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Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018 | 6:30 a.m.
Pastoral Resident, Fourth Presbyterian Church
Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24
It’s freezing outside. I’m well aware of, and I’m encouraged and inspired by, your all’s determination to be here and stand in awe of God’s creation with this Easter hope, this celebration that despite all the death, despite all the pain and suffering and destruction and hate in the world, death doesn’t have the last word. Life does. Hope does. Love does. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Mark is an interesting Gospel for remembering Christ’s resurrection. The Gospel is brief and to the point, but it’s also unsettling. The verses Kat just read for us are the original ending of Mark. Some of the most ancient manuscripts we have of Mark end as we read today. The physical appearance of Jesus further into Mark, what we find in our Bibles now, was later added. What’s in our Bible is still important to us, but let’s imagine now what it would be like if Mark did end the Gospel just as Kat read. Here these words again:
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.
That’s it. No surprise appearance of Jesus. No miraculous earthquake. No peace be with you. But fear? That’s surely present. Mark’s emphasis is on the terror that people were going through after Jesus’ death, the fear of what’s next. Will Jesus’ followers survive? How can they carry on? Will Jesus’ message of liberation and wholeness be enough?
But it’s not just fear that Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome experience, “for terror and amazement had seized them.” Of course they were terrified, but also this glimmer of hope began to beam out of them, the air knocked back into their lungs after such loss. Could it be true? Could Jesus have risen from the dead, just as he predicted over and over again? Their amazement rides along with their terror, giving them courage, giving them strength, offering them clarity for Jesus’ vision and good news he had been spreading all around. And isn’t that how hope works? We have faith that it’s there, but there’s a tiny (or maybe big) part of us that doubts. With an ending like this, how could we not doubt?
Maybe Mark’s ending is more like an ellipsis, like a “to be continued” kind of story, because the word does get out. It spreads far and wide, and here we are telling this story again and again. Jesus’ triumph over death lives on in and among us.
It is fitting to celebrate Easter outside, even if it’s below freezing. It probably helps us hold the terror and amazement of this day, relating to the three women. It helps me see just how Jesus’s resurrection is woven throughout creation. We see it now with the promise of a new day as the sun rises after setting last night. We see it as somehow spring still comes despite the barrenness of the winter. And we see it in other ways throughout creation too.
You might not think there’s any connection between Jesus’ resurrection and worm poop, but let me tell you, there certainly is.
I have a worm compost at home. My spouse, Ben, and I keep it in the storage unit of the basement of our apartment building. No one knows it’s there, because it doesn’t smell. (I always get that question, but if you’re taking care of it right, it only smells like fresh dirt.) Ben and I collect our fruit and vegetable scraps, and about once a week or two, we add it to the worm bin. Over the course of the week, the worms eat our food waste and create this fresh, rich and fertile worm poop. We take some of that and add it to the soil of our plants, of our garden, and it helps create a foundation for the growth of new life. Resurrection.
In 2012, the U.S. created about 251 million tons of trash (“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012,” Environmental Protection Agency, www3.epa.gov). The average person in the U.S. creates seven pounds of waste a day, which is 102 tons of waste throughout our life. Of this waste, 25 percent of it is food (Joseph Mercola, “10 Shocking Facts about Your Garbage.” Mercola.com). When we throw things away, although it may seem like it disappears, it continues to exist on earth, sitting in landfills, contaminating the earth. Much of the waste we produce doesn’t have to be in a landfill but can be reused, recycled, or composted. This brings new life to items that have, in our perspective, “died.” Where these “dead” items contribute to greater death on earth, they have the potential to contribute to and help create life.
Decomposition is spiritual. Yesterday, Holy Saturday, was the decomposition of the death and waste of the world that Jesus faced, that period of rest and despair and wonder, the terror that the women felt. Today, Easter morning, we experience the gift of the fresh and fertile resurrection that can be our foundation for the purpose of new life and hope in the world. God working with our waste. God reshaping our mess. There’s nothing sanitized and crisp and clean about the resurrection. It’s not simple. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t eliminate all the death in the world.
But it is enough. It’s that glimmer of hope, that miraculous awe, that amazement riding along with our terror, that death really doesn’t have the last word. God’s got something else to say. It’s like the young man who told the women, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. . . . He has been raised, he is not here. . . . 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.”
We’re resurrection people. We look for how this Easter story continues to show itself in our lives, even with the terror we see on the news and we experience. We share these stories as we face the world’s death and oppression. We remember Easter morning to hold each other up and see that God’s composting us! There are some piles still in the decomposition phase, and we keep adding waste to the compost, that won’t stop. But do you see it? Some of the compost is ready, ready to be taken out of the bin and planted and shared, to help give a home for new life and hope. Where are your stories of resurrection? Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!