April 1, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
Throughout history, there have been significant mile markers that humanity points to saying, “That changes everything!” First, there was fire. We can easily imagine people shivering and cold, huddled in the caves of a glacial landscape, eating raw plants and meat. And then suddenly, perhaps because of a lightning strike, the power of fire is discovered. “That changes everything!”
Sometime later, there was the invention of the wheel, making it possible to settle in one place and haul back the heavy loads from a great hunt, rather than having to follow herds of animals around. “That changes everything!” Then, a few hundred years ago, the printing press came about. Gutenberg’s invention in 1440 finally made it possible to print the written word and mass distribute it. “That changes everything!”
In just the last century and a half, we have seen the discovery of electricity and the invention of the lightbulb; Henry Ford’s first Model T rolled off an assembly line; and the Wright brothers were airborne in the first powered flying machine. I don’t think I have to tell you, “That changes everything!”
And in my lifetime, we have seen the rise of computers and the internet, cell phones and wireless communications. As we know, “That changes everything!”
Certainly, these are all monumental events in human history, but none of them is as significant as the life of Jesus Christ. So significant is Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, that our entire calendar is based on him. But what makes Jesus so important? Above all, it was his resurrection; the empty tomb that was found on that Easter morning so many, many years. ago. Nothing else even comes close to so completely changing the world as Jesus’ resurrection. He has risen! Would you pray with me?
So, how is your hearing? An older couple was sitting outside in their rocking chairs one afternoon. She looked at her husband of 60 years and said, “I’m proud of you.” He turned to her and said, “I’m tired of you, too.” She said, “Thanks!”
She looked around at the trees moving and said, “It’s windy today.” He said, “No it’s not. It’s Thursday.” She said, “Me too, I’ll go get us some lemonade!”
So, how is your hearing? Because when it comes to God’s Word, you have to hear and know the Resurrection story. “He has risen!” Sometimes we make a mistake of only talking about the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Because the empty tomb was discovered on a Sunday morning, every Sunday should be a resurrection celebration. Jesus is a risen Savior and salvation comes by believing in him.
As our story opens, it is now the third day after the crucifixion. It’s Sunday, the first day of the work week on the Jewish calendar. Three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome leave their homes in the dark of early morning. The Sabbath is almost over as the sun will soon begin to rise. The women are probably guilt-ridden because they feel that they have failed to show the proper respect for the body of their beloved master. After Jesus was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb, there was not time to render the last services to the body of Jesus. The women have a mission to perform, to wash and perfume his broken face and body. I’m sure in the time that has passed and the Middle Eastern heat, Jesus’ body has begun to decay.
Notice that the women did not have the slightest idea of the possibility of resurrection in their minds. “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” One of them mentions the stone, and they have a mutual fret. You see, in front of the opening to the tomb is a groove, and in the groove runs a circular stone as big as a cartwheel. The women know it is well beyond their strength to move a stone like that.
But as they come near to the tomb, they look up and see that the stone has already been rolled away. Can you imagine their surprise? I’m sure they didn’t know what to expect. But as they enter the tomb, they see a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they become alarmed.
If we move to the Gospel of John for a moment, we discover more details about that Resurrection Day. In the Gospel of John, Mary has already told the disciples about Jesus’ tomb being empty. The disciples go immediately to the tomb with the women following close behind. After Peter looks in the tomb and finds it empty, he and the rest of the disciples return to their upper room. Mary Magdalene is left standing outside the tomb and crying. When she finally looks into the tomb, the Gospel of John says this: “[Mary] saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.”
What is so amazing in this account in John is that the angels form the same configuration that decorated the lid of the ark of the covenant during the time of Moses. That space between the angels is called the Mercy Seat of God. It is this God, in the human form of Jesus, that has risen from this mercy seat to bring salvation to the world.
Mary then turns around after speaking with the angels and encounters Jesus standing before her. She doesn’t know who he is until he speaks. She then recognizes Jesus and reaches for the hem of his robe. And Jesus replies, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”
This is an interesting statement. We have to look at it from the Jewish perspective. Jesus, now that he is risen is not only considered the King and the Lion of the Tribe of Judah but is also considered our High Priest who is our advocate before God. In Jewish sacrificial laws, the High Priest is not to be defiled in any way before he enters the Holy of Holies once a year to stand before the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of God.
Jesus, our High Priest, the Risen Christ, is going to ascend to God, the Holy of Holies we call heaven, in forty days. Therefore, he cannot be defiled before going into God’s presence by having a woman touch him, a woman who could be considered unclean under Jewish law because of her time of the month.
But despite the different accounts and details in the gospels about the resurrection, the important message in all of them is this: “He has risen! He is not here.” Those words are the transforming power of the resurrection. Even in early Jewish and Roman literature shortly after the time of the Resurrection, the most extreme skeptics do not deny that the grave was empty. Where was the body?
The Jews did not have it, for they would have produced it post-haste to prove the Christians wrong. The Roman government did not have it. They had sealed the tomb and posted guards. They surely would not want to advertise Jesus’ resurrection in fear of an uprising by the Jewish people. And the disciples did not have it, for if they did, it would have been psychologically and spiritually impossible for them to live the dedicated martyrs’ lives and deaths they did. Folks, if someone ever says to you, “I don’t believe in your Resurrection,” ask them, “What happened to the body of Jesus?”
The transforming power of the resurrection has been changing history and changing lives ever since that glorious day. In fact, no single event in all of history has changed more lives around the world! We think of the sign of the Christian faith as the cross. But in reality, the greatest sign of the Christian faith is no sign at all, but the presence of the risen Lord in us; changing us, giving us hope in eternal live. In the resurrection we see the triumph of good over evil. Through the resurrection we see that Jesus really was God. And God is a God of love, peace, mercy, and forgiveness.
As our scripture ends, the angel charges the women with a mission. “Go, tell [Jesus’] disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” That is our charge as well. To tell people about the risen Christ. These women were trembling at the news. There minds were in ecstasy, swept beyond their normal selves. I’m sure they were afraid to tell anyone near the tomb about their experience as they exploded from the tomb, racing toward where they thought the disciples might be, their robes flying behind them. And just imagine how Peter felt as he heard the joyous good news, “He is risen.”
As one commentary writer suggests, “They all had been Saturday’s children a few moments before, depressed and despairing. But then they became Sunday’s children, joyously flying along. When they told the disciples ‘and Peter’ – especially Peter, the arch-offender – they all became Sunday’s children.” It was Sunday’s children who took the gospel around the world.
Bishop Melito of Sardis, a second-century bishop of Turkey, wrote these words to Sunday’s children as Jesus says:
I am your forgiveness, I am the Passover of your salvation, I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your light, I am your savior, I am your resurrection, I am your king, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by my right hand.
The great message of the resurrection is that when life comes to an end, it is, in reality, the very beginning of life; the start of something so great we can’t possibly wrap our minds around it.
Mark ends his gospel rather abruptly at verse eight with the women leaving the tomb. He wants us to know that Jesus has risen from the dead, but to look at our own faith now that we know there is an eternal life beyond this one. This resurrection has radically changed the past, the present, and the future!
Mark wants us to take this gospel story and incorporate it into the story of our own lives. And when we do that, we can see with complete certainty that the resurrection of Jesus Christ indeed “changes everything.”