It is a long time and several snowstorms since Ash Wednesday. Do you remember the date of Ash Wednesday this year? February 14. Valentine’s Day. How romantic was it to hear those words: “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” And now we have Easter Sunday on April Fool’s Day. But we have words that sound like Valentine’s Day. “Remember Love is stronger than death. And to that love you are returned.” And I’m here to tell you that the Resurrection of Jesus is not an April Fool’s joke. No, it is a reality that changes our lives.
But before I get to that reality that changes our lives, I have to admit the earliest disciples thought, at first, that the Resurrection was an April Fool’s joke.
In John’s Gospel, when Mary Magdalene sees angels in the empty tomb, she weeps and asks the angels where his body has been taken. In Luke’s gospel, the women saw the tomb empty and were given a message by “two men in dazzling white” that Jesus was risen. But when they go back to tell the eleven remaining disciples that news, “the disciples did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” In Matthew’s gospel a rumor circulates that the tomb was empty because someone stole the body. And in Matthew’s gospel, when the eleven see Jesus on the mountain, “some worshipped him and some doubted.”
And in Mark’s Gospel it is even worse. The women go to the tomb. A young man dressed in white tells them (1) don’t be afraid; (2) and go and tell the good news that Jesus is alive. He is risen! He has gone ahead of you to Galilee. The next line, the last line in the entire Gospel is “They fled from the tomb in terror and amazement. They said nothing to nobody. They were afraid because…”And the gospel ends there.
Now I know some of you are going to google “ending of Mark’s gospel” and you are going to find the “alternative endings” to Mark’s gospel in which the fear is gone, Jesus appears to the disciples and everyone is talking about it. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Those alternatives endings were added by monks who were hand copying the Bible many, many years later. They could not bear the fact that the story from Mark ends in fear and silence. So they added a couple of happy stories. Like the ones that were already in the original texts of Mathew, Luke and John. Now hang in there because I’m going to come back to Mark in three minutes and forty five seconds.
The first reaction of the disciples is Resurrection of Jesus is an April Fool’s joke. How did they get from that to a belief so strong that they would literally give up their lives defending it? Eventually they got there. Eventually we can get there.
Let’s back up to my favorite story – the Feeding of the 5000. And I humbly think it was Jesus’ favorite story too. It is the only story of his ministry that gets into all four Gospels. And in two of the Gospels – Mark and Luke – it is followed a few days later by the Feeding of the 4000. (This shows that even in the time of Jesus, average Sunday attendance was declining.) And sometimes, when the disciples don’t understand what just happened, Jesus says – using his frustrated voice -“oh if you only understood about the loaves and the fishes, you would understand this.”
You all know the story. Jesus goes away to a deserted place to pray. 5000 people hear about it and join him there. All day long he preaches and heals and forgives. At the end of the day, the apostles tell Jesus all those people out there are hungry. And they are in a deserted place. No restaurants. I know people in Massachusetts are saying “there must have been a Dunkin’ Donuts. They are everywhere.” But no, not even a Dunkin’ Donuts. Jesus says “you give them something to eat.” The disciples say “we don’t have enough. Just five loaves and two fish.” Jesus says, again using his frustrated voice, “Give it to me.” He thanks God for it, breaks it, gives it away and God multiplies the grace, all 5000 are fed and there are 12 baskets of broken pieces left over.
This story tells us a lot about humanity, God and the church. But for this sermon I’m just going to stay with God. The God we meet in creation and the God we meet in the Bible is a God who over creates. Think about our God who we meet in nature. If you look out at the sky at night and you see a dozen or so stars, it is beautiful. Maybe you did that with your loved one on Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day after you heard the message you are dust. But God did not make a dozens of stars. God made millions of stars. More than we will ever see. Because God over creates.
Think about trees. In a couple of months we will look at the trees and they will be beautiful. If there were a few hundred leaves on those trees, they would still be beautiful. But as we know in New England in October, when you leave church on a Sunday and are trying to rake all those leaves before a Red Sox playoff game or a Patriots kickoff, there are not a few hundred leaves on a tree. There are thousands. Why? Because it is the nature of God to over create. We have a God of abundant life.
Jesus, the human face of God. Jesus, the one who reveals God to us, over creates. The 5000 are fed. And there are 12 baskets of broken pieces left over. There is more than enough because that’s who God is.
Here’s what that means for you and me. Because of God, we don’t have just enough grace to get through the day. Even on our worst days, even if it doesn’t feel like it, we have more than enough grace. We can’t use up all the grace God has put into our lives. And, when we come to the end of our time on earth, there will be more life. Not because we have earned it, but because we can’t possibly use up all the life God has given us.
Let me back this up with wisdom from some really smart theologians. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wrote this about Resurrection and nature:
“Our Lord has written the promise of Resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”
Walter Bruggemann, a brilliant contemporary theologian:
“The power of the future lies not in the hands of those who believe in scarcity but of those who trust in God’s abundance.”
Now let’s go back to Mark. We know the last line in Mark’s Gospel is fear and silence and stops in mid-sentence. The first line of his Gospel is strong and definitive. “The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And then we get 16 chapters telling of the mercy, compassion and hope of Jesus. It is a story of a life of transformational power. You know that phrase we use so often – “it is what it is”? Jesus didn’t believe that for a second. Jesus changed everything. Sinners became forgiven. The sick became healthy. The hungry were fed. The poor were lifted up. The oppressed became free. Scarcity became abundance. Those trapped in fear became courageous. Bread and wine became his Body and Blood. And there was an urgency to these transformations. In 16 short chapters, Mark uses the word “immediately” 56 times. So of course Jesus is going to transform death. Jesus is not going to look at death and say “it is what it is.” Life will be changed not ended.
Phillips Brooks, bishop of all of Massachusetts in the 1890’s wrote:
“Tomb, thou shalt not hold him longer. Death is strong but life is stronger. Stronger than the dark, the light. Stronger than the wrong, the right. Faith and Hope triumphant say Christ will rise on Easter Day!”
So why did Mark ends his gospel in fear and silence with no period at the end of the last sentence? He does it because the story is still going on. The story of transformation and resurrection has begun in Jesus and that story has not ended. It continues down through the centuries and in you and me. As theologian Marcus Borg says, “because the tomb could not hold him, he is loose in the world. He is still recruiting for the Kingdom Of God.” The Resurrection of Jesus is not an ending but an invitation to new life. A life that is free of fear and cynicism and “it is what it is.”
The past few weeks we have seen that understanding in the rising of our young people. They experience the public health crisis of gun violence and say this doesn’t have to be what it is. We can transform this reality. And they tell us their marches are not an ending but a beginning. We see it in the rising up of those who say we can save the planet from the destruction of climate change if we act now. We see in all of our individual lives when we get up again after failing. Thomas Merton says, “To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and freedom.”
Easter is not an April Fool’s joke. It is an invitation to New Life now and forevermore. If you don’t believe me, believe Bruce Springsteen when he sings about the garden of the empty tomb of Jesus in The Rising:
“I see you Mary in the Garden,
In the Garden of a thousand sighs.
There’s holy pictures of our children
Dancin’ in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me.”