Sermons

Sun, Apr 08, 2012

The terror of the resurrection

Easter Day
Series:Sermons
“Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Let the whole creation say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!”
 
Easter is a “joyous” occasion––
it almost goes without saying…
it’s such an ingrained part of our Christian psyche.
And, perhaps, that sentiment is well summed up by John Beasy––
the National President of the Australian Baptist Churches––
“Easter…is really good news, because it announces that by the death and resurrection of Jesus, people may receive His love, find forgiveness of sins and enjoy a restored relationship with God”.
 
But is it?
 
Well, not according to the author of Mark’s Gospel!
Like all of the Gospel writers, he doesn’t offer any explanation…
or any interpretation…
of the Easter events.
He doesn’t––
in any way, shape, or form––
speculate upon what it might mean.
Nowhere does the author suggest that the cross was necessary for God to forgive––
indeed, the fact that Jesus forgives people throughout the course of his ministry…
seems to negate that whole idea.
Of course, John Beasy’s argument is predicated on the whole…
God-is-angry-at-our-sin-and-punished-Jesus-in-our-place-without-which-we-couldn’t-be-forgiven…
theology––
a theology which I’ve argued against numerous times…
not least in the last issue of “Highlights”.
So I’m not going to go there this morning.
 
Nor do I intend to dwell on the issue of how we understand “resurrection” itself.
There are some, of course, who understand the whole thing quite literally––
and I don’t just mean understanding Mark’s story of the first Easter as literally and historically true.
I mean the whole concept of resurrection––
some understand it literally.
But there are others, of course, who find that hard to accept––
indeed, who find it unintelligible, especially in the modern world––
and who think that it’s better to interpret the resurrection as a foundational myth…
or, in the words of Bishop Spong, as “ultimate truth and literal nonsense”.
And, while I’m inclined towards the second camp…
as I said…
I don’t want to go there this morning, either.
But I do want us to hear Mark’s story…
Mark’s surprising take on the resurrection…
even if, for some of us, that means approaching it with what Marcus Borg describes as “post-critical naiveté”––
hearing the story as “true”…
even while knowing that it’s not “literally true”.
 
When we turn to Mark’s version of the Easter story…
we discover that the author doesn’t just omit any reflection upon the meaning of the Easter event…
he doesn’t even present it as an occasion of joy.
Mark finishes his story of Easter––
and, indeed, his whole Gospel…
because that’s where his Gospel originally ended––
he finishes the story with:
So 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”.
According to Mark, the response to the resurrection of Jesus was fear
a fear so profound that it caused them to shake and to tremble––
sheer, absolute terror…
a sort of pee-your-pants terror.
 
So, of what were these women so terrified?
 
Was it because of what they saw?
No!
I mean, it’s not like they ran off as soon as they saw the empty tomb…
or even when they saw the so-called ‘young man dressed in white’.
Their initial reaction was alarm, not sheer terror.
Instead, they waited.
They looked.
They listened.
It was only then that they ran off in terror.
 
Were they afraid because they thought they wouldn’t be believed?
No!
Note: we’re not talking about a mild sense of panic, or concern, or anxiety.
They were physically shaking with fear.
Their response was one of absolute, unbridled terror.
Thinking you won’t be believed wouldn’t produce that sort of reaction.
 
So, were they afraid because they though that Jesus’ body had been removed––
that it had been stolen or relocated?
No!
Surely that would provoke a different range of feelings—
like anger, outrage or confusion.
It wouldn’t produce utter terror.
 
Their terror doesn’t come as a response to seeing the empty tomb.
It’s a response to the report that Jesus has been raised.
Their terror is a response to the possibility of resurrection itself––
that’s what fills them with utter terror.
But why?
Why would the resurrection of Jesus provoke such profound fear?
 
Even today, with all of our advances in technology and medicine, we all die sometime.
That was even more true back then.
It really is the one great certainty in life––
a fact that we all have to come to terms with, at some point.
Everything that has a beginning, has an end.
What is born, dies.
End of story.
But what if death isn’t a certainty?
What if death isn’t an absolute?
Then everything you’ve always believed…
everything you’ve always taken for granted…
everything you’ve always assumed to be true…
your whole way of seeing the world––
even God––
begins to crumble or is shattered.
If the certainty and inevitability of death is destroyed—
then we live in world that is not fixed.
We live in a world where nothing can be taken for granted any more––
where nothing is secure…
where nothing is certain.
Paradoxically, the resurrection symbolises the death of all of our certainties.
If death has been overcome––
if the one great certainty in life is no longer certain…
if the one thing we take for granted can’t be taken for granted––
then reality is wide open.
There are no longer any absolutes.
The resurrection symbolises the death of all our certainties:
I could never forgive that person;
I’ll never find anyone to love;
the Church will never make an impact on the life of our community;
there will always be war;
we can never feed everyone;
the rich will always get richer and the poor poorer;
multi-national corporations will always exploit the third world––
and they will never seriously cut greenhouse gases;
HIV/AIDS will never be eradicated from Africa;
gay people will never be accorded the same rights as straight people…
especially in terms of marriage…
and they’ll never be full embraced by the Church;
there will never be genuine reconciliation between Aboriginal and white Australians.
The symbol of the resurrection challenges all of our certainties.
It challenges the inevitability of greed, prejudice, hatred, violence, and injustice.
Every assumption that debilitates us…
every assumption that constraints us…
every assumption that oppresses us…
loses its power.
If the resurrection symbolises the death of all of our certainties…
then it also symbolises the birth of unimaginable possibilities.
It challenges us to embrace a vision of God…
and of the world…
and of human community…
that is shaped by freedom…
compassion…
peace…
justice…
inclusion…
equality…
wholeness…
reconciliation and abundant life.
The resurrection symbolises for us the promise of “a world that is open and vast”.
 
But, then again, maybe that is terrifying!
After all, it would mean that we would have to change.
It would mean that we would have to adopt new ways of thinking…
new ways of living…
new ways of being.
We would have to reorganise our priorities…
rethink all our structures––
social…
political…
economic…
national…
and religious.
In reality, resurrection symbolises that we need to begin all over again…
that we need to start again from scratch.
 
Christ is risen!
 
Hallelujah?
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