Monday, April 25, 2011

Christ: The King of Fears

Preached early Easter morning, April 24, 2011

Scripture readings: Isaiah 25:6-9; Mark 16:1-8

For many, the Gospel of Mark ends with fear. It says these words: “Trembling and bewildered the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (16:8)

Almost none of the early Christian writers of the second or third centuries quote from the verses that follow. The oldest manuscripts of the Bible don’t have any verses after verse eight, where the women flee in fear.

The church historian Eusebius, who was born in the year 240 AD and the Bible translator Jerome who was born in 340 AD both write to say that most copies of Mark ended with the verse about these women’s fears. Although Jerome added verses 9-20 to his Latin translation, this story of fear was the final story of Mark as most ancient Christians knew it.

Fearful, fearful women: but how could they be afraid? Jesus was no longer in the tomb.

The body was gone, and an angel had met them at the tomb, and told them: Jesus was alive. He had risen! Jesus was at large. He was going to meet them. How could they ever be afraid again, when such a thing could happen?

Now fear is a primal response; a primal emotion. It’s part of our God-given survival mechanism.

There are other such mechanisms. I would suggest that tears are also a kind of primal response.

Comparing fears and tears can help us understand what these followers of Jesus were going through. Just as there can be tears of joy, I believe there can also be fears of joy. The fleeing of the women from the tomb can be explained by the power of their fears of joy.

Imagine being a parent and your child comes home, and very awkwardly relates some dangerous and horrific thing that has just happened to them. They are OK! You can see they are OK. But you feel all the fear you would have felt had you been there. And you feel all the joy your heart can hold from seeing them safe. At such a time you may have both fears and tears of joy.

And then, because this has happened, you have this new sense of urgency. It’s almost another kind of fear. You have got to do something. You have to cry. You have to hug. You have to laugh. You have to do something to set your child at ease. Maybe give them a bowl of ice cream. Have them take a nap. Take them somewhere fun. You could feel driven to do all these things, whether they are five or twenty-five, because of your fears of joy.

We are wise to not go around thinking about all the horrible things that could possibly happen. But, when horrible things do happen, because we have not spent most of our lives constantly worrying about them, such things do change our world. Once these things happen, they change the meaning of the world we live in.

It is true that we can grow in such a world. We can understand more about the infinite value of love and relationships. We can understand more about the value of quietness and courage. We can understand more about the importance of living in the moment; and enjoying the moment, and life’s simple things. That is a positive result of having your world change around you.

But the followers of Jesus had fears of joy because their whole world had changed in a totally different direction. It was all because of Easter. It was because of the resurrection. We need to change, along with those disciples, in order to be the people of Easter.

The followers of Jesus had long known that they lived in a world of crosses. All over the Roman world people hung on crosses, and their world was ruled by empires, and high taxes, and military occupations. It was ruled by an order based on pride and brutality. It was a world that hung people on crosses to die, to maintain peace and order.

They had adjusted to this. They knew how to live in such a world. But, when Jesus was arrested, and condemned, and whipped, and crucified, they hit the wall in their world. They had met the world at its worst and it had changed them.

Jesus had met the world at its worst, and it had killed him. But, now, Jesus was alive! Jesus rose from the dead. He got up, and he got out of that tomb, and he was out there in the world; waiting to meet his people and share his work with them.

This is the resurrection of Jesus. This is Easter. This is the world to which the gospel calls us.

Death had seemed to cancel out Jesus, as someone with something of lasting value to say. The resurrection contradicts death, and this is the proof that Jesus has the right to say everything that he has ever said. and say it directly to us.

THEIR world was covered with crosses. Their world seemed to be ruled by those crosses. Now, they found themselves living in a new world that was ruled by the resurrection of Jesus. Since Jesus rose from the dead, all good things, all fond hopes, are possible.

The resurrection is the proof that Jesus really could die for your sins, and for your forgiveness, and for your new life, and for your everlasting life. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus can say anything he wants to you. He can give you any calling in life. He can give you any task; any direction. He can lead you through any change. And he can tell you to not be afraid of it.

Since most early Christians had a blank at the end of Mark, after the fear of the women running from the tomb, the question in Mark was: What will happen next? What will those people do, and how will they do it?

The short ending of Mark is God speaking to you and me, and asking us: What will we do next, since we live in a world where the resurrection has the final word?

What will we do and how will we live? Will we continue to be afraid? Will we continue to tremble and be confused? Will we continue to be silent?

What will you do next? Whatever you do; do not be afraid!

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