrection.
We give you thanks for all the goodness of this life and for the opportunities we have to offer it to others. We thank you for those who have given themselves to us so that we have experienced the Risen Christ in our midst.
(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)
We pray for those in need. Help us as we go out to meet them, that we might meet you in them and that they may meet you in us.
(Other intercessions may be offered.)
All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray together, saying:
Our Father . . . Amen.
(or if the Lord's Prayer is not used at this point in the service)
All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.
Children's Sermon Starter
It's time to roll out the caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly story. As the caterpillar enters the stage where as a chrysalis it changes into a butterfly, so Jesus dies and enters the tomb until he emerges as a new creature of beauty as the Risen Christ. The differences are important. The butterfly from a caterpillar is a natural process which looks like the resurrection. Jesus doesn't enter a dormant stage, but he dies. God resurrects him. Make sure to tell the children that the butterfly looks like the resurrection. But the resurrection is entirely different. Jesus dies and is resurrected with a new body. No, the children will not really understand it -- but then neither do I. This is a time to tell the children that some things, like the resurrection, are mysteries. But this kind of mystery doesn't have clues so that we can solve it. It is always a mystery because we, as mortals, can never really understand it. It is better for the children to get the right information and not really comprehend it then to give them a dumbed-down version that gives them wrong information. (But, hey, that's just me.)
Objects: a gravestone marker (or a picture of one)
Good morning! Well, actually I should have said Happy Easter! Happy Easter everyone. Why do we say Happy Easter? (let the children answer) Is there a special reason why Easter should be happier than any other day? (let them answer) That's right, because this is the day that Jesus was raised from the dead. Who raised Jesus from the dead? (let them answer) That's right, God raised Jesus from the dead.
Do you remember the story of how Jesus was taken down from the cross where he died and then taken to a garden? (let them answer) Do you remember how a man by the name of Joseph gave a special place to bury Jesus that he had once saved for himself and his family? (let them answer) Did you also know that after Jesus had been put in the tomb, a big stone was rolled in front of it so that no man could get inside? (let them answer) That is exactly what they did. It must have been a very big stone, because when Jesus' friends came to take care of his body (the way they always did for dead people) they worried about how they were going to get into Jesus' grave.
Today things are a little different. We don't bury very many people in the way that Jesus was buried. Most of us are buried in the ground, and once we are buried you can't open the grave anymore. How many of you have been to a cemetery? (let them answer) If you have been to a cemetery you have seen things like this. (show them the gravestone marker) It has the name of the person on it as well as the date when the person was born and when he or she died. It is also made out of stone. But the stone that covered Jesus' grave was much bigger. It was 10 times bigger or maybe even 100 times bigger. You can understand how worried the women were when they thought about how they would be able to move this big stone that covered Jesus' tomb.
But think of their surprise when they got to the tomb and found the stone already moved. They could see right into the tomb where the dead body of Jesus had been put.
And then another surprise -- Jesus wasn't there! An angel told them that Jesus was no longer dead. He was risen. It was the first time this had ever happened, but it was what Jesus had promised would happen time and time again. Jesus had told them that when he died he would be raised from the dead by his Father in heaven. No one really believed it before he died, but now they had to believe it. Jesus Christ is risen today. That's why we say "Happy Easter!" and we mean it.
You too will be raised from the dead. It is a promise of God, and we are happy to know that we shall share in the resurrection of Jesus.
• • • • • • • • • • • • •
The Immediate Word, April 8, 2012, issue.
Copyright 2012 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.
All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.