Crows Nest Uniting Church
Easter Day • 5 Apr 2015


Isaiah 25:6-9
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
John 20:1-18


Rev. Chris Udy



This year
our Gospel readings week by week
usually come from the Gospel of Mark -
but today the passage Lin read
wasn’t from Mark - but from John.
The readings we use each for worship each week
are chosen by an international,
multi-denominational team -
scholars and representatives of all the churches
get together every 10 years or so
and work out the list of passages
recommended for use in Christian churches
all over the planet -
so today the Easter story
from the Gospel of John will be read,
in all the different languages Christians use,
by people wearing all kinds of different clothing,
with incense and bells
and without incense and bells,
in tropical heat and humidity
and in arctic ice and snow,
with the echoes of orchestras fading away
in a city cathedral,
and a ninety-year-old organist
catching her breath in a country town
before she has to pump those pedals again
to play ‘Thine be the glory’
or whatever the next hymn is in the service order -
in congregations much like this all over the world
the Gospel of John will be read
to tell the Easter story -
but not the Gospel of Mark.
The gospel of Mark will be silent.
 
So why?
 
I’ve asked Lin to read you the Easter story
from the Gospel of Mark -
this is the way Mark ends the Jesus story:

When the Sabbath was over,
Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James,
and Salome bought spices,
so that they might go and anoint him.
And very early on the first day of the week,
when the sun had risen,
they went to the tomb.
 
They had been saying to one another,
“Who will roll away the stone for us
from the entrance to the tomb?”
When they looked up,
they saw that the stone,
which was very large,
had already been rolled back.
As they entered the tomb,
they saw a young man,
dressed in a white robe,
sitting on the right side;
and they were alarmed.
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.”
So they went out and fled from the tomb,
for terror and amazement had seized them;
and they said nothing to anyone,
for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:1-8)
 
“They said nothing to anyone,
they were so afraid.”
The gospel of Mark ends there,
in terrified silence -
the women running away
and the entrance to the tomb
left empty and gaping
like a mouth fallen open in breathless surprise.
 
It is an amazing ending -
and it also rings true.
I don’t know what you’d have done,
but if I was in a tomb
in the shadows just after sunrise
and the body I’d expected there was gone
and a young man in a white robe
told me not to be alarmed,
I’m not sure I’d have stayed there too long either.
 
Resurrection is frightening!
It shouldn’t happen!
And having an angel - or whatever he was -
pop in to tell me not to be frightened
would not have had the desired calming effect!
Dead people should stay dead -
it’s part of their job description -
so the shocked and fearful silence
at the end of the gospel of Mark, rings true.
 
Silence is the soundtrack for resurrection.
Good Friday is horribly noisy -
crowds yelling and soldiers swearing
and women crying,
hammers and nails and whips and blood -
that’s the soundtrack for Friday -
but Sunday starts in silence.
We can imagine the women
whispering as they came out to the tomb,
anxious not to disturb the silence
of the city and the garden.
They move through one of those silences
that seems to have a presence of its own.
The sort of silence that comes
at the end of a piece of wonderful music -
silence that seems louder than applause;
the sort of silence you also sometimes hear
when someone’s been telling a story
that grips your heart and moves your soul.
In a silence like that
we yearn for the story not to end -
for the music to continue.
We want it to remain -
we want its truth and its beauty -
sometimes even its sadness - to go on -
so in the silence there’s a wistfulness,
looking back, but also waiting,
almost in expectation -
wanting the moment not to end,
hoping that connection
between us and the musician,
or us and the story teller,
or us and the rest of those who are there -
hoping that connection won’t be broken.
 
There’s something of that here on Easter morning.
The story Jesus was telling -
the story of his life
as well as the stories he used in his teaching -
had made a connection;
those who heard him
didn’t want it to end.
Jesus had drawn together a community -
not just an audience,
they were more than that -
and in that Easter morning silence
there was hope - not much, but a tiny hope -
that what he’d promised, would happen -
that there would be resurrection,
that the community would not be broken.
 
There was another silence on Easter morning too.
The silence that comes
when we’re appalled and sickened;
when we want to turn away
from something so disturbing,
so confronting and so sad
that all we want is for it to end now -
but it doesn’t,
and we keep watching,
fascinated; horrified; frozen -
but unable to sever this very different connection
between ourselves
and someone being broken.
When that episode of violence is over,
silence comes again -
the silence of shock and shame,
the silence of complicity;
silence in the face of human evil.
 
Jesus’ crucifixion ends in that kind of silence;
everyone gone home,
Jesus in the tomb,
everyone defeated by exhaustion and despair.
That’s the kind of silence
that leaks over to the next day - and the next -
and it’s very much still there on Easter morning.
 
Jesus’s story was over –
and there was silence.
Jesus had been killed –
and the silence grew deeper.
And as the women ran from the tomb
yet another silence began -
the kind of silence where Mark ends his Gospel.
 
Sometimes, in the middle of the night
we wake to something strange but undefined.
We’re surprised, and frightened,
so we take and hold a breath,
listening for whatever it was that woke us
to sound again.
This is also silence,
but this kind of silence
isn’t about the past, or even the present,
it’s waiting …, and expectation,
like those other kinds of silence,
but now it’s wondering about the future -
wanting to understand
whatever it is that might be out there,
hoping it will be OK,
but frightened that our security is broken,
and the world as we know it
could be about to change.
 
Jesus once told his disciples
that they should wait for God’s kingdom
like someone who was expecting
a thief to break in.
He said, you need to be ready,
listening, watching, waiting - set to respond,
because the kingdom of God
will come when you least expect it.
 
That’s the way Mark’s gospel ends:
an empty tomb,
a profound and complex silence,
and the women who’d first heard the news
of Jesus’ resurrection
running away from the tomb
as fast as they could.
 
************
 
And, of course, as we, the readers, know,
that’s just the beginning of the story.
 
Mark wrote the earliest Gospel.
All the others read what he wrote
and, mostly, followed the pattern he’d laid out -
but when they came to Easter Day
and found themselves in silence
it looks like they found it
too confronting and strange.
Mark wanted us to be there, in that silence,
waiting and watching, ears straining,
for whatever it is God wants us to hear today.
He didn’t fill it in
because he knows
Jesus isn’t finished rising -
Jesus keeps coming back,
keeps appearing, keeps on speaking.
Mark wanted us to stay with that silence -
ready and waiting,
for whatever way Jesus will rise today.
Mark obviously wanted
anyone who read his gospel
to come to those final words:
“They said nothing to anyone,
they were so afraid” ...
and then say ‘What! - what do you mean
they said nothing to anyone?
They might have run away in silence,
but we know they said what they saw -
because it’s there - it’s written in your gospel!”
We know they told their story,
and others told their stories,
and we know Mark wrote them down
and today we’re reading them here,
in this community -
because that was just the start
of the Easter story.
 
All the other gospel writers
added on to the gospel of Mark.
They included stories
about the other disciples:
about Jesus meeting Mary in the garden -
as we read today from the Gospel of John -
about meals where Jesus appeared
when the bread was broken;
about Thomas looking for proof and confirmation,
as we all do;
about Peter being forgiven,
and everyone travelling back to Galilee
to be commissioned to take the story of Jesus
to the very ends of the world.
 
Luke even wrote a whole new book,
starting with resurrection,
and about what happened next -
the Acts of the Apostles -
and in that book Jesus guides the early church,
not only through appearances,
but in visions, and dreams,
and in prayer, and worship, and study,
and arguments and journeys
and meetings of Church councils -
in all the ways Jesus still appears
to call and guide his disciples.
The Gospel writers added on to Mark
the appearance stories -
the resurrection stories
of their own communities -
but Mark wanted those who read his Gospel
not to be limited and constrained
to what had happened in those places
and in those days:
Jesus isn’t finished with his rising;
it still happens -
so we wait with Mark,
often in the silence beyond the open tomb,
ready for whatever way, today,
Jesus will choose to appear.
 
All the appearance stories of the Bible
are right for those who needed Jesus
to meet them in that way, in that place,
in that time.
Mary, and Peter, and Thomas, and Paul
saw the risen Jesus
in a way that gave them courage and hope,
and called them to live
with Jesus’ love and freedom.
 
Ever since the disciples of Jesus
have found him risen and present -
not wrapped up and finished 2000 years ago,
but alive and with us now,
still calling us to follow,
still bringing us together in community,
still asking us to remember and tell his stories,
still appearing when we break the bread
and meeting us on the road
when we’re most in need.
 
Jesus is not dead - he is risen and living -
so we wait in the silence of Easter morning,
ready for Jesus to appear
and call us also into life. Amen.