April 4, 2021 Easter

Prayer of the Day

God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life. Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Acts 10:34-43

34Peter began to speak to [the people]: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1Give thanks to the Lord, for the | Lord is good;
  God’s mercy en- | dures forever.
2Let Israel | now declare,
“God’s mercy en- | dures forever.”
14The Lord is my strength | and my song,
  and has become | my salvation.
15Shouts of rejoicing and salvation echo in the tents | of the righteous:
“The right hand of the | Lord acts valiantly!
16The right hand of the Lord| is exalted!
  The right hand of the | Lord acts valiantly!”
17I shall not | die, but live,
and declare the works | of the Lord. 
18The Lord indeed pun- | ished me sorely,
  but did not hand me o- | ver to death.
19Open for me the | gates of righteousness;
I will enter them and give thanks | to the Lord.
20“This is the gate | of the Lord;
  here the righ- | teous may enter.”
21I give thanks to you, for you have | answered me
and you have become | my salvation. 
22The stone that the build- | ers rejected
  has become the chief | cornerstone.
23By the Lord has | this been done;
it is marvelous | in our eyes.
24This is the day that the | Lord has made;
  let us rejoice and be | glad in it. 

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
3For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Mark 16:1-8

1When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus’ body]. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But 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.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

“So, they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” It is not the triumphal and happy ending we have come to expect from stories. Mark ends his gospel differently not just in comparison to Victorian novelists but compared to Matthew, Luke and John. Nothing is tied up neatly. What a fitting Easter story for 2021, a year in which we are starting to see the end of the pandemic, but we certainly have no beautifully written script.

Let’s begin with what led us to this moment—the women fleeing from the tomb. Jesus Christ, Son of God, proclaimed the reign of God was at hand. He did more than proclaim with his words. He restored the marginalized to the social order; he ate with outcasts; he said that the greatest commandments are to love God and neighbor; he was continually in conflict with religious authorities and the powers of empire.

Jesus was put on trial. The chief priests stirred up the crowd, crying for Jesus to be crucified. Inside the palace courtyard, Jesus was mocked, crowned with thorns, led out to the cross. Darkness fell over the land from the sixth to ninth hour when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The temple curtain was torn from top to bottom and a centurion proclaimed, “Truly this man was God’s Son.” Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in a tomb hewn of rock.

The women who come to the tomb at down expect to pay their respects to their recently deceased teacher and friend. They come ready to anoint his body. Dead people are supposed to stay dead. But none of the normal patterns of life and death are at work on this early morning. The tomb is already open. The women are greeted by a young man in a white robe. They see nothing of Jesus. There is simply an empty tomb and the announcement that Jesus of Nazareth has been raised.  

“He has been raised.”  Someone has raised Jesus.  The normal patterns of life and death have been disrupted by someone—someone who can undo the power of death. The women flee in “terror and amazement.” They know the identity of the one who raised Jesus. It is God who has raised Jesus. It is God who has altered the rules of their known world.

In the midst of this revelation, silence no longer seems like a failed or inadequate response.  Silence is appropriate.  One scholar noted that the women’s silence creates a space for the voice and presence of God to resound. What words can the women speak in those first few minutes that would not trivialize the moment?  We too, living so many centuries later, live in a moment of holy awe when we read the story.

The story seems to end with one last collapse. The world much is as it has always been—shrouded in darkness and disappointment. Yet we know the world is not the same. The tomb is empty. Jesus is out, beyond death’s reach, on the loose. We know this cannot be the end of the story.  

The story, the whole story of Jesus, has generated momentum that carries beyond the ending. The messenger told the women something else. “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Jesus will precede his disciples into Galilee, as he told them. The Gospel has given us every reason to believe that what Jesus promises will take place.  He died and was raised just as he said. His followers scattered, as he said they would; before the cock crowed twice, Peter denied him three times.  

So, there is every reason to believe that the rest of his promises will be fulfilled.  The disciples will witness. The gospel will be preached to all the Gentile community and beyond. 

And so, the empty tomb is not really the end.  Eyes must be opened, ears unstopped, and tongues loosened. There is reason to be hopeful about the future—but not because any of Jesus’ followers demonstrated heroism. We can only anticipate that like the first blind man Jesus healed, the women and the rest of the disciples will make it to Galilee. They will be prepared finally to do what they were called to do—follow Jesus.

One scholar wrote that “with the reinstated community comes the reinstated journey of following: he is going before you…. [They are told to go to Galilee, where the first disciples were called.] We are told that the story, which appeared to have ended, is beginning again.” “Here at the end of the story we find ourselves in exactly the same position [as Jesus’ first disciples] but if we have understood the story, we should be ‘holding fast’ to what we do know: that Jesus still goes before us, summoning us to the way of the cross. And that is the hardest ending of all: not tragedy, not victory, but an unending challenge to follow anew. Because that means we must respond.”

The surprise is that the resolution of tensions in the story is left for the future.  There is hope because Jesus is no longer imprisoned in the tomb.  God can be trusted to finish what God began.

Jesus is full of surprises. The world’s uneasiness in the presence of Jesus is fully justified. He will not be bound by tradition that defines human life; even death has no final power over him. The end only marks a new beginning—a beginning of the good news that Jesus, the one who is the ultimate threat to our autonomy, now becomes our source of life.

Jesus is not bound by the ending of this morning’s Easter story. He continues into the future God has in store for the creation. In the meantime, there is only the Word, the bread, and the wine, and the promise that “you will see him.” We walk by faith and not by sight. We can only trust that God will one day finish the story, as God has promised. 

Like the women on that first Easter morning, we celebrate a moment of holy awe.  Jesus has been raised from the dead. And today we are invited into the story.  The empty tomb announces the Resurrected One’s presence on the road ahead. Resurrection means that Jesus, the Living One, goes ahead of us.  

It seems nearly impossible to not respond to the resurrection by bringing in the reign of God Jesus had announced from the beginning of his ministry, by witnessing the love experienced in Jesus. Forgiveness and new life spur us to be part of the transformation of our communities and the entire world. We will return to those themes every week after Easter as we learn more about this Jesus we are trying to follow.

On this Easter morning we have hope because Jesus, the Living One goes ahead of us. Death does not have the final word. God has a restorative vision of the world, of human interactions, of creation flourishing, of the least among us having abundant life, of every single human being fully seen and loved and valued, and of shalom, peace for all.

The Living One can be found only when we experience that he is ahead of us and that he opens up a future for us. Jesus transforms our community of followers into courageous witnesses to Jesus’ presence. The resurrection calls us to give accounts for the hope that is in us. The risen Christ has already gone ahead of us to Galilee, to meet us again and again in the world.  Let us leave the tomb with great joy, knowing we will encounter the risen Christ on all the roads of our lives.  

Prayers of Intercession

Alive in the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we bring our prayers before God who promises to hear us and answer in steadfast love.

A brief silence.Praise to you for your power revealed in the resurrection! Fill your church with the power of your love that is stronger than death. Send us to tell the good news wherever death holds sway. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Praise to you for your life at work in the resurrection! Fill all of creation with your life. Bring it to blossom and flourish; use it to remind us of your persistent grace. Cultivate our care for what you have made. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Praise to you for the peace made possible in the resurrection! Fill the nations with your peace. Draw together people of all nations and languages; reveal new possibilities and inspire new beginnings. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Praise to you for the hope of the resurrection! Fill all in need with hope: those who are afraid or confused, those who are sick or suffering, those who are dying, and those who grieve (especially). Assure them of your promises. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Praise to you for the joy of your resurrection! Fill this assembly with joy as we are called your beloved in baptism. Multiply that joy so that we share it at home, at work, and in our community. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Praise to you for your faithfulness revealed in the resurrection! Fill us with trust, that we join with (Benedict the African and) all who have gone before us in proclaiming: “your mercy endures forever!” Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

In the hope of new life in Christ, we raise our prayers to you, trusting in your never-ending goodness and mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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