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What do you expect?

St. John’s Lutheran Church
31 March 2024 + Resurrection of Our Lord
Mark 16:1-8
Rev. Josh Evans


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“They said nothing to anyone.”

Okay. Time to wrap it up, and we can all head to Easter brunch early. See you next Sunday!

***

Okay, maybe not quite yet … y’all did come all this way…

***

Remember how it began?
Mark, chapter 1, verse 1: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ!”

And how it ends?
“They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Sure, it goes on for another twelve verses – but most scholars agree: it’s not authentic to Mark’s original story.

“How is it good news that the women were afraid to tell anyone of Jesus’ resurrection?” asks Catholic biblical scholar Raymond Brown.

Mark’s resurrection account ends not with alleluias and Easter lilies … but with burial spices, a missing body, fear, and silence. For all our alleluias this morning, Jesus is nowhere to be found in this resurrection gospel.

The women knew where Jesus was – not even two days ago. They had been “looking on from a distance” as darkness came over the whole land … as Jesus hung on the cross, as he cried out questioning God’s presence, as he breathed his last. They saw his body taken down from the cross, and they saw the tomb where his body was laid to rest.

Everything around them says death,” another scholar writes, “so they come to the tomb, expecting death.”

Under the suffocating weight of inexplicable anguish and grief, moving through the fog of what had to feel like an interminable two days, they came to the tomb expecting death: more of the same.

On Easter Sunday, we come to the church expecting resurrection – because, over two thousand years later, we know the story.

But imagine for a moment that Good Friday is all you know.

Imagine that you had been standing, looking on from a distance, with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, silently – helplessly – witnessing this gruesome execution. Imagine that you went home that night, trying to sleep, but you just can’t shake that awful image.

Imagine the next day, moving through a fog of grief and confusion. Imagine the day after, finally bringing yourself to gather up some spices, to anoint the body, to do the only thing you can think to do – without any expectation you’ll actually be able to do it because: “Who will roll away the stone for us?”

They came to the tomb expecting death: more of the same. More fog. More grief. More uncertainty. More despair.

Maybe you don’t have to imagine for too long. Maybe you only have to look on from a distance at the state of the world. Maybe you don’t have to look all that distantly: at the grief and fear closer to home.

We come to the tomb expecting death, all our experiences of living marred by brokenness. Why should we expect anything different today?

***

This time last year – maybe you remember it – I had been newly called as pastor of this congregation. It was March 26, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, to be exact. And despite some wise counsel from colleagues and friends, I decided to stick around and start right away: to spend the following week living out of the SpringHill Suites on Central Avenue and to start my new call less than a week later, on April 1st, the eve of Holy Week. Talk about throwing myself into the deep end.

And yet: somehow, my experience of this Holy Week has still felt more chaotic than starting a new call on the cusp of Holy Week.

I’m an enneagram type one: the perfectionist. I like lists, and I probably have a spreadsheet for that (whatever “that” is). I like things in order, and I like feeling on top of my to-do list, however long it is.

Much to an enneagram one’s worst nightmare, however, this past week has been a week full of late nights and long days – and constantly feeling like I was woefully behind.

As the week went on, I came to each day expecting more of the same: late-night writing sessions and last-minute preparations, with little time to catch my breath, let alone to center myself for worship.

I came to each day, in a fog, expecting more of the same: just make it through this day’s liturgy … then on to the next, one at a time … to make it Easter Monday.

But what I got was resurrection: new life. Not just today, but every night of the Three Days. Savoring and centering myself in each moment: the laying on of hands, the footwashing, the stripping of the altar, the reading of the passion, the bidding prayer, the veneration of the cross.

All of it: each ritual, another opportunity for new life for my weary soul. New life in community, among the people of God.

In the midst of my expectations of “more of the same”: That’s where resurrection happened.

***

The women came to the tomb expecting more of the same. What they got was resurrection.

No wonder they were startled. Nothing in their experience could have prepared them for this. They said nothing to anyone … for they were speechless.

To paraphrase one of my favorite writers, Debie Thomas: “God’s incomprehensible work of redemption [had collidedin real time with the broken bewilderment of [their] lives.”

Their bewilderment, their terror, their fear is real – but it doesn’t diminish the good news of the resurrection, even if they can’t wrap their minds around it just yet.

“I believe (most of the time),” Thomas goes on, “ but I don’t (yet) understand. I cling to the resurrection, but I don’t know what to do with Death’s ongoing cruelty. I trust that Jesus reigns, but I don’t comprehend the elusive nature of his kingdom. I believe that all things will be well, but I don’t understand why they’re not all well now.”

***

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ” finds its culmination in the empty tomb, among the women, in all their terror and amazement.

Because here’s the thing: Good news is only good news because of the circumstances into which it breaks forth that are anything but.

What are you looking for?
What do you expect?

The same Jesus who has been raised was also crucified. This is quite literally the crux of our faith: that Jesus must suffer, be killed, and after three days rise again.

There is no resurrection without crucifixion. There is no victory over death without first the dying – then the rising. This is why we need the fullness of Holy Week: the palms, the passion, the betrayal, the cross, the tomb – and finally, only after all of this, the rising to new life.

Mark’s story might not end with alleluias and Easter lilies – or even a Jesus appearance.

But it does end with resurrection: with “God’s incomprehensible work of redemption” that meets us where we are – in all our fears, doubts, worries, and anxieties – and upends all our expectations of what is possible.

This is resurrection: Not limited to one day. For every Sunday, every Lord’s Day, is a little Easter.

Every Sunday, we show up, week after week. Every Sunday, God meets us here:

In bread and wine, in water and word, in song and prayer.

In the body of Christ, among and around us.

In witnessing to each other and to the world that despite everything we have to come to expect:

Resurrection will find us.

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