Easter Sunday: A Sermon (2021)

Isaiah 25:6-9
; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia. Christ is risen…

We have lost so much over the past year: friends and relatives, assets, opportunities. Our celebration today in no way minimizes or discounts this. We celebrate today because with Jesus’ resurrection the tide has turned; death doesn’t get to play the last card.

Isaiah pretty much writes the script for our celebration:

7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever. (“y aniquilará la muerte para siempre”)

Or from Isaiah’s contemporary, Hosea:

14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death:
O death, I will be thy plagues;
O grave, I will be thy destruction: (13:14 KJV)

It would have been easy for Mark the evangelist to follow this script. Instead, he gives us an Easter morning that ends with “So they [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.” And that, in our best and earliest manuscripts, is how his Gospel ends. What is Mark doing?

Mark is probably doing a number of things; let’s focus on one probability. Fear, because Jesus’ resurrection isn’t about returning to normal. It’s the beginning of a new creation. The women have a new and unfamiliar world to navigate—no wonder they’re afraid.

Peter’s sermon in our Acts reading helps us flesh this out. Growing up, all of Peter’s notions and dreams of God’s victory had involved the vindication of the Jews and everyone else heading for the very end of the line. But here he is in the home of Cornelius, an officer whose military has been brutally oppressing the Jews for some time: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality… [Jesus] went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil… everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Peter’s world has been thoroughly turned upside down.

This turning did not happen easily. You may recall that prior to this scene God sends Peter a private vision—repeated three times, and sends a messenger to Cornelius’ home with instructions as to how to locate and invite Peter. Peter was no more interested in having his world turned upside down than we are. But he consented, so that non-Jews like us could hear the good news.

To bring this into sharper focus, recall Conan, as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. “What is best in life? To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” In the aftermath of a hard-fought election and the failed insurrection at the Capitol in January, Conan’s words continue to echo. But if we follow Jesus (“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”) that’s not our script. That has no place in Jesus’ new creation.

The fear Mark describes shows up in Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13) (“trabajen con temor y temblor en su salvación). Which world are the Philippians assuming, the dog-eat-dog world of the Empire, or God’s new creation? The tactics they’re deploying: at home in the old creation or in the new? So “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

So, by all means, let us celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. And let us remember that it’s not about getting back to normal, but about the birth of a new creation that we spend a lifetime getting used to, and in which some “fear and trembling” is not out of place.

Alleluia. The Christ is risen…

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