April 4, 2021


1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Mark 16:1-8

“Choosing Faith”

On Easter Day and in the season that follows, we proclaim with joy that “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!” This is the good news that has been proclaimed to us, which we received, in which we trust, and through which we are being saved, as the Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

Paul writes: “For 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, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

But every third Easter Sunday or so, we hear the Resurrection story as recounted in the Gospel of Mark. Through it, we enter into the experience of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome as they rise very early on the first day of the week and go to the tomb of Jesus. Their intention is to perform a final act of service and care for their friend, having bought spices to anoint him in his final resting place.

The women wonder how they will manage to roll away the stone from the entrance, but when they arrive, they find that it is already rolled back. Instead of finding the body of Jesus, they find a young man sitting inside the tomb and they are alarmed.

They do not call out in joy and gladness, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!” but instead they are silent. The young man explains that Jesus has been raised and is no longer in the tomb. And he asks the women to go and tell the other disciples that Jesus will meet them all in Galilee. The story ends with the women running away, overcome by terror and amazement. Instead of rejoicing or telling the good news, they say nothing to anyone, for they are afraid.

In a pastoral reflection on this passage, D. Cameron Murchison imagines the thoughts and feelings of the women when they went to the tomb. Although these friends of Jesus are obviously sad and grieving, Murchison notes that dealing with death is complex.

While grief is in the forefront, “other, less mentionable feelings swirl through the experience as well – relief, to name one. For the things that lead to death frequently place heavy burdens on those who only stand and wait… As deeply as grief may go, certain gains accompany the loss that death brings. Though we are generally disinclined to publicize it, we are often relieved as well as grieved when death comes.”

For Salome and the two Marys, Jesus’ death meant the end of his suffering, the end of fear and anxiety for his followers, and the end of the uncertainty and risk involved in following him and being a part of his company. This is not to say that they didn’t love him or that they were not devastated by his loss, but after this one final act of service and care for his body in the tomb, he would rest in peace and they would return to their normal lives.

Perhaps they would be able to forget about the kinds of things Jesus challenged them to do every day – when he looked at the hungry crowds and said to his disciples, “You give them something to eat”; when he said that his followers must sell what they own and give the money to the poor; when he taught them that whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all; when he told them that following him would mean denying themselves and taking up their crosses.

Murchison writes that perhaps “They had approached the tomb with a reverent grief, masking a deep relief that they were no longer burdened with the challenge of costly discipleship. They had begun to see the gain in the loss, only to be upended by the announcement: ‘He is not here… he is going ahead of you to Galilee.’”

I wonder if you have experienced something like that feeling at the cancellation of a meeting or event during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Undoubtedly, you’ve been disappointed by many of the plans that have needed to be abandoned or postponed. But I expect in a few cases, there has also been a sense of relief.

Maybe it was the event you knew was going to be a huge amount of work to organize and prepare for. Perhaps it was something you were only planning to attend in order to please someone else. Maybe it was an extended family gathering that was likely to be uncomfortable and difficult. Perhaps it was an encounter that you expected to be conflictual and stressful. “We can’t go ahead with that plan because of the pandemic,” someone said, and you thought, “Oh thank goodness, it’s cancelled.”

I’ve never been the kind of person who calls in sick when I’m feeling nervous about dealing with a difficult issue or having a sensitive conversation, but I have experienced that sense of relief when the presbytery meeting is postponed because of a snowstorm, or the other person bows out of the meeting where we were going to talk things through. Thank goodness, it’s cancelled.

Well, I am happy to say that neither the pandemic nor the variable weather of the last couple of months could stop a group of youth and young adults from our congregation from meeting together with me on Zoom every Monday night to think and talk about God, faith, the church, and following Jesus.

And this morning, I would like to compare the learning and preparation that these young people have done (not only through the Season of Lent, but in their 14, 16, or 20-something years as young disciples)… I would like to say that it was something like the journey of the first disciples with Jesus during his ministry in the world.

Those earliest disciples did a lot of listening – soaking up the wisdom of the Great Teacher. They did a lot of watching – seeing how he welcomed and cared for people across differences. They did a lot of questioning – wondering how his gentle Way could win out over the powers of hatred and evil in the world.

They did a lot of soul-searching – considering whether they had the courage to follow him, discovering how much it would cost them to love as he loved and serve as he served. There were moments of clarity in which they felt really excited and enthusiastic about the journey with Jesus, and times of doubt when they felt worried and afraid because of the risk and sacrifice involved in it all.

I know that the decision to become professing members of First Church, and of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, and of the Christian Church as a whole, is a big decision. You may wonder whether you know enough about the Bible and the teachings of the church to become an official member.

You may worry about whether you believe strongly enough, or if your convictions match up perfectly with others in the church. You may wonder about the future of the church, or whether our congregation or our denomination will survive or thrive in the long-term.

And you may be scared about what God may call you to do with your life, how God may challenge you and stretch you to use your life – your gifts, your time, your resources – to be a part of God’s mission of love in the world.

The disciples, as we get to know them in Mark’s Gospel, constantly struggle with fear. Even as they witness the love and power of God made present in Jesus, they struggle to see or imagine how Jesus’ humble service and self-giving love will ultimately usher in the Reign of God in the world. Indeed, on the first day of the week, when the women at the tomb get the news that Jesus has been raised, the story ends with them running away, giving in to their fear.

But we know that’s not the end of the story. We came to know and follow the Risen Christ because the disciples did go and tell the other disciples. And together, in the power of the Holy Spirit, they told the world.

Remember that passage I started with from the Apostle Paul? “For I handed on to you… what I in turn had received: that Christ died… and that he was raised…” God’s plan to conquer sin, death, and hatred with the power of goodness, love, and life was not cancelled, and his followers were sent to participate in the risky, difficult, and wonderful work of proclaiming and enacting that love in the world.

The congregation of First Church (both those gathered here in-person this morning, and those with us online) are delighted to welcome our new members today. You’re joining a group of people who struggle with the same worries and fears that you do, but who are determined to do our best to follow Jesus, to participate in his ministry of love, to help each other along the way, and to trust God for the future.

We’re learning, and growing, and changing together as we seek to follow the Way of Jesus as a community, and we are blessed by your presence as we continue this journey together.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has prompted a lot of fear, but it has not stopped the church from continuing Christ’s ministry and mission in the world. Together, let us keep on enacting God’s love and telling the good news that “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!” And may God’s kingdom come.