An engineer dies and reports to the pearly gates. After checking the list, St. Peter says, “Ah, you’re the engineer. I’m sorry, but you’re in the wrong place.” So, the engineer reports to the gates of hell, and is let in. Pretty soon, the engineer becomes very dissatisfied with the level of comfort down there. In instant, the engineer lays out plans for air conditioning, flush toilets, escalators, and public parks with lawn games. By the time all the projects are completed, the engineer is a pretty popular guy.
One day, God rings the gatekeeper of hell and sneers, “So, how’s it going down there?” The gatekeeper replies, “Hey, things are great. We’ve got air conditioning and great facilities, there are escalators and even public parks with lawn games. Things are great! We can’t wait to see what the engineer comes up with next!” Perplexed, God says, “What? You’ve got an engineer? That’s a mistake—he should have never gone down there…send him back up.” “No way,’ the gatekeeper says, ‘he’s made this place too nice. We’re keeping him.”
God thinks for a moment and in a stern voice replies, “Send him back up here or I’ll sue.” Overtaken by uncontrollable laughter, the gatekeeper of hell squeaks out, “Oh, yeah? And where are you going to find a lawyer?”
Look, that’s a terrible joke. I know plenty of lawyers and engineers, all of whom have many stars in their heavenly crowns. But Easter after Easter, year after year, no matter how much I study and think and pray, I struggle so terribly with what to say on this extraordinary day. I start each of my Easter sermon’s with a joke because the story of Jesus rising from the dead leaves me speechless. I just don’t know how to understand and frame the story of our Lord dying on cross, being buried, and then walking out of the tomb completely alive a few days later just as he said he would. I just don’t know how to speak about something so unnatural as resurrection, as unpredictable as life returning to the dead, as miraculous as a great stone door rolled away when even modern equipment would struggle to move it. Honestly, Christmas is easier to talk about and that involves a child being born by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know, my friends—resurrection is a weird deal.
According to Mark’s gospel, though, finding the right words to say on Easter has always been hard for God’s people. It is a terrible ending to a story: a group of women go to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body, and when they learn that he has risen as he said he would, they run from the tomb in silence because fear and amazement had seized them. I don’t think any of us can blame them. The other gospel accounts of Jesus’ life have much better endings, with Jesus appearing to the disciples, dressed in dazzling white, breathing on them the Holy Spirit. But not Mark. Mark’s gospel just ends, it stops with fear and amazement and silence. There is not even a resurrected Jesus in Mark’s gospel: no lilies, no trumpets, no fancy clothing or pretty hats. There’s just an empty tomb, a man telling the women to not be afraid, and a huddle of Jesus’ disciples so afraid that they are utterly silent.
The general consensus among scholars and theologians is that the end of Mark’s gospel is intentional. They say that it leaves open the possibility for Christ’s followers throughout the ages to speak up where the women were silent. I think that is a good way to honor the women and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus; I’m just not convinced that is the only option. You see, while Mark’s gospel ends with the women in silence, we have stories throughout the New Testament of everything that happened in the weeks and months following the first Easter. For instance, we learn that Peter was so stunned by everything that had happened, that he got in his boat and went fishing. Fishing was the one consistent thing in Peter’s life, so when the world was flipped on its head on Good Friday, he went fishing. Then these stories tell us that little communities of Jesus’ followers began to spring up after the resurrection. In these communities Jesus’ followers worshipped together and ate meals together and collected whatever they could to give to the needy. We learn that men and women alike led these communities and everyone pitched in to do the work. In the book of Acts we watch as the disciples form a robust ministry to the widows and orphans and outcast, the people Jesus was particularly fond us.
Now aside from a few great sermons by Peter and James and Paul, what we don’t see, or rather hear, a lot of in the time immediately after the resurrection is people talking about it. Instead, the early disciples got to work, doing their absolute best to keep the Jesus movement going. They were so captivated by the itinerant preacher who proclaimed a message of abundant love, even when he was gone they wanted to keep it going. And that should be both comforting and challenging to us here in this place today. What truly matters today and in the weeks and months to come is not that we have the right words to say or that we can explain scientifically and theologically what happened in the tomb those three days. No, what matters most is what we can and are willing to do to keep Christ’s ministry going now that he is risen. Words are cheap—how will you and how will I live as resurrection people?
In all honesty, its long hanging fruit, my friends, living as resurrection people. It is true every year, but it is particularly true this year: the world we live in is a mess. It may also be the case that the house you live in is a mess, or the job you dp day in and day out is a mess, or your spiritual life may be a mess. And I’m not talking about dirty laundry hanging on the treadmill or a cluttered desk. When I say ‘mess’ I’m talking about the deadly and dark forces of sin and evil that have their grimy way of infiltrating every part of life. I’m talking about the mess that is social media and its degradation of human life and sense and reason. I’m talking about the mess that is our political reality, where power is more important than people. I’m talking about the mess that is the worldwide acceptance of corruption and greed and slavery and hunger and pain and abuse. I’m talking about the mess that is human nature, which, even though we have advanced and been enlightened, still cries out in joy when someone is nailed to a cross. Things are a mess. But it is into this mess that we run in fear and amazement, silent, with the glorious news that Christ is risen—it is into this mess that we run as resurrection people whose Lord has triumphed over it all.
So how do we do it? How do we live as resurrection people, as people who are more interested in showing that Jesus is alive rather than just talking about it?
Let’s think about the things I just mentioned. Social media: post pictures of your kids and cat videos and please keep posting cooking videos because I love those, but stop arguing with each other—140 characters or more is never really going to change someone’s mind. The resurrection thing to do is invite someone to coffee or a meal, talk to them face to face, make a human connection. Politics: stop worshipping the government as if it is a god—God has some very specific things to say about that. The resurrection thing to do is pray for our leaders and respect them, but remind them, as Paul says, that no one is above the law of the Lord. Global corruption and greed and death and hunger and abuse: it breaks God’s heart when we turn a blind eye to these things, or when think that we can’t have some positive impact, or when we say stuff like, “Well, boys will be boys.” The resurrection thing to do is to feed Jesus’ sheep. That is what he told us to do—“Feed my sheep”—not when we feel like it or when there is a budget surplus or when we like the people who are hungry…just, “Feed my sheep.” And death: Jesus died and rose again so that death could no longer define who and what we are. The resurrection thing to do is champion life—all life in its weird and beautiful forms—because all life comes from God and to God all life returns.
My friends, that sounds like a tall order, but really it isn’t. The calling of Christian faith is to get on board with the work that God is already doing in the world, not because we are God, but because God actually wants us to get involved. We won’t be saved by what we do—only faith can do that. But as we work for a more just, a more loving, a more peaceful and beautiful world—a world of resurrection—we’ll come into possession of grace and life in abundance far beyond even our wildest dreaming. It doesn’t have to be big—God doesn’t expect every one of us to march into the halls of power and dismantle things stone by stone. Rather, God calls us to take pebbles into our hands—pebbles of love, unity, reconciliation, life—and cast them into the vast lake that is this magnificent creation. No matter how big that lake is, no matter how strong the currents are, no matter how deep and dark the water may be, that pebble will cause a ripple. And that ripple will radiate out until all of the water has been disturbed—disturbed by God’s love, by God’s grace, by God’s forgiveness.
My brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! The tomb is empty. The women have run away silent in fear and amazement. Jesus is headed on to Galilee, those everyday places where life continues its onward march. The power of darkness have been conquered by Christ’s undying light. Sin is no longer the ruler of our hearts and minds. Evil has been revealed as been revealed as the con that it is. Death is in utter shambles, crucified by Christ’s victory. We have been reconciled to God and God no longer looks at us according to our worthiness but according to the worthiness of Christ. We are free. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Now lets go and live like it. Amen.