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April 12, 2009

And that's the rest of the story- Easter

Those are the last words of the Gospel of Mark - "they were afraid". The real human response to Easter is fear - not joy, fear.

The women had spent the last few years with Jesus. They had come to know him intimately and love him deeply. He was their teacher, their pastor, their promised Messiah. But in the past few days, dark dreadful days, they had seen him arrested, tried and crucified. They were there when they took his body from the cross, and they stood by while the stone was rolled over his grave.

They had hoped for more. But all that hope died with Jesus on the cross. It was the end of the story. It didn't end the way they had hoped. And we are left hanging, wondering what happened next.

We want our stories to end. How many times have I heard-"I don't care what they find; I just want to know one way or the other." The thing that drives us crazy is not knowing. Happy ending or sad endings, we can handle those. But no ending. Every story has to resolve its ending: Does she survive the cancer or not? Do they stay married or get divorced? Does he make it home safely from the war or not? We want an ending. Preferably a happy ending, but at least an ending.

In this morning's gospel reading Mark refuses to do that for us. All he says is that the end is not the end. "He is not here..." the angel said, "So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them." This isn't what we usually think about at Easter. We think of Easter of bunnies and chicks, colorful eggs and little girls in cute new dresses. But we ought to be thinking about grown women with their dresses hiked up to their knees running out of a cemetery in sheer terror.

The women could cope with the death of Jesus. Terrible as it was, they knew what to do. But what do you do with a resurrection? No one's ever risen before. There is no Emily Post or ‘Miss Manners.' No support groups or help lines. No one to take your hand and say "Honey, I've been there before". No one's ever dealt with an empty tomb. And that is frightening.

Everything the women understood about life was in turmoil. In that one incredible moment death was shattered, and the world they knew, the realities they had lived with were turned upside down. As someone once said, "if death is not the end, then all the cards in the deck may be wild." Nothing is secure and fixed now. God had come. Jesus Christ is risen. Life could never be the same. And that is frightening. Because new life is frightening. It is unnatural. To expect a sealed tomb and find one filled with angels, to hunt the past and discover the future, to seek a corpse and find the risen Lord--none of this is natural. Death is natural. Loss is natural. Grief is natural. But those stones have been rolled away, to reveal the highly unnatural truth.

And when we get a good look into the tomb this morning, everything is unwrapped, unsealed, unbound. Nothing is as we expected, or as it should be. We don't know the ending anymore, and that is why Easter is frightening.

As long as you know the story of your life ends with death, you know your mission. You will just collect all the things or experiences you can before your time is up. Or maybe you will hold your loved ones as close as you can before their time is up. Or you may even be capable of doing a few heroic things before you turn back to dust. But if death is not the end, you are going to have to find a whole new mission in life.

We are not unlike those first followers. Though we know the Easter story, we never seem fully to grasp its meaning. Like them, we so often continue to live burdened with our dashed hopes and with our misunderstanding of God's mysterious power. Like them, we come to the tomb and expect to find death, but instead we find signs of a new life that we cannot even begin to comprehend.

If you are not afraid, you don't understand. Because the story has no ending and we are expected to finish it. The ball is in our court now. By the light of this day, God has planted a seed of life in us that cannot be killed, and if we can remember that then there is nothing we cannot do: move mountains, banish fear, love our enemies, change the world.

The Easter story gets finished when ordinary people stop to do the most extraordinary things, when the hungry are fed, the homeless are given shelter, and the sinner is forgiven. The Easter story gets finished when the lonely are made part of a church family, when the sick are visited, and those in grief are comforted by a hope that will not die. The Easter story gets finished when parents give up their dreams for their children and pray God's dreams upon them, when business people decide to do what is right regardless of cost, and when we stop complaining about petty issues and devote our energies to things that make a world of difference.

We finish the story when we stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when we speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when we cry for those who have no more tears left to shed. The Easter story gets finished when leaders lead us toward the kingdom of God, and when warring nations come to the still waters of peace. The Easter story gets finished when you and I decide for ourselves how the story will end.

Frightening isn't it? We each have the opportunity, amazing and disturbing though it is, to finish the story in our own lives. Jesus Christ died and rose that he might meet you here. He has come to offer you new life, Resurrection Life. If you want closure, go to another story. This one ends with expectation.

"You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here...He is going ahead of you, you will see him".

What will you do with that news?

How will you finish the story?


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