St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Easter, March 31

This week while I was eating dinner one night I heard one of those top of the hour radio news bulletins.  The lead story was a poll that indicated that 81% of Americans intend to celebrate Easter this year.  Before you get too excited about that, the story continued to say that sales of jelly beans and chocolate are up from past years.  There wasn’t anything in the report about the reason for the season, or that there was some sort of religious aspect to the holiday.  I guess that’s where we are now.

            I want to start by commenting briefly on the different descriptions of the setting we are given in the Gospels. 

            Mark’s version is the earliest of the Gospels.  It provides few details.  Jesus is never present in this version.  Mary is told that Jesus has already gone to Galilee.  The angel instructs Mary to have the disciples join him there.  Mark’s sparse account really doesn’t convey a sense of joy at all.  It is more ominous than anything.  Most scholars agree that the original Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8:  that the women left the tomb and didn’t say anything to anyone, because they were afraid!  No exactly joy.

            Luke’s version is much like Mark’s:  The “women” go to the tomb early in the morning, to see the stone removed and two men in gleaming white inside the tomb.  They tell her Jesus is not there, and tells her to tell the disciples.  Mary does so, and most of the disciples consider it nonsense.  Peter goes to the tomb, sees the linens, and goes off on his own to think things over.

            In Matthew, there is a great earthquake while the stone rolls away, and an angel in gleaming white sits on the stone and tells Mary and the women that Jesus had risen, was on his way to Galilee, and that the disciples were to meet him there.  Notice that in this version, the stone was rolled away to reveal to Mary what had happened, letting us in:  Jesus had left before the tomb was opened.  The opening of the tomb was an invitation to Mary, and to us, to come inside the world of faith.  Jesus appears to the women on their way to see the disciples.  It is the one account that mentions great joy in the appearance of Jesus!

            John’s version is probably the most familiar.  Mary goes to the tomb early in the morning and discovers that the stone has been moved.  She goes back to get Peter and returns to the tomb.  Peter and the other disciple go inside, see the linens lying there, believe based on what they saw, and go home.  Mary remains in her grief, and sees two angels the disciples apparently didn’t see.  Then she hears a voice and turns to see a man she thought was a gardener, and asks the gardener where they had taken Jesus so she could take him away.  When she finally recognizes that it is in fact Jesus, she acknowledges Him and goes and tells the others as she had been instructed.

            I think it is very significant and crucial part of the story that Jesus revealed himself to Mary before the disciples.  Note that unlike the disciples, Mary never abandoned Jesus in his time of trial.  Even after Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross, Mary and the other women sat guard over the tomb for as long as they could without breaking the sabbath.  Matthew 27:60-61.  And they returned as early as they possibly could after the sabbath was over.  Christ appeared to them because they were there when others were not, but also I think as an acknowledgement of the faithful and loving service the women had given him, and continued to.  Some of the most powerful interactions Jesus had were with women, which demonstrates that woman have an equal place in his ministry.

            So what do we take from this?  I have two basic themes for us to consider.  First is the obstruction of the stone.  It was large, difficult to move.  In verse three Mark tells us that the women had been saying to each other “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” They went out to do their work, without really knowing how they were going to accomplish it.  Still, they took the spices with them to anoint Jesus, even as they were not really sure how they were going to accomplish that task.  And when they arrived, what they saw as a barrier was gone. 

            How often do we see impediments that really aren’t there?  How often do we use these barriers to prevent us from acting?  Mary is an example to us of the ultimate in faith:  moving forward knowing it was the thing to do even when it appeared impossible.  Nothing is impossible with God.  There are no barriers to us.  We need to remove those barriers from our own lives.

            The second theme has to do with actually seeing and recognizing Jesus in our lives.  When Mary first sees Jesus in the tomb, she does not recognize Him.  (It would be very difficult to see someone alive when you think they are dead.) Another example happens in Luke 24, when Cleopus and another man were walking along the Road to Emmaus.  They had just heard that Mary had been to the tomb, what she had seen, and that she had told the disciples, whom apparently had then told these men.  They encountered a man on the road.  As they walked with him he taught them scriptures and chastised them for not remembering that the Messiah had to suffer before entering into glory.  Finally, at the end of the day they sat at table with him, and finally recognized Jesus at the moment he broke the bread, apparently finally recognizing him from the Last Supper.

            In John 21, Peter and other disciples went out into the Sea of Galilee to fish.  They caught nothing, and returned to shore in the early morning.  Jesus called out to them, but they didn’t recognize him.  He told them to fish on the right side of the boat and they would find some fish.  So they did, and caught a net full of fish, so full that they had to dive into the water to push the net into the boat.  When they got to shore, they saw a fire with fish cooking and some bread.  Jesus said to them, “come and have breakfast.”  (Isn’t that they way you hope to encounter Jesus some day?  Come and eat!)  Eventually they came to recognize that it was Jesus that was among them.

            Are there times when Jesus is among us that we do not recognize Him?  To do so, I think, requires us to look for Him when we don’t expect to see Him.  As we live our lives, we should reflect and recognize what is happening around us, and think about how his presence impacted our experiences.

            This Easter season, after our Lenten preparations, we need to remove the rock impediments from our lives and seek to search Jesus in all ways in which we are able.  And in doing so, we need to see Jesus and be led by his presence in doing our work.  As we are eating our chocolate again (finally!) or eating jelly beans, we need to rededicate ourselves to the reason we are here, the work of Jesus.

Petitions throughout scripture help us to ask for help to understand what the Gospels are teaching us.  And those are very appropriate today.  Lord, give us the eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts and minds to understand, and hands and feet willing to go and do what we hear from you in the Word today.