Monday, April 1, 2013

A New World: The Future Is Meeting

Preached on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013 

Scriptures: Psalm 118:1-24; Mark 16:1-8 

There were these disciples, who were women, who were the only disciples brave enough to risk going to the tomb of Jesus. They planned to finish caring for the body of Jesus; giving it a good washing, and rubbing it with sweet herbs, and oils, and ointments.

Pictures near the Snake and Palouse Rivers, Washington
The tomb of Jesus was a family tomb. But it didn’t belong to Jesus’ family. It was a borrowed tomb. It really belonged to a member of the High Jewish Council named Joseph of Arimathea, who was also a supporter of Jesus. The tomb would be used again and again in the future. The women wanted Jesus to smell as nice as possible for those who would open the tomb to lay others to rest near him.

These disciples went to do their work at the earliest possible moment. There was not a moment to lose, because Jesus had been dead for close to forty hours, over a span of three days, in the warmth of a desert spring. Dead meat began to smell early in their part of the world, and the tomb (even though it was a cave) was not a refrigerator.

Already it was a step of courage for them to do this. And there were other obstacles: guards at the tomb (though they aren’t mentioned by Mark); possible spies and police who would come after them later. There was the heavy, round stone door, at the opening of the tomb that had to be rolled aside, and it was at least as big as a wagon wheel. They couldn’t do this by themselves, and they weren’t sure they would even be allowed to do this.

They were determined to try the last thing that they could do for love. This made them brave.

Then they found the tomb unguarded and empty. They saw the young man (or was he an ageless man; an angel?) dressed in white. “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go! tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:6-7)

Then they were no longer brave. “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8) The message of the angel and the fear of the disciples, as they ran away from the tomb, are among the most important verses in the Gospel of Mark.

I think the disciples ran in fear because they realized that they had been terribly wrong about Jesus. They had not given him enough credit. They had trifled with him.

They loved him, of course, and they knew he was capable of doing great and powerful things. He was able to say the most amazing things. But they had not understood who Jesus truly was, even when they used the right words to describe him.

What they wanted most was for Jesus to be an earthly Messiah; a king who would drive out the Romans and put Israel at the top of the world. They had worried about Jesus’ safety; and even about his wisdom, when it came down to that safety.

They weren’t sure how much sense he had. The times when Jesus spoke of his being killed and rising from the dead had scared them. The risk Jesus took by coming to Jerusalem had also scared them.

On their way to sweeten the dead body of Jesus, they thought how right they had been to be afraid. The sure knowledge that Jesus had been wrong and they had been right might have formed part of the compassion that gave them the courage to go to the tomb. They knew what they were doing and then, suddenly, when they reached the tomb, they realized that they were completely wrong.

The men had betrayed Jesus by running away from the guards who had come to arrest him. Peter had betrayed Jesus by denying that he even knew who Jesus was. (Mark 14:66-72)

The women at the tomb realized that they had betrayed Jesus by trifling with him. They had betrayed Jesus all along by underestimating him, and even by coming to anoint his poor dead body.

Jesus had said that he would rise from the dead. (Mark 8:31) They had never believed this. They had never fully trusted him.

They were afraid because they had substituted their own idea of who Jesus should be for what he told them about himself and what he had come to do. Jesus had told them that, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

They had thought Jesus should rule them by defeating their enemies, and sitting on a throne, and making laws and judgments. Jesus had come to rule them by dying for them; by saving them from their sins.

They were afraid because Jesus told them how to follow him in a way that they could not face. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

They suddenly saw how Jesus could now claim the right to make them listen to him. Jesus could claim the right to make them do just as he had done. He had lost his life for their sake and risen from the dead, and they would have to follow him.

Coming to the empty tomb was like meeting Jesus for the first time. Jesus had actually always been a bit scary, but this was very scary. Jesus might do anything; ask anything. There is something wonderfully scary, about Easter: meeting Jesus for all he’s worth.

I am, by nature, painfully shy and timid. When Jesus first called me to the ministry, when I was twelve, I didn’t want to do it because I was afraid. The scariest thing I could think of was to stand up in front of a congregation and speak. It is still pretty scary.

After I was finally ordained, my first church was in a little lumber mill town on a lake next to the sand dunes on the south coast of Oregon. When I had been there for a while, I came across a case of child sexual abuse and I reported it to the sheriff’s department. The guy I reported was put in jail for a few weeks. But then he got out of jail, to wait for his trial.

When he got out he came back to Lakeside. I didn’t look him up, but I heard that he was telling people that he was going to come after me and shoot me.

I had been afraid of preaching. I never dreamt that going into the ministry could get me shot.

Another time, in another place, I got a call from a mother who was extremely worried about the mental state of her grown son, who lived with her and her husband. Her husband was out of town when she called me late one night. She asked me to come and talk with her son.

I did this with some fear. I also felt the voice of Jesus calling me there, through the voice of her fear. I went to their house, and went to his room, and found him holding a revolver to his head. I spent the next couple hours talking to him while he held that gun to his head.

The thought came to me, as I did this, that a really desperate man might shoot his counselor before he shot himself. I didn’t know what he might do if I got up to leave the room. Not knowing what to do next, I went on listening and talking until he promised he would not kill himself for a while.

A few days later, I had a session meeting, and the elders told me not to go there again; at least not under those circumstances. So when the mother called me again, with the same fear in her voice, I asked if her son might be a threat to himself again. She said that he was, so I called the sheriff, because God had spoken to me through the voice of my elders.

Do you know, it was almost as scary a thing just to call the sheriff, even knowing that Jesus had told me to do so through my elders? I was afraid of what that guy and his family would think of me.

Knowing what Jesus came to do actually helped me know what I needed to do. I knew that Jesus had given himself as a ransom, for me, and for that woman, and for her son. I knew that I needed to do what was right and trust the work and the mercy of Jesus. This gave me the responsibility to make that scary call.

We never know where following Jesus will take us. Following Jesus often makes whatever scared us, in the beginning, look very silly.

What is your fear of following Jesus? What is your fear of going to meet him where he calls you? Do you know that this may be the silliest of all the things that you might need to face? The best thing is to not be afraid and just go to meet him.

The women, on their way to the tomb, thought they knew where they had put Jesus. Then they found out that Jesus was not there at all. He was risen and he going before them into Galilee. Galilee was their old, familiar home but, it had really stopped being their home once they began to follow Jesus. They came to see that their real home was with Jesus. They could be at home only if they went with him.

Now, at the empty tomb, they were being called to go on a journey to meet Jesus. Now they knew that this would always be true. This is what the rest of their life would be. They could only be at home if they went to Jesus wherever he led them; wherever or whatever going to him meant, whatever choice it involved.

They found that Easter was the call of Jesus to go to him wherever he might lead them. Easter means the same thing for us. Jesus has died for us and risen from the dead for us, as a kind of ransom that sets us free.

The freedom of Easter means that we know who it is who calls us to follow him. Easter means our knowing that life, from now on, will always be a journey with Jesus, who is stronger than our sins, and stronger than death, and even stronger than our fears. From now on, our life will always be about going somewhere to meet Jesus as we travel together.


  1. Thanks, Dennis, for the sermon. Occasionally i have the time to read them, and today is one of those days. We are in Colorado Springs, visiting our youngest daughter as she works at a rescue mission (Springs Rescue Mission) through Mennonite Service Adventure. It is a program primarily for graduated High School seniors who need to have something different to do than immediately jump into the school life at college.
    But back to the sermon. Jesus IS scary! And he often asks us to do scary things. I remember the time the man who (he later confessed) burned the barn at the place we were staying came outside the door of the room where i was teaching our children. I heard the noise, opened the door, saw he was there, turned and told the children to stay there, and walked out to be with him, to talk with him. He held a blunt object in his hand.
    The Lord had prepared me for this meeting by giving me a vision of a part of what i must do at a certain point of our meeting. The Lord showed me how to lead him away from the place we were staying.
    This story is much longer than i can put here, and involves the life we were living at that time. But i am reminded by your (now speaking to you, Dennis) times with scary people. I had to call the sheriff on that man also, went along with him in the deputy's car to the sheriff's office where he confessed (in the presence of me and the sheriff) that he had burned the barn. I cried as they led him away to jail, tears of sadness at the way i felt i had to turn him over to the authorities to deal with, because we could not deal with them on our own.
    We are embarking on a new attempt at being the arm of flesh of the Lord on this earth, through the Seed Of Hope Farm. It is scary. We don't know how it will be accomplished, in the vision we have been given of it. But we know that Jesus is there, and that is where we want to be. Thanks, Dennis, for the reminder.

  2. I remember you in Chemistry or physics class quoteing from Hamlet's soliloquiy..."thus conscience doth make cowards of us all". I asked you what that was about and you wouldn't tell me. You are an adventurer in Christ. I guess we both are, in our own ways. I will try to pray for you more than normal.

  3. Dennis,

    This comment, or pair of comments, is about one little tangent. But I trust that it will not be a waste of time, either mine in writing or yours in reading.

    Your statement about Eusebius and Jerome needs some clarification. Their statements about Mark 16:9-20 come from two compositions: Eusebius’ “Ad Marinum,” c. 325, and Jerome’s “Ad Hedibiam,” c. 406 (early fifth century). Neither one says that “the oldest copies” of Mark end at 16:8.

    Eusebius’ comment is part of a response to a question (from a person named Marinus) about how to harmonize Mt 28 and Mk 16 regarding the timing of Christ’s resurrection. Eusebius answered that there are two ways to solve this problem: a person might say that the passage in Mark is not in 100% of the copies, or that accurate copies end their text with the words, “for they were afraid,” or that almost all the copies of Mark end there, and that what follows in some copies, but not in all copies, is superfluous, particularly if it contains a contradiction with what is said in another Gospel. That (Eusebius wrote) is how one person might reply: by rejecting the passage and thus rendering the question superfluous. But (he continued) another person, reluctant to remove anything found in his copy of the Gospels, however it got there, may accept both passages, and insist that it is inappropriate for faithful, devout individuals to pick and choose between parallel-passages.

    Taking this second approach (Eusebius explained), we face the task of interpreting the passage, and if we do this properly we will see that it does not contradict the words in Matthew. Matthew says that the Savior’s resurrection was “late on the Sabbath.” So read the words in Mark, “Having risen early on the first day of the week,” one should pause after “Having risen,” for this is what happened late on the Sabbath, as Matthew says. The rest – “early in the morning on the first day of the week He appeared to Mary Magdalene” – is all one piece, and thus the reference to “early in the morning” describes the time of Christ’s appearance, not the time of His resurrection. John confirms this; he, too, says that Jesus was seen by Mary Magdalene early in the morning on the first day of the week. It is not that Jesus arose at that time, but that he was seen by Mary Magdalene at that time, “early in the morning.”

    That’s the essence of Eusebius’ reply; to track down the entire thing, see pages 98-99 of the book “Eusebius of Caesarea: Gospel Problems and Solutions.” Eusebius framed several different descriptions of the manuscripts as things that a person might say, and he never specifically referred to “the oldest copies.”

    Further along in “Ad Marinum,” he mentioned that “according to some copies,” Mark states that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, and, yet further, he stated that “according to Mark, He had cast out seven demons” from Mary Magdalene. It doesn’t look like Eusebius firmly rejected Mk 16:9-20, and this is difficult to explain if he believed those statements that the accurate MSS, and almost all copies of Mark, stop the text at 16:8. It looks like Eusebius, like other apologists, sometimes offered more than one solution to a problem before presenting the solution that he himself advocated.

    I’ll try to describe the evidence from Jerome in the next comment.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  4. Continuing. About Jerome:

    Jerome openly acknowledged (in Letter 75, To Augustine) that he borrowed material from earlier writers and incorporated it in his own writings, without taking the trouble to differentiate between his own material and that of an earlier writer: “I have dictated to my secretary,” he wrote, “sometimes what was borrowed from other writers, sometimes what was my own, without distinctly remembering the method, or the words, or the opinions which belonged to each,” and, he says, “I read the writings of the fathers, and, complying with universal usage, put down in my commentaries a variety of explanations, that each may adopt from the number given the one which pleases him.”

    So, in the early 400’s, Jerome (a) composed his letters via dictation, using a secretary, and (b) saw nothing wrong with borrowing other writers’ work.

    In the part of his letter to Hedibia, when Hedibia asked a broad question about why the Gospels say different things about the Lord’s resurrection and subsequent appearances, Jerome decided not to answer such a generalized question by starting from scratch. Instead, he made a spontaneous, condensed translation into Latin of part of what Eusebius had written to Marinus. To put it another way: what has been presented to you as if it was an independent observation made by Jerome is actually Jerome’s abridged translation of part of what Eusebius had written. This can be shown beyond a shadow of a doubt by comparing the two compositions and seeing that not only do Jerome’s answers summarize Eusebius’ answers, but Jerome also recorded three of the questions that Marinus asked Eusebius, in the same order.

    Some details may be helpful: facing Hedibia’s broad question, Jerome began by focusing on the specific question about how to harmonize Mt. 28:1 and Mk. 16:9-10. Then he wrote:

    “There are two ways to solve this problem. Either we do not accept the testimony of Mark, on the grounds that this final section is not contained in most of the Gospels that bear his name – almost all the Greek codices lacking it – or else we must affirm that Matthew and Mark have both told the truth, that our Lord rose on the evening of the Sabbath, and that He was seen by Mary Magdalene in the morning of the first day of the following week.

    "So this is how this passage of Saint Mark should be read: read, “Jesus arising,” place a little pause here, and then add, “on the first day of the week in the morning appeared to Mary Magdalene,” so that, being raised, according to Saint Matthew, in the evening of the last day of the week, He appeared to Mary Magdalene, according to Saint Mark, “the morning of the first day of the week,” which is how John also represents the events, stating that He was seen on the morning of the next day."

    Neither Eusebius nor Jerome, in these compositions, expresses a firm rejection of Mark 16:9-20, which is what one would expect them to do if they believed that hardly any manuscripts of Mark contained the passage. Instead, Eusebius took the trouble to explain how Mark 16:9 should be punctuated, so as to resolve the perceived discrepancy with Mt. 28:1, and Jerome echoed Eusebius. At no point does either writer claim that “the oldest copies” of Mark end the text at 16:8.

    In closing -- focusing on Jerome again -- it may be worthwhile to notice that Jerome, in the Preface to the Vulgate Gospels, mentioned that he standardized the Latin text so as to conform to Greek copies, which, he emphasizes, were ancient. In the Vulgate, Jerome included Mark 16:9-20. And later, around 415, in his composition “Against the Pelagians,” he framed a debate in which one of the debaters mentions the interpolation that we know as the Freer Logion, and casually used Mark 16:14 to show where in the text it was found.

    This implies that in 415, (1) Jerome used Mark 16:9-20, and (2) Jerome expected his readers to be familiar with Mark 16:9-20, and (3) Jerome had seen the Freer Logion “especially in Greek codices.”

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  5. James, I have sent you a couple emails about rectifying the reference to Eusebius and Jerome. I await your help. Perhaps I will just delete the relevant paragraphs of my sermon, which were originally in parentheses, anyway. I wasn't even going to preach them. Just have them there for my own reference and possible future study. I may remove Jerome from the reference and simply say that Eusebius made an observation about most Greek manuscript copies ending with the women leaving the tomb afraid.

  6. Again to James Snapp and to all. I have deleted a statement from my sermon (which James addresses) about Mark ending with 16:8. I have deleted it on the grounds that it is difficult to trace the history of the ending of Mark, and the debate is frought with controversy. I retain James' comments about the history of that ending, with appreciation for his attention.

  7. Btw, Marcus the Eremite (c. 435) is among the patristic writers who support the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20. He used Mark 16:18 in chapter 6 of his composition "Against Nestorius."

    Just a little eremite-related trivia there.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.