Easter Sunday 4-8-12

Easter Sunday 4-8-12

Alleluia! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Yes, the Lord is risen indeed, and once again we come with joy and thanksgiving to sing our alleluias and to praise him for the glorious resurrection of Christ!

But our text this year is from the gospel of Mark, and that note of joy and alleluia is strangely absent. This is one of the characteristics that makes Mark’s gospel quite different from the other stories of the resurrection in the New Testament. Where the other gospel writers highlight the joy and excitement of that first Easter morning, Mark leaves the women running away, “for trembling and astonishment had seized them.” It is quite a different view of the story.

And yet perhaps it is just what we need to hear this morning. Perhaps we need to hear from Mark that “trembling and astonishment had seized” these women. Trembling and astonishment-not words that sound very joyful, but let’s see if we can figure out why Mark ends his story with them and what they might mean for us.

Conversation on the way

We must start by listening in on the women as they make their way in the early morning light to the tomb. Mark gives us a remarkable detail. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

The women are worried. Maybe they should have thought of this before they set their alarm clocks for that early hour! Maybe they should have made more careful plans. Now all they can do is worry about it, and so that is what they do. They worry.

Of course anyone who has ever gone through a tragic loss knows that worry is sometimes a defense mechanism. A loved one has died, and so we worry about who’s going to prepare the food for the funeral. A job is lost, and we worry about how we’re going to send our two-year-old to college. So often worrying about very concrete details is a way of distracting ourselves from a situation that seems unmanageable.

But these worrying women reach the tomb, and what do they find? “The stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. . . .They saw a young man dressed in a white robe . . . He said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; his is not here.”


Now the first response of the women, our text says, is “trembling.” That’s not an unexpected thing in the face of the mystery of God. We sing in “Were You There”: “Sometimes it causes me to tremble.” One may tremble with fear, of course, but one may also tremble with joy, or with anticipation-or one may simply tremble in the face of something one does not expect or understand. I think that is what is happening here. The women tremble because they suddenly see that their worries have totally missed the point-missed it by a mile, we might say. They have worried about moving a stone, but the stone is gone. They have worried about their dead friend, the end of their hopes and dreams-but death, too, is gone, and Christ is risen. Their worries have kept them from seeing the remarkable truth-that he going before him, “just as he told you”! The truth was there, all along; Jesus had told them, all along. But their eyes had been on their worries, and not on what God was doing. When we focus on the worries, we  miss what God is actually doing-and it is generally something unexpected, at least to us who take such refuge in worry.

Worry, after all, is refusing to trust God. It is failing to believe what Christ has said. The Augsburg Confession says that “the Holy Spirit works faith when and where he will”-but so often we are convinced that it all depends on us, and that if we don’t do this or do that, everything will go down the tubes. The women come to the tomb, thinking about all the things that they simply must do; the message they hear is that what they really need is to trust God to do what must be done. And he will do it, just as he said. Their real task is to trust, and to open their eyes.


Then Mark says that the women were filled with “astonishment.” That’s another word that only Mark uses in his Easter story. Of course one can understand why anyone would be astonished; but let’s probe just a bit more deeply. I suspect the astonishment is more than just surprise at what has happened. I think it has something to do with the sudden realization that all that Jesus has been teaching, all that he has been saying, is in fact true-not just nice ideas, but true. Again one key to this is the phrase, “just as he told you.” The women, like all the disciples, have not really quite believed it. We have seen all Jesus’ followers stumbling along, trying to believe the good news, not ever quite making it, and consistently missing the point. But now the women believe. Now they finally get it.

Another clue is the special instruction about Peter. “Go, tell his disciples and Peter.” Peter was the one who denied him, the one who wept bitterly over his own failing. If there was ever someone who felt like he had committed the unpardonable sin, it was Peter; sure, Jesus had talked a lot about forgiveness-but how could Peter expect to be forgiven after what he had done?

But the angel says, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter-as if to say, “tell Peter especially; he needs to hear it. He needs to know that he is forgiven. He needs to know it.” And of course you and I need to know it, too.

Ernest Hemingway told the story of a Spanish father whose son Paco had run away from home. The father suspected that Paco had taken off for Madrid, the big city, and after searching unsuccessfully for him for a while, he took out an advertisement in the newspaper. It read, “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.” When the father went to the hotel at noon on Tuesday, there were, milling around the hotel, some 800 young men named Paco who had seen the ad and had come to be reconciled with their fathers.

We all seek reconciliation with our Father. So many of us are like Peter: we know we have failed Christ. We know we have sinned against him in thought, word and deed, we know we are no longer worthy to be called his children, if indeed we ever were.

At the tomb

But we come this morning, not to the Hotel Montana, but to an empty tomb. We come, not by ourselves, but with these women, and really with Peter, and with all those who have denied Christ, betrayed Christ, ignored Christ-all of us, crowding around this tomb, and then standing in utter astonishment as we realize that it is true! It is true! The resurrection is true, certainly, but more than that! It is true that we are forgiven! We are forgiven, and he goes before us, and promises to meet us-just as he said.

Trembling and astonishment! What other response can there be to love so deep, so broad, so high! That Christ would do all this, so that I may be his own!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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