Sermon Title “FearLess” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  Christ is Risen (He is risen, indeed.)  I love that.  Thanks for that response which has been used be believers for almost 2,000 years.  Whatever else happens in the Church, I hope that Easter is always something we will be able to celebrate together. It is, as I mentioned in the early service, it is the center of who we are as Christians, and hope which we can share any day of the year.

As you know, each of the four gospels gives us an account of Jesus’ resurrection; although they all have some important things in common, they differ in some interesting ways.  Scott read the account from Mark’s gospel, which is the shortest, and also the most enigmatic — or puzzling. If you have your Bible with you, I invite you to turn to Mark chapter 16, his account of Easter morning.  You’ll notice that following verse 8, where Scott stopped reading, there is The Shorter Ending of Mark, and past that in verses 9-19, The Longer Ending of Mark.  This is the only gospel — in fact the only place in our Bibles — where it’s noted that later material has been added in.  It’s obvious why this shorter and longer ending have been included.  The original gospel of Mark ended just the way Scott read it for us.  Here’s verse 8: “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

That isn’t a happy ending — how can that be the place we’re left on the most joyful day of the Christian year? In fact, there’s no way that can be the whole story.  Somebody must have said something, or else we wouldn’t all be here today.  What’s going on? First, we need to remember a way in which Mark has been toying with his readers throughout his gospel account: when the disciples see evidence that Jesus is God’s Son, divine as well as human, Jesus orders them to tell no one.  In chapter 3, when Jesus is in a crowd with includes people with unclean spirits, the spirits fall down and shout, “You are the Son of God!” and Jesus orders the spirits not to tell anyone.  In fact, the only character in Mark’s gospel who proclaims Jesus as God’s Son and gets away with it is a Roman centurion.  This is at the moment that Jesus breathes his last as he dies on a cross. It is not until Jesus’ death that an outsider, and enemy, his executioner has the singular moment of revelation which rings through Mark’s gospel.

Sunday morning, though — is a bit less clear.  As in the other gospels, women are going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices; this is to cover the smell of decaying flesh in a warm climate.  As they are heading to the tomb at sunrise, they say aloud, “I wonder how we’re going to get that huge stone away from the door of the tomb?”  A good question, and one which maybe they should have thought about before getting up at sunrise and heading out with those spices.  This is almost certainly Mark setting up what happens next: because when those women arrive at the tomb, the stone has already been rolled away.  How did that happen?  There is someone inside the tomb, but it certainly isn’t Jesus — it’s a young man in a white robe, who says, “Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.”  Even in this statement, the young man in white — presumably a messenger from God, an angel — doesn’t identify Jesus as God’s Son.  In fact, he describes Jesus in human terms; the town he came from and how he died.  Then he says, “He has been raised.  He is not here.  He was right here, but he’s gone now.  Go tell Peter and the other disciples that you’ll see Jesus later, in Galilee, just like he told you.”  So the women run away in terror and amazement, and don’t tell anyone what they saw, because they are afraid.

There is a lot of stuff missing in this account.  No wonder that within the next two hundred years, faithful people included some more accounts of how Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, to two folks walking into the country, and to the remaining disciples when they were having a meal together.  Some of these stories are told more fully in the resurrection accounts in Matthew, Luke, and John.  But the original ending of Mark leaves us to come to terms with two things: an empty tomb, and our fear.  We can see with our own eyes that the stone has been rolled away, and there sure isn’t any body — and I mean, anybody — there.  The questions is, What are we going to do about it?

Resurrection is a pretty tough thing to prove — especially if we don’t see Jesus afterward.  Maybe the Roman soldiers took the body; maybe the Jewish leaders wanted to keep the tomb from becoming a place of veneration.  Or maybe, it was the power of God — unleashed in a way that we’ve never seen before or since.  Because if Jesus really is God’s Son, like the centurion said, and the unclean spirits said, and the disciples whispered in private — if the resurrected Christ is out in the world, then that changes everything.  Anything could happen.

Some of you may remember a phrase which one of our previous pastors, Janet Shaver, used as an Easter theme: Jesus is on the loose.  This means Jesus is unshackled, unbound, escaped.  These are typically expressions we use to warn the populace that a dangerous criminal is at large: be careful, stay indoors, hide your children, be afraid.   But the message of Easter is that we can fear less.  Jesus is on the loose alright, but what he has escaped from is death.  He is free and at liberty.  This morning we sang a line which picks up this imagery beautifully: Death can not keep its prey; he tore the bars away.  Jesus tore the bars of the prison of death away for himself, but also for everyone else who believes in the power of resurrection.  This is good news — the best news — but it means more than us being able to fear less when we are near our death.  It means we can fear less right now — as we go about the work of Christ and the kingdom.

Let me interject here that I am not a reckless person.  I don’t go out of my way to find dangerous situations to put myself in, just to prove that God is looking out for me.  If you want to go sky-diving — I know some of you have — go ahead, I’ll probably sit that out.  I’m not talking about thrill-seeking, or risk for risk’s sake; I’m talking about what we’re willing to do for Jesus’ sake.  Ministry is a tough business — it takes commitment, perseverance and a willingness to make mistakes.  Even when we’re confident that we’re doing the right things, we may not get the results we hoped for or prayed for.  If we believe that Jesus is on the loose, than we can fear less, because God’s kingdom has escaped into the world, and there is no putting it back behind bars; If Jesus is on the loose, then the Spirit of inspiration and empowerment is unrestricted; if Jesus is on the loose then we have been given authority to go to all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is still at large.  Although there have been attempts — mostly by the institution of the church, sadly — to define or restrict Him so he can be controlled by one group or one viewpoint, Jesus is always bigger than any group or any viewpoint.  If we fear less, we can spend less time arguing about who has defined Jesus correctly, and who is in or out, and we can spend more time doing what Jesus commanded his followers to do: love God and love people.

I have wondered what it would have been like to be one of the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning and found the stone rolled away.  Would I have believed that Christ was risen?  Would anyone have believed me if I told them?  Or would I have been afraid and not said anything?  It isn’t too late to answer that question.  It isn’t too late for us to realize that Jesus is on the loose, and that changes everything.  It is never too late to fear less and follow more.We’re going to end the service with a song which will be familiar to some of you, and which most of us may end up humming for the rest of the day.  The text has been adapted from the Canticle of the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi.  It is an assertion that God is in all of creation — the sun and the wind and the sea — all of life. It also acknowledges that death is a part of life.  It is death which makes our life real and teaches us compassion.  On this Easter day, we proclaim that Jesus’ death and his escape from death and sin changes everything.  With all of God’s creation we join and rejoice that Christ is risen.