Of all the Gospels, Mark is my favorite. Mark is my favorite, not just because his is the earliest–written closest to the time when Jesus actually walked on this earth. But Mark is my favorite Gospel because his is the least adorned. Now I ask you, what kind of Gospel story would end with the women, startled out of sheer terror and amazement, running away from the empty tomb in fear? This is hardly the polished and embellished account that we would have wanted to present the faith–is it?
Well, maybe we’re in luck for there is an alternative ending to Mark’s Gospel. Yes, it is longer and it smoothes out the rough edges of the shorter version. In this longer version, after his resurrection, Jesus does appear first to Mary, then to two others on the road, and finally to the disciples as they sat around the table sharing a meal. This longer version ends with Jesus being taken up into heaven and being seated on the right hand of God and with his spirit working through his disciples and followers. That’s feels a lot better, doesn’t it? Yes, that feels more complete.
We might well be tempted to go with this longer version because it does put things in order for us. It cleans up the confusion and erases some of the fear. With that longer, smoother ending we might feel a little more comfortable. After all, why go with the confusion and fear when you can opt for something cleaner and more contained?
But, because most scholars believe that this longer version was added onto Mark’s Gospel at a later time, I’m going to suggest this morning that we stick with what we’ve been given in the lectionary. Here we are left with nothing but an empty tomb—an empty tomb and terror that squeezes our hearts. And, yes, it is ragged, and it is raw, but perhaps it can communicate something to us that the cleaned-up version cannot.
The rawness and abruptness of Mark’s sparse resurrection account forces us to begin to look for confirmation of the resurrection reality in no other place than within ourselves and within the context our own lives—for in this rendering there is nothing else that stands between us and the empty tomb. This is, then, what it all comes down to: nothing but you and me and this empty tomb before us. No other accounts of the risen Christ to influence us. No theologies or commentaries we can turn to. No rich traditions to latch on to and to carry us. No answers in the back of the book. Nothing but you and me and this empty tomb.
This morning I am going suggest that to find the truth of the resurrection we must look within our lives and ourselves. Now I know what some of you may immediately be wondering: Why on earth would we look within ourselves to find validity for something that presumably happened out there—out there in the visible world, at a certain time and in a certain place?
My answer to that question is this: It’s not so much that the truth of God’s raising Jesus from the dead is reduced to some kind of subjective or corresponding truth within ourselves. It’s more that we can best get to the truth of understanding what happened two thousand years ago (in that time and place) if we are open to the resurrection that has taken place and is continuing to take place within us and our lives.
The resurrection, then, it not so much merely a fact to be believed, as it is an experience for us to be open to and aware of. And then, it is in the connection between our personal inner experience and the Jesus event two thousand years ago that light begins to dawn for us.
In other words, this interior work (that is, looking for resurrection here in our own lives) takes us to the depths—not just of ourselves—but of life itself. And it is here—here in the depths of life—that resurrection is to be found and claimed.
But this is awkward for us for we are accustomed to believe that reality is out therewhere it can be seen and grasped and measured and quantified. For the past three centuries this has been and continues to be part of the expression of the modern worldview. This is the worldview that says that if we can see it and measure it—no matter how small or how big—it is real. This is the worldview that believes that if it is just an internal reality, then it is merely subjective and less than really real.
Ever since the Enlightenment ushered in the modern world with its scientific paradigm, the fullness of existence has become reduced, flattened, and confined to what lies outside the person. With all the wonderful gains that have come with that scientific revolution, there has also come a repression and a denial of the value and even the validity of the interior life. What is inside of us (the interior life) has become discounted and ignored in favor of what is on the outside of us (the material and visible world).
But, as we look within ourselves, where are the evidences of resurrection to be found and how we will identify them?
Some of you may have some incredible stories to tell—stories of resurrection being unmistakably found at the very center of your lives. And as priest and pastor of this parish family, I will tell you that have been privileged to hear some of these incredibly inspiring stories of resurrection being found and experienced.
But this morning I suggest that the evidence–while it could be–does not have to be as dramatic as that. The signs are more prevalent and more obvious than we might at first imagine. Resurrection can be identified when the substance of our lives turns out to be more than merely the sum of its parts and when our lives and relationships turn out to be more than their evident possibilities. Resurrection can be found when the depth and meaning of our relationships and of our community turn out to be more than merely the sum of their parts. Our lives and our community, in other words, turn out to be more than they conceivably have a right to be. And it is in the “more” that resurrection is to be found.
I know this doesn’t sound very sophisticated or complex. It is neither terribly glamorous nor exotic. And its own simplicity makes it harder to see and more difficult to value. But resurrection is right here—right here under our very noses and in the midst of our daily lives. All we have to do is to add up the apparent parts of our lives and then just see that our lives are so much more than that.
Resurrection can be found when we find ourselves up against the most difficult and demanding of situations and when we are able to get through these only by means of a power that is greater than our own. Resurrection is when—even though we may be overwhelmed by the difficulties that confront us and which threaten to pull us down—we realize that we are being held by a secret, sacred thread and that, because of that thread, nothing can destroy us–not even the most terrible loss–not even death itself. To be aware of that secret, sacred thread, then, and to trust it, is to be resurrected.
And here, then, is the kicker. All of these experiences of resurrection in our lives are not simply “the way life is.” Neither do they just happen automatically. Rather, these experiences of resurrection in our lives—both dramatic and subtle–have something essentially to do with what God was up to in the resurrection of Jesus two thousand years ago. Now, I cannot completely explain this connection. I can only point to it and say that I know it to be true.
And so what we are called to claim this Easter morning is not just that Jesus was raised by God. Honestly, that fact in isolation has very little meaning for me. Instead, we can claim that what God was up to in the life, death, and, yes, especially the resurrection of Jesus—has something directly to do with you and me.
What this means is that–despite the felt shortcomings of our lives–we can live into our deepest longings and wildest dreams because there is a power in life–a power fully expressed in Jesus’ resurrection–that is more than us, more than who we are, more than the sum of our parts. This is the power that takes us right to the edge of our very limitations and pushes us out into limitless possibility. This is the resurrection—not just of Jesus—but also of us.
And so, as we stand here before this empty tomb and feel the terror rising up our spine, we can remember that we have already been resurrected by that secret, sacred thread that holds our lives together and makes them more than they are—more than they have a right to be. When we remember that we have been so resurrected and continue to be—when remember that our lives are wrapped and held secure by God’s secret, loving thread—then we know that the terror that we feel as the cool breeze from that empty tomb brushes our face is but a foretaste of the glory to come.