Timothy C. Ahrens
The First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000
Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8
Opening thoughts on "Rock and Roll and the Easter Event . . . " All four elements of the first Easter are seen Rolling Stones (you can see where I am coming from), running to tell others about the joy, the element of fear and everyone is invited to come to the next one. It's at that point that similarities I can see end . . .
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
The Gospel of Mark records that when the first morning after the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome bought spices and went to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his dead body with spices. (In case you are wondering - this anointing could not have been completed before he was laid in the tomb on Friday because the sun was setting and as observant Jews, they could not perform this act on the Sabbath). It was just after the rising of the sun that they appeared at the tomb. As they walked they talked - "who will rock back the rock in front of the tomb?" (An important question because the stone was huge!) The answer starred them in their faces when they arrived to find the stone already rolled away.
They went in the tomb and there met a young man dressed in white who amazed and frightened them. He said, "Don't be amazed and frightened! Jesus of Nazareth whom you seek is not here. He is risen - see the place where he was? Empty! Now Go and Tell the disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. It's there that you'll meet him - just like he told you." Out they went and they ran away - for trembling and amazement came upon them and they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
Rock rolling, Fear and Trembling, and then Running and Telling. . . . Without a doubt, the resurrection is God's way of getting our attention. It is God's way of getting us to look, listen, and live our faith. Earthquakes, Rolling rocks, an angel visitation, three frightened women, running and telling good news. Sounds like Steven Spielberg or Cecil B. DeMille would love to film this script! Easter morning is not a time for subtleties, seminars or artful reflection. It is confrontational, overwhelming and filled with psychological insights, and even political intrigues - because God blows away the effects of Friday's state-sanctioned torture and execution of Jesus with a divine resurrection of God's Chosen Messiah on the Easter Sabbath! God gets our attention alright - moving us through tragedy and terror and into the bright light of hope and new life!
First, there is there is the rolling rock! Have you ever found yourself caught (as the proverbial saying goes) "between a rock a hard place?" Have you ever found yourself under the boulders of Self-doubt? Self-hate? Depression? Or Fear? Or perhaps you have encountered in yourself or the attitudes of others the boulders of prejudice, homophobia, judgement and unkindness? There are any number of rocks that block our path and cause us to stumble on our way to God. Often these rocks are ones that either we impose or we allow others to impose upon us. And although we push and push, these boulders don't budge.
On the first Easter, the women assumed that the rock would block their way to Jesus. But, the power of God had rolled the rock away. Only God is capable of rolling away the boulders of our lives! Only God! So let's revisit this . . . What boulder is on your shoulder? What rock is there to block you? Is it the rock of disbelief - because you are too rational to allow God to reach your heart? Is it the rock of self-doubt - because you aren't sure that you can overcome something or accomplish a particular goal? Is it prejudice or the inability to stand up and step out? What is the rock in your path?
My friends, call forth the mighty power of God to roll back the rocks of your life and you will be set free! The saying goes, "Let go and let God," but I add today, "Move aside and allow God to be God!" Ask God to roll back the rocks that are blocking you! God will do it joyfully and furthermore, on the other side of your rock is God's Rock - the Risen Christ - the rock of salvation! Beyond the darkness of the empty tomb is the light of God's love in Christ!
There is also, Fear and trembling. . . . The word in the Greek New Testament for "fear" in Mark 16 best translates as "exceedingly great fear or terror." As you know, fear is one of the four primary emotions - along with Joy, Anger, and Sadness. Fear is a gripping emotion. We often feel it in the pit of our stomach. Fear can move along the front side of the body or travel down the spine. It can cause the body to tighten and we can see its manifestations in trembling and shaking. Fear can cause breathlessness and utter silence, too. It is indeed terrifying and silencing! In the words of Fritz Perls, "fear is excitement without breath." (found in reclaiming Our Bodies, Rebecca and Jim Zuckweiler, pp. 93-94). Fear is such a powerful emotion that when memories are brought up fear can cause people to reenter feelings they have long since buried or supplanted.
Fear gripped the women on the first Easter. No mistaking that. They had gone to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his dead body, but instead they were challenged to live as anointed ones! They were challenged to overcome their fears with faith. "Believe me!," the angel said, "He is not here!" Actually, the angel of the Lord said, "He is Risen!" which translates a number of ways, "He is awakened!" Or "He has collected his full faculties!" Or "He is Up Again!" Or "He is free!" But, the key is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything for the Risen One is loose in the world! And to be Easter People, to be Christians post-Resurrection (which we all are!) means we can no longer live in fear of death - or in fear of life for that matter! We must be awakened past our fears, past our breathlessness, and begin to breathe, and live, and laugh, and love again! That's what today is all about! It is about being awakened from fear to faith! It is about Waking Up!
If you are trapped by your fears of awakening and becoming fully alive in Christ, then what I've just said may sound like overly simplistic Easter babble. I know change is challenging. Making changes is very difficult. And as more than 80 of those who took part or all of the Transitions class know, "accepting the spiritual and psychological aspects of change is even more difficult.
In his book Awareness, Anthony DeMello speaks to the difficulty of changing and making spiritual transitions. Father DeMello says:
The most difficult thing in the world is to listen, to see. We don't want to see . . . We don't want to look, because if we do we may change. We don't want to look. If we look, you lose control of the life you are precariously holding together. And so in order to wake up the one thing you need most is not energy, or strength, or youthfulness, or even great intelligence. The one thing you need most is the readiness to learn something new. The chances that you will wake up are in direct proportion to the amount of truth you can take without running away. How much are you ready to take? How much of everything that you've held so dear are you ready to have shattered without running away? How ready are you to think of something unfamiliar?
The first reaction is one of fear. It's not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That's what you fear." (A. DeMello, Awareness, pp. 28-29).
Many of us move into the house of fear and never move out. We get stuck there. We even get used to it. The story of the three women on the first Easter can teach us a valuable lesson. Their fear turns to running. Their trembling turns to dancing. When we are awakened, when our eyes and ears are open to see and hear new truths, we take on renewed breath and rise and stand and then run to share what has happened. In the faith which blows away fear, we find uncommon courage to face life and live as Resurrection people.
Resurrection faith gets into our feet and into our hearts as we run and tell good news! And what is the good news that we share? With the women of old, we proclaim that "Christ is Awakened within us!" He is Risen! Just as important, "He goes before us." That's right. The women were instructed to tell the disciples that the Risen Christ would go ahead of them to Galilee. Christ goes ahead of us! Christ is out there, ahead of us. Christ is beckoning us to join him in his passion and victory. He is calling, leading, and sometimes waiting for us to arrive. The very nature of resurrection faith is for us to follow the beckoning Christ who calls us ahead to God's future, and to cloud of our unknowing (to quote Julian of Norwich).
The Risen Christ went ahead of his Disciples to Galilee, the place where they called home. Whereas his suffering and crucifixion took place in the unfamiliar terrain on Jerusalem, he meets them in resurrection appearances on the road and by the seaside. The Risen Christ met his disciples on familiar turf. Galilee was where they grew up, where they fished, where they paid and collected taxes, where they played with their children. In similar ways, Jesus goes before us and meets us on our common ground.
But, Galilee is also on the fringe - a long way from the center. In Galilee, Jews and Gentiles, pagans and religious people, live side by side. The Risen Christ goes to places such as this to meet us. We may be tired and fearful; forlorn and seemingly forsaken; having denied him or having felt abandoned by him - but he is there. He goes ahead of us to meet us and empower us to speak to others.
God knows that the story of resurrection faith must be in our hands and in our hearts. The good news of God's love in Christ Jesus must be on our tongues to share with others. My sisters and brothers in Christ, tell the story. Say something to somebody about the love of God in the face of fear. Say something to somebody about the just peace of Christ when injustice fuels the fires of our times. Say something to somebody about food for the hungry, education for the young, hope for the one in eight children who are growing up in poverty in Franklin County, for the 33,000 persons in our Counties who need affordable housing. Say something to somebody about your concern and care for this planet when ecological systems are fragile and endangered. Say something to somebody about how God's love for you in Christ is changing your life. Say something to somebody about how you've experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Yes, it's true. The first Easter was a Rock and Roll Event. The tomb was opened God rolled the rock away. Then, overcoming fear and trembling, three women set their feet to running, dancing, and telling good news. This story is ours now. Do not be afraid. Go and tell the story. Go and live the story. Say something to somebody about God's love for you and all people in the Risen Christ! Alleluia! Amen.
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