Faithlife Sermons

A radical challenge to our faith

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Easter 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  14:35
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Mark's version of the Resurrection is less than satisfying. There's no appearance of Jesus -- no signs to hold onto. Yet one suggestion as to why might help us. Jesus' followers already received all they needed -- God's promise (not signs). We too are looking for signs that we'll be OK with COVID19 progressing. Maybe we've already received what we need to be OK -- God's promise. Maybe by doing as Mary, and Mary, and Salome did and focussing on serving others, we too will find a new way forward in this difficult time.


Mark ends early

Today’s reading is different from the one that might be pictured in your head. Jesus doesn’t appear in Mark’s version of the Resurrection. Sure, there’s a man dressed in a white robe, but it is clear that he’s not Jesus (he talks about Jesus in the third person.)
While we don’t know for certain, I think it is pretty safe to guess that he is an angel. His greeting is that of an angel:
Mark 16:6 NRSV
But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.
Do not be alarmed … or another way to put that … do not be afraid:
Luke 1:30 NRSV
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
The angel tells Mary to not be afraid.
The history of a message of not being afraid though reaches back much farther than that.
Daniel 10:12 NRSV
He said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.
There’s a time of great conflict when Daniel is told to not be afraid … conflict between nations and heavenly powers … conflict beyond simple disagreement. At this point, Daniel had already escaped death in the lions’ den, he was still guilty of having prayed to God instead of praying to the earthly king. Daniel was also still hated by the people who entrapped him and had the king throw him into the lions’ den to begin with.
Hearing “Do not fear” when you’re actually fearing for your life — can be comforting or could just be dismissed. It certainly would take an angel for me to begin to hear that message.

Why were Mary and Mary and Salome afraid?

Well, we might have found out why Daniel was afraid — fear for his life. And in some ways, we might be able to say the Mary, the Mother of God might have had the same fear when she first found out about being pregnant with Jesus. But why would Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome be afraid?
While they were certainly followers of Jesus, what fear is there now. Jesus is dead. If they were to be in trouble for being his disciples, then there was no one for them to follow anymore.
However, there was a big reason for their fear:
There was an ordinance from Caesar:

It is my pleasure that graves and tombs


remain unmolested in perpetuity.


Let no one remove them for any reason. If anyone does so, however, it is my will that he shall suffer capital punishment on the charge of tomb robbery.

If this ordinance was in fact published in Galilee some time prior to the death of Jesus, then at the time of the resurrection there was in force a severe law against tampering with buried bodies. An empty tomb would entail capital punishment for Jesus’ “friends.”

So again, we have fear for life — of Mary, and Mary, and Salome. No one would believe that the body of Jesus had just disappeared — that it hadn’t been taken — and if it had been taken hadn’t been taken by his friends — and since they were at the tomb early on the next day, that it could have been anyone but them. No wonder they were afraid.

How do we stop being afraid?

We know that fear invokes a fight or flight response. For Mary, and Mary, and Salome, fighting isn’t really an option. To fight Caesar — how would the three of them do that?
But we’re also in a moment when much of the world lives in fear too. Maybe not fear for our lives — but maybe. How do we fight a virus? We can’t shoot it, we can’t knock it out with a punch, we can’t overpower it — unless we have a vaccine (which we don’t have at the moment.)
As we watch around the world and the death toll in places continues to rise, and we see the inequities that there is in how some people receive treatment and others don’t, and we see how the virus has even spread to world leaders — and we realize that no one is immune from it yet, we are rightly afraid — and yes, in some cases rightly afraid maybe not for our own lives but at least afraid for the lives of others.
So, how do we stop being afraid?
Mark doesn’t give us any help. He ends the story with the women being afraid. What sort of help is that? Tell us that Jesus is alive. Tell us that he appears to people. Tell us that people recognize him when they are walking down the road. Give us some sign.
Yet Mark doesn’t — the other writers do — but Mark doesn’t.
One suggestion as to why Mark doesn’t is this:
Harper’s Bible Commentary 16:1–8, The Resurrection of Jesus.

By the abrupt ending Mark also leaves his readers with a radical challenge to their faith. Belief, conversion, and discipleship do not really rest on resurrection appearances (which Mark’s community of ca. A.D. 70 would not have experienced), but on the word of promise, the victory over death at that very moment when death seemed sovereign.

The radical challenge

We don’t like the idea of a radical challenge to our faith (or to our lives for that matter). We don’t want things to hang on a promise — we want signs.
At the moment, we cling to signs about COVID19 transmission rates — we’ve all become experts at reading graphs of exponential functions, hoping we can turn them into logarithmic functions (and flatten the curve) or turn them into parabolic functions (and get the number of new deaths to zero.) We cling to news reports, and share them online of people overcoming the disease in the hopes that if we too are stricken by it, we will have some hope of overcoming it.
Our faith is being challenged at the moment — our faith in political leaders as to whether or not they are acting fast enough or too fast — our faith in the medical system as to whether or not they have the resources needed to do what needs to be done — our faith in others as to whether or not they will do what is necessary for us to flatten the curve until the medical system and political systems can catch up to where we need them to be.
What we should come back to though is this: the ending of our gathering in our building seemed just as abrupt as Mark’s gospel ends. However, if the commentary is right, and belief, conversion, and discipleship rest on the word of promise, we’ve already received that.
Mark 16:6–7 NRSV
But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 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.”
Jesus has already gone ahead. Now it is our time to write an ending — our time to catch up to him — our time to continue to serve others — as he served us, as Mary, and Mary, and Salome served him. For in focusing on serving others, we have all that we need. Thanks be to God.
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