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Resurrection: It's a Mystery (Thank God)

Easter Sermon

The Rev. Sara Warfield

Scripture: Mark 16:1-8

Do you all remember the late 90s movie Shakespeare in Love? Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes. Clever romantic comedy? Won an Oscar for best picture…maybe a little overrated? It came into my mind as I was thinking about this sermon. Because there’s this recurring bit from the character Philip Henslowe, owner of the Rose Theatre—played by Geoffrey Rush. He seems to always find himself in sticky situations.

In one scene, he says to debt collectors threatening to kill him, “The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. “

“So what do we do?” The debt collector asks.

“Nothing,” Henslowe replies. “Strangely enough, it all turns out well.”

The debt collector does not believe him. “How?” he asks.

“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

Just as the curtain is about to rise on the first ever performance of Romeo and Juliet, the actor who serves as the narrator of the play, well, his profound stutter has suddenly returned. Will Shakespeare looks at Henslowe desperately and says, “We’re lost!”

“No, all will turn out well,” Henslowe replies.

Shakespeare does not believe him. “How?” he asks.

“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

Now it’s a vast understatement to say that the journey we’ve taken over the last week, and especially the last three days, has not been as lighthearted as the situations Henslowe faced. This week, we have seen Jesus betrayed multiple times by his disciples, his friends. He was beaten, mocked, and then killed in a monstrous way.

But Jesus has basically been telling his disciples throughout his entire ministry, “I’m going to suffer. I’m going to die. It’s going to be hard. But all will turn out well.”

And throughout his entire ministry, his disciples basically ask, “How will it turn out well?”

And while Jesus answers quite clearly, “After three days, I will rise again,” I can’t imagine that his disciples had any inkling of what that might mean. Because resurrection, no one really knows what it is. It’s a mystery.

Did you know that the gospel of Mark has three different endings? What we heard today was the ending written by the original author. “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end.

But our early Church leaders weren’t really comfortable with the ambiguity of that ending. It didn’t wrap up the story in any kind of satisfying way. So first they added the longer ending, where Jesus appears to the disciples and commissions them to go out into the world and proclaim the good news. Then he is taken up into heaven before their eyes. It’s tidy. Everyone leaves knowing their job. Jesus ends up in heaven. No loose ends.

Then we have the shorter ending, which in two sentences has the women giving Peter their news and, like the longer ending, Jesus commissioning the disciples. This ending was added in the fourth century.

No one likes an ambiguous ending. Not even the Church leaders who had the power to change the words of the Bible itself.

“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.” It’s not a satisfying answer, especially in the midst of deep suffering.

“The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”

The thing is, Henslowe isn’t exactly wrong. Our lives are a series of obstacles, some insurmountable, some not. And it does eventually lead to imminent disaster—IF we believe that death is imminent disaster. Which I don’t—I preached about this early in Lent. But, when we, the living, are faced with death—it most certainly can feel like imminent disaster.

But death is the ultimate invitation to lean into the mystery. And resurrection is the promise that, even though it feels like imminent disaster, “every little thing is gonna be alright.”

Okay, but who really wants to lean into that misery—I mean mystery?

Like Mary, Mary, and Salome at the empty tomb, we are absolutely terrified of what we don’t know, what we don’t understand. But, also like those women, we are also amazed by what we don’t know, what we don’t understand.

I bet you still remember the moment you met your spouse or partner. And I bet that you remember it so well because you didn’t see it coming.

I know a lot of us here have had children that we weren’t planning for. Talk about terror and amazement. And I know that that child is now one of the best things that happened to you.

When I went to seminary, I did expect to be ordained…as a non-Christian, Buddhist-leaning Unitarian Universalist minister. I didn’t expect for a mystical experience with communion to turn me into an Episcopal priest preaching here before you on Easter morning.

Most of the stories we joyfully tell over and over again in our lives are the things that surprised us, the things we didn’t expect, the things we didn’t understand until after.

Love. Music. Art. There is no understanding why different people, different songs, different paintings have such a profound impact on different people. Sure, we can try to scientifically break down the why—analyze the pheromones and hormones, break down the chord structure, study the thickness of strokes on canvas. People get PhDs to do such things all the time. But do you know why people are able to keep needing to get PhDs in such things? Because they can never be fully explained.

They’re a mystery.

Just like resurrection.

As far as Mary, Mary, and Salome knew, the end has come. Even though Jesus has told them that it will all turn out well, they arrive at the tomb ready to give his body the proper burial rituals. To cry. To mourn.

But what they find at the tomb is something they can’t explain. A young man, a stranger, maybe an angel—telling them that, yes, Jesus was crucified, but he has been raised. Raised? What does that mean? It was unfathomable to them. And the young man didn’t explain. Instead, he tells them to go and tell the disciples the good news.

Instead they flee in terror and amazement and say nothing to anyone—though eventually they must have told someone. Otherwise we wouldn’t have this story.

So, yes, not knowing can be terrifying. Not knowing what you’ll do after you lose a job. Not knowing what your life will be like after a divorce. Not knowing what happens after death. It can make us want to flee, to grasp for what we do know.

But not knowing can also be amazing. And, on this day, this Easter day, not knowing, not understanding is the good news. The good news is that we can’t possibly know what God has in store for us, not after loss, not even after death. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” God says in Isaiah, “My ways are not your ways.” God’s intentions for us are literally unimaginable.

But we do know one thing for certain on this day: God’s love defeats the worst of sin, God’s love overcomes the deepest of suffering. We know this because Jesus rose again, despite our sin, despite his suffering. We don’t have to understand it. Faith isn’t about understanding. Faith is about trusting in a God of love, a God of mystery, a God of resurrection.


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