Rev’d. Tanya N. Stormo Rasmussen
Easter Sunday, 1 April, 2018
The Congregational Church of Hollis
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Introductory Remarks, prior to Gospel reading:
For those of you reading along in your Bibles, you’ll notice that the page containing the ending of Mark’s gospel has a lot of activity on it. That’s because biblical scholars have disagreed on which way Mark ended the gospel. Everyone agrees that it included the ending we’ll hear, which is how at least one and perhaps the oldest copy of Mark’s gospel concludes.
But other copies of the earliest manuscripts found included additional verses that made for a somewhat different ending—it adds several verses about the original disciples seeing Jesus after the resurrection and receiving instructions directly from him. The scholars who argue for the “longer ending” contend that this is similar to the other gospel accounts. Their counterparts maintain that they were tacked on because early communities simply couldn’t cope with the abrupt ending.
In the lectionary version we’ll hear—the short account—the women leave the tomb in fear and that’s the end of the story. Scholars who subscribe to the view that this was the gospel writer’s intended ending argue that Mark wanted his audience to understand that the story is still being written. Either way, I invite you to listen with fresh ears for God’s word to you in Scripture.
Prayer for Illumination
Creator of every person who ever dreamed up an April Fool’s joke, you pulled the ultimate joke on those who thought they could kill your son once and for all. They never saw the sad irony in their futile efforts, never imagined the ending you had in mind. On this Resurrection Day, open our ears, minds, and hearts to your wisdom and make us more closely resemble your own Holy Fool, whose wisdom and power are way beyond this world. Amen.
It was early, but the women hadn’t been able to sleep. Every time they lay down to rest, their minds kept replaying the events that had unfolded across the past week, culminating in the horror show that was Friday. That was when they had helplessly watched others torture Jesus, and spit on him, and drive nails through his hands and feet before hanging him high where the mob—and even the criminals hanging next to him!—mocked him. Mocked Jesus, the innocent man who had never done anything but reach out to them with compassion, and healing, and—to the very end—forgiveness. It was hideous human behavior—the worst imaginable, and impossible to wrap their heads around.
So they just got up and found something else to busy their minds with until the period of Sabbath rest was completed and it was acceptable for Jewish women to go to the tomb. They had prepared a medley of spices with which to anoint their dearly-loved friend’s body as they honored him and grieved their personal loss.
As they stumbled toward the tomb together, in a semi-stupor as much from the fatigue as from the trauma of everything, they wondered aloud who would remove the stone—the massive barrier between them and the one they longed to be closer to—from the front of the tomb. But as they approached the burial chamber, they noticed that the boulder was already shifted: the barrier had already been removed. Immediately, their hearts started pounding and anxiety mounted: This was completely unexpected; was this some sort of sick joke? It didn’t seem right at all. What was going on?
They entered the tomb, and were alarmed to see a young man dressed in a white robe who told them what they were all about: “Don’t be alarmed,” he said, “you’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He’s been raised—he’s not here. See?” he said as he gestured to his left, “That’s where they laid him. But go—tell his disciples, tell Peter that he’s going ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there just like he told you.”
The women could not get out of there fast enough. Just as you or I would have been, they were terrified. Amazed. Exhausted. Traumatized. All three of them had experienced everything together, and yet they still couldn’t bring themselves to believe what they’d just seen and heard. It was hard enough to believe that their beloved Jesus had received a hero’s welcome only a week ago, and was now dead by crucifixion. What sort of fool would believe that he could get up and walk away from his grave after he was so brutally and publicly murdered? The women wondered to themselves as they hustled away, “Just exactly what did that radiant man expect of us?” What did he expect?
So, Mark reports, they said nothing to anyone . . . they were afraid. Just like you or I would have been. They were afraid that if they said what they’d seen, others would mock them, too. And possibly lock them up—after all, wasn’t Jesus’ body missing? They were afraid because they couldn’t explain it—any of it: not Jesus’ death, and even less the idea that he was alive again. They were afraid of being seen as crazy, or foolish . . . as though they were willing to believe just anything. Like the idea of a person rising from the dead.
A week ago on Thursday, the Nashua Drug Courts recognized and celebrated with two more graduates from their program. That makes some 37 who have completed and graduated from that program in the past two years—and includes some who grew up in our own communities of Hollis, Brookline, and Nashua. But what kind of fool believes that serial drug offenders, repeatedly incarcerated for crimes they’ve committed in order to pay for their addictions, are capable of new life?
On another day recently, a woman drove herself and her two children to Bridges in Nashua—the nonprofit organization that serves victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of abuse. Although he was charming when they married, the man she loves has been beating her up emotionally and physically for nearly a decade, and he promised that if she ever tried to leave him, she would find out exactly how much she’d regret it. She hopes for a start fresh, someplace safe, to show her children that life doesn’t need to be the way they’ve always known it. But what kind of fool leaves someone they love, even though that love has become indistinguishable from the fear that so terribly taints it?
Last Saturday, I attended the funeral of a personal mentor and deeply faithful Christian man who died—according to his medical care givers and his family—of acute depression and anxiety that set in less than six months ago. It wasn’t suicide, at least not by any premeditated means, but he simply couldn’t bring himself to accept any treatment for the mental illness that so viciously and completely consumed him.
What sort of fool believes any good can come of such a death? But his family and all those who loved him and gathered to celebrate his life, spoke plainly of the mental illness that claimed him at the end, just as cancer might have done—and we agreed that we will continue to delegitimate the shame that currently surrounds so many mental health issues. I lost track of how many at the memorial service attested to the ways in which Gerry’s life and ministry had indelibly shaped our own, and would therefore live on by the inspiration he represented to us. In no way will any of us allow the stigma of mental illness to define the man we knew, nor stop us from celebrating the ways in which this world is a far better place because of his ministry here. Nor did we refrain from thanking God that he is now mercifully released from all the troubles of this world, in the full embrace of the God who breathed life into him in the first place and has now welcomed him home, where he is whole and finally at rest. What sort of foolishness is that?
On December 5, 2016, a group of United States military veterans stood in formation before a tribe of the Standing Rock Sioux. Then, as the crowd watched, those veterans dropped to their knees and recited a list of atrocities that the American military has perpetuated against Native Americans throughout the years—and literally begged for forgiveness. It’s pretty safe to assume that few, if any, of them personally committed any of the injustices they listed—but still, they were apologizing for them. Those faithful veterans “chose to bear the iniquities of their ancestors as a way of making things right in the present.” I mean, what sort of fool in this world does such a thing?
Well, Jesus was hardly the creator of any of the systems that destroyed him all those years ago—“the forces of empire, the greed of client kings, the cowardice of leaders, the fickleness of crowds, the betrayal of friends, the tyranny of the powerful over the weak. [He wasn’t personally responsible for any of those.] And yet, he chose to bear them in his own body to try and make things right in his present and in the future.” Jesus, who didn’t have to, climbed a cross with the weight of others’ sins on his back. The vets at Standing Rock, who didn’t have to either, bowed low under the same weight.” What sort of fool does that? Certainly not someone who operates by the rules of this world, or submits to human wisdom or typical behaviors.
Last week, at least a million people across this country (and thousands more internationally) participated in hundreds of coordinated protest “March for Our Lives” events. They were organized by young people who decided to speak their minds about how fed up they are with the lack of meaningful government action on the intractable issue of gun violence in this country. What kind of fools believe that the epidemic of gun violence in our culture can be solved, much less that our youth have anything to add to the conversation?
Well, Jesus once said when his own disciples tried to silence the young people and keep them at a distance, “Let the little children come . . . for it’s to the likes of these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Mark 10:14)
The women who went to the tomb that first Easter—according to Mark’s original ending—fled in fear, saying nothing to anyone. But eventually, word got out. Eventually, those women found the courage to tell the truth of what they’d experienced. And the other disciples also started talking about their experiences of the risen Savior. And those who heard it from the disciples passed it along to others, as they, too, started experiencing the world in completely new ways. Ways that changed everything, that helped them to see clearly that God’s love and ability to make even the most hideous of situations new and life-giving is more persistent, more powerful, more enduring than any other reality that might drag them—or us—down. More compelling than anything else distracting us from our God-given purpose of loving others as ourselves, empowering us to start living in new ways. Ways that reject the fear and anxiety and suspicion that have previously confined them or us in invisible, internal tombs.
What sort of fool believes that our current, troubled reality is not the ultimate reality—that the brokenness of this world is not the way it will always be? Because there are such fools running around in the world. I daresay a fair number of them are sitting here, right in this very place, this very morning.
Today only, it may just be an “April Fool.” But they will always be Easter fools. The sort of fool the world will never understand, but they will be fools like Christ, connecting with the wisdom and power and hope and eternal life that was in Jesus—crucified, dead, and raised forever.
It was the apostle Paul who summed it up best: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … Where is the one who is wise? … Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For [some people demand signs or empirical evidence] and [others desire logical proofs and air-tight arguments], but we [followers of Jesus] proclaim Christ crucified—we declare that God’s love endured even the most hideous behavior humanity could treat it to and still bounced back triumphant—and this Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, greater than any human power or wisdom. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Hallelujah! Happy Easter! Amen.
 Quinn Caldwell, Stillspeaking Daily Devotional: “Bearing”; Friday, 30 March, 2018.