Rev. Danielle K. Bartz April 4, 2021
Mark 16:1-8 “Our Story”
Every year I tell you the same thing: “We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our cry.” St. Augustine, who originally penned those words, summed up what it means to be Christian in such a simple and yet profound way. You have heard me say it before and I guarantee you will hear me say it again because we are an Easter people and alleluia is our cry. I said those words to you last year when the pandemic was new and we were not yet able to comprehend the incredible toll it would take. I assured you that we are an Easter people, and that whatever may come – we are to cry alleluia, even if those alleluias felt weak and were said through tears. And I say those words to you again this year, when we continue to wait to gather in person, we continue to wait for the pandemic to be over, a year when we have intimately learned the overwhelming toll that death has had on our world. I remind you of our identity as Easter people, not to try to convince you of its truth, but rather to remind you of the hope that is central to our faith. Our faith is one of resurrection, our faith is one of life, our faith is one of hope. We come this miraculous day of new life in the midst of death. We come before the empty tomb of Christ, and wonder once again what it means, what it truly means, to be an Easter people. What it means to be a people of a life-giving God.
As Easter people, we approach God through the teachings and lived example of Jesus Christ. We approach God through one who knows, intimately, what it means to be human. We approach God through the one who knows death. And, we approach God through the one for whom death cannot win. And so this Easter we once again cry out Alleluia in the midst of death, we cry out Alleluia as an Easter people, a people of an ancient and ever-evolving faith that tells the story of life thriving in the midst of death. We are an Easter people – which means we are a people of the most extraordinary story that has ever been told. A story that continues today.
Every Easter morning we hear the familiar words of the Gospel that remind us that miracles are possible and that hope is real. This year, just as I did last year, I read you the Easter story as told in the Gospel of Mark. It is the first account of the empty tomb that was written down, and it is the most incomplete. It ends with terror and amazement. And it even ends with the threat of silence. The other Gospels record much more – they tell of Jesus speaking to the women, appearing to the disciples, walking along the road to Emmaus, or making a meal on a beach. The other Gospels include reassurance of the resurrection with words spoken by the risen Christ. But Mark does not. Mark includes a group of mourning women. Mark includes an empty tomb. Mark includes words of an angel. But, Mark stops with terror and amazement. It feels incomplete and we are left wanting to hear more. We are left wanting a resolution. We want to hear the story go on with an account of the women running to tell the people that Death did not win. That Jesus rose from the dead. That God’s Kingdom, just as Jesus promised, was real. We are left wanting the story to end with the words “And all they lived happily ever after.” But Mark doesn’t end that way, and all I can think is “Thanks be to God.” The story is incomplete, because the story is incomplete. It continues today. It continues with us. To be an Easter people means to be a part of a living, breathing faith devoted to a still-speaking God. The Gospel of Mark may end abruptly, but that is not where God ends.
The rolled away stone and the empty tomb were just the beginning of what will become two millennia of belief in the all-encompassing love and compassion of God. The rolled away stone, the empty tomb, the women’s terror and amazement is where our story as Christians begins. We are an Easter people and the story we are telling is just getting started. If we wrapped the Gospel up with a neat and tidy end, then we remove ourselves from it. We did not see the empty tomb, and it was not us running away in terror and amazement. And yet, here we are – continuing to cry alleluia. And my Beloved Community, that means one simple thing: the Easter story is one we are creating each and every day. And that means, whether we like it or not, we are living in the space between – the space between the story written in the Gospels and its ending. We are living in the space between – we are writing the words that will some day lead to the conclusion of God’s Kingdom made manifest for all Creation. This is a remarkable responsibility, to carry on the story, to invite others into it, to see how it changes and shifts as we learn more, to strain to hear God’s voice showing us the way forward. To live in this space in between is a space of tension – and yet it is space of remarkable hope.
This year in particular, I am grateful that our story preserves the tension between God’s extraordinary work and our incomplete understanding of it, because it is a tension, a gap, I know so well. I believe – most of the time – in God, but I don’t – yet – understand God. I cling to the miracle of resurrection, but I don’t know what to do with death’s ongoing cruelty. I trust in the teachings and example of Jesus, but I don’t understand the elusive nature of the Kingdom he showed us. I believe that all things will be well, but I don’t understand why they’re not all well now. This is what it means to be in the space in between, to be a part of the on-going narrative. We have faith, but we don’t fully understand. We believe in the promises, but we wonder what their realization will look like. We listen to God’s voice, and can almost understand it. We trust in the promise of what Jesus taught, yet we can’t quite grasp ahold of that promise yet.
This tension between faith and what we can grasp with our hands feels uncomfortable, even impossible to maintain, until we remember that we are part of the story, not passive bystanders of it, but rather creators alongside of God. We are writing a story that we will never finish. But, that is not a burden, rather it is a gift. A gift to live into our identity as Easter people each and every day. We keep the Christian story moving forward one sentence, one act, one stanza at a time by living as a people of hope. To shout alleluia when the world wants to shout nothing but despair. To shout alleluia as an act of justice. To shout alleluia as a word of grace. To shout alleluia as a people of love. To be an Easter people means we are a part of a living and thriving faith that declares nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing, not even death. When the stone was rolled away from the empty tomb, it was not just the resurrected Christ that emerged, it was all of us. The story continues with us, which means the resurrection continues with us.
We have spent a year living into what it means to be Easter people. We continued to thrive as a community. We served in extraordinary ways. We learned more about God and God’s presence in our lives than we thought we ever could. We worshipped in new ways, prayed in new ways, eliminated over 2 million dollars of medical debt, said Black Lives Matter and told the world that to be a people of faith is to be a people of love, not hate. We have spent a year living into our identity and purpose as Easter people. And we will continue to do so, because nothing, nothing, will hold back the redemptive love of God – not even death.
I don’t know what is coming tomorrow and don’t know what it will mean to continue to cry alleluia in the next days, weeks, or months. Like many of you, I have stopped trying to predict the future. But I do know this – we are an Easter people and alleluia is our cry. I have never been more convinced of that than I am this year. You have shown me, you have shown one another, you have shown this world what it means to be an Easter people. The world tried to put Christ into a tomb of death, but God spoke life and death could not hold him. The world tried to put Christianity in a tomb, but God spoke life and death could not hold us. We are a people of life, we are a people of promise, we are a people of hope, we are an Easter people. Alleluia and amen.
God of joy and hope, on this Easter morning,
we sing Alleluia with the fullness of hearts.
Christ is Risen!
Love is stronger than Death!
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning,
in the midst of our singing and shouting,
we know there are those who are bewildered and sad.
We pray for those that have no hope,
for those who suffer from depression, loneliness, and fear.
We pray for those places and peoples in our world
where death and domination rule,
where imperial powers ignore the poor,
where war never ends,
where children are hungry,
where parents grieve because they cannot provide,
where accidents happen and death abounds senselessly.
We pray for those held hostage
to addiction and chronic illness that debilitates.
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning,
we realize the depth and breadth of what it means
to be your Easter people.
For we are the ones who are called
to go into the places in our lives and world
to work for justice and life for all in your Creation.
It is up to us to bear witness to the promise of resurrection,
to hold those in despair,
and believe for them,
that Love is stronger than death.
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning, O God,
give us the courage to bear your living Love
in every corner of our lives,
so that your peaceable realm will be so,
here on earth, as it is in heaven.
In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray, in the way we were taught by saying…Our Father…