Preached by Michael Cheuk, April 5, 2015
Taken from Mark 16:1-8
And so, we come to the end of our journey to the cross. This week, we journeyed with Jesus through his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through his last Supper, his crucifixion and his death and burial. We often call this Passion Week for the emotional tumult of these events and the love of Jesus that propelled him to endure it all. On Good Friday, Jesus died on the cross, and for the three women, there was only one more thing to do: preparing Jesus’ body for burial.
These women came to the tomb out of their own passion, a love mixed with sorrow, so that they might anoint his body. I suspect they felt a sense of dread and obligation, facing a task they would have preferred to avoid. The weight of that dread, added to their grief, was as heavy as the stone that blocked the entry to the tomb.
Who among us hasn’t felt the dread of facing up to some task we’d rather avoid? The children among us have probably dragged their feet when told to clean their rooms. Many of us may still dread the idea of working on our taxes – especially the accountants! And these obligations seem trivial when compared to the heavier stones of life. Some among us face far weightier challenges of broken relationships, uncertain medical treatments, or creating a “new normal” after a life-shaking loss.
Yet despite the available excuses, as soon as the sun rose, these three women summoned the courage to do what they dreaded. And as they headed off, they wondered, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” This stone is the women’s biggest obstacle. After all, what good will their spices do if they can’t even get to Jesus to anoint his body? Yet these women walked on, strengthened not only by the courage to do this task but also the faith that help would come.
Given how easily we humans can be discouraged and how good we are at making excuses, the women’s confidence and determination is amazing. Maybe we should think of it as one of the Easter miracles. And each time we take steps to face – not run away from, not hide from – our obstacles, maybe we should think of it as an Easter miracle. When any of us can face addiction and take steps toward addressing it – even without knowing who will roll the stone away – it is an Easter miracle. When we can speak words of reconciliation – without knowing who will roll that stone away – it is an Easter miracle. When any of us gathers the strength to face a medical procedure or when any of us makes dinner for one after decades of cooking for two, it is an Easter miracle.
When the three women arrived at the tomb, what did they find? The stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, who proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised! Jesus was alive! He had predicted that he must be killed, but he also promised that in three days he would rise again. And Jesus was right! Death could not contain him, and neither could a tomb. The tomb was now empty, and Jesus left a message for the young man to tell these women: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
Do you remember what Jesus told his disciples at the night of the Last Supper? Right after the supper, Jesus foretold his death and in Mark 14:28, Jesus promised his disciples: “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” On that Easter morning, the messenger in the empty tomb told the women to tell the disciples that Jesus was making good on His promise and going ahead of them to Galilee, which was their home, the region where Jesus spent most of his ministry preaching, teaching, feeding, healing. “I’m going ahead to meet you back home, just as I promised” was what Jesus wanted to communicate to these women and his disciples.
When Thea and Wes were little, we often took them swimming at Robbie and Judy Gough’s home – as have many other UBC families. As babies, they crawled around on the steps with protective arms – ours and Judy’s – nearby. When they grew older, they began exploring the water and taking their first strokes and kicks. As their comfort level grew, they eyed the diving board, an exciting but scary challenge. After they worked up their nerve, they inched their way down the diving board, then gulped, and jumped. Did they jump into the deep end alone? No way. Beth had gone first (and it was mostly Beth, not me!) and was treading water, waiting to catch them and give them the push they needed to make it safely out of the water.
In the same way, the risen Christ went ahead of his disciples waiting for them to dive into the dawn of a totally new world, a world where life defeats death, where love conquers hate, where right overturns wrong, where joy will lift all sorrow. But that first dive into this new reality takes courage. The women on that first Easter morning went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. We know that eventually, their fear subsided and they did tell the disciples. What they discovered was that throughout it all, Jesus was already ahead of them, waiting to catch them and give them the push they needed to make it safely through.
On that first Easter morning:
As the women went to buy the spices to prepare his body, Jesus went ahead of them.
As the women walked toward the tomb with heavy hearts and questions, Jesus went ahead of them.
As the women faced alarming developments and words that made no sense to them, Jesus went ahead of them.
As the women returned home in silence, Jesus went ahead of them.
As the women journeyed, perhaps slowly, perhaps quickly, from grief to joy, from passion to promise, Jesus went ahead of them.
Easter pronounces that the passion, the suffering, the sin, the injustice of this world will not have the last word. Easter is the proclamation of what God in Christ has done for us, and a promise for what God will do to redeem our world. Christ on the cross has forgiven us of our sin. God’s power has raised Jesus from the dead and rolled away the stone of the tomb. The destructive powers of this world have been given notice that their time is ending. Death has been given a death sentence. And God’s grace invites us to go back to Galilee, to go home and to live life with the stone rolled away; to live life as people changed by the events of Easter.
Today, Skyler has jumped into the waters of baptism, where Jesus has gone ahead of her. The risen Christ will go on ahead of her throughout her journey of faith, and we know where her eternal home will be. So it is with all who have been baptized with Jesus into His death and resurrection.
On this Easter Sunday, we celebrate the fact that the risen Christ is alive and out in the world! The risen Christ goes ahead of us, with the promise that His resurrected presence will be waiting for us even in the midst of our passion, our sorrow, our pain. The risen Christ goes ahead of us out in the neighborhood preaching, teaching, feeding, healing, and we will see Him when we join Him there in ministry and witness. The risen Christ promises that when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us to welcome us home.
Because the risen Christ goes before us and calls us to follow, we are invited to live changed lives, transformed from passion to promise as a people of resurrection. Because today, in faith, we celebrate the fact that God raised Jesus from the grave! Death is dead! Love is alive! And the world will never be the same! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!