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Sermon for April 12 ,2009 -- Easter Sunday

The Day Everything Changed

Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. — Mark 16:1-8


Remember Junior High romance? I do. There was a girl. And there was a school dance coming up. Not just any dance – our fist middle school semi-formal dance. I was sure this girl would go to the dance with me. I thought she was pretty and fun. But mostly, I knew she would say yes. So, I did what most self-respecting 6th graders do. I got my best friend to ask the girl if she would go to the dance with me. As I saw it, there was only one slight glitch in my plan. My best friend told everyone that he was a Martian who was left on earth in a human kid’s body. In hindsight, putting my romantic future in the hands of an abandoned Martian may not have been a good move. The day had come. We all sat on the bleachers in gym class -- the girl and her friends on one side, my best friend and I on the other. He slid over to her, holding up his hand and giving the Martian sign indicating that he came in peace. Then he said, “The Warlord Matt would be pleased to have the company of a young, green Martian maid at the Dance of Barsoom. May the white apes take us all!” As he said talked, he made sweeping gestures in my direction and smiled. I buried my head in my hands. She looked confused. She apparently did not know any Martian customs. My best friend then leaned over, cupped his hand over his mouth and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and smiled. My friend quickly shuffled back to me, grinning. She said yes.

The day of the dance, I was so nervous I got sick. My mother and I bought a wrist corsage at the hospital flower shop while visiting my great grandmother. As I picked out my only tie, I knew my date would wear the white dress with the little red polka dots. It’s the only one I ever saw her wear. I knew it was going to be a good night. Little did I know, it would be my first date with rejection.

We met at the dance. I gave her the flower and she put the corsage on her wrist. Then we sat on the bleachers in the school gym. And then we sat some more. Then she announced that she needed to visit the girl’s room. That was the last I saw of my first date. Her friends kept coming out of the bathroom to ask me, “What did you do to her? She’s in the bathroom crying, and she won’t come out.” Later on that night, one of her friends came out to announce that my date was breaking up with me. I never found out what the problem was. Obviously, something was wrong. What had I done? Or, what hadn’t I done?

I had my first of many questions about women that day. I would later learn, however, that the problem was not a problem with women. It was, and is, a human problem. It is the problem of expectations. My first date had certain expectations of me. I had expectations of her. And although nothing was ever stated, the perception was there.

The truth of the matter is the world is full of empty promises and unfulfilled expectations. Like the ShamWow. I received my first ShamWow for Christmas this year. I was very excited. I love to watch infomercials, so when I saw the ShamWow on TV, I knew it had to be the real deal. The TV huckster tells me that this revolutionary fabric works wet or dry, acts like a vacuum to soak up spills and holds 20 times its weight in moisture. The machine-washable fabric wicks liquid and air-dries quickly for reuse, saving big bucks on paper towels. Guess what. It did not meet my expectations. It’s a glorified micro-fiber rag that feels like 200 grit sandpaper when you rub it on your body. We watch TV, and the advertisements tell us that we can be happy, sexy, rich, or famous, if we only purchase a certain product. It doesn’t take long before we’ve been fooled enough to know that the world’s promises are full of emptiness.

Expectations can get serious, too. They can block our ways, like stones rolled in front of the tomb. Expectations can be immoveable objects that keep us from living our dreams. They’ve been known to mess up more than a sixth-grade romance. Divorce, job tension, poor self-image, world wars, and embittered friendships — all of these can be caused by the same culprit — unrequited expectations.

What expectations do you have this Easter? More specifically, what expectations do you have of Jesus? Imagine the expectations of the women who approached the tomb on that first Easter morning. It was dark as they arose that Sunday morning. They grabbed their spices and headed out on the dirt road out of the city. As the sun began to rise, the path was lined with dark shadows. But no shadow or darkness could compare with the darkness that hovered over their spirits. As they walked the path towards the tomb, thoughts and sights of the last week ripped through their minds. They were there when Jesus rode a colt in a parade, waving palms and poking fun at the powers of the Empire. Unfortunately, their memories didn’t stop there. They saw Jesus tied to a post as a Roman whip, filled with broken pieces of pottery, glass and bones, ripped across his back. They remembered the purple robe -- the beatings, the cruel mocking and the crown of thorns. These two women were there at the cross. They saw Jesus’ body struggle and wince with every breath that he took. They were there when Jesus cried out, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” They saw his head fall as he cried, “It is finished.” Their Lord was dead. Their hope was gone. So what are they doing up so early on this Sunday morning? Why aren’t they taking a moment of self-indulgent misery? What was it that drove them from their beds before dawn? Someone had to prepare the body for burial. The task they were going to perform was difficult. They would be the ones who would wipe the blood from the brow, from the legs, from the sides. They would be the last ones, to touch his face and close his eyes. As they near the tomb, they think of a sudden a problem — something they hadn’t thought of until now — Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? As they reach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away, and a young man dressed in white who says, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is raised from the dead!” Talk about blowing away one’s expectations! Honestly, is this any way to run a resurrection? You’d think there would be more fanfare: angel choirs and a marching band, and Jesus bursting from the ground like fireworks and crowds of people pointing in wonder as they say, “Ooooh, aaaaaah!”

Instead, we read that the first witnesses to the resurrection are terrified into stunned silence. But, what did you expect? Imagine spine-tingling fear as they gazed into the empty tomb. Imagine their confusion. Imagine their fear-filled joy. What they had expected to happen had been turned upside down. Here is the promise of Easter: Instead of expectations full of emptiness, on Easter Jesus gave us emptiness that is full of expectation.

What do you expect from Jesus this Easter. I know one thing we can count on. Easter is about love. When we love, we usually love with expectations attached. I love you, but I’ll love you even more if . . . you fill in the blank. Christ’s love has none of this. No strings. No expectations. No hidden agendas. No secrets. His love for us is and is up front and clear. Love is the message of the empty cross and the empty tomb. The expectation is not that we run in fear, but we live into the dawn of a new day when everything changes. We find joy. We have hope that death does not get the final victory. We peer into the dark and empty tombs of this world and we find resurrection.

We have expectations of Jesus. I think Jesus also has some expectations of us. In Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” he writes these words:
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it. Ask the questions that have no answers. Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest...Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts . . . Practice resurrection
I believe Wendell Berry says it well: “Practice resurrection.” We all know too well the practice of crucifixion. We see it daily in the news, in the tears of friends, and in our own faces, sleepless and worn. But what do we know of resurrection? What do we know about struggling with the issues of the day; reaching out to those who are hungry, poor, and oppressed; healing the sick and broken and breathing life into every moment.

Here’s why crucifixion was so tragic: Jesus didn’t want to die. He didn’t have to die. But he believed that he must die on the cross so that others would have the opportunity to practice resurrection. He hoped that his death would open our hearts to the love of humanity and of God. The empty tomb speaks to a deep place in our souls where we decide who we will be, how we will live, whom we will trust. Jesus Christ is alive. That news should be enough to transform cowards into brave disciples. “Do not be afraid” were the first words spoken to the women at the tomb. Fear not. Fear nothing. Practice resurrection. Or, as Peter Marshall once put it, “Let’s not live another day as if He were dead.”

We practice resurrection whenever we notice beauty and are truly grateful. We practice resurrection whenever we swallow our anger and our pride and start over again with living. We practice resurrection when we ask for forgiveness or forgive someone else; when we find some love that has been buried inside of us; when we say NO to the forces of death in our world and say YES to that which enhances life. We practice resurrection by growing a soul and living a larger life.

Mark’s story is punctuated by the messenger’s closing words, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Yes, Jesus is going ahead of us. Practicing resurrection means walking one step at a time and living one day at a time following the Risen One. It means following Jesus, even when the path is uncertain, trusting that in the very act of walking we will find our way. The empty tomb defies expectations. The future remains surprising, open, and uncertain. But, Jesus is risen and going ahead of us, showing the way we are called to travel and inviting us to rejoice, to sing, to journey and proclaim, “Don’t be afraid.”

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