The sun is setting in front of a sunset

Christ is Risen


Today is the day that we encounter the empty tomb, and wonder. Today we hear the good news that – Christ is risen!

I promise there’s a point to that. We hear this good news. We have already broken out our Easter hallelujah’s and in some ways it seems like we’re simply keeping to the schedule – unlike the weather. And there’s comfort to the pattern of some of these things. Maybe your schedule this morning revolves as much around pancakes as worship, because that’s an important part of your Easter pattern, and that’s okay. Maybe for you, an important part of your Easter celebration is walking into worship and hearing the proclamation of Christ being alive, and then breaking into the triumphant song, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”

There’s an inherent link between pattern and story. Certain cues can lead to certain expectations. For instance, I say, “Once upon a time,” and many of you have an idea of what type of story I’m about to tell. It’s a part
of a pattern. It’s predictable. Patterns that have existed in our lives sometimes do more than tell us what to expect. Sometimes they invoke memories and feelings all of their own. For instance, if I were to say, “A
long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away,” some of you begin to already envision scrolling yellow text against a dark backdrop, with John Williams’ classic soundtrack accompanying the scene. If I were to say, “Christ is
risen!” you respond…

One of the problems with patterns, though, is sometimes you’re so used to a certain thing following another that when that thing doesn’t happen, you might assume that it did, or maybe become bothered that the pattern doesn’t follow what is expected. That’s something that happens in our scripture reading today. Because we know the story so well, sometimes we don’t necessarily really hear what is happening in full. And if we were paying attention maybe we would be just a little bit troubled right now. Because even in the early church, there were patterns.

Even in the midst of persecution and struggle to figure out who they were, the early church tried to hold to certain structures and traditions as well. These structures and traditions told those early followers just a little bit about who they were, and about what God was doing among them through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit he sent. In the same way, we have our own traditions that tell us a little bit about who we are as well. It might be the pancakes. After all, they do tell us a little bit about the care found in this community among each other. They tell us a little bit about the importance of fellowship in this community. And these key values then tell others a little bit of how you might spread God’s love – or choose not to do so – to our neighbors.

I wonder, though, if you’re here today, you probably have a specific thought or memory of Easter that draws you into this place today. Maybe these Easter memories bring joy and hope in your hearts. Maybe these memories happened in this place, or maybe they happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And maybe these holy memories – and perhaps you’re making more of those holy memories today either in worship or at home – are something that helps you feel as if – Christ is risen!

We all have holy memories tied to this season and the joy we celebrate this day. What comes to mind for you? For me, I remember many Easters when I was a kid where we would be drug to the early morning service in my small town in Illinois, and we would get to church, and only then realize that my father had stashed his twelve-string guitar in the back of the mini-van, which he then used to sing “Morning Has Broken” as a part of our Easter joy.

The thing about Easter is as much as it’s truly a celebration for our entire community, it also can be filled with deeply personal moments of holy reflection, of blessed memory. The fact that Christ has been raised from the dead is something that can and should be shouted from the mountaintops, and also proclaimed in the darkest valleys. Because the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection? It changes everything.

But the story we hear today is a little troubling, because it feels incomplete. Did you catch how the gospel ended? The women are told by “a young man dressed in white” – presumably a divine messenger – that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And their response? They flee from the tomb, and in their terror and amazement, they tell no one what they have witnessed. But the word obviously got out, right? In fact, the gospel of Mark continues after this to tell a broader story of Jesus appearing to the disciples, but most scholars think that somebody got upset at how Mark ended and took it upon themselves to add more based on what other gospel accounts had said. So taken as it is today, our gospel ends not in proclamations that – Christ is risen!

No, the gospel ends in silence. Almost as if the question, “now what?” is being asked, isn’t it? But in fact, that is exactly what is being asked. Because this gospel was meant to be read in one sitting, often to those who have newly come to the faith. This gospel was meant to share the good news with those who had only begun to know Jesus – to hear the story of his suffering and death, and then be amazed at the empty tomb. Imagine a group of young believers – perhaps just baptized – who are hearing this gospel. And at the end, the joy of Easter is held back from proclamation. Imagine in that moment the concern you might have. “What do you mean, they told no one? How on earth will people like me hear the good news if these very women don’t bear witness?”

How, indeed? And at this point, the person who tells them the story that they had heard years before asks them, “who will share this good news? Who will ensure that the good news of our resurrected lord is not silenced, but indeed spread to all the people?” And that question isn’t just for those first hearers nearly two thousand years ago. It’s a question for us. Who, among us, will share this good news? How do we share the news that – Christ is risen!

I think you’re beginning to get it. Because the good news of the resurrection of Jesus, our Lord, is good news for all the people! But I know that as much as you’re getting the idea that if I give you a prompt, you can follow it, you’re also probably thinking to yourself, “okay, but this news of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t exactly breaking news for most people. They’ve heard it before, even if they don’t put too much stock in it. What new thing can I bring that will open their hearts?” First, a reminder – it is God’s Holy Spirit that opens the hearts of all who come to believe. But that doesn’t let us off the hook. I remind you to think again of your holy memories of Easter. What stories do they tell? What stories can you tell of how this holy day has changed your life? Remember those first believers – they didn’t have generations of tradition to fall back on – they had each other. They had the proclamation of the empty tomb and the risen Christ, but not much else. They came to the faith because somebody in their lives shared how knowing Jesus had changed their lives for the better. So for us this day, maybe the answer to the question of “who will share this good news,” and the follow up question of “how?” has its answer hidden in your story. Because a story can change the world, but a story about how that story has affected us? A story borne in personal experience and relationship? Well, this changes everything. Because the empty tomb that we experience today – and even the terror and amazement of those who were afraid to speak – begins a story that has no ending, a story that tells us that Christ is risen!

May we indeed deeply know this truth in our most precious memories of this season, and may this truth then propel us forward, to tell the good story, and how that story of the risen lord enriches the story of our own lives lived in the promise of the resurrected lord.