Sunday, April 16, 2017

This Week's Sermon: "A Resurrection People"

Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. 3 They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) 5 Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. 6 But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. 7 Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” 8 Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Common English Bible)

Easter Sunday 2017

You would have never known that she was competing propped up on painkillers and fighting a blood infection.

You would never have known that she was dying and would not even live to see her work aired.

But Cindy Stowell was a resurrection person.

If you watch the television game show Jeopardy, you may remember her as the contestant who dominated over a week’s worth of shows last December, raking in over $100,000 winnings before she was finally dethroned after six episodes.

And by the time those episodes aired in December, a few months after having been taped in August, she was already dead, having succumbed to stage four colon cancer a week prior.

It turned out that only a select few of the show’s crew even knew about her diagnosis—even her competitors were unaware as she dispatched pair after pair of them over the course of her run.

And her six-figure winnings? They were donated to the Cancer Research Institute per her request in her letter to the Jeopardy producers when she was first being vetted for the show and had only a few months to live. This is an excerpt from what she wrote to the showrunners, per the New York Times:

Do you have any idea how long it typically takes between an in-person interview and the taping date? I ask because I just found out that I don’t have too much longer to live. The doctor’s best guess is about six months. If there is the change that I’d be able to still tape episodes of ‘Jeopardy!’ if I were selected, I’d like to do that and donate any winnings to…charities involved in cancer research. If it is unlikely that the turnaround time would be that quick, then I’d like to give up my tryout spot to someone else.

Cindy Stowell was a resurrection person—in death, she was determined to create new life, to conquer the grave that loomed before her, and to ensure that hers was a legacy that honored something far bigger than herself. She saw an opportunity to do precisely that, to fulfill that determination, and as a result strode forth into the world, and then into death, a resurrection person.

It is what the example of Jesus Christ demands of us as well—to stride forth into ends of our own lives, whenever they may be, with that same resolve to be a resurrection people, to ensure that we give life through our deaths, because that is precisely how Jesus died and resurrected—by giving us eternal life in the process.

You don’t need me to tell you that. You didn’t come to church on Easter Sunday for that. That may be the basis of the resurrection stories in the Scriptures, but that is not the only lesson those stories have to say to us.

So take Mark’s resurrection story as an example. It is the shortest of the Easter narratives, at a mere eight verses long (there are two additional endings to Mark that add on some verses, but very few reputable scholars believe that either of these endings were authored by Mark himself), and unlike Matthew, Luke, and John, Mark does not actually include an appearance from the bodily resurrected Christ—so you can well imagine why the ancient evangelists who followed Mark thought that his accounting of the Easter story was incomplete and required subsequent additions to be up to snuff.

But the truth is, there is already a miracle sitting right in front of us in Mark’s Gospel, and we probably just read right past it—I know that I used to. But it is sitting right there, next to the tomb.

The stone has been rolled away. And, as Mark hastens to point out to us, a mighty big stone it was.

There are two ways to read the empty tomb, and either way, it is a miracle. Assume that the stone had not been rolled away—the fact that Jesus had been able to escape it (and that the angel had been able to enter it) would be a miracle in and of itself, on top of the resurrection. But the stone being rolled away when the grave had not been robbed or otherwise tampered with was also a miracle, because, as we noted, Mark wrote that it was a big stone, and if it fully covered the entrance to the tomb, then moving it from inside the tomb was more easily a two-person job than a one-person job.

So either way, a miracle has occurred. But the fact that the stone has been rolled away matters to the entire Easter story, lesson, and message.

It matters because it means that the route forward has been laid out instead of being blocked off. It means that the obstacle that separates eternal life from death is now set aside—for good. It means that we are out of excuses when coming up against the cold stoniness of death and simply settling for the inevitable reality it proffers to us.

And it means that we are out of excuses for writing off our brothers and sisters to that cold, stony reality of death as well.

We can call ourselves as Christians a resurrection people, but in truth, we are not a resurrection people when we do not strive to move heaven and earth to breathe new life not only into ourselves, but into our world and those who live in it just like us.

We cannot be a resurrection people without moving away the stones that block the way out from death for others, much less ourselves.

We cannot be a resurrection people while putting up a wall in their way when they wish to live among us, to work among us, and to thrive among us.

We cannot be a resurrection people while banning indefinitely a people we are firing missiles towards because their “president”-slash-dictator is using chemical weapons against them.

And we cannot be a resurrection people while cutting others off from life-saving shelter because of our own discomfort with their presence among us.

We have placed these tomb-sized stones in the paths of so many people in the world while claiming ourselves to be a resurrection people.

Yet for the women who came to the tomb, the stone was not in their way. It had been rolled aside. It mean that they were able to hear the Good News of the resurrection from the angel at the tomb.

Are we in a position to hear the Good News for ourselves on this Easter Sunday, or have we placed  a stone in front of ourselves that blocks out this too?

So as we celebrate Easter with our egg hunts and our brunches, our baseball and our bunnies, let us also try to live it. This is a day that is fundamentally about life, about how eternal life has conquered earthly death and how God’s loving grace is the source of that eternal life for each of us. We set ourselves up to be blocked away from that sort of life, but we also set each other up to be walled away in those very same tombs—and in some cases, we’re the ones doing the actual grave-digging and wall-building.

That is what God calls us to cast aside today. The burial shroud is left behind by Jesus as He exited the tomb. The trappings and tools of death are left behind by Jesus. They must be left behind by us too.

It is how Cindy Stowell lived and died—she left the trappings of death behind, determined to create opportunities for life right to the very end.

It is how we too must live and die, and then live again in Christ.

So no more of the stone sealing you off.

No more of you moving that stone to seal somebody else off.

No more of this blockading other children of God off into inevitable death when we know in our bones that this is not what Jesus lived for, taught us for, died for, and resurrected for.

In its place, in the void it leaves behind, may we take to heart the words of the angel to the women who have arrived to see this rolled-away stone and the empty tomb it once sealed off: “Be not afraid! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. See, here is the place where they laid Him.”

That place has no power over the Risen Christ. And it need not have power over us either.

When it is truly powerless, the stone will always remain rolled away, and the path forward from death into life will always remain clear.

And we will be, at long last, a people of the resurrection.

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
April 16, 2017

Empty tomb image courtesy of Shutterstock

No comments:

Post a Comment