April 4, 2021   Holy Vessels, Wholly Risen by Pastor David

Mark 16:1-8 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But 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. 7 But 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.” 8 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.

All through Lent we have been thinking about the ways in which God acts as a healer as we recover from the difficult pandemics of our time. As we finish this series on the healing of our holy vessels, our bodies, our spirits, our planet, let’s have a moment of silence, reflecting on new life and the ultimate healing which is resurrection. We close the silence, singing one last time, vessels, holy and whole, calling for healing. 

(sung): Vessels, holy and whole, broken, needing the one. Open, body and soul. Healer, come

April 4, 2021           Holy Vessels, Wholly Risen 

Resurrection, the ultimate healing, God’s gift of new life rising out of death, always and forever. All through Lent we have been waiting, hoping and noticing how God is working for healing in our world, healing of our bodies, minds, emotions, and planet. Today, we come to Easter, the celebration of resurrection. We walk with the women to the tomb, these three women who have replaced the three core disciples who have run away or denied Jesus. 

There have been a few times in my ministry when I felt like I was walking to the tomb. I’ve told some of you about one time, at the first church I was assigned to as a pastor, my first year as a minister. I did not know what I was doing. I was assigned to St. Luke’s (with an ’s’) St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. 
They had closed their building the year before because the congregation had dwindled and they couldn’t maintain such a big building. The few people who were left were worshipping in the chapel of Methodist Hospital down there in  in South Philadelphia. There are advantages and disadvantages to worshipping in a hospital. Help is right there when you need it. That’s an advantage, but sometimes you are expected to be the help.
One Sunday, some hospital personnel came to me before the service and said there was a family on the 6th floor asking for a Protestant pastor. They told me the mother of 3 children was dying - essentially she was already gone. They were going to take her off the respirator that afternoon and the family needed a pastor. 
I looked around because I needed one too. I led the service that day in a daze, wondering what you say to a family who is losing their mother, their daughter, their wife, their sister. What would I say? I hadn’t learned a thing about this in seminary. Somehow I got through the worship service, and I got a glass of water. I took the elevator to the sixth floor, praying to God for some words to say some comfort to give. Do I tell them everything will be ok? something about resurrection and in the end everything will be fine? That just seemed like words to say to get by.  
The family was scattered down the hallway and in the room. They all looked defeated. They looked dead, clearly just dying inside. I felt like I was walking into a tomb. I asked them to come into the room where the woman was lying in bed dying, still having no idea what to say.

When the women get to the tomb, they are amazed to find the stone rolled away and a young man in a white robe who says, “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. But 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.”
The women, our last earthly hope, fled from the tomb in terror and amazement. Mark says they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. The women, like the men, flee. I was really counting on those women. As I was growing up, none of my pastors ever told me that this is the way the gospel ends - at least one of them. It’s a stark and kind of scary ending. It leaves us with a lot of questions.
If the women ran and didn’t tell anybody then what hope is there, how do we know what happened? How did this story get passed down in the first place? Why would Mark have ended his gospel this way? Obviously, he trusted in Jesus’ resurrection. That’s what he really wanted to communicate. He wanted to help people understand that Jesus was still alive and with them in the very real struggles they were having in their community. 
Well, that’s what I want to help us understand too. That’s what I want to understand. You see, I think that Mark ended the gospel in a way that makes people scratch their heads. We say “wait a minute. What happened?” We pay closer attention. The young man said that Jesus said you can meet him back in Galilee, their home stomping grounds. That’s what Jesus had told them the chapter before, during the Last Supper. When the gospel ends with the women terrified and telling nobody, we have to go back to the beginning of the story and read it again, looking for answers. 
And we see Jesus in Galilee, healing the sick, spreading good news, raising people from the dead, casting out demons, and challenging the authorities. It may slowly dawn on us that we’ve been with the resurrected Jesus the whole time, through the whole Gospel, in our every day lives. In other words, in our own lives the risen Christ is with us every day, in our loneliness, in our sickness, in our brokenness, Christ is with us through it all. 
Friends, we are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. We want to have hope and faith, yet we are pretty busted up, as is the world we live in. Mark, or whoever wrote the second gospel, told the good news of resurrection, but did not want to take the emphasis away from the cross. They saw the cross as central to what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, and what it means for us, Christ’s followers to be disciples. 

The family came into the room of the dying woman in Methodist Hospital that Sunday and I was still praying inside myself, asking God to give me some kind of words, something to say. I told them that I understood that this experience was hellish for them and that God was crying with them that day, that this is not what God wanted to happen. I invited the family to take each others hands, and we prayed. From somewhere the words came and I asked God to take her, to hold her and love her, and to hold and love us too, to help us hold each other and be there for each other as God’s children. I heard sobs well up in the room and when I opened my eyes, everybody in the room was crying and holding each other. It was going to be a long haul for their family, but as I saw them holding each other, I knew that they were helping each other rise from the dead. 
On this Easter Sunday we are called to rise up, to become disciples of the Living God in Christ, to be agents of life in the middle of a pandemic, helping each other come back fro the dead. Today, we come to the table of life, the meal of the resurrected Christ. We come alive as we take Christ’s life into ours. 

People come to church on Easter Sunday for a number of reasons, but I think secretly we all come hoping we can be raised from the dead - that we will find our way out of the tomb of despair, hopelessness, apathy, and boredom we find ourselves in. I think secretly we all come hoping we can be raised from the dead - again. God is working even now to give us life. Christ is risen in our lives if we only claim it. God calls us to life. Christ is risen. God calls us to live. Christ is risen. Claim it. Christ is risen. Live it. Christ is risen. Love yourself. Christ is risen. Love God. Christ is risen. Heal the world. Christ is risen indeed.

Communion Hymn 3088 Easter Alleluia