[This was shared during Easter worship yesterday morning with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]
[Note: This, in some ways, is the weirdest sermon I've ever written. It reflects the wrestling with God's Word that I go through every week in preparing a sermon, especially the week before Easter Sunday. I have no intention here of "putting words in God's mouth," as I believe that everything I ascribe to Him here is rooted in His Word, the Bible, and is reflective of His omnipotence, holiness, and grace.]
To begin this morning, I need to take you inside a certain preacher’s prayer chamber, inside his heart and mind, as he met with God this past week. “Lord, it’s me, Mark. It’s about Easter Sunday.”
God replied, “I see you’re going through the same gyrations you go through every year, asking the same questions: ‘What can I say that’s new and fresh and different?’ Haven’t you learned by now that you don’t need to say anything new or fresh or different? It’s Easter. You and the people who will be offering their worship to Me will be there to celebrate the greatest event in history, not to hear some snappy presentation.
"My Son, Who was killed by your sins and the sins of the whole world, rose from the dead. He did it so that, when you surrender your life to Him, you won’t have to pay the price for your sins. When you die believing in Him, it’s not the end of your living. You will be raised to live with Me just like Jesus was on Easter.
"You do understand, don’t you, Mark, that that’s the only message you need on Easter Sunday?”
“Yes, Lord,” I answered. “I do understand..sort of...but…”
“Ah,” God said. “It’s My word about Easter from the Gospel of Mark.”
“Yes, that’s it,” I answered.
“And,” the Lord went on, “you think that the eight verses that, under My inspiration, Mark the gospel writer uses to tell the world about what happened when the women went to the tomb is too sparse, too abrupt.”
“Well, Lord,” I explained, “it does end sort of...sort of...anticlimactically. With silence instead of a victory shout. Verse 8 says: ‘Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.’ The incident at the tomb ends without the women telling anyone yet about what the ‘young man,’ the angel, said. And, by this point, they haven’t even seen the risen Jesus yet.”
“As you’ll recall,” God reminded me, “the angel had just said that Jesus had gone ahead of the disciples back to Galilee. This is exactly what Jesus had promised in Mark 14:28: ‘...after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’ So, the women couldn’t have seen Jesus at the tomb. He wasn’t at the tomb. He had no need to hang around in a graveyard after He had been raised from the dead. He had things to do. And that, by the way, should have been a clue to the women that what the angel said about Jesus being alive was true: Dead men don’t run. So Jesus, once dead, must now be alive!”
“That’s true, Lord,” I said. (God quickly reminded me that everything He says is true.) “But,” I said, “with that clue, why didn’t the women immediately proclaim Jesus’ resurrection? Why did they say nothing?”
“Mark,” He told me. “look at the Gospel lesson again. In the original Greek. What does verse 8 say?”
“Greek,” I groaned.
God responded immediately: “Are you interested in understanding what you’re asking about or are you only asking as an excuse to whine that the sermon isn’t simply magically appearing on your computer screen?”
Truth to tell, rather than rummaging through the Greek, I would have preferred the magical appearance method. But I’m learning not to argue with God.
So, verse 8, literally translated, says: “And outcoming swiftly they fled from the memorial vault for yet they had trembling and amazement…”
When I read it out loud a few days ago, I stopped.
“Hmm,” I said, “I never noticed that before.”
“What hadn’t you noticed before, Mark?”
“The word I translated as amazement and that my Bible translates as bewildered could even more literally be rendered standing outside themselves. The word in the original Greek is ekstatic. That means that they were so overwhelmed by the empty tomb, the angel, and the angel’s message that they were standing outside themselves, thrown off their stride. They didn’t understand.
"But on top of that, it could also mean that they were in awe. They were ecstatic and on the cusp of believing because they’d remembered Jesus saying that He would be crucified and raised, but…” I paused.
“But what, Mark?” I sensed the Lord pushing me, like a patient teacher to a thick-headed but earnest student.
“But it seemed too good to be true to the women,” I answered.
“The scales may be starting to fall from your eyes after all,” My Teacher seemed to say.
I went on, caught up with enthusiasm: “They were trying to take it all in and they had come in contact with one of Your messengers, luminescent with Your holiness and Your splendor. And…”
“And they had to decide whether they believed or not.
"Did they believe that the One they had seen crucified was risen or not?
"Did they believe that through Jesus, the power of sin and death over our eternal lives was erased?
"They must have rifled through their memories and remembered all of the times that Jesus had healed diseases, cast out demons, and raised from the dead, exercising power for others and never for Himself, power that only God possesses.
"They must have remembered all the times He had promised--in promises that seemed so strange to them at the time He made them--that He would be raised from death by God the Father after having suffered the rejection of the world.
"That He would raise from death anyone who turned from sin and believed in Him, giving them a share in the eternal kingdom of God.
"That He would stand by them in this world and hear their prayers and answer them even when He seemed far away.
"That He would claim all His own who believed and were baptized in the the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
"That He would come to His disciples, body and blood, bringing forgiveness of sin and fellowship with God and all the saints of every time and place, in, with, and under the bread and wine through the blessed sacrament of Holy Communion.
"As they ran from the tomb, the women’s ecstasy must have transformed from bewilderment to awe-filled joy!
"Jesus, dead on Good Friday, was now risen and alive and on the march on Easter Sunday.
"By the power of the Holy Spirit, Who makes it possible for we battle-hardened, cynical sinners to fall at the feet of our Savior Jesus and cry out like the disciple Thomas would do one week later, 'My Lord, my God,' the women had gained the ability to believe in and surrender to and tell the world that Jesus is risen.
“So, why, Lord” I asked, “does the gospel of Mark leave things like this at the tomb...with the women fearful and in awe and processing what they’ve heard and trying to decide?”
“Because, Mark,” God replied patiently, “that’s where most of the people of the world are right now.
"Most Christians believe, but can’t decide whether to share what they believe with others. They’re afraid.
"And the rest of the world has heard something of Easter, but hasn’t decided whether to believe--to trust--or not.
"Your job and the job of every Christian is to keep telling others about Jesus--by your words and by your actions--so that they can follow the Jesus they can’t yet see into My bright eternity, where they will see Him always and ever...where sin and death will be distant memories, where all hurts will be forever healed, where love and power will envelop the saints, where every tear will be dried, and where you will live with joy and certainty and purpose forever and ever.
"Everything depended on the women telling others. And they did. If they hadn’t, you might not be celebrating Easter this year...or any year.”
What decision will you and I make?
Will we follow and share Jesus, like Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome?
Or will we remain silent?
Will we be frightened of telling others the story of the risen Savior that some will find too good to be true, but which we know is God’s truth for our good?
Will we let the world literally go to hell, even though the message of Easter we might share can spare others an eternity of agonizing regret if we would only must the love and compassion to open our mouths?
Make this the best Easter you’ve ever had. Make every day a celebration of Easter. Say yes to the message of Jesus’ resurrection. Follow Jesus and share Jesus. Follow Jesus and share Jesus. Then keep following and sharing Jesus.
God wants everyone in His eternal kingdom. And He’s depending on us, just like He depended on the women at the tomb, to make His message known. Say yes to God and have a blessed Easter...a blessed life...and a blessed eternity. Amen